A Tribute to "Caveman Andy" Davis

Andy Davis; Founder of Davis Caves

Andy Davis

December 28, 1928
August 5, 1995

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 kids.

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 gone bonkers.

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 his birthplace.

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 singers.

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.

Photo #5

"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."

---Andy Davis

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