A 1970s’ back-to-the-lander 50 years later

Townships’ Farmers – By Scott Stevenson

George Weller torn between staying and flying to a new runway

Local Journalism Initiative

Some farmers are inventors at heart. Some are engineers, builders, designers, scientists. Many are all the above and more, without formal training and fancy initials after their name. George Weller is one of those.

His son John answered the door when I arrived for our interview at their farmhouse in Stanstead last week, but the welcome as I walked in also involved the “Pioneer Maid” kitchen woodstove burning warm a few feet away.

It was my second introduction to George Weller the inventor.

He and John described to me how the Amish in Ontario had built the stove, but that the father and son team added a water-heating system by looping a steel pipe into the stove’s firebox and locating a hot-water tank just behind the stove. I was shown the components, described how it works in scientific terms I can’t now remember, and then told about the peculiarities of the stove’s builders, the Amish, and their rules.

You might say that George is somewhat haunted by rules. Later, while seated in the dining room, he told me the history of his farm and how extended family also once owned the farm across Stage Road but lost it due to the owner’s strict adherence to Adventist rules. In her case, she insisted on Sunday being a day of rest, which isn’t very practical for farmers—even her cows were not to be milked on the Lord’s Day.

My first introduction to George’s innovations, though, was upon reading his farm’s Web site, which includes a page devoted to his inventions, such as thermoplastic body armour.

“I took some sheets home to my rented duplex in Waterville, Ohio, and had the idea of shooting them with a rifle,” Weller wrote of his early career days in the mid-1960s working for Owens-Illinois in the United States. “I backed the 1/4-inch-thick sheet with a bunch of wood in case the bullet went through the reinforced thermoplastic. I did not want to have a bullet going into a neighbour’s place.”

Weller earned an “invention record” for this but soon turned his attention to farming as one of the early back-to-the-landers of that era. In 1970, he bought his Stanstead farm from his father, and he and his wife at the time moved there from the U.S. in their 1966 Landrover and 1969 Dodge Charger, with $25,000 in the bank.

Like so many of the other back-to-the-landers of the day, he had to find work after the money ran out a year or two later but built up an eclectic farm business over the years since.

“On our 350 acres, we produce seasonal vegetables and fruits, carrot wine, beefalo meat, hay, and wood,” the Weller Farm Web site announces. “We also breed golden retrievers for pets and service dogs… Up on the hill among our hayfields is our private airport, CTQ2.”

And Weller, 82, isn’t showing any sign of slowing down. Asked about the future of his farm, he confessed dreaming of relocating to Nova Scotia, buying land with an old airstrip and run-down hangar, fixing them up, and starting over—without the language laws and many government rules we must navigate in Quebec.

“I believe that something you invent has got to work,” Weller said at the end of our interview. “But to find that, you need to be able to try… 100 different times. Society and government need to leave people space to find what works.”

“That’s where innovation comes from,” his partner Tonie added, after joining us on the outskirts of the interview.

Were it not for the rules hemming Weller and his projects in, though, he “would like to be able to stay here and would like John to be able to take over.”

Scott Stevenson farms and writes at his home in Newport, Quebec. He reports on individual Townships’ farmers biweekly for Brome County News and reviews the farm news biweekly for the Record.

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