Cypress Knees, Electric Vehicles, Texas Wild Rice, and Other Profiles in Alternative Living

A museum that displayed cypress knees, a teacher who led his students in building electric vehicles, and a university professor who saved a unique Texas wild rice species from extinction were profiled in this edition of the magazine's regular "Profiles" feature.

| January/February 1981

In celebration of little-known MOTHER EARTH NEWS-type folks from all over who are dedicated to alternative living.  

Tom Gaskins: Cypress Knee Museum

It all began back in 1937, when Tom and Virginia Gaskins moved to Palmdale, Florida and established a homestead on the edge of the Fisheating Creek Swamp. The couple built a home roofed with hand-split shingles ... and started collecting cypress knees. 

Cypress knees, for those who may not know, are protuberances—usually roughly conical in shape and from one to nine and a half feet in height—that develop around the towering trees for which they are named. Tom soon discovered that—when steamed, debarked, and then covered with a mildew preventive—the growths became beautiful, natural sculptures which could easily be marketed. A small ad in a national magazine launched the Gaskins' business, but the family kept the very best specimens—many of which are suggestive of people and animals—to be placed in their Cypress Knee Museum.

In 1951 Tom and Virginia began charging a $1.00 admission fee (which remains the same today) to view their collection. For thirty years now—in both summer and winter—tourists have filled the museum. Each year, visitors find a horde of new wonders to behold ... because as long as the Fisheating Creek Swamp replenishes Mother Nature's supply of wooden figures, the Gaskins keep adding to their treasure house!—MikeSmith.  

Renton Patterson: Thundervolts 1, 2, and 3

There's a remarkable teacher at Fellowes High School in Pembroke, Ontario who's incorporating concern for the environment with technical skills. Renton Patterson has, you see, been helping his shop classes to build electric vehicles.

Patterson started his program in 1975 when he guided his students in the design and construction of Thundervolt 1, a 1950's MG powered by eight 12-volt batteries (borrowed from an auto mechanics shop) and two used motors (obtained from a California aircraft surplus company). The car—which cost the school budget $115—achieved a final travel range of 15 miles at 25 MPH. The admirable outcome of that first project led to Thundervolts 2 and 3: The former is an electric boat, which can maintain a top speed of 10 MPH for about 40 minutes ... the latter an electrically powered AspenVolare, which boasts a range of 65 miles at 30 MPH.

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