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How Close Is Your Fortune? By Saleem Rana

A farmer in Pennsylvania decided to sell his farm, but before he sold it, he wrote to his cousin in Canada, who collected coal, and asked for a job. In those days, coal oil, which dipped from running Canadian streams, where it was first discovered, was lucrative business.

The farmer, a sensible man, did not want to leave his farm without securing his livelihood so he wanted to make sure his cousin would hire him before he left. His cousin, however, was not enthusiastic about the proposal and wrote back to discourage the farmer, arguing that the farmer did not know anything about the coal oil business.

This blatant rejection did not discourage the farmer. He simply sat down and studied all about coal oil, studying it from the second day of creation. He read about how the world had once been covered with rich vegetation which eventually turned to coal beds, and when those rich coal beds were drained, they furnished coal oil. The coal oil worth pumping came up from living springs.

The farmer studied coal oil until he could almost see it and smell it.

When he believed he knew how to refine it, he wrote back to his cousin asking for a job again. He spelled out how he had painfully studied every aspect of the business. Reluctantly, his cousin invited him over.

The farm was sold well below market value as the farmer was eager to make his way to Canada to begin a new life of industry and prosperity.

The new owner decided that the first thing he needed to do was to see if the cattle had enough water. At the brook, behind the dilapidated barn, he found a black-stained plank that appeared to have been placed years ago to throw dark scum onto the bank. The plank separated off the clean, drinkable water from the scum-laden water.

He called in a geologist, who, after careful tests, declared that the scum was coal oil, worth an estimated hundred million dollars. The geologist estimated that the coal-oil that stained the plank was about twenty-three years old. The new owner laughed at the irony of the whole situation: although the old farmer had studied coal oil from the second day of creation, he had sold his own vast reservoir for a mere $833.

"If only the old farmer had the wisdom to notice the fortune in his own backyard," said the new owner to the geologist.

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