Barter and Trade Stories

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A California woman traded her old vacuum cleaner for bags for her new cleaner.
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A jewelers traded earnings and gold pendants for medical assistance delivering her babies.
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A Rhode Island family traded produce with a neighbor for irrigation water.
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A Colorado man built a family a new pine board chicken coop, and salvaged the walnut board from the old coop to make a table.

Since the first of the year, we’ve had an almost overwhelming response to our offer for one-year subscriptions to people who share their barter and trade experiences. Hundreds of letters have poured in, and since it’s impossible to print even a small portion of them in our usual format, we thought you might like to have a condensed rundown on what some of these folks are doing to enrich the quality of their lives through swapping.

If our mail is any indication, New Yorkers seem to be inveterate swappers. S.S. had a couple of crocheted tablecloths that had been handed down through her family. They were just gathering dust until she ran across someone who owned several handmade quilts and who needed a covering for a trestle table. Now S.S.’s daughter has a quilt for her redecorated room, and her new friend has a table cover. Best of all, the two families are sharing beautiful parts of their heritages.

Also in New York, M.L.H. had some gallon drums in her yard. When her garbage-man spotted them and said he could use them to water his garden, she gladly swapped six of them for six months of free trash pickup.

On the other side of the country, Californian V.J.H. offered her old vacuum to a sales and service store to use for parts, and in return received a six months’ supply of bags for her current cleaner.

Still another California resident, M.C.M., bartered a wallpapering job for hypnotism treatments for her husband, who was trying to kick his smoking habit. (The treatments worked!)

The I.C. family — also in California — are owners of an organic nursery and are always open to trades. Their best swap to date was with a scuba-diving couple: a Christmas lobster dinner in exchange for materials to make cactus gardens as presents.

Mrs. B.K., a Pennsylvania housewife suffering from “cabin fever” after the birth of her second child, found a nearby horse owner willing to trade riding privileges for occasional baby-sitting so he and his wife could ride together again.

During the busy holiday season, a group of C.S.’s friends in New Jersey engage in yet another good trade: After making their own specialties in large batches (cookies, candies, breads, crafts, and the like), they get together for a swapfest. Everyone goes home with a large variety of goodies and a happy heart.

On a different note, the owner of a tire store, B.B. (who also lives in New Jersey), says he’s always ready to bargain. He has an ongoing deal with a friend in the landscaping business: tire repair and replacement as needed on his friend’s truck in exchange for spring plowing and fall fertilizing.

Mr. and Mrs. J.L.P. say their two sons are literally worth their weight (well, at least a portion of their poundage) in gold and diamonds. You see, their doctor agreed to accept a pair of diamond earrings and several gold pendants from their struggling jewelry business in Colorado as the delivery fees.

Another Coloradan, C.K., remembers that when his family had just moved to Georgia, his father spied a neighbor’s chicken coop made out of roughly hewn walnut boards. Hastily, his dad offered to construct a new coop from pine in trade for the valuable walnut — and then had the lumber milled so he could build the dining room table and six chairs that are still being used a generation later.

Up in Nova Scotia, K.C. was living near the seashore and needed a rowboat to pick Irish moss. He wasn’t having much success in finding one, but then he met a lobster fisherman who was also a boat builder. The aspiring moss gatherer helped the lobsterman haul in his traps in exchange for help in building a craft suitable for plying his trade

When business is slow, Mr. and Mrs. R.M., a Virginia husband-and-wife paint contracting team, check the ads in their local papers for things they need or want. Then they offer to trade their professional services for those items.

Iowan D.B. has found a way to plant her garden without any up-front cash expenditure. Since she’s always been very generous with her surplus produce, when she called on the recipients of her largess for donations toward supplies, they were more than willing to help out.

Lack of water (and ofmoney to drill a well on newly acquired Rhode Island property) presented a problem when W.G. and his family wanted to plant a garden and a few fruit trees in anticipation of the day they’d live there. The dilemma was resolved when their next-door neighbors offered to run a water hose from their house to the W.G. family garden in exchange for a share of the harvest.

As a ministerial student, Alabamian R.I. didn’t have enough money to buy all of his books. So when a bookstore opened nearby, he struck a bargain with the proprietor: For helping unpack and for doing some simple assembly and cleanup work, R.I. was given the volumes that are now important helpmates in his studies.

C.E.’s family thought that having electricity and running water in their Indiana horse barn was an unaffordable dream …until they became involved in a three-way barter. You see, a farmer friend who wanted a horse for his children didn’t have the cash to buy one, and a contractor owed a large sum of money to the would-be horse owner. For a substantial reduction of his debt to the farmer, the contractor put in utility lines to C.E.’s barn. Then C.E. gave a horse to the farmer Everyone concerned got what he wanted, and C.E. now has one less mouth to feed.

Now, if you’ve run dry of swapping ideas, this sampling from our mailbag ought to get your inventiveness flowing again — and when you complete your next successful (and unusual) exchange, tell us about it!

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