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The Y2K Bust
by Amy Radil
December 30, 1999
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David and Johanna Hecker are devout Christians who have been living for 22 years in northeast Minnesota, on land they call God's Wilderness. When they heard about the anticipated problems with Y2K, they advertised; offering to sell land to other Christian, home-schooling families and help build cabins to avoid any millennial disruptions. Visitors arrived from all over the country. But things haven't quite worked out as the Heckers hoped.
Johanna Hecker says worries over Y2K may have prompted people who were already considering country living to actually take the plunge.

JOHANNA AND DAVID HECKER entered the Y2K industry in an effort to get out of debt and sell off part of their 4,000 acres in the woods near Two Harbors. On their Web site, they offered to build cabins for families seeking a retreat from the predicted chaos surrounding January 1, 2000. Their phone began ringing off the hook, with prospective buyers coming to visit in droves.

Customers wanted to give up their jobs and live off the land. But many of those customers changed their minds when they realized all the work involved. As New Year's Eve approaches, the Heckers' home is quiet, and only a few cabins dot the surrounding woods. Johanna says they've had some disappointments along the way, including customers who took advantage of them.
Hecker: We've had a couple of cases where somebody's bought or wanted us to build for them or something, and then weren't able to pay for what they had bargained for or what they had agreed to, you know, so that put us way behind and that kind of puts a sour note on things, so that it takes all the adventure or joy out of it, you know.
One family moved into a cabin without ever paying for it. They're still there, and the Heckers are trying to work out exactly what to do. Johanna says the building process, carving out roads and transporting supplies, has been harder and slower than anyone expected. With a booming building economy across the state, carpentry help has been scarce. She and her husband are building three cabins themselves, while five other families have purchased land and built their own homes.

Over recent months, she says, people's fears of Y2K disasters waned, making them more reluctant to live the so-called simple life. Instead, most of these cabins will serve as vacation homes.

Retired carpenter Lewis Mason is helping build a cabin on land bought from the Heckers as a vacation retreat for his daughter, who lives and works in southern Minnesota.
Mason: She's a naturalist, very well informed on birds and animals, she does a lot of travel, lots of exploring, lots of research.
Mason says it was his son who was concerned about Y2K , who saw the Heckers' Web site and contacted his sister, telling her about the land for sale. Mason says his daughter has no Y2K-based worries
Mason: Not really. She went along with it because her brother was concerned, who actually built the main part of the cabin, but she wasn't, no.
Looking back, Johanna Hecker says worries over Y2K may have prompted people who were already considering country living to actually take the plunge. Meanwhile, Johanna says the frenzy around building homes and answering inquiries has interrupted her own search for the simple life. These days she's more concerned with cars, cell phones and generators than ever.
Hecker: When we first came here we took this giant leap from having everything modern to everything primitive. But over the years there's always been a constant pressure to modernize, little by little it still pushes you in that direction. And though we still don't have electricity and we still haul our water in buckets and haul it out in buckets, the matter of walking half a mile to the house all the time has been something we've laid aside, now we bring our vehicles close by.
Johanna says she hopes to retreat from such conveniences once they've sold more of their land, but admits that might not be realistic. Her husband, David, says their endeavor hasn't gone as expected, and he looks forward to a return to peace and quiet.
Hecker: My great satisfaction in the near future is when all of this stuff is over. The bulldozing is over and the building.
David has done much of the carpentry on the three cabins-in-progress. He says he still sees the potential for Y2K calamities this New Year's Eve, in part because many of the people who contacted them work in the information technology field and were also nervous. He expects any problems to be centered around urban areas and the electrical grid. He says American arrogance and addiction to luxury will be largely to blame if problems do arise.
Hecker: I think there's a real sense of protective denial. Whoever heard of the U.S. having a supertragedy? Who?
But David says the fuss over a computer glitch simply underscores Americans' misplaced priorities. Johanna says regardless of what happens at midnight New Year's Eve, she believes a moral reckoning will eventually be at hand. She says technology has simply helped create a culture of greed.
Hecker: Whether Y2K is a problem or not, ever since the '60s when prayer was taken out of the schools, the U.S. has been on a spiral where ethics, morals, all of that, absolutes, values has been going down the tubes and something's sooner or later going to crash.
The Heckers say they chose to live the best way they know how, no matter what happens outside of God's Wilderness. They expect to be in bed asleep when the clock strikes 12 this New Year's Eve.