Like many people, I was a prepper long before I ever heard the term. I grew up on a farm and learned the value of hard work and ingenuity at a young age. I never liked being in debt or the feeling of having others in control of my well being. The following topic may not be of any interest to many people but for those of you who are thinking about moving out of the city to a place in the country it may give you one more thing to add to your retreat wish list.
In 1998 my family and I moved to our 67 acre farm that came with free natural gas (NG) from two 1930s-vintage shallow wells. This heated our home and water and provided gas for cooking and clothes drying. A couple of years later we bought the lease from the producer because he was going to plug the wells as he wasn’t making any money on producing them. Oil was selling for under $9 a barrel at that time. I did not want to lose the free gas and figured the price of oil would go up so I bought them and the oil I’ve sold over the past 10 years has paid me back a few times.
We live at the end of the electrical grid so our power is the first to go out and the last to come back on. There is seldom a month that goes by that our power doesn’t go out and at least once a year it is out for more than 4 days at time. Our first purchase when we moved to the farm was a gas generator. We had no power the first 8 days after we moved in, due to a severe storm. I read about fuel cells for producing electricity from NG and that they would be available for home owners in early 2002. Well that hasn’t happened and in 2004 I bought a whole house NG backup generator. I called an electrician to hook it up and he said he could do it the following week. He estimated the cost at $1,000 so I decided I could cut that down by doing what I could on my own. I prepared the site, moved the generator into position, ran the gas line, mounted the transfer switch, drilled holes through the house, ran the wiring to the switch box, mounted the breaker box and at this point I realized that all that was left was to wire nut the wires together inside the main breaker so I called him back and canceled my appointment. This thing is great and in an extended power outage it can be turned on and off manually to greatly extend its life.
The first time gas was closing in on $4 a gallon I decided to get a car that ran on NG. This turned out to be a no go as I couldn’t find a compressor for the natural gas that made sense. I could only find two options at that time. First was a “Phil” from Fuelmaker, the unit was priced alright but the upkeep ran about $1 per GGE (gasoline, gallon equivalent). The second choice was an Ingersoll Rand commercial unit at $100,000. Even though I really wanted to do this I put it on the back burner for a while. To run a gas engine on NG you don’t need a lot of pressure you just need a lot of volume. Most cars have tanks that hold 3,600 psi and then have two regulators that reduce the pressure down to a useable level. The reason for the high pressure is to store enough volume in a small enough space so you can go a far enough distance to make it worth doing. One day, while pouring gas into the fuel tank of the Honda engine that is used to run the pump jack on the oil well, I decided that was just plain nuts with all the NG available only a few feet away. I spent a few hours trying to rig something up to run NG into the carburetor but couldn’t get it to run smoothly. The next day I ordered a kit online for $160 and have not put a drop of gasoline in it for six years.
After reading One Second After I started thinking about getting a NG refrigerator. The price was mind boggling until I found out that most of the companies selling them where buying new electric refrigerators and taking out the electric parts and replacing them with NG cooling units. Spending $2,000 to replace a fridge that was working just didn’t make sense. I still wanted one and started looking through the local papers and on Craig’s List for a used one. I finally bought a 1949 Servel at a local auction for $50. This was at an estate auction and I asked a family member if it worked. He told me it had been working a couple of years ago but did not know if it still worked. When I got it home and hooked up to the gas I couldn’t get it to light. I went on line and ordered a manual for the fridge from a guy in Maine who fixes old NG refrigerators. I tore the burner apart and cleaned the dirt, bugs and rust out of it. When I put it back together it lit right up and has been going great ever since. These have no moving parts, are heavy made and should last almost forever. The freezer is big enough to hold about 8 ice cube trays and the main compartment is the same size as a normal fridge. I keep this in my shop and full of beverages but it is great to know if I ever needed it for everyday it is available. The average newly-manufactured refrigerator lasts around 7 years but this one is on its 7th decade.
Every year I go back and search the internet on uses for the natural gas on my farm. I mentioned earlier about the fuel cells to generate electricity for home use. Companies like Bloom Energy are selling them to commercial users like Google, eBay and FedEx but not home users. I can understand why they want to deal with commercial users as they can sell $500,000 to one buyer instead of $5,000 to 100 buyers, but one day they will be available for home users. About a year and half ago while doing searches I finally found a home compressor so I could start running my car on natural gas. I had noticed a large increase in the number of compressors available but most were made in China and were complete junk. I found Green Line Fuel Corp. in California selling a Coltri compressor that had just what I was looking for in a compressor. Coltri has been making compressors for the US Navy to fill scuba tanks for years. What I bought was their smallest unit MCH-5 that fills at about 2 GGEs an hour and is built like a tank. Very low cost to maintain and this can be done by the operator unlike the Phil that needs to be sent to the company every 900 hours for a rebuild.
Once I had found a compressor I liked I started to look around for a car. My car had 127,000 miles on it and didn’t seem like a good candidate to convert. I ended up buying a dual fuel Chevy Cavalier on eBay that only had 44,000 miles and that was $1,100 less expansive than the estimated cost converting my old car to run on NG. I was quite nervous about buying the car over the Internet without driving the car first, but the car has been just great. With the car purchased, I called Green Line and ordered the compressor. They delivered it the middle of January. 2011 and we got it hooked up and running in no time. A couple of months later my dad bought a dual fuel F-150 at a GSA auction and I started to fill that for him. Six months later he bought a 15 passenger one ton Chevy van with only 18,000 miles on the odometer. The van runs great but it had the smallest compressed natural gas (CNG) tank ever made (125 mile range). After removing several rows of seats and installing an additional tank he now has a 400 mile range. Filling up my dad’s vehicles has made me happier than about anything I’ve been able to do with my natural gas. My dad is retired and has always loved going to auctions to buy stuff then take it around to farms and businesses and peddle it out of the back of his truck. About three years ago he pretty much stopped because of the gas prices. We live in a very rural area and many times he would travel 150 to 200 miles round trip for an auction. Now he is back on the road and the money he was spending for gas is now profit from his dealings. We live about 20 miles apart but my office is in between so we just swap out cars there.
In December of 2011 I had my ¾-ton Chevy truck converted. The truck had spent most of the last several years in the garage. Living on a farm you need a truck but at $4 a gallon and 15 miles to the gallon you start asking yourself how many bags of feed can I get in the back of the Cavalier. All of our vehicles are dual fuel meaning they will run on either NG or gasoline. CNG filling stations are few and far between where we live. My truck starts on gasoline and then switches over CNG when the engine temperature reaches 170 degrees. I’ve filled the truck with gasoline only once in the past six months and still have over half a tank. The Cavalier runs on CNG anytime there is NG in the tank and you can’t manually switch it over to gasoline. The one I would not recommend to anyone buying is the Ford unless you have someone that is willing to work on Fords. The closest Ford dealer to us that would work on a factory CNG truck is 120 miles away and they quoted $800 just to change the spark plugs. The main problem is a regulator called a Compuvalve that gives most Ford owners fits.
We all see different SHTF possibilities but many of them include having either no gas or a very limited supply. Being able to get around quickly or haul stuff to market could make a big difference and if nothing bad ever happens I will just keep saving money.
I have several ideas for future projects using the natural gas including a small greenhouse, lawn mower, saw mill and a tractor.