Returning to My Retreat After a Three Year Absence: Lessons Learned, by C.J. in Montana

Friday, Jan 21, 2011

My wife and I own  a 50 acre place in Northern Maine that was originally intended to be a home-building site.  It is remote, quiet  and off-grid.  Along with an outbuilding/bathhouse I constructed,  there is also a 40 foot shipping container I set up as a  secure storage building/shelter.    The land  has  plenty of water nearby  and the entire property is wooded in White Cedar (weatherproof/rot-proof) Balsam Fir , Birch and Spruce.  Unfortunately over the years the location has became less ideal for us.  The  political climate (until very recently) is unfavorable ( taxes, government regulation, overall policies).   The economic situation was bad before the current recession, now parts of Maine  remind me of what I saw in East Germany after the wall came down.   Because of this, I abandoned the project about four  years ago and moved most of our  belongings to the Western United States. 

Why We Went Back

I work as an independent contractor  all over the US.  This year I managed to get  a short contract within a 2 hour drive of the Maine property.  My wife and I were carrying minimal gear with us from  Montana  (See Survival Trip, a 10% Test, archived in Survival Blog).   We planned to stay on the acreage part-time during the work assignment, then remain there afterward for at least a month. 

We wanted to make no major purchases during our stay, so the big question was:  would we be able to live there (essentially camping out) with what we brought with us as well as what was 'left behind' on the property?  After a  three to four  year absence,  I could not remember exactly  what equipment and supplies were there.   Considering this, I began thinking:  what would happen if we  had to return to this place to try to survive in  an unplanned emergency? I knew I did not have a complete survival set-up in Maine.   I also knew the high taxes and poor  (anti-business)  economy made it a bad  retreat choice.   However,  if we were 'stuck' in the northeastern US during a crisis, returning to the 50 acre property seemed the logical solution.   The land  was paid-for, and it did have natural resources.   We also had friends there we could trust.    Plan A in a crisis would be to get back to Montana, Plan B called for returning to my home state of Missouri.  Maine was plan C.  With our travel lifestyle, maybe Plan C would be all we had to work with, someday. 

 My return to the property last Summer could not be defined as a 'Survival Emergency'.  We had enough resources to return West.  In Summer 2010 it was still relatively safe (but expensive)  to travel across the US.  I decided to think strategically and  look at things  as if I had  to  remain in Maine  for an indefinite period of time.  As per  my previous article, we had already loaded our trailer with survival gear and attempted to travel from Montana to Texas during the blizzard of 2010. Now having  left Texas to work  in Maine, I saw re-occupying the land as another type of  'Test'.   Anyway,  despite the economy the fishing is pretty good in Maine, lobster was $4.50 per pound  and we were technically on vacation.  We also had good friends living there, or should I say trying to live there, suffering under the heavy taxation and oppressive government.  There was one final practical reason:  The property had not been occupied in four years.  The road and  existing structures needed maintenance.  

Doing Business in Maine

Four years ago I moved to Montana.  Returning to Maine, my first regret was that I had transported  some of the heavy, easily replicable items out west four  years ago.  About  10% of the 'stuff' I moved at that time:  pry bars, hammers, chains, shovels, and splitting wedges could have been left behind in Maine and duplicated in Montana for probably less cost in both time and money.  Now I needed the tools that were over 2,000 miles away.  I had other things I owned (and needed), but were impossible to carry around.  For example:  my  5000 watt generator, the clothes washer,  the bench grinder, and the welder were all  sitting idle in Montana.  In Maine, it has been my experience that  new (or even used)  tools are relatively expensive compared to the Mid-west or West.  .

When you try to buy used stuff,   people in the Northeast don't tend to bargain at sales, often refusing to sell an item on a whim!   For  example, I saw a beat up circular saw at a garage sale for $20 (firm).  In Missouri, one would have been embarrassed to put $5.00 on such an item.  One person refused to sell me some of the scrap wood he had piled in his yard in preparation for burning.  On the retail side,  the nearest lumber store claimed to be out of chimney parts  (even though the computer said they were well-stocked).   They did not look very hard to find the items, or offer to order what I needed.  The clerk at the lumber store told me that people don't buy stove parts 'during this time of the year'.  'When do they start thinking about heating with wood, when the first  snow falls?' I thought.  There were other such personal experiences occurring on an almost daily basis.  My prior visits to  the Northeast prepared me for such 'customer service' but,  returning 4 years later, I could see things were getting worse.   

Another war story:  A friend of mine tried to pay cash in advance to get a large  propane tank filled (he owned the tank).    The company refused to fill it without my friend completing a credit application (social security number, Drivers License Number, etc.)   for the cash-up-front fill! This and other experiences  proved to us  that it was expensive and troublesome enough to get what we needed in a non-emergency (on a 'good' day), what would have happened if I we were really stuck with  no reliable transportation,   and needed additional  tools or supplies in a collapsed economy?   We won't count on it  in the Northeast!

  To be fair, there are some bargains to be found in the Northeast.   When I was in downtown Boston MA, I loaded my pickup with Craftsman hand tools a lady had put on the curb to throw away..     Apparently a relative died and she was cleaning out the basement.   I had just been passing by at the right time

  We found good, used furniture just by driving around an getting what was left at curbside.   Watch out taking stuff  from a dumpster, I was almost for arrested picking out a sheet of plywood that was being  thrown away.  I also almost cried at the sight of #2 2x6x8 lumber in another dumpster  at a construction site (they would not give me permission to take these boards that were destined for the landfill). 

What I Stored in Maine

Fortunately I did leave some basic things on the property. Here are some of the following items I was pleased to find 'left behind' .  These were stored in the 40 foot shipping container.  :

  1. Bow Saw (2, one over 30 inches)
  2. Ax (1)
  3. Dual-fuel gas lantern (2) (the generator on one lantern failed-I had no replacement part)
  4. Cast Iron Cookware (cheap china stuff, but better than nothing)
  5. Plates, knifes and forks.
  6. An old hammer.
  7. Chain Saw cutting oil (two jugs)
  8. 5 gal Gas Can (2)
  9. Propane Cylinder, full (!) (2)
  10. Log chain.
  11. Rope, various lengths. 
  12. 5 gal Kerosene Can ½ full. 
  13. Large inventory of Screws, Nails, Paint, wire, hinges.
  14. Loping sheers (anvil loppers).
  15. A hand Scythe.
  16. mouse traps (a very welcome find)
  17. rat poison
  18. Strike Anywhere Matches in Plastic Bucket
  19. 5 gal buckets, food grade
  20. Plastic Mixing  Bowls
  21. Splitting Maul (2)
  22. Hatchet
  23. Various Books and Magazines (However, No reference materials or dictionary, no owner's manuals)
  24. sharpening stone.
  25. Cleaning supplies: bleach, tri- sodium phosphate, soap and shampoo. 
  26. Electric/Electronic parts:  copper antenna wire, power cords, replacement plugs, outlets conduit
  27. Co-axial cable, connectors.
  28. Sledge hammer, small hand sledge.
  29. Garden Rake
  30. Broom
  31. Leaf Rake
  32. A mattock. 
  33. Carpentry Saw, rusted and dull.
  34. An Anvil, made from a piece of rail road track. 
  35. Coleman Fuel. 
  36. Some 8 foot lengths of ½ inch concrete reinforcement bar.  Some angle iron, and misc. scrap metal.
  37. 30 ceramic-wire-closure type beer bottles and gaskets (more on that later)
  38. Wheel barrow
  39. 50 gallon water container for water transport from a spring nearby. 
  40. Two Plastic barrels for rain water collection. 
  41. Contractor Grade garden hose. 
  42. Gas Camper Stove

Along with the above list, we had left a gas stove/oven, a propane heater, and a hand washing device plus clothes wringer. 

We  did not arrive empty-handed.  I use a four-wheel drive Toyota towing an insulated 5 x 8 foot cargo trailer (modified for camping use).  We travel with firearms, carpentry tools, 700 watt generator, sleeping bags, cold weather gear, wet weather gear, auto mechanic tools, come-along, SW radios, first aid and medicines, propane heater,  computers, weather radio, gloves, insect repellent, chain saw, electronic repair kit, head lamps, spot light (LED), Sure-fire light, mosquito net, extension cords.  

Among the food items 'left behind' in the shipping container were  the following:

  1. Lentils, beans and rice.  Some wheat. 
  2. Small jar honey.
  3. A fifth of Ever-clear.
  4. One 2-liter can Olive Oil, unopened. 
  5. A few miscellaneous items: salt pepper and ramen noodles.
  6. One standard container of salt, iodized. 

The Olive Oil was in good shape, considering that it was 3 years old and had been exposed  to extreme heat and cold.  Based on this experience, I feel Olive Oil in metal cans store well.  I plan to stock up with greater confidence. 

Ramen Noodles did not store well in the open.  They had a petroleum after-taste when cooked, the probably absorbed fuel smells from being stored  in the closed shipping container.  The lentils, etc seemed okay and even sprouted. 

The salt turned into a solid cylinder after three years in the humid environment.  In the future I will be more careful to store in three or four plastic bags with a roll of toilet paper in the outer bag. 

I was very surprised at what I forgot I had.  For the future, I took  a detailed video of the interior to better plan what I need if I return.  

First Priority:  Reclaiming the Area

The  Leaf Rake, Loping sheers (anvil loppers), mattock  and Bow saw were necessary tools.  Our first job was to get  rid of the three-year accumulation of leaves and saplings efficiently.  This work helped  prevent fire damage, rodent infestation, and, most importantly clears the area where one can see  (not to mention find lost items).  It was a psychological boost  getting the area cleaned up.  I plan to always make sure these tools are in good working condition and may duplicate items in case of breakage.  Anywhere we go, they will be high priority.  Why use an Ax to cut brush  into burnable pieces when one can use the anvil loppers?  It's not 'mountain man' but I found it safer and more practical.  Sure, I used the chain saw a lot to cut firewood, and brush but these hand tools worked just as well, especially close to places where one risked damage to structures or plastic drains. 

A Note On Cutting Wood

The long, 30 inch bow saw was used extensively to cut standing dead  firewood up to 4 inches into usable lengths about 50% of the time. Except for camping I never thought much about the routine use of a bow saw  until observing the German Wood-Cutter.  The German woodsmen  are masters of the Bow Saw.  Gas is expensive in Germany, over $8.00 per gallon and they can't run a chain  saw during certain times of the day due to local noise ordinances. Thus, they plan their work and are careful to not waste fuel.  During chain saw work I have observed a German step over marginal wood and say “Not worth the fuel.”  I learned to use the technique of reversing the Bow Saw and holding the wood with two hands-working the wood over the saw instead of the normal method.  You put one end of the saw on the ground and brace it with your foot, steeping on the inside of the saw so your knee projects through the opening between the blade and the handle.   You can cut short pieces of wood without a saw horse using this technique.  It seems to go faster since you are using both arms.  It is more dangerous. 

In Maine there were no noise restrictions (yet) but sound carries for miles around here.  I could hear someone hammering at least two  miles away.  I don't like the idea of calling too much attention to my location even in a non-emergency.  A local official investigated my operation when he heard my generator (I had to pay for a building permit after he showed up).   The skills and tools necessary for a 'low key'  means of cutting wood such as the bow saw could prove essential in the  future, even if one owns  a chain saw. 

Carpentry

I had brought an 18 volt battery powered circular saw, drill and LED light (all using the same battery) as well as a car charger,  three AC chargers, several 18volt batteries and a small (700 watt) generator.  With the generator, I  charged three batteries at once.  The 18 volt circular saw for me  was one of the most convenient off grid carpentry tools  to have.   A regular AC powered saw would have been okay, but it would require running  the generator at the same time.  I kept trying to buy a used A/C saw, but they proved too expensive.  The saw, drill and work light batteries can be charged anytime one is running the generator for other uses, such as at night with the laptop computer or radio.  I have used solar and wind in the past, but this was not practical in our situation, at that time. 

Small Problems Add Up

I ended up buying a good chalk line and new chalk.   My 25 foot tape failed  and needed to be replaced.  The hand saw (rusted after improper storage)  was taken to a re-sharpening service about a two-hour drive away (they took forever to get the job done. What would have happened in a collapsed economy?)  The lumber store told me they get few orders for re-sharpening.  I thought:  'What are people doing, buying a new saw when the old one gets dull?' .  Doing without  measuring tools would have slowed  things down too much.   I plan to duplicate them.  Sharpening saw blades was an unforeseen problem and must be addressed in the future.

After I built a couple of saw horses, The carpentry work went pretty smooth for the most part.  I  re-learned that protective eye wear and clothing are a must in a remote location after a few 'mistakes in judgment'.     I could see how the use of protective equipment, including boots and gloves would be a strict rule in a collapsed economy with a lack of medical care and increased risk of infection, not to mention being unable to work due to injury (or worse). My chain-saw helmet, Kevlar chaps, and ear protection were critical. 

We had barrels to catch the rain, but needed to be covered with screen wire.  It was not pine needles or sticks that caused trouble it was the mice that my wife found floating at infrequent intervals.  I don't think the wood mice will contaminate the water if removed in a timely manner.   We don't drink the rain water.  But,  my wife is from South America where all rodents (and lack of sanitation/medical care)  mean life-threatening disease. 

What I Really Regret Not Having Left at the Maine  Property

Moving 'stuff'  is heavy, slow and expensive.  Fuel was relatively cheap during this trip, but what  if gas were to hit European prices of  $8.00 per gal? What about No Gas Available?  One has to weigh the risk/return of transporting 'stuff' vs. stocking in place and risking theft or vandalism on an unoccupied property.  I now will adopt the strategy of stocking things that, if stolen, the loss would not be monetarily or psychologically devastating.  Things such as a prized firearm, stored data,  expensive short-wave radios are transported.   Cooking and eating tools, gardening tools, even some guns are, to me worth the risk.  I have to keep in mind the extensive snow fall, and the possibility of having to walk  the 2 mile private road to the property.  This list is both what I had mistakenly  removed, as well as items that I wish that I had on the property that I would need to purchase. 

  1. A hunting rifle.  A cheap one would have been better than no rifle or  trying to transport one's best rifle all over the country.
  2. Extra ammo.  I had only a small amount of ammo at the property.  A large store of ammo could have been hidden somewhere. It's way too heavy to transport. 
  3. A large selection of tools, including a complete socket set.  I had one with me, but I would have felt better  with another set at the property.  Harbor Freight stuff would be better than no tools at all and I like high quality tools.  Again think: Walk-In. 
  4. Spare Bow Saw Blades. Buy many!
  5. Two or three circular saw blades.  Metal cutting blades. 
  6. Motor Oil and Air and Oil Filters. 
  7. A grease gun, and supply of grease.
  8. Chain saw engine oil.  A dedicated spare chain saw gas can.
  9. Spare Chain Saw Chains and extra parts.  (Again, I brought these heavy items with me to Montana.)
  10. Chain saw files, at least 10. 
  11. Spare parts for the Gas Lanterns. (as previously mentioned I did not have an extra Coleman gas lantern generator. I did have a few mantles.  I will buy more.  
  12. A kerosene heater.
  13. More propane tanks, at least four.
  14. Malt Extract, yeast and hops. For making beer.  Hops do not store well without refrigeration. 
  15. Wheat, Beans and Rice.  
  16. Canned Meat.  We brought a supply of dried elk meat from Montana. 
  17. Vitamin C (However there are plenty of apples around during the right time of year) A root cellar would be a "Must-Build: just to get a supply of fruit during the winter. 
  18. Garden Seeds.  
  19. Extra Work Clothing
  20. Work boots  (I had at least two older pairs in Montana) 
  21. Extra Kerosene Can, 5 Gal.  Tip: have your non-preparedness-minded friends give you all their empty charcoal lighter fluid plastic bottles. Store extra Kerosene in those. That way you wont have your eggs in one basket if a 5 gallon container gets punctured. BTW, the same principle applies to fifths versus half gallon liquor bottles.

 

What I Had to Buy or Have Shipped (What I Could Not Do Without)

Tent
I had a high quality (Montana Canvas) canvas wall tent (12' x 12') that I really missed not bringing.
A friend of mine did a huge favor boxing the canvas-only and shipping it to me from Montana.  I built an exterior frame out of white cedar and spruce poles. I bought locally a plastic tarp for a rain fly and sewed-in a spare stove gasket.  This allowed the 5 inch stove pipe to project through the existing stove gasket of the canvas (through the roof) , then out of the rain-fly forming two seals.   It rains a lot more here in Maine than it does in Montana.  The rain fly is a must.    The stove was a cast-iron second-hand model bought for about $50.00 (one of the few good deals I found in Maine). I built a raised floor out of chip-board and shipping crates.  This made a big difference in giving us a warm, sheltered  living space.  

Notes on wall tents:  1.  get a good quality tent (montanacanvas.com).  2.  Use a big stove and make sure you use sheet metal screws at each stove pipe section.  Screw the pipe to the stove as well.  The high wind will balloon the tent, and pull your stove pipe apart if you don't do this.   If you stare at the stove pipe during the highest wind it will not come apart.  When you leave, that's when it will come apart.  Put an aluminum shield around the stove. 

Another tool I bought was a 18  volt angle grinder.  The property is three miles from the ocean and even that far one gets excessive rust corrosion.   One day I was reading the fine print on some exterior grade wood screws that recommended rust-resistant screws within 5 miles of the ocean. That recommendation mirrored my experience.  The angle grinder allowed me to wire brush corroded parts, saw blades and other metal tools.  I used a lot of silicone spray and Liquid Wrench and rust resistant primer.  These are stock-up items  I will add to my list, as well as preventative measures. 

I hate to admit this but I failed to bring a good carpenter's hammer.  This was a serious error in judgment.  The hammer I had left on site was probably 50 years old and the handle broke after a few weeks of heavy use.  I bought an East-wing with the stainless handle during a trip to  nearby (sales tax free) New Hampshire.  I feel extra tool handles will be important in Maine, there are no hickory trees even to make one with.  Even Oak is hard to find. 

I also neglected to bring heavy work boots.  I will always carry this essential item in the future.  It was amazing how fast jogging shoes fell apart after a few weeks of  work. I purchased a good pair of steel toe logging boots, but winced at the Maine  sales tax (Montana has no sales tax). However:  I  also can't afford an injury (who can?).     Again, I have no one to blame but myself for this oversight. 

I ordered off eBay two propane lanterns (used-reconditioned) at a good price.  I refilled the small propane cylinders myself. 

Beer Making

On a lighter note, I did bring beer making supplies.  The beer bottles mentioned earlier can be re-used forever.  The replacement gaskets are re-used many times.   One word of advice:  making beer on an open fire requires a bit more planning.  Be sure the wood is dry, or your final product will have too much of a 'smoky' flavor.  If I stayed over the winter, a root cellar would be necessary to keep things from freezing.   Come to think of it, staying over the winter would require insulating the container and installing a wood stove. 

Friends

Good friends were our greatest asset.  My best friend living close by  is a master gardener who provided us with plenty of fresh vegetables.  A propane powered refrigerator or freezer would have allowed us to take full advantage of the surplus, not to mention a root cellar, even if we did not start a garden.    The other good friends we have cultivated over the years gave use moral support, great dinners (and dinner conversation), books and plenty of friendly advise.  Our friends in Boston loaded a hard drive full of excellent home building and survival documentaries for our evening's entertainment. 

Getting Cleaned Up

One of the structures I built on the place was a well insulated bath house. It is heated by propane and also has served as an emergency shelter.  I know outside campfires are and inefficient use of wood, but we used the stainless steel basket out of a washing machine supported on rocks.  With a large supply of dry brush, scrap wood or wood not 'worth' burning in the stove we heated 10 gallons of bath water much quicker than using the stove in the tent, especially on hot days.  We used a separate fireplace  for grilling steaks and outdoor cooking.  Again, I cut small branches with the Anvil Loppers.  You don't have small sticks flying up in your eye as  with an ax or hatchet. 

 

Lessons Learned About Retreating

  1. Don't assume you can carry everything with you.  Pre-position supplies and hope they don't get stolen or otherwise destroyed.  The shipping container is completely vermin proof as long as you keep it closed.  Have plenty of toilet paper, plastic bags (the 2-gallon size for maps and books when using under wet conditions), soap, rice, beans, oil and bleach.
  2. Have at least one or two 'working guns' stored, it may be all you have to use  in an emergency.  I use Mel Tappan's definition of Working Guns.  This is admittedly hard to do in a humid, coastal environment. 
  3. Really think about what you want and need for an extended period.  Be honest with yourself.   It's better to get it now if you think you will need it rather than think you will  improvise or do without. 
  4. When you provision your retreat, don't forget to oil and grease the tools. We live three miles from the Atlantic Ocean.   I spent too much time removing rust from tools.  Before leaving three years ago I could have greased the tools and upon return,  used Coleman Fuel or gasoline to wipe off the grease, then use the rags to start fires later (or in a real pinch re-use the grease soaked rags later to wipe down the tools again.  For this reason I also (plan B) stored the used motor oil (in plastic oil bottles marked 'used') when I changed the oil in my truck.   A very good friend suggested cosmoline, which is apparently still available.  [JWR Adds: Since used motor oil is carcinogenic, if you must resort to using it, be sure to wear plastic or rubber gloves when apply or removing it!]
  5.  You still need friends. I can't emphasize this enough.  
  6. I really, really need to purchase the necessary tools to sharpen drill bits and hand saws.  In a real emergency there is no way one could have the time or money to 'outsource'.  In fact, getting it done via  a sharpening service in New England 2010 was time consuming and expensive.  I believe a saw sharpening shop would be very valuable in a collapsed economy, as well as bulk saw blades for bow saws,  hack saws, etc. 
  7. There are many things one can make out of wood, but now is the time to experiment.  If you have an electric drill, a  chain saw  and a few boxes of wood  screws it's amazing what one can put together out of pieces of scrap wood, saplings  and standing dead lumber.  This  includes drying racks, chairs, benches, temporary scaffolding  etc.  If you can't afford exterior screws, get the interior ones, they seem to  last quite a long time.  If you can't recover the screws from the wood burn it in the fire and sift out the screws later (This approached is based on a  story my grandfather told about people in the mid-west 100 years ago,  burning down houses when they moved to recover the (more valuable) blacksmith nails) I tried this with scrap, broken  furniture that   I did not want to disassemble.  It worked. The fire often does not seem to affect the screws, unless already bent or abused.   
  8. Everyone who reads survival blog  probably realizes you can't store regular automobile gas for any length of time (how long will  fuel stabilizer work anyway?) .  This is a weak link when one depends on a chain saw for firewood and yet also   would like  to prepare for shortages.  I mentioned this problem to one of my German  Friends who happens to be a Forest Ranger and expert woodsman.  He said  they have a dedicated chain saw gas (pre-mixed or regular)  over there that will store for about two years. He said it was an 'alkylate petrol'. Brand names are: Green Cut, Motomix, Aspen, Oecomix, Clean Sprit, CleanLife. I contacted Stihl which sells the Motomix brand.   At this writing, the Stihl representative said it was 'unavailable' in the USA  (then I found out you can buy it in Canada).   My German friend  told me it is about $18.00 per gallon (pre-mixed).  I could see storing  about 20 gallons per year in the most extreme circumstances.  The 20 gallons per year figure assumes no gasoline available on the market for mixing with the stored oil.  I would sure sleep better at night with a supply of this 'special stuff' around.  In addition to this 'special chain saw fuel' they use  cheap Vegetable Oil for routine chain lubricant instead of regular Chain Bar Oil.  
  9. The canvas tent and stove combination worked well  until the weather stayed below freezing day and night.  It then became very hard to keep the tent warm under these conditions.  I made sure a supply of split, dry white cedar was available each morning.    I will need to build a permanent structure if we plan to stay during  winter (or return in the winter).  A possible solution is to insulate part of the shipping container, and modify it for a 'efficiency apartment'.  An advantage to this approach would be that no one would know for sure what was inside the unit, once the doors were closed.   With insulated chimney pipe being $100.00 a section in Maine,  I would camouflage the  pipe with a ventilator fan during our absence). 
  10. I ended up buying a lot more rope.  We  also would go beach combing,  which was a source for free short lengths of usable cordage.  Would there be intense competition for this 'trash' during a period of hyperinflation or material scarcity?   I have made rope out of the white cedar bark here using primitive weaving techniques.  It does work.
  11. Finally, I want to say something about 'camping' stuff'.  Many Germans, by tradition,  discourage talking at the dinner table, with the saying 'Eating is Eating and Talking is Talking'.  This strangely reminded me of  Camping equipment!  Camping is Camping and Survival is Survival. If I visit the place for one or two days I will be camping.   For real in-place retreat survival  I found few recreational camping supplies or equipment practical.  Cast Iron, Canvas, Big Heavy Lights, Heavy Work Clothes, Full Size Shovels, Leather, Thick Goose Down Comforters and 30+ inch bow saws (you get the idea) were the rule for us.  We did however depend on the $1.00 fold up toaster quite often. 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation  on the Maine Property

The shipping container had originally been placed on a foundation of crossed  logs (cribbing).  Over the 5-6 years since placement,  it had sank about 8  inches on one end.  I decided to level the container and place a more permanent treated post and beam foundation under the structure.  I first hired a backhoe (a reliable  neighbor who moved there from New Hampshire)  to dig holes 4 feet deep  on 4-foot centers under the container.  I then rented a 20 ton jack.  After two weeks of careful lifting and shimming, it was ½ inch above level (I had brought a survey instrument).

A Safety Tip:  Don't try to jack up a shipping container all at once,  to avoid a crush-injury (or worse) lift maximum 1-2  inches (3+ cm)   per day and redundantly reinforce everything. Rope the jack so it won't fly toward you if it springs out unexpectedly.  I know this from experience.  This was my second shipping container project.  Poor judgment lifting a 40 foot container in Missouri nearly cost me my leg. 

 When the container was completely lifted to spec,  I then placed 6x6 treated posts in the holes and used rail road ties as cross-pieces.  Again, this was all done off-grid with the available hand tools.  The survey instrument was a restored model from the 1950s (no laser).  The only thing that really bugged me about the project was that if the container fell on my arm or leg (or worse) it would be a long time before someone came to check on me in that remote part of the woods.  Carry a cell phone or radio within reach if you try this alone.     

Summary and Conclusion

There are a lot of problems in the Northeast.   I don't want to have to retreat there long-term. But things changed, bringing me back  due to work opportunity.    My wife and I at least had a place to go to that was paid for, relatively secure and had a small network of friends.  Most importantly,  it was close to where we were working  at the time.  I did not go to the 'retreat' as well prepared as I wanted to be,  and the retreat was not as well equipped as it should have been.  However, I learned a lot about what I needed, and what I 'thought' I could do without .  I can use this information no matter where I go.   For me this experiment was a worthwhile set of lessons that I had to re-learn and reinforced what I already knew.  It gave me the experience to set (or re-set) priorities.   The project  reminded me of how important it is to always be asking oneself the questions:  how can I  be more prepared?  What obvious things am I missing in my preparedness program?  I learn more from these real-world experiences than reading a ton of books  after I make the mistakes then read the books  it is much better understood for some reason).    Anyway,  will one ever have the perfect conditions to travel to one's refuge  in an emergency?  Conditions for finally moving to one's retreat are never ideal.     We  can only try to do our best, improve our condition and learn from our mistakes---while we have the time and resources to make them. 


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