Article written by...Dan Tackett.
Reprinted with permission from The Courier, Lincoln, IL
As small-town churches go, the Armington Christian Church-the
only house of God in the sleepy, Tazwell County village isn't
that small. It wouldn't take much of a shoehorn to get the community's
300, give or take a few, into the Church at one time.
Although it's been years since I've been there for Sunday
service, I'd venture to say the empty pews are plentiful these
days. But it wasn't that way this past Tueday evening when neighbors
from the village and surrounding countryside joined others who'd
traveled many miles to share memories of their friend, Andy Davis.
Sixty-six years ago, when he first saw the light of day, his
parents named him Andrew, wasting a couple of letters in the process.
He was never an Andrew, he was just plain Andy.
Andy was as plain as plain gets, common down-to-earth as they
come. His rugged appearance, in contrast to his easy-going, friendly
demeaneor and slow, soft drawl, gave every impression that this
was someone from the Appalachian backwoods.
Wrong, Andy Davis taught those crossing the many interesting
paths he took in life that appearances indeed can be deceiving.
He was born in DeWitt County, Illinois, not in some shack on a
Dixie hillside but in a rural neighborhood called Jimtown.
I met him much later in his life, after he'd moved his family
near Armington into a country house he'd built on one end of a
long pond teeming with bluegill and bass. I was a flat-topped
high school kid with an ulterior motive in trying to get on his
good side--even back then I was looking for a good place to fish.
For several reasons, I always considered myself fortunate
to use Andy's pond. For one, it was just a couple of miles from
my parent's home and within easy reach of my unreliable, oil burning
60 Ford Fairlane. For another, the fishing was pretty darn good.
I could always get a mess of slab sized bluegill for my mom to
fry for supper.
Perhaps the best part was just being around Andy, his wife
Margaret, their large family (grand total-nine kids) and usually,
a pet raccoon or two running around the house and yard with the
All the while, Andy would be sitting in some chair, either
inside or outside sipping his ever-present coffee cup, grinning,
sometimes laughing and soaking it all in.
Not that Andy Davis spent a lifetime in an easy chair slurping
coffee and loafing. Far from it. He was a hard worker-an electrician
and builder-an industrious sort, always tinkering and devising
an easier way to do things.
In the 1970's, during the height national energy crisis, hard-working
Andy Davis did sit for a long time in his easy chair. He sat there,
barely talking to his wife and kids for weeks, brewing up an idea
in his mind. The thinking spell lasted so long that his wife thought
he had taken ill.
Not so. Andy Davis had simply gotten another hair-brained
notion in his head and thought it through step by step. Solving
each potential problem in his mind before getting up from the
recliner and going to work.
The result of those weeks of deep thought put tiny Armington
on the map. It also made Andy Davis a cult hero among people wanting
to thumb their noses at utility companies and heating oil suppliers
that had jacked up their prices to get in step With America's
Great Energy Crunch.
What happened is this: Andy Davis built his family a new home--a
cave home. The sides and roof, made of thick, concrete, were covered
with several feet of dirt.
Some folks scoffed at his idea. They began calling the Davises
modern-day Flintstones. Other skeptics thought Andy Davis had
But the winter of 1976-77, the Davis family's first cold season
of living in the cave produced a heating bill of less than $2.
Those two bucks, Andy often boasted with a grin, covered the cost
of oil and gas for his chainsaw to cut fuel for his small Franklin
stove the cave's only source of heat.
The home's energy saving features and its very uniqueness
made headlines around the country--in newspapers, magazines and
on network television news shows.
Andy and his cave were featured on the cover of Money magazine
and Mother Earth News. People magazine came calling, as did a
battery of journalists from around the world.
Almost overnight, Andy Davis became cult hero to disciples
of self-sufficiency, to the masses who had turned angry over their
skyrocketing heating bills.
In a nutshell, Andy Davis became "Caveman Andy".
As a result of the publicity and the many inquiries about
his home, he started his own company, marketing support services
for folks who wanted to copy his ideas as well as selling franchises
to contractors who, were eager to build earth-sheltered homes
following his blueprints.
Through all the fame, glory and money that exchanged hands,
he never became an Andrew. He remained just plain Andy, a self
described "good ol' country boy from Armington, Illinois."
Finally, after a long battle with Cancer, he died last weekend
in his highly publicized cave house, about 25 miles away from
But in the short distance between Jimtown and Armington, Andy
Davis chalked up millions of miles worth of good times, good will
and good friends. And he left along the wayside a volume of good
ideas on better ways to do things.
He was every bit the "good ol' country boy" who
happened to be generously blessed with ingenuity and genius and
the perseverance to make his dreams come true. And he really enjoyed
doing what he could to turn other people's dreams into reality.
His crowded memorial service this week at Armington church
reflected just how unique--"extraodinary" is the adjective
the youthful preacher used--this common man was. There were no
sad refrains from the church organ. Instead, the music, one of
Andy's passions, consisted of a tape of his favorite tunes and
The service closed with an old recording of Hank William's
Sr. moaning as only Hank could moan--the haunting melody, "Ramblin
Man." Many folks would consider the song too off-the-wall
for such a solemn occasion.
But Andy Davis wouldn't have it any other way.
"If you stick your head above the crowd, a few
people may throw stones at you, but the view is better!!"
"Our homes are called "Earth Sheltered Homes"
or "Earth Homes" now, but when I built my home in 1976,
we called them "Cave Homes", and I still like that.
After all, a "Cave Home" does not have to look like
a cave, anymore than a "ranch home" looks like a "ranch."