Fuel Storage & Distilling Category

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hello Editor

I have been using alternative fuels for diesel engines for about 12 years in my '84 Nissan 720 diesel pickup, '92 dodge Cummings diesel 12-valve engine, '84 Mercedes 300 sedan, PC40 Komatsu excavator, and a Yanmar track dumper. I have not done any waste motor oil (wmo) yet but with vegetable fry oil being contracted up by all the big bio-diesel company's waste motor oil (wmo) is going to happen soon. I'm just paying it forward :-) Have a great day

My formula for fuel for diesel engines:

Twenty-five gallons of non-hydrogenated fry oil or half and half fry oil and used automatic transmission oil and 2 1/2 gallons of gasoline and 2 1/2 gallons diesel and then add 1/2 gal of b99 or b100 biodiesel for the additive, to clean and protect the injectors and the injector pump. http://www.dieseltruckresource.com/dev/lubricity-additive-study-results-t194481.html

Then circulate through pumps and filters for one hour then fill the diesel vehicle tank and drive. :-) Do not try this with any newer six liter of any brand diesel engine!!!!! This system works on older diesels, 2003 and older, 7.3 power-stroke Fords and older, 1998 and older, Dodge 12-valve Cummins diesels,Mercedes diesels 1985, and older, 2000 and older, Volkswagon tdi, and 2000 and older Nissan diesel trucks.

Check out DSE Basic Kit. After you buy the starter kit, don't order any more of their secret sauce; you don't need it.

In this starter kit you'll receive the DSE Manual (sent hardcopy) and video (sent electronically), along with a free bottle of Alternative Diesel Additive to get you started. If you order this one, add in extra bottles of additive in the shopping cart at the discounted rate to save even more money now. You should also add the Drill Pump, as it will save you money and time when you assemble the filtering unit to make the fuel. You're looking at 49.99.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mr. Rawles,

I live where they switch between winter gas (Benzine, short molecule chains) and summer gas (pure, long molecule chains).

  1. Which is the best season to buy/rotate my gas supply for storage?
  2. Also, under normal circumstances premium octane is a waist of money or even bad for my machines, but is it better for storage?

God bless - B.

HJL Replies: In the past, JWR recommended buying fuel for long-term storage in winter months, because it had extra butane added (for cold weather starting) and hence it had a longer shelf life. However, since 2010 he has recommended buying storage gas in summer months, because ethanol is now added in winter months as an oxygenator, by Federal mandate. The problems created by this ethanol more than offset the advantages of the old winter gas formulations. Jim says that the ideal time to buy your gas each year is on or about May 5th, which is after the seasonal formulation change, but three weeks ahead of Memorial Day Weekend, when gas prices have consistently jumped. Look for a station that offers ethanol-free gas, and ask before you buy, to be certain.

Jim also recently mentioned that although the politics of ethanol are loathsome, he does recommend buying Flex Fuel vehicles with stainless steel gas tanks. These vehicles are compatible with ethanol mixes up to 85% (E85.)

Here are two links to articles about ethanol-treated gas:



In addition to these problems, ethanol has a nasty habit of attacking rubber, glues, and resins that are normally impervious to gasoline. Commercially-produced gas will also tend to have cellulose floating in it, which needs to be screened out by a good filter.

There are reports of E10 containing much higher amounts of ethanol (up to 35%) in some cases. (Though I couldn't find any formal documentation of that.) Usually, this occurs from tanks of E10 gas separating, over time.

Also, stations that switch between the two have an additional problem. Normally, water and gas do not mix in a storage tank. The gas floats on top and the water settles to the bottom. When the E10 (or E15, E85, et cetera) is added to the tank, the company generally does not clean out the tank. They just add the new gas in. The ethanol will immediately begin picking up any moisture present in the tank. If enough water is present, then the entire tank of gas can be contaminated.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


I thought that the readership of Survivalblog would like to know that I am currently burning diesel fuel that was bought in 2005. The fuel was stored in 55-gallon drums located in a cool, dark place and treated with FPPF super fuel stabilizer. I also intentionally bought my fuel in the winter months. The fuel is being burned in Cummins 12-valve engines. The fuel is low sulfur, not ultra low sulfur, so only time will tell if the same results can be expected from the new fuel that was introduced in 2007. - sj

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

As a blessed and married father of five, you continuously do what you can to make sure that all will go well on a daily basis.  Things like the car running, the roof not leaking, the kids having shoes on their feet, clothes on their back and family having food in their bellies.  Just recently I have been thinking more about the possibilities of a tragedy striking and the “what if” scenarios that could be involved.  You can call me crazy, concerned, or even paranoid but whatever the case may be, I want to be prepared.

I’ve never considered myself to be an apocalyptic nut or a survivalist of sorts.  I have to be honest with myself  though and admit that it completely terrifies me that I will not be prepared to take care of those around me, in which I love dearly, if it came down to the worst case scenario.

What would I do in the event an EMP does strike and all h*ll breaks loose?  What would happen to my family if in the event of an electric grid failure?  We would have no source of heat and any frozen food we did have would spoil.  At this point, when would store shelves be emptied from looting?  I could come up with millions of possibilities in which any could occur but what if it was an even simpler case?  What if I lost my job and my family didn’t have assistance?  When would I see cupboards bare?  Would it happen in a week?  In a month?  What would my next step be?

The answer?  Prepping.  Seems like a scary thing if you ask me.  I think about things like gas masks and warfare.  Maybe prepping is more than that though.  Maybe it’s just paying attention to what you have and making sure that you and those you love are taken care of.  What would I pay for something priceless?  How much time would I invest in something that I treasure?
I want to make sure that my family will have full bellies at the end of the night and that my provisions can handle those unfortunate courses of events if or when they did happen.  I wouldn’t do anything less on any other circumstance that means the world to me.  As an example, I have Band-Aids in the cabinet if anyone hurts themselves.  Heck, I have Band-Aids in the cabinet if my daughter looks at me and says she wants one for a doll which is obviously not bleeding out.

So now I look into the mass of confusion on the Internet which graciously lends me a hand as to where to start, what to do, what to pack, what not to pack, what to eat, what will spoil, etc.  You get the idea! It’s an absolute whirlwind.  It’s a violent tornado of best concepts which all will inevitably succeed or fail, time will only tell.

This morning I woke up reading a portion of a blog which quoted some studies from experts.  It stated that if the electric grid decided to crash east of the Mississippi “my location” that the mega transformers which supply us power would take 12-18 months to manufacture.  If this is true, I could be without power for 12-18 months?!  Along with this little tidbit of information, it also stated that we have 300 of these mega transformers that potentially could need replaced in a catastrophic event.  Where am I located on the list of first come, first serve in that scenario?  Here’s the scarier stat; if out of the 130 million people who would be affected by this scenario, it is also estimated that 117 million people would be dead within one year.  Hold on one second.  Within one year!  Gee!  I always thought we had things under wrap better than that.  I mean, I can go grab a gourmet pizza and some drinks and be home watching my favorite saved show with the family on any night of the week but this morning I read a stat that states in a blink of an eye all chaos is going to begin.  Nice.

So here’s my plan:  I am not going to pay attention to the hype.  I know myself.  I would drive myself completely insane if I was constantly looking for tragedy to fall on me.  In fact, I am a 100% sure that I would have a migraine by day three and an eye twitch by day seven or eight.  The year 2000 has indeed come and gone.  The Mayans failed to have a guy keep writing on their calendar.  At this point, I am confident that there have been thousands of other TEOTWAWKI scenarios that have come and gone and yet we are still here.
I asked myself if the impossibilities of something happening outweighed the possibilities of something not happening, would I rather be wrong or not be prepared.  This is what I answered myself, “Yes, you would rather be wrong but you should plan sensibly.” 

Reading another blog led me to a 52 week calendar which listed anything I should need if a tragedy occurred.  I needed to buy 50 lbs. of wheat on one of the weeks.  (Okay, where do I buy bulk wheat?)  I have 7 people in my family.  That means I need 350 lbs. of wheat.  In the same calendar year, there was another week that I was buying wheat yet again…700 lbs. of wheat waiting to be bought and stored in my house!  Now let’s do the same for rice at 150 lbs. per person.  At this point I would have to throw away the Christmas tree and décor, along with half of my childhood keepsakes, and still have 47 more weeks of stuff to buy.  At this point I’m done.  Or am I?

I know what my family will eat.  I know our habits and those that I don’t, you better bet that my wife will lend a helpful word of advice on where I am wrong on those opinions.  But, if I only looked at the 52 week “oh my gosh” calendar, even with the start path right in front of me, I would feel lost.  It also came to mind that if a crisis began halfway through the year on this 52 week plan we would only have half of our stock needed to survive.

Leaning against the kitchen island I ask my wife, “How many times a week do we eat green beans?”  Her answer was sweet and simple, “A few.”  I ask, “What about corn?”  She answered with a gently laugh, “Why?”  This is when I realized that I didn’t know anything about what my family eats and how we eat it. Thank God for my wife!  Per our conversation, I now know more realistic estimates of what we eat and how often we eat it.  Some of our kids will never eat one particular food but for others, it’s a favorite.

At this point we’re going to collaborate in buying canned goods on sale and if we have coupons, you better bet we’re going to use those too!  My wife says Chef Boyardee and Coca Cola are a must on that list.  I personally would love to have coffee on the list.  So it’s on the list as well.  I’m guessing with time and trial and error, we will be able to tweak this plan to accommodate our family.  Above all, essentials will come first…remember, sensible.

I have looked at the best by dates and found most canned goods are marked two-three years out.  That should give me ample time to use the previous year’s stock and then restock so nothing goes to waste. 
In the case that we would need more stock, I will locate the non-swelling, un-rusted cans from the stock of 117 million people which had a two year stock pile to feast upon and met an unfortunate demise.
Am I wrong?  Probably.  Initially I anticipated on buying a three years stock pile but I believe two is a fantastic start.

I am also looking into buying food grade buckets to store rice and beans in.  I have read that white rice stores better for longer, so I am going to start with white rice.  When I feel I have enough white rice, I will get bold and start buying brown rice. The dry beans…where to start?  I figure between the random assortments, we will buy what’s on sale and have a nice variety to choose from.  I still have some homework to do on researching bean spoilage.

I figure at the same point of time when shopping, if anything else looks good to me that will store nicely, I’ll make that purchase.  I laughed when I was talking this through with my brother in law.  I said, “Man, I’m going to buy Ramen!  If I get sick of beef, I always have chicken.  If I get sick of chicken, my backup is shrimp!”  It seems simple enough to just grab a few more items to throw on the shelves.
Also on the essential list will be water.  Lots of water!  Water will be needed for cooking, drinking and washing.  Though I do have a few ponds nearby, I am not sure that those will be suburban swim holes.  I’d rather take my chances with cleaner water for the cooking.

Last but not least, I need batteries and flashlights.  Kids are scared of the dark and at that point of time, I might be too!  Flashlights for everyone!  Oh, and fire starters.  I would like a few starter sets in which I could slowly work on perfecting before I need to use them in a crucial situation.

On the long list, I would like to start a larger garden than I already have.  I’ve been planning to buy heirloom seeds this year for planting so I can save the seeds for next year’s crop.  I can’t wait to can goods which we have grown with our bare hands, while my wife teaches our kids the principles and importance of self-sustaining.
I’m prepping.  At least beginning to and I am more than willing to take this journey because like I said before, I’d rather be safe than sorry.  Let’s face it, you have to start somewhere.

Monday, December 30, 2013

I was in a bad pickle this summer.  A housing opportunity came by and my family moved to a nice country home in Minnesota farm country.  It's low traffic, well sheltered from the wind on all sides by mature trees, and safe for outside pets.  There is ample space for a large garden that will produce a surplus while feeding the entire family.  Yet there is one problem.  The house, while well kept, is a century old.  It is not very well insulated, and we knew from the previous tenant that it is difficult to heat in the winter.

The heating system we inherited is a central heating oil furnace.  It is a good backup unit and we did fill the tank completely, but we knew that trying to heat the house that way would take most of our spare money and prohibit us from expanding other necessary preparations.  So before the weather got bad we decided to get a wood burning furnace.  I decided we should get a coal/wood stove, just to have additional options.  It must have been the Lord's providence because that decision is now proving critical in this bitterly cold winter season.

We started heating the house with wood.  We got the place too late to properly harvest dead trees around the property, so we bought $500 worth of wood at $125 a cord.  Even before December we had burned through about $350 of it.  So we decided to try something different and searched for a source of coal.  About four hours away in North Dakota we found a source for lignite coal at $35 a ton!  And it's been an absolute godsend.  Where we got 3-5 hour burn times with wood, we get 6-10 hours with coal, and it's been a bitterly cold December!  We've often been in the single digits, and lows are commonly in the -10F to -24F range.  In fact the forecast is predicting three straight days of subzero temps with lows in the double digits!  Throughout all of it, we have kept the house a cozy 70F during the day and 65F at night.  And instead of $500+ a month for heating oil or $300+ for purchased firewood, it will be about $100 a month for coal!  That's even including our inefficient purchase of only 4 1/2 tons of coal that we had to truck 8 hours round trip.  In the future we plan to get a larger rig together or hire a trucker and take a much larger delivery of coal.  I'm sure we can get the cost down to $45-50 a ton, delivered!

After my experiences I've been pondering how your American Redoubt region has been especially blessed with two great heating sources, wood and coal.  If you have the access and physical capabilities, nothing beats the price of your own harvested firewood.  For many that don't have access or are up in age, coal is going to be a better choice.  Laying in a nice supply of coal would also be good insurance even if you are well situated to harvest lumber, in case an injury prevents you from harvesting.  There are large coal mines in Wyoming, Montana and Northern Colorado.  A friend of mine informed me that the prices in Montana and Wyoming are about double that of North Dakota coal, but the heat output is even better and there is less ash production, so it's still a great bargain.   For those of you that live near Pennsylvania, Virginia/West Virginia and Kentucky, there is even higher quality [hard anthracite] coal available!

I have personally chosen a manual feed furnace as it will provide convection heat throughout the house even without electricity, and it can burn wood if I run out of coal and cannot obtain more.   For those that don't have the time or inclination to run a hand fed stove, there are stoker coal furnaces that will automatically feed the fire from a large hopper and using a computer they will perfectly regulate your home temperature.

I find myself driving and using gasoline less and less and spending more time working on the farmstead, so coal has definitely become the "Other Black Gold" for me!  With the money I have been saving using coal, I will be able to afford to buy some yellow gold very soon!

A handy web site has a cost/BTU calculator as well as a calculator that will let you input your current monthly costs to compare what it would cost with other heating sources.  I invite your readers to check it out and see what they might be able to save by heating with coal.

The same web site also has lively and very informative discussion forums on modern and antique coal stoves and furnaces, with links at the top and bottom of the page.  Please keep in mind that the majority of members are from the Eastern States, so I do recommend keeping political talk to the proper sub forum.  My experience is that most are rough cut but good natured blue collar workers, probably many Reagan Democrats that feel abandoned by both political parties.  In that regard they are no different than many of us.  Also, many in the forums experienced the full brunt of Hurricane Sandy, and it was the push they needed to start making good preparations.  It could be that God lets such disasters occur to wake up his people to what greater tragedies may befall us in the future, and to allow us to get ready before it is too late. - Mark in Minnesota

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Howdy Captain,
Reading the other remarks about storing whiskey for barter made me chuckle, I've got a different take on this subject.

We're a dry household, always have been, just no need for that stuff. Life is pretty amazing when you're sober, why miss a minute of it under the influence of anything.

But, I've kept two bottles of Jack Daniels stored very prominently in our pantry for many years, and they're located in a place that makes them impossible to overlook.

We live in out in the sticks, and the idea is that if anyone breaks into the house while we are out, I want them to find the whiskey right away, and drink up. When I come home later that just might give me the edge I need!

Even when our kids were little they never touched that decoy whiskey, they knew what it was for!

Shoot straight, - Pistol Pedro in Colorado

If we are at a point in our lives where we are bartering, then supplies will have bottomed out. Alcohol withdrawal is not pretty and will lead it’s sufferer to really unwanted behaviors.
Being the neighborhood alcohol guy will be the same as a drug dealer on the corner today. While I see nothing wrong with trading with  uncle buck who has run out of his Saturday nightcap. Dealing with the public in general will lead to disaster.
Hope this finds you well. - G.B.


Captain. Rawles,
I gave up drinking decades ago but decided to keep a few cases of hootch in the preps for a number of reasons. I have a couple of cases of decent bourbon and scotch just in case it might help grease the wheels with someone I'm not on handshake terms with. I keep a case of Everclear which I can cut with water down to vodka strength, can use as a disinfectant and/or painkiller, burn for light, and which we started buying because my wife uses it in soap making.

I wouldn't offer a drunk a drink, but if others already have all the food, shelter, and security they think they need, my bottle might just be the thing they still want that will get me what I need. - Kevin in the Redoubt

Dear JWR;
I think it unnecessary to dip bottles of whiskey in paraffin or to worry about  the shelf life of unopened bottles.  My uncle, a career Air Force officer who was stationed at a USAF radar base in Canada in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when we maintained radar bases in the far north to give early warning of Soviet missile attack, brought back a large quantity of Canadian whiskey.  He gives me a bottle every Christmas.  The brand he has been giving me the last few years has a cork stopper rather than a screw top.  The tax stamp is dated 1952.  Even with the rather loose cork stopper there is no visible loss to evaporation and the whiskey is excellent after 61 years.  I think that with modern, hermetic screw tops, whiskey will last for hundreds of years with no deterioration.
Cordially, - Doug in Wisconsin


Okay, I read the letters on the whiskey for barter subject, and the one about vodka. Forget that. Buy grain alcohol. [JWR Adds: It is sold under the brand name Everclear, in two different proof grades-- 151 Proof and 190 Proof. The latter (95% alcohol by volume) is more difficult to find and may have to be special-ordered.] It will do anything vodka will do. It is 190 proof so it will work as booze, as a sterilizer in your first aid kit, a pain killer, and will start fires or burn by itself too. I buy stainless steel half-liter water bottles at the thrift store for about $2 each and use them to store the stuff - they won't break if they fall and won't leak unless somebody shoots a hole in them. Best part is it is price competitive to even cheap vodka or whisky, but more potent and more 'flexible'. - Rev. Dave   

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mr. Rawles,
The letter from Tom R. raised the question of stockpiling alcohol for trade.  While I have no moral opposition to alcohol consumption, and even keep a stock of wine and spirits for my own use, there are some practical drawbacks to stocking alcohol for barter.  

First, unless a person has unlimited funds and storage space, it seems foolhardy to stock quantities of items which will not be used or consumed (precious metals excepted) in the normal course of daily post-SHTF activities.   A more rational course of action would be to stock quantities that would be used within the household, with additional quantities that might be used for barter if the opportunity arises. 

Second, alcohol is very easy to make.   Fruit wines, cider, and beer are all created with simple ingredients and can be made with equipment found in most homes.  Distilled spirits require slightly more equipment, but not anything that is extraordinarily expensive or complex.   Any person who is adequately stocked with food or has a moderately sized garden would be able to produce consumable alcohol on their own.  If individuals can produce a product on their own, the trade value of a product is limited.

Which brings me to the third issue: who to trade with?  In an extended grid down or SHTF scenario, most prepared people will want to keep their wits about them and not be interested in trading goods for alcoholic beverages.  Those less prepared will be trading what tangible goods they have for basic consumable necessities such as food and fuel.  This leaves only those with severely poor judgment and/or alcoholism seeking to trade for alcohol. 

Each trade of alcohol would require interactions with people who, at best, are having difficulty coping, and at worse, suffer from chronic alcoholism.  My own survival plan does not include actively seeking out contact with those types of individuals.   Nor do I expect that I would be comfortable knowing where or how they obtained their barter items.   Being known as 'the guy with the booze' would make a person a very inviting target as customers run out of things to barter.

As for me, I'm fine being the guy who has some wool socks and 10W30 motor oil to trade.  - R.L.W.

Dear JWR,
I prefer to store vodka versus whiskey. There are many reasons why. An article over at Life Hacker describes the versatility of vodka. Respectfully,- Don H.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hi Jim,
I love SurvivalBlog! I have a question: I would like to store whiskey for bartering in SHTF. I thought of taking empty 187 ML (about 6 oz) wine bottles with screw caps, washing them, refilling with whiskey, placing a short wine cork in top, then screw cap, then wrap in Saran wrap to limit evaporation loss. I would then label bottles with content and date, and store for SHTF. How does this sound to you? Thanks, - Tom R.

JWR Replies: While I don't approve of bartering whiskey, I must concede that many folks do see some utility in it. So, if you feel you must:

In my estimation, saving on the per-unit cost by buying booze in large containers and re-packaging it is false economy. Two of the keys to successful bartering are trustworthiness and readily recognizable products.  You are far better off buying middle-grade American name brand whiskey (such as Jim Beam or Jack Daniels) in the distillery's small, sealed single-serving 50 ML commercial airline vending bottles. These will likely be well-known and hence trusted by your customers.  These filled bottles are available in bulk from distributors, or you can watch for sales at local liquor stores. To extend their shelf life, you can dip the bottle tops in paraffin.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Here are some additional thoughts in regard to the letter, "Refurbishing Dead Gasoline", from my perspective as an oil refinery chemist:
Gasoline is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons, and there are many different flammable materials that can be blended to achieve the desired specifications.
In regard to vapor pressure of U.S. gasoline blends, a mixture resulting in about 15 psi Reid vapor pressure is ideal for winter conditions, and a mixture resulting in about 7 psi Reid vapor pressure is ideal for summer conditions.
The gasoline blend should exhibit enough vapor pressure for ignition to occur while not over-pressuring and causing vapor lock.
Butane is superior to propane as a gasoline additive mainly because it has a higher octane value and a lower Reid vapor pressure, giving it properties that more closely resemble those in the desired gasoline blend.  Reid vapor pressure is about 50 psi for pure butane and about 150 psi for pure propane.  Although some winter gasoline blends may contain as much as 10 percent or more by volume of butane, much less propane would be needed to achieve the same vapor pressure in the gasoline blend.  Keep in mind that vapor pressure does not blend linearly - one-third the amount of propane would not give you the same vapor pressure as butane. 
In addition, propane has more value as a petrochemical precursor than butane so refiners typically blend butane to add vapor pressure to gasoline while selling propane as a separate product.
Pure ethanol or isopropyl alcohol (distilled with no water), acetone, paint thinner, or other flammable chemicals added in small amounts can also help add vapor pressure without overly affecting the other qualities of the gasoline blend.  
Without a gauge for measurement, I would recommend adding just enough propane or butane to hear a bit of vapor release when opening the container, but not enough to bulge the container.  A little butane or propane will go a long way in restoring the vapor pressure of old gasoline.  Ventilation and the absence of ignition sources is absolutely essential when mixing, of course.
Thanks for your blog.  It's still the best out there. - Michael S.


Mr. Rawles;
First off, I need to state that I am a physical chemist who works with mostly inorganic chemistry, so I know far less than a petroleum chemist would, but I suspect that the fuel industry uses butane over propane for three major reasons.

First, we could approximate that gasoline will obey Raoult’s Law, and a heavier hydrocarbon (like butane) will “self-distill” out of the rest of the gasoline more slowly than a lighter one (like propane).  If they are trying to keep the gas viable as long as possible, using butane would be a better choice, of course.  In very cold climates, refineries might add some propane to keep the hydrocarbon vapor pressure as high enough for cold starts, but that is pure speculation on my part.

Second, there is a significant market for propane, less so for butane.  It makes economic sense for the refinery to use the butane that they would have a harder time selling.
Third, for storage concerns, propane vapor will effuse out of plastic containers even faster than butane, per Graham’s Law of Effusion, so if one must try to refresh gasoline using propane, it should be done at the point of use.

Personally, given the danger of working with gasoline, and given this idea likely won’t be of much use until after all the Hospitals, with their high-tech burn care, have ceased working, I would not try this.  Frankly, I would never have thought of this and it seems to be a very clever idea, but I think the dangers outweigh the benefits.  I think we would be better served learning to exploit fuels that will be available for the long-term: wood, coke, peat and coal.  Burning oil is a silly thing to do anyway (given all else that oil is good for). - The Tennessee chemist who belongs in Idaho

JWR Replies: I concur. It is much safer to use "dead" gasoline as-is, and simply get engines started with the aid of ether-based starting fluid. (Although even that has its own set of hazards.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

The shelf life of gasoline is one of the lurking problems with the prepper community. With this short article I will show you a simple process to take that lifeless gas and make it usable again.

One of the issues with very old (several years) gas is the formation of deposits and gum via oxidation. Ethanol doesn't help either, except to line the pockets of the Ethanol Lobby.

Another issue is water absorption over time.

Gasoline is not one cut of hydrocarbons, but a mixture of light and heavy fuels. Over time the lighter elements ["fractions"] evaporate, leaving a fuel that can't start an engine.

I'll show you how to deal with all three major issues. Always be outside and downwind of any dwellings - and of course, no nearby ignition sources or flame.

The first step in refurbishment is filtration. Depending on the amount of gum and deposits, you first should filter through a rag placed in a funnel. Then pump it through a standard fuel filter - the kind found on a car. I've used a Mr. Gasket 12 VDC fuel pump for years without problem.

Water in gasoline can be nullified by Gumout. Keep plenty on hand.

The final step is adding in the volatiles that have evaporated away. An interesting fact is fresh gasoline is around 1% butane - that's what leaves the storage tank first. You can safely and easily add butane or propane back into the gasoline without owning an oil refinery.

WARNING: What is described here are actions to take in extremis, a TEOTWAWKI situation. Only add butane to gasoline outdoors and downwind of any ignition source or dwelling!

Winter gasoline has a higher percentage of butane than summer products. The refinery does this to keep the vapor pressure higher on cold days.

The process to add butane / propane to gas is simple. Take a 1 lb. propane or butane container with regulator. Attach a gasoline-rated hose to the regulator which can reach to the bottom of your gas can. Slowly bubble the contents of the propane tank into the gas - the gasoline will readily absorb the butane / propane. The mixture ratio is 1:100, or a 1 lb. propane canister to 18 gallons of gasoline. A 20 lb. propane tank can refurbish over 270 gallons.

My friends and I did some experiments to validate this. The first was bubbling a small 2.5 oz butane lighter refiller into a gallon of gas in a clear container. I noticed that the butane bubbles hardly made it to the top level of gas; the gasoline hungrily absorbed the butane.

The second experiment was with four year old gas that was stored in a black tank. A large riding lawnmower simply refused to start with this old gas - a great opportunity to try the new recipe.

Propane from a 20 lb. container was bubbled through the gasoline to get to 1:100. After draining the lawnmower tank and refilling with the refurbished gas it started right up. There were no issues with how the engine ran, either.

If you are storing gas for prepping I would suggest these tips:

1) Use gas that does not have ethanol in it 2) Always use PRI-G in recommended dosages to pre-treat the gas, and also treat it every year thereafter 3) Keep the gas in a cool spot in a metal container. I use surplus stainless steel drums but carbon steel could work as well. (Plastic containers allow the volatiles in gas to leak out.) 4) Have a water absorber additive around as well.

Good luck! - Hugh F.

JWR Adds: Use extreme caution when handling gasoline. You will need to work in open air, well away from all structures and take precautions against static electricity sparks or other sources of ignition. (This includes any wands that you might try to use for injecting butane. And you will of course need to protect yourself with gloves from skin contact and protect your lungs from anything more than brief and incidental contact with vapors. Quite importantly, a couple of helpers should be standing by a short distance away with Class B or ABC-type fire extinguishers.

Do not attempt to bubble butane from a butane lighter into a container of gasoline unless you have first completely removed the striker wheel mechanism! As Hugh mentioned, using butane lighter refiller canisters and a wand would be far more practical and safe.

Older gasoline that has lost its butane and other highly volatile components (do some research on Reid Vapor Pressure) will often fail to start an engine, but that same gas will often run an engine, once it has been started. So be sure to stock up on several cans of ether-based starting fluid.

I'm not a chemist, so I don't know whether propane will stay in solution in gasoline as long as butane does. But I suspect that butane must be superior in some way, since that is what the petroleum industry uses as a gasoline additive. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can chime in.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I concur with your desire to purchase items made in America, but I have had some trouble finding wood splitting items made here that are of the same quality as made in Europe.  I also split my wood by hand and I have found these items very helpful:
This great maul, and
this Gränsfors splitting maul, and
The spiral twist in this wedge makes it very effective with increased mechanical advantage.
If you know of any American made wood splitting devices that are of the same quality as these, please let me know, because I would like to purchase them.  I have not yet found them.
Thanks for your help and great site, - Jim S.

JWR Replies: I am indeed a big believer in buying American-made products. I am principled about this but not dogmatically absolutist, so I do make some exceptions, namely:

  • When an imported product is more safe to use.
  • When an imported product is the only one available.
  • When an imported product is of better quality.

If I can't find a good American-made product, I first consider products from our traditional trading partners, like Canada and European nations. Failing that, then Mexico and Taiwan (free China.) I only buy products from mainland China as a last resort.

The spiral Gränsfors wedge (made in Sweden) is indeed quite efficient.

Not all of the best wedges are made in Sweden. There are indeed some other innovative wood splitting wedges--but not many are American-made. These include:

The Estwing E-5 Sure Split Wedge is made in USA. This wedge has side fins that make them more efficient. I have used these, and recommend them.

But the traditional Barco wood splitting wedge is made in USA, and you can buy four of them for the price of just one Gränsfors. And if you ever need to split a long straight log transversely (to make split rail fences, for instance), then you will need a set of six of seven of the traditional straight wedges.

Be advised that many of the other brands of wedges, axes, sledges and mauls are imported. For example, the Truper brand is made in Mexico. And most of the red-painted and green-painted wedges that you see in hardware stores are made by Shandong Jinfu, Laiwu Zhongtie, and other companies in China. And even Jorgensen brand--a company that has the temerity to still publicly proclaim "four generations of quality"--now sources many of their tools in China, including their wedges and their bench vises.

The Roughneck Wood Grenade (marketed by Northern Tool, and other companies) is made in Taiwan, and has had good reports.

There is a "no name" equivalent to the Wood Grenade that is made in Mexico.

But beware that the widely-sold "Timber Blaster" segmented wedges are all made in China.

Perhaps there are SurvivalBlog readers who know of some other American-made equivalents to the tools that you listed.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

 Many of us that have been prepping since before the Internet have welcomed all the new information, knowledge, and interaction with our fellow preppers. But for someone who is just starting out, it can all be overwhelming. So overwhelming that they don’t know where to start. The sad part is that many of them don’t start. They feel that they have to  spend so much money at one time to get all the gear that the experts say they need, that they just can’t do it. This is in large part due to shows like Doomsday Preppers. While I watch these shows regularly, and enjoy them, they are, in my opinion, a two edged sward. They have made many people aware of the need to start preparing for _______(fill in the blank), but they also go so far beyond the basics (where we all started)  that they leave the new prepper with the wrong idea of how to start.
None of us started out with everything we needed. For some of us, we had no idea what we would need. We knew we had to prepare, maybe we had a vague idea what we were preparing for, and a kernel of a plan in the back of our minds. Before the Internet came along, we had to search through stacks of books and magazines for information. If we were lucky, we found a survival school nearby. We slowly built up our supplies, made a Bug Out bag, practiced our skills, and continued the search for information, gear, and more skills.
For those that are just beginning, I am glad you found this site. It will offer you many tips and suggestions. The gear, gadgets, and most of the advice have all been tested. The advertisers have all been vetted, so if you choose to purchase their products (and I hope you do as they help keep this site up and running) you can be assured that they will deliver on their promises.
I hope that with a few tips, the new prepper will continue to become prepared and will continue to seek knowledge to help them and their families become more self reliant. The tips and suggestions I offer are based on my own experience, I do NOT consider myself an expert. In fact I learn more each and every day. I have had to replace my bag a few times, often on a very limited budget. These suggestions have helped me through the years, that is why I offer them to you. These suggestions are for a bug out kit, not a bug in kit. (although it can be used for both)
By way of introduction, I am 44 years old and I have been prepping since I was in my teens. I took my first survival course at 16 in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I am a Nurse and an EMT, I have also been a volunteer fire fighter and a storm spotter. I have been through ice storms and tornadoes in Oklahoma, and earthquakes and forest fires in California.
When you pack your bug out kit, think of the five priorities you have; Water, Food, Heat, Shelter, and Security. Everything you need in your bag falls into one of these five categories. You need to try to have at least three days worth of supplies. Of course, if you can’t have that at first, remember that something is better than nothing.

  A source of water would be your first criteria for your bug out location. (I will talk a little about this later). The recommendation is one (1) gallon of water per person, per day. So you would need 3 gallons of water for your own use. That would be about 24 pounds (8 pounds per gallon, approximately). Since most people can not carry more than 50-60 pounds for more than a short time, I suggest carrying two liters and having a way to purify or filter the rest. (search You Tube for your best choices on how to do this)Two liters should last you through most of one day’s drinking requirements. I prefer to carry mine in military style canteens, with a military style canteen holder and canteen cups. An alternate method would be using 2 one liter bottles or a two liter bottle such as a clean soda bottle.

 In my bag I usually carry three MREs, three dehydrated meals I made myself, a few food bars, a jar of peanut butter, M&Ms, and several pieces of hard candy and gum. Hard candy can provide sustained energy by keeping your blood sugar up while burning more calories than normal, but can also keep your mouth moist when exerting yourself. If you carry canned food, which is heavier but easier to come by when first packing your kit, make sure to pack a can opener. Also make sure you pack eating utensils. You would be surprised at the number of people who forget these.
Remember to check your food often for expiration dates. I do this by setting my e-mail ca lender to send me reminders a few days before I go shopping at the beginning of each month. That way I can check everything and add it to my shopping list as needed. Anything about to expire gets eaten or donated so nothing goes to waste.
 Like me, many of you have watched the various survival shows and watched while they made a fire out of whatever is handy. Building a fire this way is a great skill to have. You may need it, and if nothing else it builds your confidence. But, as my first instructor told me “It’s easier to flick a Bic than rub a stick”. That’s the reason I never leave the house without a lighter and a pocket knife. Disposable lighters are easier to dry than matches, or even a Zippo lighter, if they become wet. I carry all three of these with me in my bag or on my person. The matches are in a water proof container (available at almost any sporting goods store) along with a small piece of sand paper, since I have found that “Strike anywhere” matches actually do NOT work everywhere.  You should also pack some type of tender in your bag. I have cotton balls, dryer lint, paper (from the note book I carry) and I always have a few business cards in my wallet and in my bag (most sales people and many other businesses will be more than glad to give you one or two). There are also commercial fire starting fuels out there like Trioxane. A small saw and hatchet are also part of your heat providing gear. There are many choices out there for these items, so do your research and choose the best ones for you.

In this category would be the clothes you wear and pack. You should have a sturdy pair of shoes or boots, at least two extra pair of socks, long pants ( I always pack jeans or military style BDUs) a long sleeve shirt (I pack either a work shirt like Dickie's brand or, again, BDUs) and a cap or hat that can shade your eyes and keep your head warm.
You should also have a good sleeping bag appropriate to your climate and season, and a small water and wind proof tent. I like to have a few hand warmers as well as a good pair of insulated gloves, and a pair of work gloves for handling wood, rocks, etc. My bag also has a military surplus folding shovel and carrier that hangs on it. This is used for digging a fire pit as well as sanitation and preparing a shelter area.
A roll of duct tape is also useful, both for securing and repairing your shelter. as well as repairing almost anything else. I also have a Multi-tool so I have small wire cutters, screw drivers, etc handy to help repair anything that breaks.
If you have never built a shelter, you can start learning on YouTube or similar site online. Once you have watched it done, practice you methods of choice until you have it down pat. It is never as easy as it looks.

When most people think of security in a SHTF scenario, they think of firearms. While I believe everyone should have a few of those and the training to use them properly, they are not the only form of security.
First aid is also a vital part of your security. Being able to treat wounds or illness is vital to being and staying alive. If you have never taken a first aid course, do so. They are available almost everywhere, and they are cheap or free. Most commercial $10 first aid kits come with a small first aid handbook. Study it. Once you have chosen a first aid kit appropriate to your level of training, check it often and replace anything that is expired, just as you do your food.  Many people have written about this topic, from lay people to doctors, so I will not go into it again. Search out these articles, essays, videos, and books, then practice the skills described in them.
Hygiene is also important. Staying clean is the first step in fighting disease. Having a place away from your shelter and water source to “do your business” is very important. You should have a bottle of hand sanitizer in your kit. I would recommend having a complete hygiene kit in your bag that has anti-bacterial soap along with a wash cloth and small towel. You can also pack shampoo, and deodorant in there if you choose. Make sure you have a toothbrush, tooth paste and dental floss in your hygiene kit, as well feminine hygiene products if you need them. The one thing a lot of preppers seem to forget is toilet paper. So pack that too. If you wear glasses, then get an extra pair and keep them in your Bug Out Bag in a hard case, as well as a repair kit for them. If you wear dentures, make sure you have your cleaning and care supplies in your bag.
For me, one of the most important security items I have is a Bible. The one in my G.O.O.D. bag is the same small Gideon one I was given when I joined the army. The New testament, with Psalms and Proverbs, has given me very good sense of security all of my life.

The next step is finding the place you will be bugging out to. As I mentioned, you will want a place with a good source of water. You also want to have a place (or places) that has good security, or that you can quickly make secure. Your site should be away from whatever disaster you are getting away from. And it’s location should never be shared with anyone outside your immediate family or group. When the excrement hits the oscillating device you don’t want everyone and their brother trying to show up at your retreat.

The most important piece of gear you have in the one above your neck and between your ears. I can not stress enough how important your mental attitude is. Having the right mindset is the most important skill in surviving any situation. Whether you are preparing for total societal collapse, or the more common natural disasters, you can not survive unless you want to survive.  Mental preparation is the most important preparation you will do. Think about the two or three most likely disasters, then prepare for them. After that you can go on to preparing for any other disaster you think may happen.
By finding the SurvivalBlog site and reading the notes, articles, and essays in it, you have already taken the first step. By thinking about and following through with making a BOB, you are on your way to being able to get through almost any disaster.
I personally invest at least an hour each day to my preps. This can be anything from reading magazines, blogs, or books (which I do every day) to cutting wood, to food preservation and storage, to learning a new skill or practicing one I learned already. I practice one of my bug out plans at least once each month, and my bug in plan at least twice a year. I also try to exercise at least three times a week. Sometimes that is walking, sometimes I combine exercise with other activities, such as cutting, splitting, or stacking wood. In colder months I use a tread mill and do calisthenics inside.
I hope this has helped at least a few people to become more self reliant. Remember that you can not count on anyone but your self to come to your aid in an emergency. Good Luck, Good Prepping, and God Bless.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

I hope all is well. I noted your reply to this blog post: Letter Re: Can I Burn Home Heating Oil or Kerosene in a Diesel Engine?

You mention that home heating oil is nearly identical to diesel fuel. Three additional clarifications may be useful for your readers. The first is that depending on your locale and type of heating system, "home heating
oil" (HHO) may refer to a blend of different fuel oils, some of which may not be suitable for internal combustion. If you plan on using HHO in a diesel engine, ensure that it is Number 2 fuel oil.

Secondly, petrodiesel sold in the U.S. for use on roads is ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) (<15ppm), but some marine and off road diesel is still low sulfur diesel LSD (<500 ppm). Number 2 fuel oil (home heating oil) can contain up to 1,500 ppm of sulphur. This is important because diesel engines newer than 2010 (and some as early as 2007) can experience damage to their emission control systems with higher sulphur content.

Last, most HHO is treated with anti-smoke and antimicrobial agents, as is petrodiesel, but not always. Check with your oil provider to verify that it is. Otherwise, microbes which feed on the oil can clog your fuel filters, injectors, etc. If your fuel oil lacks antifungal and antibacterial agents, this can be easily remedied by adding an aftermarket biocide (e.g. Bio-Kleen).

In closing, I will note that one solution to this issue is to fill your home oil tank with 15 ppm off road diesel. It will burn perfectly fine to heat your home or business, and costs only a penny or two more than traditional Number 2 home heating oil per gallon. In the event of a disaster, you can have a ready supply of hundreds of gallons of fuel for your diesel engine.

Thanks for SurvivalBlog and God Bless. - Mountaintop

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I wanted offer some praise to J.J.S. and is thorough submission titled Heating with Wood 101. I'm following his lead and wanted to offer your readers some additional ideas on wood processing with some stealth after TSHTF. Running a 50cc chainsaw and a 34-ton log splitter is all fine and dandy when there's no one around meaning to do you any harm but its completely inappropriate in a TEOTWAWKI situation. If you are lucky enough to have a renewable energy source its advisable to switch to electrical tools because they are so quiet. Either of the big box stores carry electric chainsaws and electric, 5-ton log splitters at reasonable prices. I've also found that they have a semi-professional grade chain sharpener that'll make the teeth on your chain look like a mirror when sharpened. While the 5 ton splitter isn't going to split 3 foot diameter pine trees like a gas one will, it will go through the same wood once you quarter it with a maul. Just add a bit of oil to the maul on the splitter and it'll do just fine. Here are quick links to the three products I recommend:

Regards, - Gilpin Guy

JWR Replies: I appreciate your advice, but the brands that you mentioned are mostly made in mainland China. (See my many admonitions about China's laogui prison factories.)

The WORX brand tools and their batteries are all made in China. One alternative: I have a Makita 14-inch electric chain saw, and I've been quite happy with it. To the best of my knowledge, those are still made in Japan.

The Task Force brand tools (a house brand of Lowe's) are also imported. Many of those come from China. An American-made alternative that is more powerful (16-tons of force) is produced by Ramsplitter. As electric splitters go, these are fast and powerful. Another American-made electric splitter is the 10-ton dual-action splitter made by DR. Unlike a typical gas engine splitter, most electric splitters cannot be heard from more than a short distance away.

The Buffalo Tools brand products are made in China. An excellent American-made alternative is made by Silvey. Unlike the cheap imported chain grinders, these cut a precision square notch.

Friday, July 19, 2013

 "If I have seen for miles, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." - Isaac Newton

This line sums up SurvivalBlog and the contributing writers: it is a community of concerned preppers trying to share knowledge to help each other out.  My focus today is residential heating with wood as your fuel based on my experience heating with my airtight cast iron stove.  Pretty boring topic for the seasoned prepper, but I think there are plenty of new preppers who have recently seen the light and can feel the stuff hitting the fan and hopefully this article will have a little for everyone.  Personally. I am a new prepper and was astounded to learn that this country and world is in one big mess, financially. I bet that a lot of us reading SurvivalBlog are just like me: Newly Aware and Astounded.

If you live where it can get cold and many of us do you need to think about a heat source.  I would rather save my fuel oil, propane, and gasoline for other uses rather than heating my abode. I like wood myself because it is and should be readily available before and after any kind of world changing event.  If you live in an area that does not have access to much fuel wood than you probably already know that you live in area that will not be very pleasant when the balloon goes up i.e. any kind of larger city so G.O.O.D. and God bless. 

Here is my motive for writing this article related to heating with wood.  What I love about my woodstove is that I use it now and it is very practical for comfort and saving money on my heating bill. But after the SHTF it will become a necessity that could make the difference between living or freezing to death. (I have seen my thermometer hit 39 below)   I have acquired many things trying to get “prepared” that I will rarely use unless the crunch occurs but my wood stove is something I use every day 5 to 6 months out of the year.

But to raise a serious question to all preppers, have you thought very hard about heating your home?  Do you know how much fuel you would need, no matter what type that you would need to heat your house for one, two or three or more years.  Truly I enjoy survival blog but there is an enormous amount of discussion of what is the best gun, knife, caliber, bullet etc… But freezing to death is just as dead a catching a bad case of lead poisoning, probably worse if it involves family and friends.  If you do not have a reliable off grid heat source then I suggest you consider a wood stove before you get your next backup MBR.  Warmth could be a wonderful barter item in a SHTF world.
Let me give you my opinion of what could be the most desirable heating sources to have in order of most important to what you would use if you have no other options.
                1. Wood cook stove
                2. Masonry heater
                3. Airtight EPA approved wood stove or fireplace insert
                4.” Earthstove” or old style wood stove
                5. Makeshift wood stove e.g. Fish house stove, barrel stove, homemade stoves
                6. Electrically dependent wood stove, furnace, or boiler
                7. Open fireplace (but there is good news!)

First, a wood cook stove is a no brainer, if the grid goes down what better way to cook and heat at the same time.  Though I do not have a wood cook stove yet, I am keeping an eye out for one on Craigslist that is reasonably priced.  Next on my list is a masonry heater.  I am only going off of what I have read here and other places but this seems like the cat’s meow for high efficient fuel wood heating.  The one major problem I see is that a masonry heater is very large, heavy, and expensive.  I would love to have one but it would never work in my own house and I am sure that I am not alone.  But if you have a generous budget and the right layout of you home then why not since all of our money won’t be worth much in a few years anyway. 

What I use is number 3 on my list, an airtight stove.  These types of stoves are covered in previous SurvivalBlog articles so I will not get into it to deeply except to explain that the EPA airtight stoves and fireplace inserts use advanced stove design to increase the efficiency of the wood that is burned.  This also gives the benefit of burning cleaner which decreases the amount of build up in your chimney therefore it is safer, also the more efficient burn creates less visible smoke/emissions which should appeal to everyone related to opsec .  When my wood stove is burning effectively there is no visible smoke and surprisingly no smell.  But smoke will be present when you first start your stove or when you add more wood and this is from the moisture in the wood cooking out and is typically blue and rises (even well seasoned wood has some moisture.)  Also your chimney will emit a lot of smoke if your stove is not burning hot enough to ignite the wood gases, this is often grey sinking smoke.  The point being is that the smoke or lack of visible smoke coming from your chimney tells a lot about how well your stove is burning.  My stove is a Jotul Oslo 500.  It is a cast iron stove with a 3 cubic foot firebox with a side door and has the ability to have a cook plate installed.  A large fire box is nice when you want to have a long burn and the side door is where I load all of my additional wood when I have a fire burning or I am putting fresh wood on a bed of coals.  And I am sorry to say I have not tried a lot of cooking on my stove yet but it is in the plans. 

Modern stove are usually made out of plate steel, cast iron or soap stone.  Cast iron and soapstone are most expensive but they are known for their durability and heat retention which is very desirable when wanting a good heat source.  Plate steel is cheaper but gets hot fast and then cools fast but might be better to cook on, I do not know for sure.  Plate steel can also warp if it gets too hot.  Soap stone has a great reputation of having “soft heat” that does not get too hot and stays warm longer than cast iron and a lot longer than plate steel, but you are going to pay for it!  

Number four on my list are the older cast iron or plate steel non-EPA approved wood stoves.  To be fair I have never used one of these stove before in my home, I have only been around other people who have had them and I will say that they work just fine. But from what I have read about the advanced burning systems is that the newer stoves make for a much better burning system which is from the higher efficiency and cleaner emissions i.e. less smoke. 

From what I understand the old style stove are around 50 percent efficient while the newer stoves are 70 to 80 percent efficient.  That may not sound like much but if you need to get wood and you don’t want to draw attention to yourself by using a chainsaw and a gas wood splitter, then 20 percent less wood to cut, split, and haul by hand will be a very big deal. 

I have one comment on makeshift wood stoves and cheap wood space heaters for heating residential homes and that is they make me nervous.  If you have nothing else when the balloon goes up then that is what you have to do, but if we are truly prepping than I would plan for something else.  Added note I have never used a barrel stove but the design with the 30 gal barrel inside of the 55 gallon barrel with crushed rock as a heat sink does look reasonable but my reminder to you is that if you run into problems after the SHTF then the fire department might not be as accessible as before. 

Electrically dependent wood burning systems are not high on my list. Number one is that they are dependent on a source of electricity to run blower fans and circulate air or hot water and second they are also around the 50 percent efficiency rate for firewood.  Two good reasons to look elsewhere for reliable wood heat sources.  And don’t be duped into buying a pellet or corn stove because I would not suggest to someone to stockpile tons of wood pellets for TEOTWAWKI and corn will be more valuable as a food source.  Finally the topic of open fireplaces, these are very inefficient, around 10 percent.  The best news about these is there are many manufactures that produce EPA approved airtight fireplace inserts.  Now wouldn’t you want to improve the efficiency of your heating system by 70 percent?  (Just for the record, I do not endorse the EPA, it is just a good way to distinguish the newer style of wood stoves.)

Now that I have covered stove options the most important topic in any wood burning system is the chimney.  You need a good working chimney to burn wood safely and effectively.  A good working chimney does much more that carry away smoke, a properly built and located chimney provides a good draft and is well insulated.  A good draft, which is negative air pressure created by a chimney, is what pulls air into the wood stove.  Unlike wood furnaces that will blow air into the firebox to generate or increase the fires intensity a wood stove is dependent on good chimney draft to operate optimally.  Air tight wood stoves are passive machines unlike their electrically dependent furnaces.  Airflow into EPA stoves is fairly low which leads to a higher efficiency level.  One thing to keep in mind related to air flow is that air is usually drawn from out of the room/house and then leaves up the chimney, or basically your house needs to “leak” some outside air into the house for the stove to work properly.  So if your house is built very tight you could run in to difficulty with obtaining a good draft.  A lot of the airtight stoves have outside air kits to increase efficiency so I hooked mine up to an outside source when I did some remodeling.  I was not happy with how it worked because if my stove was not burning then cold air would still be drawn into the stove from outside by normal chimney effect and then I would have a 400lbs piece of cold cast iron in my living room.  The problem with the outside air kit is it is an unrestricted air source much like an open window, I guess I would rather have some "leak" from windows, doors, outlets etc. created by my woodstoves draft rather than the open window effect from the outside air kit.  Other factors for a good chimney is that Ideally it should run through the middle of a house to stay warmer since a warm chimney creates a better draft and the cooler surfaces of the chimney is where unburned wood particle can stick to and create creosote.  Additionally to note is that a stove in a basement sometime will not work very well since the chimney does not develop enough draft located that low in the house.  Check out woodheat.org, this is the best web site I could find related to residential wood heating.  The stove in my house is located on a ground level with a class A stainless steel chimney running through the middle of the house.  My suggestion is talk with local dealers that sells wood stoves and have them give you advice on what would work best for you.  Additional note class A chimneys are stainless steel and insulated and are designed to withstand a chimney fire of up to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes.  My final comment on chimney draft was reminded to me the other evening when I went to light my stove.  When I opened the stove door I felt cold air coming down the chimney.  At first I did not think much about it and proceeded to light my fire.  My fire did not take off and then I started to get some smoke into the room.  I then realized that my wife was using the clothes dryer downstairs and that was blowing air out of our house which then affected the draft of my chimney.  So I turned off the dryer, lit my fire without difficulty and after I had a good fire going I was able to turn the dryer on without problem.  I have also noted this same problem lighting new fires when the bathroom fan is running.  The point is that chimney draft is very important and can be influenced fairly easily so be aware of it and place your chimney appropriately.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

The next topic is about wood cutting, splitting and storing.  First is cutting, and pre SHTF you will need a chainsaw or even better two. The second saw is to cut out the first one after you have pinched it in a tree (right now there are a lot of wood cutters nodding their heads and sadly I did just this last week when I was out cutting wood).  What type of chainsaw to buy as your main saw is probably as discussed as which brand/caliber gun to carry as your main sidearm.  Let me give the best advice that I got from a book titled The Wood Cutters Guide to Woodland Management and that is there are only three brands of saw to buy and they are Stihl, Husqvarna, or Jonsered.  Everything else falls short of what these saws have to offer as professional wood cutting tools, but other brands would make good cheaper second saws for the occasional wood cutting snafu.  Next is what size, 9mm or 45 ACP? The same argument as before because there are many different opinions but let me recommend a saw somewhere between 50 to 60cc.  Why this range?  It is because the majority of your cutting is limbing the tree and you don’t need a big saw for that and working with a big heavy saw for a long time is tiring which then increases your chance of having an accident.  I got a good nick in my protective chaps one day when I was getting tired and not paying attention, which made those chaps the best 39 dollars I ever spent.  When it comes to cutting through the big part of the tree it is hard not to love a lot of power but what I have learned is that taking the time to make sure you have a sharp chain (so sharpen frequently) makes up for having less power.  The woodland management book recommended running the correct sized hand file through all of your chainsaw teeth every time that you filled up a fresh tank of gas.  So practice sharpening by hand and buy a gauge to check when you need to file down the racker teeth before the cutters. A note on safety is I highly recommend some chainsaw chaps, they have small fibers that bind up the chain of the saw when they come in contact with a spinning chain and they have already saved me from an accident.  I also use a woodman’s helmet with a mesh face shield and integral ear muffs.  I really like to wear this when I am cutting.  Since I first wrote this my safety gear saved me again, I had a big red oak hung up in another tree.  I was able to give it a push and it started to fall but was hooked on a branch from an adjoining tree.  That 5 inch diameter branch pulled off of the tree and came down straight onto my helmet.  It hit hard enough that parts of my left arm went numb for a split second but otherwise I was fine with no lasting damage.  Without my helmet I could have been hurt very badly.

After the SHTF sawing becomes a much bigger challenge because of the sound signature of a chain saw and how far this sound will travel in the new more silent world.  Heck, if I hear a chain saw running close by I hop in the truck to go see if I can “help” and maybe get some free fire wood in the process, just a tip to add to your firewood pile.   But the “help” you would get in the post crunch world might not be so friendly so a good hand saw or felling ax might be a better idea.  I have just started to experiment with some different types of hand saws.  My first has been a Japanese type pull saw.  It is very efficient and easy to use.  My next acquisition has been a one-man timber saw, not my dream way to cut up a tree but if millions of board feet of pine were cut using these in the early 1900’s then I am sure they will still work today.  I also bought a timber saw sharpening set from the Crosscut Saw Company.  Kind-of spendy but if I ever truly need it, it will be worth its weight in gold.  Like much SurvivalBlog advice education is everything and experiment with different types of saws and how well they work before the balloon goes up is important.  I think the sharpening kit could be the most important tools to have since there are often old saws that have been turned into “art” but might need to be sharpened and polished and put to work.  A painted or powder coated saw might not slide through the wood very easily so plan on having some sandpaper or paint stripper handy for refurbishing these old saws.  (Maybe a good post TEOTWAWKI job?)     

Splitting is easy advice to give, buy a maul and swing hard!  Okay, I have some opinions here also; first a 6 lbs or smaller maul is all you need.  Splitting wood effectively is mostly dependent on velocity over mass.  So the faster you can swing the maul the better chance you have to split the wood.  I have an eight pound mall I barely use; I have never noticed a difference in my ability to split wood between the 6 and the 8 lbs mauls.  I also own a 4 ½ lbs maul and a Fiskars 4 lbs splitting maul.  I don’t like these for splitting big rounds, they just don’t do the job as well as my 6 lbs maul but they are great for splitting kindling or making medium sized pieces smaller by my wood shed before I bring them in the house.  Additional note the Fiskars maul comes in two handle lengths.  Do not buy the short handle maul because the blade is scary sharp and my fear is that it would be easy to miss the wood and put that sucker right through my leg, so I rarely use that maul.  The long handle Fiskars works ok but I would advise you to save your money and buy a generic well built 6 lb maul for general splitting and a 4 ½ maul for kindling.  Also you don’t need a sharp maul to split wood, some sources even recommended dulling the edge to lessen your chance of the maul sticking in some hardwoods.   A final note on mauls is from my friend who has something called the “wedge,” it weighs around 13 lbs.  He tells me it works great for holding open the door to his shop in the summer. 

If you have made it this far thanks!  Let me give you my best tip I can offer related to splitting wood, I got it off the internet.  Take an old tire, one with a wide tread is preferable, and mount it to a nice splitting stump.  When you split your rounds place them in the tire, as long as it is not a tight fit, and swing away!  If you have the right thickness tire the wood does not go anywhere after you hit it and you can hit it three or four time without having to bend over every time and pick the wood up of the ground to hit it again.  This is a back saver if you split your wood in a designated area and after you are done splitting it into nice size pieces you just grab it out and stack it on the wood pile.  Now if the wood fits in the tire to tightly then you will wedge the round into the tire with every swing and then it is really hard to get it out and yes I know this from experience.  I do not always bring my rounds back to my wood pile and spit them in my tire.  I often will spit my firewood out in the woods were I dropped the tree or found my deadfall.  There are two reasons why I do this, first is ease of splitting.  The round sometimes are already lying in a position that they can be split (I have split a lot of smaller piece lying on their side; just slide them up to another piece).  Also in the woods you can use your foot or your maul to right the round the way you want them for the best splitting.  This is another great tip from the woodcutter’s manual and the focus is to save as much wear and tear on your back as possible.  With this approach I routinely drive the maul into the ground, which dulls the edge over time but you do not need a sharp maul to split wood and additionally swinging into the ground is much safer than swinging at something 12 to 18 inches of the ground.  Try splitting your firewood out in the woods sometime; you will be surprised how well it works (another great tip from the woodcutter’s manual.)  After you split that wood, throw it in a quick pile and leave it there for a few weeks or months, this will allow it to lose more of its weight from moisture content.  When you come back the wood will be lighter and easier to handle and haul.  Finally don’t worry about the dull maul that you have been sinking into the ground, the metal if soft enough that a little work with a metal file will get you all the edge you could ever want. 

The real purpose for splitting wood is to dry and season your firewood for successful and safe heating.  Live or wet wood will have moisture content over 50%.  For the best burning firewood your moisture content should be 15 to 20%. Firewood with high moisture content does not light easily, does not put out much heat, and produces a lot of creosote that can collect in your chimney which creates a fire hazard.   To get this low moisture content your best strategy is to split and stack your wood in single file rows where it gets exposure to the sun and the wind.  I personally stack my wood in double rows so there is less chance of the piles tipping over.  How long to season your wood gives a variety of answers.  First, is it a live cut or a dead fall?  Dead falls are always my first choice to cut because some of the drying is already done.  But the most important factor for effective drying is the species of wood that you are trying to dry.  (My apologies to readers outside of the areas that do not have hardwood forest like I have access to, I know a lot of trees like larch and Doug fir are burned for heat in the redoubt.  I mostly burn deciduous hardwood, but I will try to explain that I think of my local hardwoods as different levels of “hardness” and use and dry them accordingly.)  First for drying my hard hardwoods I like to have these stacked and drying for at least two seasons/years.  This is my oak trees both red and white.  Every time that I have burned oak that has not had two years to season I am reminded by a sizzling smoking lousy burning piece of wood.  All other species for me have done well with only one drying season, therefore this wood cut and stacked in spring or early summer have all burned very well that fall and winter.  But I am several years ahead in my wood supply so all my wood gets 2+ years of seasoning (I like it very dry). 

Now I will try to explain how I burn my wood stove.  First we all need dry wood, but next I get specific about what type of wood that I like to burn and at what time that I burn it.  First I like to have a good supply of “soft” hardwoods.  I consider this to be firewood like poplar, basswood, cotton wood, or any wood with wide growth rings.  These are all low BTUs woods but what I like about them is they dry fast and light very easily.  When I first started cutting wood I was after oak and iron wood because it had high BTUs, but my Grandma said “you need some other wood like poplar to get the oak started.”  And boy was she right.  I use these softer hardwoods to light my morning fires and restart fires that have burned down to only glowing embers.  Also for ease of staring my fires I cut over half of my soft hardwoods into 10 to 12 inch lengths.  This works well for stating my fires since I build a small square “tower” of wood inside my stove with usually only one piece of crumpled newspaper at the bottom.  I also cheat a little and add a couple pieces of fatwood to help my fire get going.  Fatwood is a natural fire starter that you can buy at local hardware stores, I get mine at Menard's and it is about a buck a pound.   I build my fire typically with 6 pieces of soft hardwood and 2 pieces of medium or hard hardwoods.  The starter pieces I split by my wood shed in my “kindler” which is the back tire of a lawnmower mounted 28 inches off the ground on top of a bur oak round.  It is a smaller version of my wood splitting tire where I can split the wood and hit it multiple times without having to pick the split pieces up off of the ground.   This set up has save me a lot of time and wear and tear on my back since it is at a good working height for making small pieces of wood and the tire holds it in place while I swing my  4 ½ lbs pound mall at the wood.  I like to get the pieces down to one to two inch square pieces.  The reason I started burning my stove this way is that it gave me the quickest lighting fire without having to use a tremendous amount of really small kindling to get the fire burning hot so that the secondary burn began inside of the firebox.  Secondary burn is the burning of the wood gases usually seen as smoke (though some smoke is always moisture).  The sooner you have secondary burn the more safely and efficient your stove works.  Or in prepper terms the sooner you have secondary burn the less smoke you produce thus lowering you signature related to OPSEC.  To find old tires go to your local land fill or watch for them at garage sales.

My favorite type of wood to burn is dry or seasoned wood.  As stated before I like some soft hardwoods for fire starting purposes, but it is also excellent wood for general burning especially if I am at work and my wife is tending to the fire.  Poplar and basswood tend to light up really fast and get burning nicely without much futzing.  This is nice for my wife since throwing in 3 or 4 pieces of oak or iron wood can leave her with a smoldering smoky fire without much heat and no flames if she does not have a lot of embers to work with.  These smoky fires are also the type of fires that deposit significant amount of creosote in chimneys.  “Hard” hardwoods are great to use when thrown on a robust bed of red coals or mixed with several pieces of softer wood.  So my advise is don’t be a firewood snob and turn your nose up to “inferior” species of trees when accumulating your winter pile because I have found that my wood stove does not care what I burn in it, it all makes heat. 

My final thought about firewood is on how easy is it to split.  Firewood will not season correctly if it is not split and will not burn well in an airtight stove if it is not dry.  Species like American elm and box elder are awful to split and I avoid them, sadly around here these are the two species that your buddy always needs help getting rid of and wonders if you “want the firewood”.  But looking at the glass half full these rounds are not impossible to split just not easy or as fun as some red oak or black ash.  What I do is cut the rounds shorter, around 12 inches and then splitting is easier, maybe still not easy, but easier.   It is good to learn how to recognize different species of trees so that before you cut up or buy a bunch of rounds you know what you will be getting into when it comes to splitting.  (If you think some fresh cut rounds are elm smell it, if it stinks it is probably elm hence the nickname piss elm.  Red elm also sinks but it has a deep red color and this species of elm splits very easily and makes great firewood.)  Box elder has a grayish bark and often has streaks of pink in the rings of the wood when looking at the end of a round. )

Final thoughts
1. Get a wood stove and a good chimney and put it is the right place in your house or retreat.  I have had mine for 5 years and the money I have saved on fuel oil has paid for the stove the chimney and the chainsaw.  It is about 150 gallons of fuel oil for every cord of wood I burn.    
2. Stock up on lots of leather work gloves.  Handling wood can eat up a pair of leather gloves quicker than you like.  I think work gloves could be some of the most valuable barter items in a post SHTF scenario and often not cited as items to stock up on for barter purposes.  Leather repair could make a great post SHTF occupation so keep that in mind. 
3. Cutting wood is hard work.  You could cut out the gym almost altogether if you frequently cut, haul, and hand split your own firewood.  Several articles on SurvivalBlog have addressed physical fitness and wood burning would then be both beneficial for the purposes of one’s health and practical for heating.
4. Shooting practice!  I always carry a pistol with me when I cut.  An inside the waist holder works best tucked in the small of my back because carrying in a holster on my hip got my gun full of wood chips and gave it a scratch on the barrel (now it looks tuff ;)) For my safety I do not have a round chambered while cutting wood because sometimes I get hung up or fall down etc. but I then practice drawing, pulling the slide, and shooting in one smooth motion.  I do that because I know of a guy that shot himself in the heel getting into his vehicle and I have practiced where I can chamber a round pretty quickly if a threat presents itself in the woods (rabid skunk?).  For the target practice a knotted up round makes a great target.  If you are on someone else’s land check with the owner first before you start shooting a lot. 
5. Stock up on ibuprofen and other OTC pain meds.  Cutting wood is hard work and you will get sore.  Once again great barter items because post SHTF will be a lot of hard work.
6. Always be on the lookout for wood sources, it could be neighbors cutting down trees or checking with local farmers if you can cut up some deadfallen trees on their properties.  Compost sites are also great places.      
7. Stress reduction and improved mental health.  I truly enjoy cutting wood.  Time in the woods is relaxing and peaceful while being and feeling productive.  I think God wanted us to heat with wood, to give us a task where we can see and feel the product of our hard word and labor.  There is nothing like the smell of fresh split oak, you gotta try it, or the feel of the radiant warmth from a wood stove.
8. Cost can be expensive, but check Craigslist for airtight stoves.  Many people have become disenchanted with wood burning and “just want to get rid of it.”  I often think it is because too many people try to put the stove in the basement and then the chimney does not work correctly.
9. Cost estimates:
Jotul wood stove $2,500 (can find much cheaper versions used, check online but truly good stove are hard to find used.)
Chimney with instillation $1100 spend the money here and get a good chimney installed correctly that will burn correctly which will keep you safe!
Chain saw Stihl 270 $425 back up Poulan chainsaw $50
Kevlar chainsaw protection chaps $39 woodsman helmet $50 (both have paid for themselves!)
Pistol(s) for target practice $400-600 tell your wife you NEED these.  Ammo? I presently can’t find it
Splitting mauls $160 remember two is one and one is none and possible barter items
Hand saws and sharpening kits $280 the sharpening kit was $160 pull saw $90 but can buy timber saws at flea markets for under $40
Gas, oil, transportation, etc… $???

Rough total: $4,600 (could be a lot less expensive if you buy used equipment)

Savings: I burn about 2-3 cords of wood a year to supplement my fuel oil furnace which I think saves me about 350 gallons of oil a year, maybe more.  At $3 dollars a gallon that saves me over $1000 dollars a year.  I have had my stove for five heating seasons and have probably broken even at this point.  Best news is my stove is still in great shape and should last many more years.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dear CPT Rawles,
My wife and I, along with our three teenage son', are now eyeball deep in prepping, and have reached that stage where we pretty much have most of everybody's personal gear needs met, with the exception of a few small items here and there.  We opted to take care of that first, as we are stuck temporarily east of the mississippi, in the southeastern US.  Our intent when we began our prepping journey a couple years ago, was first & foremost to be able to make a hasty exit from this area if the SHTF.  Thus, our decision to gear up first, was to provide what we needed for our escape from here, and our trek to the redoubt, to my folks ranch in Wyoming, by whatever means necessary. That done, last year we took your advice on relocation to the American Redoubt, and purchased a small, undeveloped ranch property in northernmost Idaho, and I do mean very northernmost.  We are now only 320 days and a wake up from moving day.  While continuing to work on other details such as retreat construction, security, etc.  We've now come to the arena of agricultural issues.  We need some help because frankly, we must not be looking in the right areas for the information we are seeking, because we keep coming up basically empty.  We could only afford 11 acres (although it is paid off), about four of which is what I guess you might call bottom land, and I would think could be used as pasture if so desired, and has a small creek running through it.  The rest is up above it, and is basically flat and timbered, except for a cleared homesite, in what I would consider to be a small meadow, looking out over the bottom land.  It backs up to BLM land. Our property is vaguely in the Bonners Ferry region.  

Now, with that as the background, here is our issue.  Our goal is to reach a reasonable level of self reliance from the standpoint of renewable food resources, i.e. gardening and livestock.  We want to grow our own produce, as well as raise our own livestock.  There are so many different opinions floating around out there about nutritional needs, and how to meet them, that it's absolutely overwhelming, and now the only thing floating around here, are my eyeballs!   We've followed your blog for these past two years, and even written you in the past, because you are always so thought out and researched in the basis for your opinions, and the readership at Survival Blog has such a wide diversity of expertise.  Thus we thought we would seek out the advice and experience of yourself and our fellow blog readers, should this get printed.

Question #1:  All members of my family are adults, physically speaking as the youngest is 15, and the oldest is, well, in the interest of domestic tranquility we better not go there, but I can safely say not yet anywhere near retirement age.  What are our actual nutritional needs.  We are all healthy and have no significant physical problems to speak of.

Question #2:  Regarding garden produce, and it is my understanding that you and your family grow produce for your own consumption, do you have any recommendations on produce that will grow well in my area of northern Idaho, and help meet those needs?  Is irrigation required?  What is the growing season like there, and is a greenhouse necessary?  How in the world do you decide how much you need to plant for a family of a given size?  Is there a problem with deer and other garden pests, if deer are a problem how high of a fence is required to keep them out We are debating if a 6' fence would keep them out?

Question #3:  Regarding livestock for consumption, my wife is familiar with cattle, more so than I am, although we are both thinking that it may be easier, more prudent, and safer to raise smaller livestock such as dairy and meat goats, pasture pigs perhaps, ducks, and perhaps even rabbits.  Things that are smaller and more easily handled, not only in interacting with, but also from the standpoint of meat processing.  Any recommendations or suggestions we should research?  How do you go about determining how much pasture is needed for this various livestock?  What about livestock predation by cats, wolves, or bears, does this pose much of an issue up there.  
We read news articles about the wolves killing the hunting dogs of the mountain lion hunters, and wonder if there are any problems they pose with livestock or people even who are out hiking, camping, hunting etc?  We were thinking of bringing two Great Pyrenees as guard dogs if that is that a common practice up there.

Thanks in advance for any input yourself, or any of the readers may be able to give us, either from personal experience. or to simply help us better focus our efforts. 

Thanks for the great service you do us all with this blog!
Highest regards, - D. & M.

JWR Replies: Self-sufficiency on just 11 acres is doable, if you have a southern or western exposure and you clear most of it for gardening and hay cutting. There is no need to maintain a wood lot on your own property, considering the abundance of timber in North Idaho. No matter where you are, there is copious wood available or firewood and fence posts available with an inexpensive annual family wood cutting permit from the US Forest service. They have a 7-foot 11-inch length limit, for haul outs, to keep people from commercially cutting trees to mill into lumber. Cedar trees are common in north Idaho, and with those you will have fence posts covered. (Seven feet is the ideal length, for fence posts.) And Western Larch (commonly called Tamarack) as well as Red Fir are both also quite common, and make fantastic firewood.

According to our family's primary gardener (my wife, "Avalanche Lily"), the vegetables that do best in north Idaho are: Celery, potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini squash, short-season variety pumpkins, onions, turnips, strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries, and most herbs. Most cold-weather tolerant varieties of vegetables and fruit trees do quite well.

Getting a good crop of melons and tomatoes and some squash can be a challenge in many years, because of the short growing season. So Lily recommends short growing season varieties such Siberian tomatoes and Blacktail watermelons. It is best to get an early start with your seedlings, through use of a window box, cold frames, or better yet a proper greenhouse if you afford to buy or build one.

As for fencing, a six-foot tall fence is just marginal to keep out deer, even on level ground. In the Inland Northwest, a eight-foot tall fence is ideal. But be advised that if an elk, moose, or bear really wants in to your garden, be prepared to re-build your fence.

You also asked about livestock predation by "...cats, wolves, or bears." Your list is incomplete! Here in the Inland Northwest, you need to beware of: coyotes, wolves, bobcat, lynx, mountain lions (pumas), black bears, grizzly bears, badgers, wolverines, skunks, raccoons, golden eagles, bald eagles, several types of hawks, several types of owls, and numerous types of small furbearers such as marten and stoats/ermine. If you have a fish pond, otters and and osprey can also be a menace.

Penning up your chickens at night is a must! And depending on the meanderings of the local wolves and mountain lions, it may be necessary to pen up your sheep and goats in an enclosed barn every night, as well. Attacks on horses and cattle by wolves or bears are less common, but when they do happen, the results are often devastating. Typically, even if an animal survives the attack, it will be beyond recovery and need to be destroyed. Great Pyrenees are an excellent choice for this climate, particularly for guarding sheep or as companion dogs when hiking or huckleberry picking. (Although you will also want to carry Pepper Spray or Lead Spray (.44 or .45 caliber.) It is important that they bond with the sheep and become accustomed to staying out with the flock. (They won't do any good if they are kept inside your house!)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What is money?

Economist Mike Shedlock defines money through the eyes of Austrian economist Murray N. Rothbard as “a commodity used as a medium of exchange.”

“Like all commodities, it has an existing stock, it faces demands by people to buy and hold it. Like all commodities, its price in terms of other goods is determined by the interaction of its total supply, or stock, and the total demand by people to buy and hold it. People buy money by selling their goods and services for it, just as they sell money when they buy goods and services.”

What is money when the system collapses and the SHTF?

In disaster situations, the value of money as we know it now changes, especially if we are dealing with a hyperinflationary collapse of the system’s core currency. This article discusses money as a commodity in an event where the traditional currency (US Dollar) is no longer valuable.

In a collapse of the system, there will be multiple phases, with the first phase being the “crunch”, as discussed in James Rawles' novel Patriots. The crunch is the period of time directly preceding a collapse and the collapse itself.

Traditional Currency

Initially, the traditional currency system will maintain some value, though it may be rapidly depreciating in buying power. For those with physical, non-precious metal denominated currency on hand (paper dollars, non-silver coins), spending it as rapidly as possible is the best approach.

It is during the crunch that ATM machines around the country will run out of currency as people aware of the rapidly devaluing dollar will be attempting to withdraw as much money as possible. This immediate increase in money supply, coupled with the population’s general knowledge of the currency depreciation in progress, will lead to instant price increases for goods, especially essential goods.

If your physical cash has not been converted into tangible assets, this would be the time to do so. Acquiring as much food, fuel, clothing and toiletry items as possible would be the ideal way to spend remaining cash before it completely collapses to zero, as it did in the Weimar inflation in 1930s Germany, or Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation in recent years.

Precious Metals

During the initial phase of the ‘crunch’ precious metals will be a primary bartering tool, but this may not last long. The old survivalist adage “you can’t eat your gold” will become apparent very quickly. In a total breakdown of the system, food, water and fuel will be the most important tangible goods to acquire.

Consider someone who has a two week or one month supply of food on hand. Do you believe they would be willing to part with that food for some precious metals? The likely answer is no. There will be almost no bartering item that one would be willing to trade their food for once it is realized that food supply lines have been cut.

That being said, since most will not barter their food, not even for fuel, the next recognized medium of exchange by merchants, especially those selling fuel, will be precious metals. For the initial crunch, silver coins, especially recognizable coins like 90% silver quarters, dimes and half dollars, along with one (1) ounce government mint issued silver coins like US Silver Eagles, will be accepted by some, probably most, merchants. For those trying to flee cities to bug-out locations, silver coins of the aforementioned denominations may be a life saver, as they can be used to acquire fuel. While we recommend having gold, as well, the issue with gold is that its value is so much higher than that of silver, that breaking a one ounce gold coin into 10 pieces just to buy a tank of gas will not be practical. It is for this reason that having silver on hand is highly recommended. Packing at least $25 – $50 of silver coins in each bug-out bag would be a prudent prepping idea.

In a total SHTF scenario, silver and gold may eventually break down as a bartering unit, as contact with the “outside” world breaks down. One reason for this, is that the fair value price of precious metals will be hard to determine, as it will be difficult to locate buyers for this commodity.

This, however, does not mean that you should spend all of your precious metals right at the onset of a collapse. Precious metals will have value after bartering and trade is reestablished once the system begins to stabilize. Once stabilization begins, the likely scenario is that precious metals will be one of the most valuable monetary units available, so having plenty may be quite a benefit. At this point, they could be used to purchase property, livestock, services and labor.


Water is often overlooked as a medium of exchange, though it is one of the most essential commodities for survival on the planet. Had individuals in New Orleans stockpiled some water supplies during Hurricane Katrina, much of the loss of life there could have been avoided.

For those bugging out of cities, it will be impractical to carry with them more than 5 – 10 gallons of water because of space limitations in their vehicles. Thus, having a method to procure water may not only save your life, but also provide you with additional goods for which you can barter.

An easy solution for providing yourself and others with clean water is to acquire a portable water filtration unit for your bug-out bag(s). While they are a bit costly, with a good unit such as the Katadyn Combi water filter running around $150, the water produced will be worth its weight in gold, almost literally. This particular filter produces 13,000 gallons of clean water! A must have for any survival kit.

Because we like reserves for our reserves, we’d also recommend acquiring water treatment tablets like the EPA approved Katadyn Micropur tabs. If your filter is lost or breaks for whatever reason, each tablet can purify 1 liter of water. In our opinion, the best chemical water treatment available.

Clean water is money. In a bartering environment, especially before individuals have had time to establish water sources, this will be an extremely valuable medium of exchange and will have more buying power than even silver or gold on the individual bartering level.


In a system collapse, food will be another of the core essential items that individuals will want to acquire. Survival Blog founder James Rawles suggests storing food for 1) personal use 2) charity 3) bartering.

Dry goods, canned goods, freeze dried foods can be used for bartering, but only if you have enough to feed yourself, family and friends. They should be bartered by expiration date, with those foods with the expiration dates farthest out being the last to be traded. You don’t know how long the crunch and recovery periods will last, so hold the foods with the longest expiration dates in your possession if you get to a point where you must trade.

Baby formula will also be a highly valued item in a SHTF scenario, so whether you have young children or not, it may not be a bad idea to stockpile a one or two week supply. (For parents of young children, this should be the absolute first thing you should be stockpiling!). In addition to water, baby formula may be one of the most precious of all monetary commodities.

Another tradable food good would be seeds, but the need for these may not be apparent to most at the initial onset of a collapse, though having extra seeds in your bug-out location may come in handy later.


Fuel, including gas, diesel, propane and kerosene will all become barterable goods in a collapse, with gas being the primary of these energy monetary units during the crunch as individuals flee cities. For most, stockpiling large quantities will be impractical, so for those individuals who prepared, they may only have 20 – 50 gallons in their possession as they are leaving their homes. If you are near your final bug-out destination, and you must acquire food, water or firearms, fuel may be a good medium of exchange, especially for those that have extra food stuffs they are willing to trade.

Though we do not recommend expending your fuel, if you are left with no choice, then food, water and clothing may take precedence.

For those with the ability to do so, store fuel in underground tanks on your property for later use and trading.

Firearms and Ammunition

Though firearms and ammunition may not be something you want to give up, those without them will be willing to trade some of their food, precious metals, fuel and water for personal security. If the system collapses, there will likely be pandemonium, and those without a way to protect themselves will be sitting ducks to thieves, predators and gangs.

Even in if you choose not to trade your firearms and ammo during the onset of a collapse, these items will be valuable later. As food supplies diminish, those without firearms will want to acquire them so they can hunt for food. Those with firearms may very well be running low on ammunition and will be willing to trade for any of the aforementioned items.

In both James Rawles’ novel Patriots and William Forstchen’s One Second After ammunition was the primary trading good during the recovery and stabilization periods, where it was traded for food, clothing, shoes, livestock, precious metals and fuel.

Clothing and Footwear

We may take it for granted now because of the seemingly endless supply, but clothing and footwear items will be critical in both, the crunch and the phases after it. Having an extra pair of boots, a jacket, socks, underwear and sweaters can be an excellent way to acquire other essential items in a trade.

As children grow out of their clothes, rather than throwing them away, they will become barterable goods.

It is recommended that those with children stock up on essential clothing items like socks, underwear and winter-wear that is sized a year or two ahead of your child’s age.

Additional Monetary Commodities

The above monetary units are essential goods that will be helpful for bartering in the initial phases of a collapse in the system. As the crunch wanes and recovery and stabilization begin to take over, other commodities will become tradable goods.

In A Free Falling Economy Makes Bartering Go Boom, Tess Pennington provides some other examples of items that will be bartering goods during and after a crunch including, vitamins, tools, livestock, fishing supplies, coffee and medical supplies.

Another important monetary commodity after the crunch will be trade skills. If you know how to fish, machine tools, hunt, sew, fix and operate radios, fix cars, manufacture shoes, or grow food, you’ll have some very important skills during the recovery period.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

I agree with Mr. Williamson’s comments.  To use a Tennessee expression I would opine that Heinberg does not know “diddly-squat” about farming.
First, my bona fides: I grew up on a farm.  Both sets of grandparents farmed with teams of mules in west Tennessee.   Some 30% of our farming acreage was used to grow food for the team of mules.  We now operate a mini farm to be self sufficient in food and to grow and save heirloom seeds for barter after “The Crunch.”  We have a Kubota B7510 tractor and all the implements.  This year we’ve some 20,000 sq ft in veggies, 48 fruit trees, oodles of grape vines.  We are professionals at this.
Some comments about returning to farming with mules follow.  Before the advent of fossil fuel powered tractors huge steam tractors were used to harvest wheat with huge combines.  There is a museum in Montana with examples of this equipment.   One issue I see with mule farming is the equipment.  I cannot fathom how to convert a 3 point hitch PTO-powered Bush Hog to be operated by a team of mules.  Around here (Tennessee's 2nd Congressional District) one often sees mule drawn equipment, much of it rusting in the open.  One idea I’ve considered is buying a large metal shed and filling it with mule drawn sickle mowers, corn planters, cultivators, single bottom turning plows, hay rakes and so forth.  These implements at some point will become extremely valuable.   As will horse collars and single trees.  Horses are self replicating, but mules are not.  A valuable business in years to come will be raising and selling mules and fabricating horse collars.
In the South in the 1930s field peas were termed “life savers.”  These require a moderately long growing season and warm weather.  Rabbits do not eat them.  This is important.   This year we have four cultivars of field peas, three of them new to us.  One gets more mass of peas from field peas as beans from any cultivar of shelly bush beans.  Moreover the peas are much more digestible. This year we have five cultivars of shelly bush beans and four cultivars of pole beans. We’ve several raised beds of Egyptian walking onions.  These keep in the ground over the winter and are often called winter onions. - Tennessean

Hi Jim,
I met Heinberg, and all the other Peak Oil heavyweights at the ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) Conference in Sacramento, back in 2008.
It’s not “if the Hubbert’s Peak predictions are right,” but the fact that they have been proven right every time a field, individual well, or an entire countries’ oil production peaks, then goes into decline (we’re talking the rate of production, not the amount of oil remaining).
More specifically, when M. King Hubbert, as a Shell Oil geologist first presented his theories in 1956, he was ridiculed. He stated that US oil production would peak, then go into irreversible decline, sometime between 1968 and 1972. He nailed it, when US oil production peaked in December, 1970 at roughly 9.5 mbl/day (million barrels per day) production (Alaska created a secondary peak several years later, on the way down the curve – Prudhoe Bay is far past peak, incidentally) .
There is too much to discuss here regarding Peak Oil theory, as it is such a huge “forest through the trees” issue. Let’s put it this way: The global economy’s growth depends on an ever-increasing consumption of oil. The only problem is, global oil production has been flat since 2006 (and where has the price gone since, not to mention the global economy?), with actual production declines beginning any day now (the drop in global demand has created a fairly long top to this peak, aka demand destruction).
Egypt’s ousting of Mubarak was directly tied to the peaking, and decline of Egypt’s oil production, which was used for paying for the Egyptian people’s food subsidies (they really didn’t care who was running the country, after all). When Egypt went from net exporter to net importer of oil, Mubarak had to tell his people, “Look...no more cheap food...”
Having spent time in Alexandria on my way to Libya in 2011. I can vouch for the fact that Egypt is an overpopulated country, that resembles the movie Soylent Green.
Therefore, it’s not that we’ll ever completely run out of oil: It’ll just get more expensive, drive governments into debt, creating a global debt crisis, etc. In the meantime, more printed fiat currency will represent even less underlying real wealth, in the form of the Earth’s natural resources.
Granted, Heinberg represents the hippie-environmentalist side of the Doomer spectrum, along with most other Peak Oilers. (His buddy, Julian Darly, a real, ahem, eccentric guy , wrote a book called High Noon for Natural Gas, saying that we would run out of natural gas by now). However, after seeing the data myself, and doing my own research, regarding crude oil, I finally went into Sarah Connor-mode, back around 2006. And the rest is history...
Cheers, - Joe Snuffy

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Over at the One Scythe Revolution web site, Peak Oil expert Richard Heinberg states that in order to continue to grow the same amount of food in the future, without the use of cheap oil, we will need 40-to-50 million farmers, farming 3-to-50 acres each, cultivated with hand tools. No, not like in the Middle Ages. We are talking about "appropriate technology" here.

But let's face it, "appropriate technology" is wielded by slaves. Masters wield guns. Slaves wield scythes.

Here is quote: "One good scythe per farm, could revolutionize small-scale farming." I kinda feel like this has already been done.

I think the author of this tripe has never actually farmed on a large scale and has no sense of the man hours required. Also, mild steel work-hardened with a hammer and honed with slate was state of the art, around the year 900.  Carbon steel that can be heat treated has been the cool setup since around 1100 AD.  More recent alloys allow even better toughness along with light weight.  While the Austrian design may be better, it would still benefit from modern materials.

Then, of course, even 19th Century horse-drawn harvesters were tremendously more efficient:  

"Draft horses are used at Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS to harvest and stack the annual hay crop. The stacks keep the hay preserved until winter when it is fed to the site’s livestock.
The hay harvesting process involves five steps: cutting, drying, raking, gathering, and stacking.

Upon reaching maturity in mid-summer, the hay is cut with a horse drawn mower. The team of horses, mower, and operator go round and round the field cutting a 5 foot swath with each round. Once the cut hay has dried, the draft horses are hooked up to either a side delivery or dump rake. The rakes are used to put the hay into long windrows. The horses are then hooked to a buckrake. The buckrake has fork like teeth that sweep under the windrows and gather them up into large hay piles. The piles are then taken by the buckrake to either an overshot or beaverslide hay stacker. The hay stackers utilize a pulley and cable system powered by horses to gain leverage to lift the hay piles off the ground and drop them into the haystack.
Demonstrations of the equipment used to harvest and stack hay will be given by Grant-Kohrs Ranch staff and horses."

And other animals can serve for various processes that are presently done with internal combustion engines--such as goats for clearing brush.

As far as forging scythes, without modern powered forges and induction furnace, either one mines coal, or uses every man in the village for a week to do a large scale charcoal burn to manufacture fuel.

- Michael Z. Williamson (SurvivalBlog Editor At Large)

JWR's Comment: If the Hubbert's Peak predictions are right, then the best places to be will be those with rich soil and plentiful hydroelectric power. Scythe? Check. Battle rifle? Check. Electric ATV that can pull a Plotmaster? Check. Electric power (with batteries) is not quite as versatile and lightweight as fossil fuel-powered machinery, but it sure beats doing it all by hand.

Perhaps the new rule book will be written by those who can afford horses, harness, horse-drawn hay mowers and enough land to provide sufficient hay for the requisite winter feed (which can be harvested with those same horses).

Only freeholders with both productive farm land and guns will remain free.

Friday, May 31, 2013

I have really come to enjoy researching and testing off grid cooking ideas and possibilities.  Last year I had purchased a few products that I felt were going to be the back bone of my preparedness efforts. Over this past winter, I began thinking that it was necessary to actually try out the ideas and suggestions from videos I had seen and articles I had read.  I ordered a few products to round out my supplies, and I became so enthusiastic with all the possibilities that I wrote “Off Grid Cooking Solutions, Part 1” and “Off Grid Cooking Solutions, Part 2.”

I had mentioned that it is very easy to build a brick rocket stove that performs fairly well.  Two downsides of that method is lack of portability and efficiency. Depending upon the design, it will smoke more than a professional stove during cooking, which could prove to be problematic for security reasons.  (You won’t want others to be aware you are cooking and the less smoke, the better). One thing that really concerned me is that I kept reading of the potential danger of bricks exploding.  I stopped by a business that builds outdoor fireplaces for patio use.  The owner had heard of rocket stoves being made from regular brick, but he warned against their use.  They are not made to withstand the heat like fire brick does.  If they get wet (and most people leave them set up outside in the elements), the steam building up inside as the bricks are heated can actually cause them to crack and even explode.  He felt the risks were not worth it.  The cost of the safer yellow-colored fire brick was $3.50 each.  The design I like and seemed most promising required 28 bricks.  The price to purchase the bricks would be about $100, which is close to the cost of a commercially made product. 

My brother’s father-in-law provided me with reinforcement of what I was told.  He formerly worked in a blast furnace, and he was well versed in the dangers of heat on regular brick.  He said that even moisture from dew was enough to seep into the porous bricks.  Then in a super-heated environment of the “rocket” effect, the steam will build up and could actually make the brick explode.  It’s much the same idea of not using river rock to line your camp fire because the rocks could explode.

I have seen various videos of people building and using these stoves as an economical solution to non-electric cooking.  At my suggestion, a friend built one for emergency use for her family.  However, the risks do not seem worth the potential danger.  Unfortunately, it can be compared to Russian Roulette.  You can use the stove many times and not have any problems.  Then one day when the circumstances are ripe, disaster strikes.

I wanted to inform those that are using and relying on them of these concerns.  Because of the possible danger, and because of the portability and efficiency of a professional model, I would strongly urge that people go that direction. 

In continuing my off grid cooking journey, I contacted afterburnerstoves.com to let them know about my article.  I had bought my “SuperPot” from them (which is a pot that is made specifically for the StoveTec rocket stove) and I wanted to let them know I had tried it and really liked it.  I also relayed my experience with using a rocket stove and thermal cooker together, which is now one of my favored emergency cooking methods.

It turned out that that they had just received a new rocket stove which recently came on the market. Several days later, Chris Horrocks contacted me and asked if I would be interested in testing it out.  He was wanting a completely unbiased opinion (someone who wasn’t in business and had an investment to protect) who could experience the operation of the stove and give an opinion.   I felt honored to be asked and was glad to do so.

I received the stove, which is part of the new SilverFire line, and I got ready to try it out.  Unfortunately for me, we were experiencing the coldest and wettest spring that I can remember and it was difficult to even find a day suitable to get outside.  And that is where the trouble began.

In the previous year when I had worked with my StoveTec, I chose a few nice days to go outside and perform tests.  I experienced great results.  Satisfied that my stove would be an asset in emergency situations, I put it away in readiness should I need it.  I am so glad that is not the end of the story…

The rocket stove is ideal for cooking in emergencies because its fuel consumption is so little compared to woodstoves or campfires.  However, the stoves must be used outdoors, or perhaps in a garage with the door open for ventilation.  I discovered that days that are cold, damp, and windy proved to be bigger obstacles than I thought, due to my inexperience.  However, in a crisis, you must be able to cook in whatever the weather conditions may be.

The difficulty began when the theories and possibilities I had in my head met the reality of the situation.  What I thought I knew flew out the window!   I was working with damp wood (we had a lot of rain) and the cold wind just would not stop.  I wasn’t getting great results, even with my original stove, and I was frustrated.
Operating a rocket stove is actually basic, easy, and fun.  However, the reality of weather has to be dealt with and a few tactics employed in order to be successful.  I happened to pick more difficult conditions to work in.

I repeatedly had to contact Mr. Horrocks for advice because I was flailing a lot.  He   explained that a person at the equator in very hot weather would have an easier time of it than someone working with damp fuel in cold and windy conditions.  There really is a learning curve.  But, he also estimated that 80% of his customers never test out their stoves before storing them away in their preps. 
I believe that if I had to go through what I just did in testing out the stoves, but was in a crisis situation, my stress level would have gone through the roof.  I think that is an aggravation which is easily avoidable.   It is my opinion that everyone should test things out for themselves and try various recipes and pots in differing weather conditions.  The experience gained is more valuable than ideas and untried theories.  Although “doable,” it is much easier to learn in a more relaxed atmosphere.

I was the one who encouraged folks to get out there and hone their skills.   I felt so humbled because I was having such difficulty.   As I had not done much testing, but rather had spent my time researching, in reality I was an “armchair prepper.” Why does this all even matter?  Let me give you a scenario which someone could likely face.  Say you live in the Midwest where tornadoes often strike.  You live in the suburbs.  There’s been a few days of rain.  The weather briefly warms, but a cold front approaches.  They collide and result in a storm which produces a large tornado.  Fortunately, your home is spared, but there is great damage in the area and much of the power lines are down.  The power company works round the clock to restore the electricity, but it takes three weeks until your home has power again.  Meanwhile, the weather is unseasonably cool and rainy.

You have food, water, and a way to light your home.  You have invested in a rocket stove and have a way to cook the food to feed your family.  You previously saw a couple of videos that showed a person lighting up a few sticks to cook a meal, so you get everything ready and are confident that you have things handled.  With the cold wind swirling around you, you try to light the stove.  No go.  The fuel is damp and just doesn’t want to light.  You get some more tinder and remember the trick you heard of cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, which when lit creates a flame lasting several minutes.  Finally, you have a fire going.  But then it goes out.  You battle it for a while, but finally the fuel is dried out enough that it starts to catch. 

You didn’t find that many sticks for your fuel, but you think that you have enough because rocket stoves really don’t require that much.  You are preparing a large pot of vegetable beef stew to use up some meat you had in the freezer before it spoils.  But you just can’t get the pot up to a boil.  After an hour of standing in the cold wind, you finally are seeing progress, but now you are out of fuel.  Family members are scouting around for more sticks.  Thankfully, even though what sticks they do find are really damp, the hot fire dries them out enough to catch and you finally have enough heat to cook with.  You didn’t think it would take this long or be this hard. You’re cold and discouraged.  You realize that you have to do this two to three times each day.  There’s got to be a better way!

I urge you to invest some time with your stove.  Try out some recipes that your family enjoys.  Use a cast iron or stainless steel pan and fry hamburgers, a steak, or eggs. The amount of fuel to fry a few burgers is less than making a large pot of chili or stew in a Dutch oven or large pot.  Note that difference. Once your food is up to a boil, you can actually keep it simmering for hours by adding just one stick at a time.  Give that a try.   Take a large stock pot filled with water and bring it up to 150 degrees (the recommended temperature for pasteurizing) which may be needed for safe drinking water.   Keep track of how long that took.  Keep on going and see how long until the water boils.  You will need hot water for various tasks such as washing dishes, laundry, and bathing, so it is best to know how to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

If interested in using a pressure cooker or canner, try that out as well.  I have canned tomatoes and green beans, so I do have a little experience in that area.  Canning is just a simple process with numerous steps to follow.  But if you have never canned before nor worked with your rocket stove, I would think it would be pretty overwhelming to begin for the first time in a crisis situation.
I would suggest cooking on the rocket stove in fair weather as well as windy and colder conditions.  One thing to consider is that as the rocket stove is working to bring a pot and its contents up to a boil, a cold wind will work against progress.  You must add heat to the cooking pot at a higher rate than the wind takes away.  The wind will speed the heat loss, so you need a wind break or shield, as well as more fuel to provide the heat required.   In those conditions, a shallow pan heats up faster than a taller, narrow one due to a larger surface area of the taller pot that is assaulted by the wind.

In dealing with wind, I have found two things to be invaluable.  The StoveTec comes with a pot skirt that directs the heat up the side of the pots and helps the stove to operate more efficiently.  I have seen some videos where people have placed shallow frying pans on top of the pot skirt, but that actually is not how they work.  They are designed for a taller pot to be placed on the stove and the adjustable metal skirt wraps around the sides, thus guiding the heat up the sides of the tall pot.  StoveTec also has the SuperPot which essentially does the same thing, but also gives the advantage of not having to clean off soot from your cooking pots.  In my testing, they both are a beneficial aid to get your pot heated quickly, especially in cold and windy weather.

The new SilverFire stove does not come with a pot skirt.  Because it is an improved design, it has a hotter and cleaner fire and quickly heats up to provide an efficient cooking flame.   It is my experience that a pot skirt does make a difference in colder, windy conditions, so I wouldn’t want to be without one.  I am assured, however, that the SilverFire will have its own SuperPot, which is currently in the making.  It is slated to be available during summer of 2013.

I would suggest finding several locations for cooking.  Where will you prepare meals when the sun is hot and bearing down?  You would want to cook in the shade, if possible.  If there is a stiff north wind blowing, is there a southern portion of your home or a building that would provide you with a wind break?  Is a garage or shed available during rainy, cold weather?  Do you have so much stuff packed in there that it would be a fire hazard to cook with a rocket stove?

As far as fuel is concerned, I suggest that you stay ahead of the game.  If there is a crisis and you live in a suburban area, and all you can find are a few wet sticks, you are going to have a little difficulty. Thankfully, it does not take the time to “season” fuel sticks like it does larger wood pieces for use in home heating. Even in urban areas, trees continually shed small, dead branches.  It is such an easy thing to gather them throughout the year.  Consider storing them in a weather-protected area so that they don’t get wet.  A tarp will keep your fuel dry and ready to go should you wish to have an ample supply ready.  You could also keep handy a large bucket or two of larger sticks and twigs, which could be stored in the garage.   And pallets make excellent fuel for rocket stoves.  Many businesses in my area just give them away.  They can be disassembled and a small hatchet used to split them into fuel sticks – all at no cost to you.  Although any biomass can be used, sticks give the longest and most trouble free operation due to their mass, and they are my fuel of choice.

One thing I discovered in performing my tests is that fuel made from lumber or dry sticks versus wet sticks performs differently.  The bark on the wet limbs acts as a fire retardant due to the moisture it holds, and is harder to start a fire with.  Since I live in an area with a lot of trees, limbs will be what I will commonly use.  But I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting the results I saw on videos.  I was able to overcome this when I added drier sticks in the stove coupled with more tinder, and then used more sticks for a hotter fire.   On one of the first days of testing, I worked for an hour to get a small stock pot of 10 cups of water up to a boil.  Last summer I had accomplished the same task in just minutes.  It was taking way too long.  But with the right technique and a pot skirt, it took only 15 minutes.
If the only fuel available is wet sticks, this actually is still doable.  Using more dry tinder (any biomass) to produce heat and get a bed of coals going will aid in getting the sticks to burn.  As the fire progresses, the sticks will dry out and will burn more easily.

As I continued my tests, the day I was able to easily start my cooking fire without the assisted means of cotton balls and petroleum jelly, I was happy.  I know there are serious survivalists out there who could almost sternly gaze at a small pile of tinder and get it started.  Not so with me.  But I discovered that with the right amount of either paper strips or dried leaves coupled with plenty of small twigs to create a bed of embers, my fuel sticks really got going.  And I only used one match on a very windy day.  I simply struck the match slightly inside the door so the wind wouldn’t immediately blow it out.  It quickly lit the paper, which in turn caught the tinder, resulting in enough heat to catch my fuel sticks on fire.  I was able to start cooking in about one minute.   Victory!

You may be wondering what all my testing resulted in when I tried out the new SilverFire stove and compared it with my StoveTec.  There actually was not a clear “winner,” as each stove had advantages.  My observations formed my opinions, and I realize that a controlled lab test would actually give more scientific findings.  But I will let you in on what I experienced:

The StoveTec is a solid stove that sits very securely either on the ground or a table, and it can take quite a bit of weight.  It can handle large pressure canners and heavy Dutch ovens with ease.  It fires up quickly, and coupled with either the pot skirt or SuperPot, it works very well.  One nice feature is that it remains cool to the touch on the outside for a prolonged period of use.  However, the insulation and cast iron top are slightly fragile if dropped, so caution needs to be taken when transporting it.   I love using this stove and wouldn’t want to be without it.

The SilverFire is almost half the weight of the StoveTec (12½ pounds), and it has an inner insulation that will not break if dropped.  It also has a thicker cast iron top which is more durable.  Those features make it very portable.  It is made from stainless steel, will not rust, nor does it have paint to scratch or peel off.  It also fires up quickly and is very efficient.  It is both a rocket stove and a gasifier stove, which means that it uses primary air (from vents located on the base) and secondary air (from vents in the interior fuel chamber).  I noticed the combustion process lead to less soot on the bottom of the cooking pots, which attests to it achieving an efficient burn.  However, due to the design of the base, it is somewhat less stable and if nudged or hit from the back, could possibly result in the stove falling forward during cooking operations.  I was easily able to overcome that potential problem by placing a small wedge just under the bottom front.  A SuperPot of its own is in the making, which will help it be even more efficient in cold, windy conditions.  Therefore, I find that it also is worthy of having in my preps. 

Given the choice, one or the other, or both, I would actually say:  Both!  If any of you already have a StoveTec but have the financial means to add the SilverFire, that would be my recommendation.  If you plan on “bugging in,” the StoveTec is great and can handle all of your cooking needs.  But should you need to “bug out,” the lighter and less fragile SilverFire would be advantageous. Either would give you great results and will cook your food.  Why both?   Remember the wise saying concerning preps that “one is none and two is one?”  Having both would be a great peace of mind.

Before I conclude, I want to turn your attention to the AfterBURNER Stove Corporation. The help I received from them is invaluable.  They are a family owned business and mainly sell rocket stoves and accompanying merchandise.  They treat their customers like gold.  They have a 100% money back guarantee for one full year from date of purchase, a full year bumper to bumper warranty, a free lifetime ceramic burnout guarantee on all StoveTec stoves, and a lifetime discounted replacement plan for accidentally damaged stoves. They work hard to educate and inform their customers on the use of their stoves, provide instructional videos, and are planning additions to their web site to aid in addressing various aspects of stove use and other products.  As a customer, they want you to USE your stove and gain experience, which will help you in a crisis situation.  They are available to you to develop the skills you need for success, and they offer lifetime support on any of their products via phone or email.  I would hope that customers will take advantage of that while it is available.  In a crisis, you might not be able to reach them.  They work hard to earn and keep your business.  On top of all that, they guarantee the lowest online price.   
You might think that since I got a stove to test that I am just giving them a commercial.  Not so.  I informed them that although I would test the stove and would be happy to report my findings, I would be giving it away to a friend who only had a brick stove (which I now believe could be dangerous).  I did not receive any personal gain – except for the knowledge, experience, and improvement of my skills.  I feel like I made a friend. And that was priceless.

Although I highly recommend that every family that is serious about emergency preparedness have a rocket stove, I just as strongly recommend that you work with it and build your skills.  It will serve you well in a crisis, but it is so much easier to deal with the learning curve before it’s actually needed.  Your stress level will already be high in an actual emergency.  Why make it harder for yourself than you have to?  Because it’s so much fun to operate, and can be used right now for backyard cooking, picnics, camping, and hunting, it’s a win/win situation.  So why not go out and get cooking today?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Disclaimer: Tree cutting is inherently dangerous with many injuries and fatalities every year, please do you own research and obtain training before trying this on your own.

In New England there is extensive woodland and always a need to cut down trees to keep your garden growing and your house from being overrun. This keeps your house warm with the resulting firewood. Cutting down a tree is always risky but there are many ways to reduce this risk using various tools and skills.

Never start cutting unless you are well rested, fully alert and all your tools are sharpened and fully fueled.

First clear the area around the tree to be cut. Make sure you have several escape paths it case the tree decides to come down when and where you least expect it. Check for wind, do not cut if it is a windy day as the tree may suddenly get pushed over by a sudden gust.  Look for dead branches on the trees which may fall onto you during cutting, take these down if at all possible. If you can not remove the dead branches wear a hard hard and do not work under the dead branch Next look at the tree and branches, if it is on the edge of a forest odds are it will weigh more on the side away from the forest. Branches grow toward the sun more so then into a shaded forest. This helps with your estimate of where the tree will LIKELY fall. Another trick is to hug a tree and look up, which way is it leaning? That is a likely falling direction.

Once you know where you want the tree to fall or where it is likely to fall make sure there is nothing in the way. If there is might be a good time to throw a line over a high branch and begin directing the tree either with a helper and/or tying the heavy rope taught to a tree in the direction you are aiming for. Make sure the rope will not catch you when the tree falls! Placing the rope: the higher the better as this gives you more leverage. Also make sure the falling tree will not get hung up on another tree. This will result in a dangerous situation where the tree you are cutting may swing back at you or create a widow maker.
Use two tow straps and come-a-long if a shed or other structure is in possible danger. Or if the tree is too large for a heavy rope. Get the ropes and straps in place before cutting, after cutting has started the tree is more likely to come down at any time with a sudden gust of wind or if the tree has damage from ants, internal rotting or disease.

Get all of your tools ready for use, not just the tool you think you need. If the tree shifts and pinches your chainsaw you need a backup right away not after the batteries charge and saw is sharpened and you have found the wedges. Keep the tools nearby but safe. I keep the tools behind a tree I am not cutting so if the tree comes down towards the tools they should still be safe.


Next notch the tree on the side towards to desired felling. Chainsaw or axe works great for this, chainsaw requires two cuts about one third through each at about 30 degrees from horizontal.This takes some practice as the first few cuts may not line up on both sides requiring a 3rd or 4th cut. An axe can also create this by shifting the swing angle to match. Next make a single cut on the side away from the fell direction with a chainsaw or timber saw, this gives the tree one way to fall without resistance (desired direction and the other side can only shift slightly before coming to rest on the saw and tree. Do not cut completely through the tree. You want to create a pivot point NOT have a moving tree coming at you. Hopefully the tree comes down right where you want it to.
If I am using an axe I make a point of switching my swing direction. Swinging to the right is the most comfortable and accurate for me but it limits how much I can do. Plus if i am ever injured on that side no more tree cutting. Switching the swing allows me to cut faster longer after getting used to it. If there is not room to swing an axe then stop and clear the brush and branches. How are you going to get out of the way when the tree starts coming down at you if you don’t have room to swing an axe?

After the tree is down the next step is limbing the tree which is fastest for me with an axe. Always stand on the side of the tree opposite of the branch you are swinging at. If you miss or the axe goes through the branch the tree will take the blow not you. Also swing at the branch to hit the branch towards the bottom of the tree. This results in a cleaner break the swinging from the top down.
After limbing pull all the branches out of the way and create a brush pile well out of sight. This gives you a safe work area for cutting up the trunk. This brush pile can be used as a barrier for someone approaching your house and could also be used as concealment for both you and someone approaching you.

I typically cut the trunk and large branches into 4-6 foot lengths and leave to season for firewood. 4-6 feet is what I can comfortably handle for heavy green wood depending on the tree size. Next year I will cut it into size and know it is ready for burning.

After an ice storm two years ago my tree cutting took greater importance. We had many heavy branches on our power lines and lost power for a week due to trees in the area taking out power lines. At the time I had all my hand tools, no power tools. Hand tools are fine if you have time and energy, during the ice storm I had neither! Power tools I consider a force multiplier, Same amount of time and effort I get twice the work done.

Hand tools were fine for clearing our 400 foot driveway after the storm but not the garden, yard and woodlot that year. Gas powered chainsaws were great when I was cutting many trees but for occasional use electric has much less maintenance and is faster to setup. Initially I went with a battery powered chain saw and pole saw both using the same battery packs. This worked very well as by the time the batteries were drained I had as much cut up as I could handle before needing a rest. I also shifted to vegetable oil for chain lube since my fruit and nut trees need pruning often. I obtained a corded electric chain saw soon after for firewood cutting. I can run this off the photoelectric battery bank and keep my work quiet good for OPSEC.

Safety equipment- always steel toed boots, leather gloves and safety glasses. If I am using a pole saw or a branch might fall from above then a hard hat or lumberjack helmet as well. Kevlar chainsaw safety chaps are recommended for frequent use of gas chain saws but can be pricey and not rated for electric chain saws. Leather gloves with a gel insert to protect your hands from the vibration are a definite plus. If your hands hurt from splitting wood then try a pair, I bought one pair only because they were on sale and never went back. Personally I prefer working in the winter and fall wearing at least a long sleeve shirt and heavy duty pants. This keeps the bugs, thorns and branches from scratching up my skin. Last summer there was one small job where I was not wearing my work pants and boots found a hornets nest that day. If I had my usual work clothes I would not have been stung several times on my legs. Summer work is the most challenging because of the heat and PPE only adds to the heat. Spring brings Bugs, rain and mud.

Here are the tools I have used:

  1. Axe: Best all around woodcutting tool. Can fell trees, cut and split firewood.  Not perfect for every use but can fill most in a pinch. Great for notching a tree to help it come down where you would like it to and limbing a tree when it is down. Plastic/fiberglass type handles last much longer than the wooden handles. I have a double edged axe for use when I know I will not need to drive the wedges in.
  2. Maul: Ideal for splitting wood and driving wedges. Definitely use a plastic/fiberglass handle, and vibration resistant gloves plus a rubber collar for the occasional missed swing.
  3. Large timber saw: Good for cutting firewood and felling trees, very fast if you are in practice.
  4. Loppers: good for removing small branches, Axe or Hatchet is faster but loppers have reach.
  5. Bow saw: useful for small branch removal and cutting small firewood
  6. Chainsaws: The fastest way to take down trees but require skill and maintenance to use regularly. Every time someone uses a gas powered chainsaw in my neighborhood everyone knows it. Electric chainsaws are very quiet with much less maintenance but you need electricity and are limited by extension cord distance to the outlet or battery life. Gas powered saws need frequent fuel changes and carb cleaning if left to sit between seasons.
  7. Cordless electric pole saw: for removing overhanging branches, clearing low hanging branches which are in the way and cutting down small trees.
  8. Cordless electric chainsaw: good for small jobs away from an outlet or to do a small job without running an electric cord or priming the gas chainsaw.
  9. Throw bag, cord and heavy duty rope: to rope and pull or convince a tree to fall where you want it.
  10. Tow straps and come-along: to further convince a tree which way to fall. I run the throw bag and cord first, then rope then tow strap.


  1. Flat files for removing dents on the maul and sharpening the axe and timber saw. Round files for the chain saw, with light oil to preserve the steel and lube the cutting tools. Sharpening stones could be used as well in place of the flat file for the axe.
  2. Spare chains for the chainsaw, spare vegetable oil for cutting lubrication and other use. Spare axe and handles are another plus.

Not to overstress safety but many people I have been trained by have later been injured cutting trees. Eventually chains break, trees kick back or bounce back, logs shift, branches fall, things happen. PPE is required not optional. Make sure you can finish cutting down a tree before making the first cut. Don’t limb a tree or start another tree when you need a rest. And never put your back to a falling tree. I only know of one local tree felling fatality, someone who had 40 years experience. He walked away from a tree cut to move his truck out of the way and the tree fell on him.

In a short article I am trying to describe what can be a month long process of clearing brush and cutting down trees. There is a lot to be learned, for experience there are always Arborists and loggers needing help pulling brush and cutting up branches and summer camps needing volunteers. You do not want to learn the hard way, learn from experienced people.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dear CPT Rawles,
Thank you for SurvivalBlog, and best wishes to all of you at the Rawles Ranch.  

My wife and I have written to once before about retreat locale recommendations, and you were so very helpful.  We are, I guess what you could call "late preppers" because we've only been working on this for about the last year, & part of that with admittedly a certain skepticism. Time has proven you right however, & now we are doing all we can.  It's tough to prioritize when you need so much, and everything is like an emergency right NOW kind of need because of so many new regulations, and doors being closed.  I'm sure you understand how all of that is.  We have taken your past advice seriously, and are moving to the Redoubt in June of 2014, hopefully things will hold together that long...  Last year we purchased 10 acres in Boundary County in the general vicinity of [locale deleted, for OPSEC], and it is about that that I am writing to you.  To put it plainly, an appraisal of our situation is that we are very poor, financially speaking.  We have however managed to reach zero debt, but have only one income, plus whatever I can scratch up.  I am a disabled veteran, injured in the Gulf War, and no longer able to work in my chosen profession (LEO), so I am now finishing up learning to be a locksmith.  Our land purchase depleted most of our savings, but it is fully paid for.  Our land is undeveloped, save for a gravel driveway/access road and a leveled and cleared building site.  It has a small creek that flows through it.  I was told that the creek is seasonal.  According to my neighbor it has not gone dry in several years.  The property is timbered and also has some pasture land.  That is what we have to work with.  We currently live in [locale deleted, for OPSEC] with our three teenage sons (18, 16, 14).  Our plan is to get moved to the Redoubt as soon as possible.  That relocation is our top priority, as we feel time is of the essence, and it will at least give us the best fighting chance with what preps we have been able to put into place, as opposed to back here.  To make that happen however is requiring a lot of bailing wire, duct tape and "McGyverisim".

As we will be unable to build a home, we are thinking of taking storage buildings (from a provider in Ponderay, Idaho) and setting them on concrete footings, as "roughed in" structures that we can then insulate and finish out as finances allow (double pane windows, 60 psf snow load, steel roof, etc are givens).  We would start with two, one for my wife and I, which would also contain the family common areas, and a second for my son's, as a bunkhouse, if you will.  The plan is to eventually have five, which we will inter-connect via breezeways for lack of a better term, with an inner courtyard.  The buildings will be 14' x 40' (560 sq ft) each, with the ability to be added onto if later desired).  The long term thought is that if things hold together long enough, each of my children will be able to have their independence in their own "wing" of the house, much like an apartment if you will (independence but common security & mutual benefit being the goal here). The plan is of course that this will all be off grid.  

Q:  Have you heard of anyone doing such a thing before?  In your opinion is such a plan viable? Is there any advice or cautions that you would offer?

For cooking and heat we will obviously want to use wood, but are debating if it would be best to try to cook on a wood stove (which I see as more of an emergency adaptation than practical for daily use) but would be much cheaper initially, or would we be better off buying a wood cookstove such as the Heartland Sweetheart stove, which would be more than ample to heat our space (if it is efficient for that purpose I am not sure), warms water and uses a thermo-siphon to provide it for showers, etc I'm told but have not yet confirmed, and allows for all forms of cooking and baking, but is much much more expensive (i.e. $6,000-7,000.)

Q:  Do you have any experience with, or thoughts on this?

Q:  As you are obviously a well thought and researched person, do you have any thoughts and/or recommendations on efficient wood stoves, other wood cook stoves we should perhaps be considering, the use of propane for a cook stove and refrigerator for the short term, and any recommendations for an emergency generator (our electronic needs would be small).

Q:  Lastly, regarding drilling a well, according to area well reports we have discovered that with the exception of 1 or 2 wells, most are really deep (400 to 500 feet deep at roughly $37 per foot) so are there any options you may have experience with know about that may allow us to use the surface water from the creek that we could check into?

Thank you for for your time, and any input you may be able to provide us to help us along the way.  We always take what you have to say with the utmost seriousness.  Once again thank you for all that you and your family provide to the preparedness community. 
God bless you and your family! - B.D.

JWR Replies: If you have enough level ground, a "spokes of a wheel" arrangement for the cabins should work fairly well.   Just keep in mind that North Idaho can get up to 6 feet of snow, so allow room for the snow that comes off the roofs to pile up.

For heating, rather then burn fires in five separate stoves, you might consider an outdoor furnace in its own little shed, right next to your wood shed.  (With metal roofs for both.) In addition to hydronic (radiant) floor heating, these can also be used to provide domestic hot water. This approach creates less chimney fire hazard, and just one chimney to clean, twice a year

Creek water is of course not safe to drink untreated, but a lot of folks make do with constructing ponds or cisterns and then using two-stage filters and an ultraviolet water line light on the service line. (These are commonly used to sterilize the bacteria in the water circulated through fish ponds.)  If you can divert the creek and establish a pond or cistern at least 30 vertical feet uphill from the house, then that avoids a huge set of problems.  (There are no pumps in the system if you have gravity feed.)  OBTW, the pond must also have a stout, tall fence around it to keep out all livestock and wild game.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

I know this blog is primarily aimed at folks preparing for a long-term crisis, but I have a unique perspective on living without electricity after a regional disaster that I thought some might find informative. I live in the hills of northwestern New Jersey, and I have lived through three sustained (my definition: 4 or more days each) power outages caused by extreme weather events during the last two years. These power outages were caused, respectively, by Hurricane Irene, 19 inches of wet, heavy snow in October before the trees had lost their leaves, and Hurricane Sandy. I have learned important lessons from each power outage that I would like to share.
A wood stove and lots of firewood are necessities. I live in a county with tens of thousands of acres of forest. Today, however, most folks are too lazy to cut and process firewood. As each generation passes, fewer and fewer know how. Fortunately, I grew up on a farm and my dad always heated our home with firewood so I learned the joy of hard work and more about trees than I could begin to write here. As the temperatures plunged in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the inside temperature of homes in my neighborhood dropped to near freezing and those of us with woodstoves became havens of comfort each day for friends, children, the elderly and neighbors in need of warmth. I think anyone who doesn’t have a wood stove and 10 cords of split, stacked and dried firewood in the backyard by October is unprepared. It’s a low-technology essential that works on simple principles, it warms your home, cooks your food and dries your clothes. Get a wood stove. Trust me when I say your wife won’t complain about the mess that comes with one when it is warming your house. Get a bigger wood stove than you think you need, it will make it easier to load and you won’t have to work as hard cutting small pieces of firewood. The side benefit is that a wood stove will save you thousands in heating costs each winter and will pay for itself in short order.
Water. It seems so obvious, but even most country folk today are dependent on electricity to run their well to provide them with water. Having a generator is much more useful if it powers your well. For starters, this means you can flush your toilet, wash your hands and take a shower, things we take for granted when the electricity is running. I learned after our first extended power outage that I wanted to get a generator and a lot of gas cans to protect the venison in my freezer. After the second one I realized that I wanted a Reliance transfer switch to hook up my generator in a safe way to my electrical box so that I could provide power to my well pump. As a bonus, I could also run my freezers, a refrigerator, a few lights and outlets. But I needed water. For a longer-term crisis, I am looking into a hand pump such as the Simple Pump that has the capability to pump water by hand from my existing well. Because I believe in redundancy when it comes to water, I also picked up some high-quality water containers that hold 7 gallons of fresh potable water. You can use it for drinking, cooking, washing and filling up the toilet. There’s a stream about a mile from my house that I could drink from if I had to (I strongly discourage this unless it is a true survival situation because of water-borne illnesses found in most surface streams), and I would be glad to haul the water back home in a wheelbarrow each day if it came down to it.
A generator coupled with a transfer switch. I made this a separate category because I think it deserves special attention. I personally bought a 5,000 Watt generator that can surge to 6,250 Watts, made by Briggs and Stratton. There are myriad choices in this area so do your research, evaluate your budget, and get the most appropriate generator for your circumstance. It has performed admirably for over 100 hours and has only required minimal maintenance. For starters, it is recommended that you change the oil every 40 hours or so. You should also drain the gas out when you are done using it. No problem here, but if you don’t use the generator for six months you ought to run it for half an hour or so. This means you are bi-annually putting a little gas in, running the generator, and draining the fuel out. A model which lets you easily detach the fuel line to drain the leftover fuel out makes this chore much less of a hassle.
I suggest having a two-week supply of fuel on hand, because it is amazing how quick it runs out during a crisis. I never would I have believed that I would live to witness gas lines, gas rationing, people driving to other states to get fuel, etc. until I actually experienced it. It can happen. That being said, I believe that within two weeks after a regional disaster, supply chains will develop to get things moving around again. If they don’t, then we are talking about a situation that is truly dire and you’d better think about how to live without electricity from any source for the long haul. My generator burns a little less than 4 gallons of gas in twelve hours (I turn mine off each night), so 10 gas cans gets me there if I conserve a bit. I could get by on eight hours, but my wife immeasurably appreciates being able to open and close the refrigerator with four kids. If I have learned only one thing in thirteen years of marriage, it is that having an appreciative wife is invaluable.
I had a neighbor with very large whole-house generator that was burning over 10 gallons of gas a day, and he ran out of fuel within a few days. So bigger is not always better. I also learned that diesel fuel is more available than gasoline during these situations, so if I were to do it again, and money were not an issue, I would consider a diesel, natural gas or propane generator. I found out the hard way that having a can of carburetor cleaner and a small piece of wire is invaluable because carburetors get gummed up easily if a little gas sits in there for a few months. If this happens, you have to clean it (which is easy once you have done it once) or run your generator on partial choke all the time (which is less than ideal and may not work). Drain your gas completely when you put it away and this shouldn’t be a problem.
Food. This was actually the least of our worries. We had plenty of food on our shelves to last for months if necessary, and we didn’t really even plan it that way. I guess with four kids and one income we are just used to buying in bulk when sales hit at the local grocery store. There has been a lot written already on this subject, so I will defer to other essays on this topic.
Medical Supplies. Everyone has different needs here, but it is just good sense to keep a few extra of whatever you need around in case the pharmacy isn’t open (which it won’t be if the store doesn’t have a back-up generator).
Feminine hygiene products. Keep a few extra boxes around.
Lighting. Because we had plenty of firewood and a fireplace, we lit the fireplace each night and everyone in the family loved it, but it didn’t light up the bathrooms or the other rooms in the house. And when I went out in the dark each night to turn off the generator and bring it in the garage, a lantern came in really handy. LED lanterns that can run over 100 hours on one set of batteries are great, and are easily available on Amazon.com. Get two of them because you need one in the bathroom and the rest of the family doesn’t have to sit in the dark while they wait for your return if you have two. I also purchased two old-fashioned kerosene lanterns and a gallon of kerosene after the last power outage. The more flashlights and batteries you have around the better when the power goes out. Those little LED book lights are nice luxuries as well when you want to settle down and read a book in the evening.
A hand crank radio. This is one item I used every day during lunch. We sat around and listened to the local AM radio station as people would call in with all sorts of useful information, such as which gas stations had gas to sell and a generator to power their pumps, which stores were open, where one could get potable water (some buildings have emergency generators), what roads were cleared of trees and now passable, and where the electrical crews were working. On top of this, listening to a radio lifts your spirits when you have no other contact with the outside world.
Relationships with your neighbors are vital. No one knows everything, and a plumber, electrician, farmer, mechanic, doctor, dentist, police officer, etc. each possess unique and valuable skills and knowledge. You can only access those skills and knowledge if they trust you before the crisis and are regularly communicating with you during the crisis. Build friendships now with your neighbors. Find out what their strengths are. Forgive those whom you have had past disagreements with, as those arguments will seem truly unimportant if the SHTF. One of the unexpected benefits of Hurricane Sandy was that I built several long-lasting friendships with neighbors as we spent two weeks cutting trees, dragging branches, splitting wood and stacking firewood. We worked together to get warm, make food, get gasoline and other supplies, take showers and watch children. And everyone in my area has give a lot of thought about surviving when the government and the utility companies cannot help you. I can honestly say it was, in some ways, a blessing.  
Cash. Try buying something when nobody in town has power and you find out real quick that cash is still better than a credit card or a debit card.  A few hundred bucks was more than enough for the short-term outages I have experienced, but a longer-term situation would require more. In a truly long-term disaster situation, actual goods that you could barter with would have the most value.
Intangibles. I would like to conclude by suggesting that maintaining a positive attitude in spite of adversity is of immense value. Being a person who smiles while working to meet daily challenges lifts the spirit of everyone you come into contact with, and your attitude will have a marked impact on children. My children actually think that power outages are something to be celebrated (no school and you get to pretend like you are living Little House on the Prairie)! Having faith helps us see the good that comes with difficulty, and gives us strength to forge ahead, no matter what.
Our world is becoming more like a Rube Goldberg machine every day. Our infrastructure and supply lines become more fragile as they become more dependent on new layers of technology. My advice to everyone is to build redundancy into every system you control, and pass on practical knowledge to the next generation. A co-worker who was not prepared for any of these circumstances suggested to me that preparing for them was wrong, that it amounted to cynically saving yourself at the expense of your neighbor. I replied that quite the opposite was true: those who are prepared are far more able to help their neighbors than those who are not, and my real-life observations actually back up this assertion. Thank you for taking the time to read this essay and God Bless!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dear JWR:
The excellent article, "Fire: Your Partner in Survival, by Pledger" mentioned the BTU ratings of certain trees. Wanting to know a bit more, I did some searching and found a chart of the BTU ratings of various types of wood.

On another note, Pledger's reference to a cord as 4x8 feet by 16 inches threw me. I looked it up and found that a "full cord" measures 4x4x8 feet, which is the number I was familiar with, ranging from 80 to 100 cubic feet stacked. The web site I found uses 90 cubic feet for its BTU ratings. However, a "face cord" is one-third of a full cord and measures 4x8 feet by 16 inches. This is the one Pledger's article uses. - Larry X.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Thanks again for the recent posting on my piece: Local Food and Energy from Top Lit Up Draft Micro-Gasification Stove. That was much appreciated!

Are you tracking woodgas powered vehicles?

You may have heard of it from WWII stories and FEMA manual.

The old systems worked in emergencies, but were not really practical for long term use.

Wayne Keith has a new book just out on practical applications, Have Wood Will Travel. In it are detailed instructions for building, operating, and maintaining a modern woodgas powered vehicle.

Wayne has tinkered his way into the first system that is practical (in areas with abundant wood or stemmy biomass) for modern fuel injected engines. It works okay in carbureted engines as well. He has been driving all over the US on wood power for almost 8 years now. Longest single trip, 7,000 miles, also holds the LSR for wood power at just under 80 mph. I have ridden with him at higher speeds, but in his first trip to Bonneville he mostly just learned a lot about the protocols. He can go a lot faster.

Auburn University did a study on his design running on gasoline and wood. His 318 Dodge Dakota gets better BTU-to-energy conversion from wood than from gasoline.

I will have a copy sent to one of your reviewers, if you will give me a mailing address.

When I joined the Driveonwood.com forum a little over a year ago, when there were 8 subscribers. Today there are over 1400. Their web site has the largest collection of woodgas info on the web. Woodgas has its addicts, I am one of them. I have an old farm truck, a 1984 F-250 with a 460 cubic inch motor that runs great on wood. I have a gooseneck hitch in it, because it has enough power to pull a trailer.

Seeing is believing, and I no longer believe the PhD-spouted myths about woodgas not having enough power to do useful work. The engine, originally built to run on high octane, sounds better running on woodgas than on any modern grade of pump petroleum.

For off grid electrical power generation, the wind doesn't always blow, the sun doesn't always shine, but smoke always rises.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Eons ago when people lived in caves, one of their most important tools was fire.  Its ability to keep them warm, cook food, provide light, and scare away predators was of the utmost importance.  Some kind of a societal upheaval may not necessarily mean returning to a stone age existence, but when the systems that keep our everyday life humming along go down, fire will once again have a huge impact on our ability to survive.

This fact was brought home to my wife and me two winters ago, when a February blizzard knocked out the power to several counties.  It was early evening - the lights flickered a few times, and then the house was plunged into darkness.  Everything became eerily quiet, save for the wind howling outside and snow pelting against the window.

Then there was another sound – the reassuring popping of a log in our big airtight Franklin stove which continued to throw off its heat, oblivious to the fact that the juice was off.  For the next thirty-six hours we used it to keep us warm,  melt snow to flush toilets, and even did a some cooking over its coals.  While other folks along our country road bundled up in sleeping bags and shivered until the outage ended, the disruption to our lives wasn’t nearly as great.

If you live in a northern climate, staying warm is important for nearly half of the year.  Did I say “important”?  Make that “vital” because without a way to keep the temperature in your home or bug-out place at a life-sustaining level, you will die of exposure!  Your gas or oil furnace will be fine… as long as your fuel supply lasts or the electricity doesn’t fail.  These are finite resources, however, and during a long-term disruption of goods and services, your pilot light will go out at some point (probably just when a January blizzard comes howling in). 

The only logical solution is to turn to wood heat, or more precisely, a wood-burning airtight stove (fireplaces are fine for ambiance, but horribly inefficient for warming you since most of the heat goes up the chimney).  The next question, then, is where will your wood come from, and what skills and tools do you need to convert it to usable fuel for your stove? 

The countryside is full of burnable litter.  Next time you’re out and about, take a look around.  Fallen branches and even a downed tree or two are common sights in any woodlot or park, or along rural roads.  Most of it, though, is too small to keep a fire going with the BTU output that’s needed to warm your home.  Real “firewood” consists of pieces of thick branches or trunks that have been cut and split to a size of about 16” long and roughly 5” or 6” in diameter.  Anything smaller will require re-stoking the stove every few hours, while bigger pieces may smolder unless the fire is wastefully large.

At present, I get most of my firewood supply from a local landowner, who doesn’t like downed trees lying around and sees it as a favor when I clean up the woods for him.   After a big summer storm, city folks without saws will gladly offer you a tree that’s toppled in their yard.  Likewise, a downed tree across a rural road usually belongs to the first one who’s there to cut it up.   During bad times it would likely be possible to barter for timber with a landowner who doesn’t have the tools or know-how to utilize it himself -probably working together and then sharing it.  State or federally-owned hunting land and wildlife areas also have downed timber, which can often be claimed by anyone with the gumption to go get it.

If we ever arrive at a point where vehicles and trailers are no longer available, all of your wood will have to be hauled by hand.  That means that laying in a good supply now, when you can still move it efficiently, would be a good idea.  Having a sizable woodpile to begin with puts a buffer between you and calamity.  Get your wood from the more distant locations while you can still truck it, and leave the easier pickings for when you may have to move it manually. 

Wheel barrows are, in my opinion, a poor way to transport anything heavy for any distance due to their chronic balance problems.  With their single, small, pneumatic tire, they are not made to move loads over uneven ground.  Take one into the woods and roll over a few blackberry brambles, and the tire will inevitably puncture and go flat.  A better alternative is one of those “game haulers” with large, hard rubber wheels.  They’re made for going over rough terrain easily, and can handle a maximum load with a minimum amount of effort (they can also haul around a lot of other heavy stuff that might need moving).

Literally any wood will burn.  One year we survived two months of a Wisconsin winter heating with willow – a wood near the bottom of the BTU list.  Likewise, this past winter we used a fair amount of box elder – another low grade tree.  Woods like this certainly will throw out enough heat to keep you warm, but they burn fast, requiring a larger supply.

The “primo” varieties include oak, hard maple, locust, hickory and apple.  Next down the line but still good, are ash, birch, cherry, and hackberry.  Unless there is nothing else available, however, avoid any of the evergreen species, since their resin content tends to start chimney fires, spit sparks, and can flash back when you open the stove door.

Firewood should season for at least six months after being cut green (a year is better) although a few varieties, like ash and locust, will burn without much drying.

We’ve just been through a mild winter here. Spring has arrived and, after checking the wood shed, I see that we’ve gone through about six face cords of mixed hardwood (a stove face cord is a stack four feet high, eight feet long, and 16” deep).  A bad winter, like last year’s, would probably have required another cord.

A household could get by on a lot less, though.  For one thing, we have a large stove and heat the entire place with it.  The fire is usually lit in November and doesn’t go out until late March.  A smaller stove heating a smaller area would take far less fuel.  And if our wood supply had been limited, instead of basking in 70 degree temperatures all winter, we could have stretched the supply by burning less – in an extreme case, just enough to keep the place at 50 degrees.  This would have been uncomfortable, but it would have enabled us to survive.

If you envision doing your cutting with a chain saw after society falls apart, picture those last precious (and irreplaceable) drops of gas disappearing into its tank.  Even if you’ve stocked a large supply of fuel and bar oil, gas has a shelf life, and how many chains do you have?  The other problem with a chain saw (besides the fact that, being a machine, it will need unobtainable replacement parts at some point) is that it makes noise.  This broadcasts a message to anyone within a mile that someone’s cutting a pile of firewood that could be pilfered from the producer as soon as he’s finished the work.

Long-term survival requires stepping back into the 19th century and taking up the hand saw.  Do you have one capable of cutting through a 30 inch tree trunk?  Probably not, but realizing the need for producing burnable chunks suitable for splitting that will hold a fire all night should inspire you to get one.

A crosscut saw capable of handling tree trunk needs to be either a one or two-man model 48” - 56“ long.  If you’ve got a partner, go with a two-man type.  I’ve got one that can be set up either way, with add-on handle on one end that converts it from a solo saw to a duo.

There are two basic tooth types – “Lance” and “Tuttle”.  The former is designed more for softwoods, so go with the latter.  One company that carries a good assortment of saws in various designs for serious cutting is the Traditional Woodworker (www.traditionalwoodworker.com).

Also consider buying a second smaller, less cumbersome saw with a standard tooth arrangement for doing the medium cutting jobs.  This one would probably have a 24” - 30” blade with 4 ½ to 6 teeth per inch.  Such a saw could also be used in a pinch for the big stuff.  For cutting up smaller branches for kindling or your cooker (which will be discussed shortly) bow saws work fine.  They’re cheap, so get a couple of different sizes and a number of spare blades.

But having an assortment of saws isn’t going to keep you cutting indefinitely.  No matter how good the steel is, that blade is eventually going to get dull.  A good stock of files will be important for keeping your saws working efficiently.

Do you know how to sharpen a saw?  Are you familiar with things like “Fleam”, “Rakers” and “Jointing”?  Do you have a tooth setter in your tool box?  Becoming proficient at sharpening your cutting tools is a skill you can’t overlook (the afore-mentioned saw dealer also sells an excellent book by Harold Payson on setting and sharpening hand saws).  And besides keeping your own tools chipping away efficiently, being the local “saw sharpener” can make you a vital asset to a small community of survivors.

Axes can play a role in firewood production, too.  They’re not as efficient as a saw, but a century ago lumberjacks used them to take down mature trees.  Felling a tree with an axe, however, requires a lot of skill as well as effort, something you will soon discover when tackling anything bigger than a mid-sized aspen.  I’ve found that the best use for an axe is limbing a downed tree.  Just remember to stand on the opposite side of the trunk, and chop off the limb from the root end of the trunk towards the top. 

Like saws, axes come in several styles and sizes.  The “limbing” axe, with a 25 inch handle is also good for cutting up small limbs on a chopping block, while a full-sized axe can be used for splitting smaller pieces with a straight grain or, if you have to, felling a tree.

One more thought on axes:  Like any edged tool, keep it sharp!  The old saying, “a dull knife is a dangerous knife” holds true for axes as well (and you can do a lot more damage to yourself with one).

To round out your wood processing equipment you should have a good splitting maul, two or three wedges and a sledge hammer.  If you’re lucky enough to get into some straight-grained ash or oak, the maul alone will do the job, but often you’ll need the encouragement of a wedge or two to get many pieces to split to the size you desire.

Not all wedges are the same.  Get one that has a narrow entry edge for efficiently starting a split, and a wider one to open it up when you bury the first wedge (which often happens).  I like the model made by True Temper which has two built-in “wings” near the top for my second wedge.  The wings open the crack far enough to allow the head of a sledge hammer in, so you can continue to pound on the wedge until the split is complete.

A couple of final thoughts on cutting firewood:  If you don’t know what you’re doing, standing timber can kill you in a heartbeat.  Any written description here of exactly how to take down a tree would not be adequate, so go out and find someone who works in the woods, and ask if you can tag along sometime to learn how it’s done.  Some of the important things they’re likely to point out are:

  • The “hinge” (the uncut area between the notch and the felling cut) controls the direction which the tree will fall.  If you cut through it, the tree can go anywhere (including in you lap).
  • More branch weight on one side will influence a tree to fall in that direction.
  • A dead branch near the top that comes loose due to vibrations while cutting can be lethal (that’s why they’re called “widow-makers”).
  • Be aware of wind direction.  This can influence a tree’s fall – especially if it’s leafed out.

Fire is important for more than just keeping your core temperature above 98.6 degrees. In the event of a prolonged TEOTWAWKI catastrophe, everyone will need some way to cook food and boil water.  White or bottled gas, however, is not the answer, since eventually your supply will run out.  At that point you’ll once again have to turn to wood.

A traditional campfire will work, but is hugely wasteful of your hard-earned fuel resources.  The best option is to use something that will give you a big boost in efficiency over an open fire, and that “something” would be a well-designed wood-fired cook stove.

Some Preppers’ stocks of provisions include large amounts of freeze-dried food which doesn’t need to be “cooked” per se, but does require a cup or two of boiling water.  The most effective way to do this is with what is known as a “Kelly Kettle” (sometimes called  a “volcano kettle”). 

The Kelly Kettle is an odd-looking stainless steel stove that resembles a cross between a miniature milk can and a bowling pin.  It has a small fire chamber in the base which draws air from below, and the heat rises through a long chimney.  Surrounding this chimney is a hollow jacket that holds water.  The heat coming up it contacts a far greater surface area of the water than it would if it were merely concentrated on the bottom of a pan, and brings it to a boil in only a fraction of the time.

Another thing that makes the Kelly Kettle a great survival tool is the fact that it can be fueled with just about anything that burns.  Collect the wood chips from where you’ve been cutting and splitting your stove wood, break up small, fallen branches or twigs, or use pine cones or even bark – it’s all the same to the Kelly Kettle.  The bottom draft arrangement (the same principle as a Dakota fire) will make just about anything you put in it burn hot and fast.

For your actual cooking needs or for heating larger amounts of water, a special stove based on the Kelly Kettle will work far better than an open fire.  The only problem is that as far as I know, there isn’t such a stove on the market.  This means you’ll have to make your own.

 There’s a plan on a survival blog for a pipe stove with a “rocket elbow”.  I followed the basic design and tweaked it just a bit.  My version consists of an eleven inch length of  6” stove pipe nested inside a twelve inch piece of  8” stove pipe.  A vent (1 ½” diameter piece of exhaust pipe) goes from the bottom of the inner pipe and sticks out an inch past the outer one.  This tube serves both as an air intake and a chute to add fuel.

The interior pipe is closed off at the bottom using a removable standard 6” stovepipe cap and then cement is poured in the space between the two pipes.  This acts as insulation as well as giving the stove more weight, and hence, more stability.  Several one inch deep scallops are cut into the top rim of the outer pipe to allow smoke to escape, and what’s left supports the utensil you’re cooking with.  Like the Kelly Kettle, the fact that it draws air from the bottom and has a long chimney, will make the fire burn with a hot, focused flame.  A stove such as this also allows one to utilize easily collected scrap wood as fuel.

Following the basic design concept, it might be possible to build larger stoves for bigger cooking tasks.  The only drawback I’ve noticed with mine is that because it uses small pieces of wood that burn quickly, it needs to be fed often and hence, can’t be left unattended for long.

A bonus to cooking with wood is that the ashes the fire produces can be used as soap to clean up with.  Since they contain lye, merely mixing them into a paste with clean water and using it as a scouring compound will allow you to keep utensils clean long after your supply of soap has run out.
The best “starter” wood to get a fire going - whether it’s you cooker of wood furnace - is dry cedar.  If you can find an old telephone pole lying around somewhere, saw it into short lengths and then split each round into thin pieces. Unless you hit a knot, the straight grain of cedar splits easily into extremely thin sticks which take a flame in seconds.  I call this stuff “fire candy”.  It catches quickly and burns intensely for starting a fire, as well as rejuvenating one that is nearly out.  If you can’t find cedar, something like well-dried aspen or willow is also a good starter.

Don’t forget that before you can burn anything, you’ll have to have a way of starting your fire.  A large stockpile of traditional matches, metal matches and butane lighters take up little space and have no maximum shelf life.  If you run out, though, you’ll have to resort to a fire bow or a magnifying glass.

And for each fire you light, you’ll need some tinder to get it going.  A supply of newspapers and dryer lint will work, but know that when it’s gone you’ll have to rely on fuzz sticks or natural materials like mouse nests.

If and when TEOTWAWKI arrives “keeping the home fires burning” will be right up there with food and water.  Prepare for it now!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

In January, 2012 Washington State went through what the locals called Snowmageddon. My family and I had just returned from being stationed in Germany for the preceding nine years. Some of our belongings were still packed up out in the garage. Mostly my “camping” things. Having just started at the new assignment, I had not yet taken the time to unpack everything. I had bought some heavy duty shelves for the garage (in anticipation of unpacking my gear). While in Germany, I was stationed in Bavaria (Schweinfurt and Graffenwoehr specifically). I had been raised in the Midwest, so I was used to a lot of snow. The love of my life was a military brat, born in Lost Wages, raised in Europe. To the kids, lots of snow meant extra days off of school.

I arrived in Washington in time for the salmon runs, so my freezer was full of fresh fillets, family value packs from the butcher, and a bunch of frozen fruit from COSTCO. I had started to stockpile some canned soups that I got a good deal on, as well as several cases of bottled water. My wife and kids just rolled their eyes and called me a prepper like it was a dirty word. Then, on the 18th of January, the snow fell hard enough to knock the power out, luckily after dinner.

When the power died, so did the heat. While in Germany, we had purchased large down comforters for each bed, as well as some full size blankets. We normally keep the heat at 65 in the house; if we get chilly; we put on some layers or cover up with a blanket. I was not worried about staying warm or food, but cooking it soon presented a problem. The next day, I went out to the garage and started to dig out the camp stove. My gut clenched when I saw that it had been murdered. A forklift tine had punched through the box at some point and the stove was the casualty. The box had been re-packed and nothing said to me or my wife. It happened to be the only thing that was damaged in the move. I went into the house and looked at my wife through the hole, grinning at her facial expression.

I hiked through knee deep snow out to Cabela's, about two miles away. They were operating on generators and the debit cards were still working. On the way, I stopped at the Shell station and got lucky with the ATM and was able to get a couple hundred dollars cash just in case. When I got to Cabela's, the stoves and propane were all gone. I also noticed that most of the sleeping bags and trail food were gone. Undeterred, I tromped another 1.5 miles to Wal-Mart. Same result there. I then went to Big 5 Sporting goods, and was able to get a stove for $45 cash. They were also out of propane. I made my way to Wholesale sports and got lucky on the propane; I got the last six cans. Sales were cash only. While in line, the guy behind me tried to talk me out of half of them “They last a while, what do you need with 6 cans?”.  I told him to pound sand, and he grumbled something about Army attitudes. Since I do not have my concealed permit, I was carrying openly, which he noticed. I got out of line under the pretense of having forgotten something, just to keep him in sight. There was no incident, but I was not going to take any chances. In each of the stores, there was generator power only (while the fuel lasted), cash was the only thing accepted (with the exception of Cabela's), all the stay warm gear and camping food was gone. I went across the street to Safeway and got another can of coffee. Cash only.

I got home, wiped down my sidearm, and started cooking dinner. The psychological effect of a hot meal cannot be under rated! The next day (19 Jan), I took a couple of my Rubbermaid tubs out back and piled snow around them. Everything from the refrigerator went into one and the now semi-frozen fruit went into the other. I cooked all of the pork sausage up and it went into a cooler out on the patio. I had a sedan; it took me 3 minutes to back out of my driveway and 45 minutes of shoveling and pushing to get it back into the original position. A couple of hours later, one of my coworkers roared up in his 4WD and we made our way to Fort Lewis (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord or JBLM). We secured a couple generators and fuel from his shop and drove/ slid home. FYI, the use of the generators was sanctioned by the Brigade Commander.. The generator was enough for the water heater and the kitchen lights were very dim. We decided to leave them off. The value of a hot shower ranks right up there with a hot meal.

Our cell phones we working intermittently, either due to the fact they are 3G, the ice and snow build up on the towers, or both. I have an inverter for the lighter socket in my vehicle, so keeping them charged was no issue. My boss called and told me to just check in on the phone until I was able to get my car on the road. That night we did not run the generator, but you could hear all the other ones in the area and see lights here and there. They would have made good targets if the power was out longer than 6 days. On the 3rd day, I cooked everything from the freezer and put it all into the Rubbermaid containers. We were not going to freeze or starve, and we played a lot of board games, some match stick poker (Texas hold em and 5 card stud) and a couple of snow ball fights. Neither my wife nor I were able to go to work for the whole week.

Most of our neighbors had left to either relatives or hotels where the power was still on. Some of them had even left their pets, which really angered me. On day 7, the power was restored. I disconnected the generator, wiped out the fridge, and put all of the food back into it. I cleaned the propane stove and put it on a shelf in the garage, along with 4 bottles of propane. We had not touched the food stores in the garage, still had plenty of food in the fridge, and our bellies were full.  My neighbors started to return in the afternoon. The single mom next door threw out all the food from her freezer and fridge, as did most of the others who had left. The HOA had not even made the attempt to plow the roads.
My wife and kids no longer make fun of my preparations, and they no longer dive into the bottled water stash. I was extraordinarily lucky to find a working ATM, new stove and fuel when I did. Almost every one of my neighbors chose to flee the situation instead of make due, allowing all their perishable food to spoil and leaving their homes and possessions susceptible to loss. Some even abandoned their pets. I do not associate with them; I find their values and morals to be lacking.
Looking back, I have learned a few things.

  1. Stocking up may not be the cool thing with the family, but do it anyway.
  2. Make sure you have distractions (other than books) for the whole family.
  3. Rubbermaid containers can impress your wife.
  4. Even in the Pacific coast, a truck is a must (I now have a 4x4).
  5. Above ground power lines are stupid.
  6. Make the time to check all of your gear, especially after a move.

This is not a complete list, but it encompasses the points I feel are the most important. The next purchases for my new 4x4 will be a brush guard, winch, and plow. If the HOA will not honor their commitment, I will be able to help my neighbors. I continue to read and learn on a daily basis, as we all should.

Keep prepping and keep your powder dry.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

I’m older than you are. I’m female. Wanted to get that out of the way early, so you can decide whether to keep reading or not.
I assume you’re new to being prepared. Long-time survivalists wouldn’t want to read an article titled “start.” But you do. You’re interested in the subject of preparation, but you’re also a little overwhelmed by what you’re seeing on survival sites. You don’t think you can do all that stuff.

The fact is, you probably can’t. You’re a bank teller, not a former Marine. You’re alone, not affiliated with 30 like-minded survivalists. I’ve read all the warnings that I “can’t do it alone.” Maybe I can’t, but my situation today is if I don’t do it alone I might as well go rock in that chair. I am doing it alone, but with the idea that if any of my family or elderly neighbors need a place to go, I’ll be ready for them.

Of all the people I know personally, none are preparers. Since you want to be one, you’re already prepared more than most. You didn’t realize that any experience you’ve had with “hard” living (homelessness, unemployment, any abuse situation) would one day be useful to you. You’re already a survivor. You can do this.

It’s probably a good idea up front to tell you “one day at a time.” That means starting with today and what you can do with it and letting God show you what to do tomorrow. The most productive time you will ever spend will be while investigating the fact that Jesus Christ is the only reason we’re all here. A good start would be reading John in the New Testament. The John that comes after Luke.

Two more useful slogans for beginning preparers and alcoholics are “first things first” and “keep it simple.”

First get notebook paper and a good pen then simply stare into space while you think of what you really wished you had the day the power went out, the gas station closed, and the grocery store was just an empty building. I’m laughing here. I used to smoke. I’d have wanted a cigarette.

Write down what first came into your mind. Let the thoughts continue to flow from your mind, down your arm, through the pen. Nothing you write down is stupid. Your list will tell you who you are. Keep writing. When your words trail off, you can stop. Put the list down and pet the kitty. Look out the window. If you’re at work, put the list away until you get home. Once home, put the list down, pet the kitty and look out the window.

On my list I first wrote toilet paper, coffee, water. My priorities were a little skewed, but that’s what I wrote. Gather clean paper and begin a neater list from your free-form list. Pay special attention to what interests you most. This will probably turn into your area of study and expertise. Make this list neat, but be aware that you’ll make many more and much neater lists as time goes on. I finally have my needs and desires for preparation neatly hand-lettered on 3 x 5 cards.  When I acquire something on my list, I color it with a yellow marker. That’s how I do it. You do not have to do that. Develop the list that works for you.  If you can keep track of it all in little columns in your head, wow, go for it.

After I reworked my free-form list, I put the water first, then the toilet paper, then the coffee. About that time I decided I needed separate categories. I now have cards marked Medicinal, Paper/Cloth Goods, Metal Goods, Tools, Lights/Fire, and Food/Water. I see I need one labeled Play. I’ll do that this afternoon.

Let’s take Metal Goods and work through some of what is on my list. My weapons are there. I inherited the 16 gauge, 12 gauge, .22 pump and WWII bayonet. I bought the .32 revolver because I fell in love with it. A great challenge these days is locating and affording ammunition. Not a problem with the bayonet, but I really don’t want people with evil intent that close to me. If talk of arming yourself is alarming, you are allowed to put off thinking about it. We’re prioritizing. Your priority is not self-defense. Your strength lies somewhere else.

Maybe you’re an inventive cook. If everything goes kersplat, survivors will eventually wish for inventive cooks. Your skill could be in high demand. You could trade grub-worm gumbo for personal security.

Now think about the Medicinal list. If you take a prescribed medicine, stocking some extra is a first-level priority. Maybe explain to your doctor that you’re building a “blackout” supply. Except for the ones caused by alcohol and pill consumption or medical issues, we don’t have blackouts down here in the lower south. We’d tell the doctor the extra prescription was for a hurricane “power outage.”

Time to talk about keeping one’s mouth shut. This is a required quality in serious survivalists. In a long-term worse-case situation, being an amateur, and thus a blabbermouth, can get you and yours dead. Practice keeping secrets. Don’t write that down.

Since, except for the metal roofing, I built a house once, I have carpentry experience.  For fun I build sheds and animal pens   To save myself personal aggravation and what little hearing I have left, I only work with hand tools. In what looks like a hardship, I have the advantage. When the power goes out, I won’t grieve over the loss of my tools or have to build up a different set of muscles.
My most-used tools are a Stanley 15-inch small-tooth saw, a WorkForce hammer, and a Stanley hammer. Didn’t cost much, but I’ve used them for years. If you take time to choose tools that fit you and please you, you’ll use them for years, too. If you don’t own any, I suggest you first purchase a handsaw, a hammer, pliers, and wire-cutters. Over time you’ll learn what else you need.
For you to get a handle on all the “I can’t do its” pouring into your mind right now, calmly think about yourself and your skills. What do you do now that could translate into back-to-the-land style living? Do you have a knack with indoor and patio plants? You’ll make a fine gardener. Do you visit or help care for your handicapped or elderly relatives? You’ll make a fine counselor and emergency nurse. Do you volunteer at the animal shelter? You’ll make a fine shepherd.
When you were in Scouts, did you learn to make a Dakota Hole for cooking and heating? … No? … A Dakota Hole is a hole dug in the ground with a vent dug off one end. Complete directions abound on the internet, but the gist is once you’ve dug a 2 x 2-foot-or-so hole, you lie on your stomach and dig a “cave” (I use a spoon) at and parallel to the bottom of the hole as far as you can reach. Then you get up and find where you think the cave (aka vent) ended underneath you and dig down to meet it, all the while pulling dirt out like a terrier.
Build a fire down in the pit. Use a grate over the hole for steaks, pots and pans. Or lower a covered Dutch oven onto and down into the coals, cover the oven with foil, then bury the whole shebang with dirt. You can fill the hole entirely if you’re so inclined. If you’re cold, pull your sleeping bag over the mound and take a nap. If you need a third reason to spend time digging a large hole, consider that the only enemies who might see the flames of your fire will be flying overhead.

In a worse-case scene with armed nuts shooting at everything, you do not want to give away your location. Liberal use of flashlights is for the early minutes after the crisis when you and your children are getting accustomed to the dark. And by the way, if you’ve hunkered down near the python-riddled Everglades, I suggest you use the lights to find a way out of there.

My store of matches, lighters, LED palm-size flashlights and solar flashlights is not large enough yet for my feelings, but week-by-week I work at it. One valuable find is a 7-inch solar-with-battery-backup flashlight. You can charge the solar part right there under the lamp you’re writing your list under. If you want one, see HybridLight.com or go get one for about $13 at Wal-Mart.

The Paper/Cloth category is of course where I list toilet paper. I intend to store enough for trading. Also in that soft-goods group are cheesecloth, bed coverings, tents, clothes/coats/rain gear, shoes, boots, socks, towels, tarps, and drop-cloths.  I go overboard on socks. If you do as I do and lay in more toilet paper and socks than you can use in a lifetime, after the apocalypse you will be a wealthy person.

Food/Water is a first-rate category card. I left it for last so it wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. I don’t think I have to explain why. This is the category where I spend the most time thinking, planning, and doing.  I can’t afford a case of MREs, but after dining on several after Hurricane Katrina, I surely would like to.

Dehydrating foodstuffs is easy, cheap and fun.  Carrots, onions, peppers, and yellow squash are good practice produce and put all together can make a nice soup.

My dehydrating technique is low tech. If it wasn’t so humid here, I’d use the even lower-tech sun. As it is, I turn my gas oven on as low as it will go, put the chopped carrots (I cook mine a little) on a cookie sheet and into the oven, prop the door open with a spoon, turn on the inside light and go away for several hours. When I remember, I go stir the carrots. They’re ready when they rattle when I shake the cookie sheet. Three pounds of raw carrots make about a half cup of dried ones.

By reading this far, I imagine you’ve picked up on the state of my budget. Knowing a fixed-income person is building a store for harder times should be the best kind of news for you. If I can do it, you certainly can.

If you aren’t preparing now, but are encouraged to begin, here are starter suggestions I wrote for my grown son (who will make a weird face and ignore them).

Every payday, buy a small silver coin. Save it. (Pawn shops usually have them.)

Every payday buy an extra can of food you like. Save it.

Every payday buy an extra of something you need often or wouldn’t want to do without. Save it.

If you don’t cheat, in one year (with twice-a-month paydays) you will have 72 survival items stashed in the armoire you bought for storing your survival goods.

If you live on the 16th floor of an apartment building, you might want to store most of your things in the trunk of your always-half-full-of-gas vehicle or with your beloved non-snoopy country grandmother.  If you don’t have a car or a nice grandmother, consider renting an out-in-the-boonies storage unit.

The best-case apocalyptic scene for a car-less city-dweller will be that a day before things fall apart forever, you rent a vehicle with a trailer attached, drive to your rental unit, load your supplies and head where, very, very early on, you planned to go.

One caution here:  survival preparation can become an obsession. Obsessions make you blind. Obsessions remove people from your life. Obsessions make you talk too much.

So go at preparation gently. You have time.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Food and energy are the two keystones of any community economy anywhere on earth.   If we produce and distribute food and energy locally, we have the food, the energy and the money.   We establish the capacity to create and retain wealth in our community.   We put in place the two foundations of any human economy."  -David Yarrow.

More and easier food and energy production immediately raise standards of living. Less time worrying about essentials, leaves more time to do everything else.  Do not overlook this simple truth in preparedness and future planning. 

Top Lit Up Draft (TLUD) stove technology has many virtues: 

  • Less fuel required, less time spent gathering fuel
  • Works with small fuels, brush, twigs, bark, husks, hulls, cobs, cones, even stemmy grasses.
  • Little or no fire-tending necessary after lighting
  • Smoke free operation when done with skill
  • Easily controlled, reduced risk of spreading fire
  • Easy and reliable concealment of smoke and light during combustion (used in WWII resistance movement)


Stove made charcoal has many uses:

  • Medicine, anti-diarrheal, poison control, burns poultice
  • Liquids filtration 
  • Low power explosives since the 9th century
  • Long term soils improvement  
  • NOT typically suitable for gas phase filtration  

The invention of Top Lit Up Draft heating and cooking appliances goes back at least to the WWII resistance movement, possibly much farther back.  Resistance fighters "burned smoke", a two stage combustion process, to conceal position while making heat.  The gas flare could be left open for visible light, or easily concealed with a shroud. Proper design of a shroud increases water boiling performance for a pot nestled into the shroud.  The trick to "burning smoke" is counterintuitive for experienced fire builders. Combustibles are loosely piled into a can with open air holes in the bottom, then


Lighting on top creates an upward draft of warmed air, that pulls fresh air up through the pile to the flame front, technically termed a "pyrolysis" zone.   

The difference is similar to burning off a field of dry grass with the wind, or against the wind. A regular campfire burns "with the wind", a pyrolysis system burns "into the wind", a more easily controlled combustion process. 

The simplest example is an open can without a lid. 

  • Punch a few small holes in the bottom  
  • Loosely fill the can about 3/4 full of combustibles (small, dry paper wads for testing)  
  • Outdoors, on a still day, light it on top  
  • Observe how it makes smoke, and the smoke catches fire as it escapes the top rim of the can   

A lot of smoke will probably escape unburned during this test. If it eventually "goes to smoke", all smoke no flame, quickly try lighting the smoke. Note how easily the smoke ignites.  It may progress into a clean burn, or a smoky mess. 

The next advancement is concentrating the smoke and introducing the second shot of fresh air below the point of concentration.

  • Make a cap lid with a central hole about 1/4 the diameter of the can  
  • A slightly oversized lid with a deep downturned collar works best  
  • Make the hole by "pizza slicing" and folding the resulting tabs alternately upward and downward is fast with a pocket knife, and forward looking, but leaves sharp edges  
  • Just below the top rim of the can, punch an odd numbered ring of holes, evenly spaced, with a total face area about twice the total face area of the holes in the bottom  
  • be sure air can move freely through all holes  
  • Light the pile on top  
  • As the pile begins burning well, cap the can with the oversized lid   

You should see a ring of flares coming up through the concentrator hole, almost like a burner. The number of flares likely corresponds to the upper air intake holes and/or tabs.  If it goes to smoke, light the smoke.  The flare becomes more durable as the process continues, then fades near the end of the run.  When the flame disappears, the process has entered char burning mode. With enough oxygen, char burns to ash, emitting elevated levels of poisonous carbon monoxide in the process.  Stainless steel drink mugs, thermos bottles, and serving pots are a great way to experiment. 

With a little experience you will learn to tailor custom designs to balance heat output to runtime. You can also scale up or down to a size that suits the mission.    I carry a TLUD made from a small tapered thermos in my bugout bag.  While I have not tried any of the commercial units, I already know from design experience that what I have made suits me better than what I can buy. I can taper the flame from yellow to blue, use it as a light, conceal the light, and even snuff it at mid-process for long lasting catalytic style heat. 


Ancient charcoal makers, known as colliers, held guild status in their communities.  Upconverting wood was a combination of art and science, tuned by years of practical experience.  When using TLUD stoves, rather than burning charcoal which can generate dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (read the warnings on a bag of charcoal), it is best to save charcoal for uses outlined above.  To save charcoal, at the end of the run, using tools or gloves to protect from hot surfaces:  

  • Remove the run time cap and replace with a solid cap, preferably one that tightly seals the upper air holes 
  • Set the can on solid ground to block the holes in the bottom   

After sealing, the volatiles continue to "cook" from wood pores, until all oxygen in the can is consumed. This final conditioning opens up pores, elevating the charcoal into a more activated state. A nice low heat is produced during the process.  After cooling, the charcoal is poured into a second metal container and tightly sealed.   

A very common mistake of charcoal making newbies is believing that charcoal has cooled enough to pour into a plastic container.  If you wish to try plastic, try it outdoors, far away from anything that can ignite. Later, you will likely come back to a small ring of plastic goo.  Charcoal is highly reactive in certain states. It is an essential component of black powder.  TLUD char generally has different characteristics than retort char.  Technically TLUD char making is an oxic rather than an anoxic process.   In practice that means retort char generally retains more weight from the original biomass by holding more volatiles inside the pores.  That makes retort char generally better for cooking and selling by the pound.  Oxic char making is more prone to releasing the volatile elements, creating a lower weight per volume product with higher adsorption capabilities.  In practice that generally makes TLUD char better for filtration and as an emergency substitute for activated carbon.   The original feedstock and process temperatures also affect the adsorption properties of the finished char.

Google the works of Dr. Hugh McLaughlin for in depth discussion of the technical aspects.  The variations in some cases are quite significant.   A report published by Professor Kaneyuki Nakane from the University of Hiroshima reported that bamboo char had seven times the water holding capacity of hardwood char made for cooking. That is a very important characteristic when adding charcoal to soils for drought resistance when growing crops on rooftop gardens.  This author can vouch for the fact that crushed bamboo also works great for fuel, in a specially adapted TLUD. 

Next steps toward micro-gasification, creating combustible vapor from biomass, include adding chimneys, insulation, dampers, fan power and alternate materials.  

  • Chimneys add draft to make air flow more reliable. An inside chimney diameter slightly greater than twice the concentrator hole diameter is magical. Chimney heights up to 20x concentrator hole diameter add draft. Taller chimneys begin to negatively impact draft.   
  • Insulation or shrouds maintain a high process temperature and ideally pre-heat the second shot of oxygen to reduce accidental "quenching" of the flare with cold air.  
  • Dampers rationing air to the top and/or bottom of the process, allow fine user adjustments during runtime. Dampers are also a huge convenience for shutdown.  
  • Fan power can further simplify control. Requires fans and power.  
  • Stoves can be made from pottery clay, bricks, 55 gallon drums, dug into a hillside, etc.   

The learning odyssey has practical forward applications. Skilled practitioners use these basic gasification concepts to create gas to power internal combustion engines.  Woodgas is simple, once you understand it.  Understanding the basics first, saves a lot of experimenting on bigger projects. 

Charcoal created from biomass, applied in the root zone, has improved crops production on many soil types.  A new term "biochar" was coined in 2007 as researchers study the effect.    Earlier crops, greater production, and enhanced drought resistance are nearly universal effects reported from TLUD char.  Improving downstream water quality, sequestering atmospheric carbon, and purifying soils prior to medicinal herb plantings are more ethereal use cases that make sense considering the physical properties of charcoal.  In my experience, and by many reports, very little TLUD charcoal is required to create a noticeable response in plant growth and crops improvement.  A handful under a fruit or nut tree planting, or a light sprinkling under mulch that the worms will work into the root zone of plants does wonders.  Feeding small quantities of char to poultry was studied at the University of Georgia with reports of better bird health and higher quality fertilizer droppings with less odor. 

ECON 101

Assured energy, food, and medicine at the most local scale possible is not only practical in short-term survival situations, it is 21st century thinking with deep historical roots that holds promise of great days ahead.  My favorite woodgas engine builder, Wayne Keith, is fond of saying "With woodgas, the buck stops here, in my pocket". Wealth creation cannot be much more local than that.  Plentiful food and energy are essential to a high standard of living. TLUD technology is more than a passing fad in stoves making, it is a key to long term better living at the smallest practical scale.  More info is available at resiliencemovement.com on the energy tab, including pictures and links.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In a short response to Simon S. from "Across the pond" and his letter about using heating oil for diesel vehicles, please let me add one small bit of first hand advice;  The heating oil that you buy for your home is not only dyed differently for tax reasons, it isn't filtered as well either.  I also live in Europe and I got the idea to burn heating oil in my diesel vehicle once most people started converting (wrongly I might add) to Natural Gas from Russia.  The people who converted were expected to pay a lot of money to have the remainder of their heating fuel in their heating tanks removed and destroyed as environmentally unfriendly waste.  So I started pumping it out and taking it from them for free to use at home for my own use.  Then I started putting some of it in my Volkswagen Passat Turbo Diesel car.  It worked great for about a month, then one morning the car wouldn't start, and the dealer said the fuel injector unit was destroyed, which was something he doesn't see very often.  It cost me about 2,500 Euro ($$3,000) to have a new one put in, and I thought it was just a case of a bad part.  Then, about a month later, the new diesel injector unit was also bad, and they noticed that the fuel was heating oil not diesel.  They wouldn't replace the pump the second time for free under warranty. The dealer told me that modern diesel injector units (Like those used on common rail injectors) are very sensitive to dirt and other dissolved trash in the heating oil.  The filter takes out solid particles, but not  particles fine enough to ruin the injector pump. Beware using heating oil in a modern diesel.

I use it all the time in my older Massey Ferguson MF-35 tractor with a Perkins diesel motor, as well as the MAN diesel motor that runs my emergency generator, but I never use it in my modern vehicles. - Mike in Europe

JWR Replies: Here in the States, the formulation standards for home heating oil are similar to those in Europe. Although their formulation and flash points are nearly identical, home heating oil and diesel have different standards for ash and sulfur content. With home heating oil a higher quantity of ash is allowable. Therefore, the same warning that you mentioned also applies to vehicles here in the United States. Owners of vehicles with "rail" type fuel-injected diesel engines, beware!

Monday, February 18, 2013

I don‘t know how things are in your country, but in most parts of Europe we have heating oil extra light for household use. This is red in colour and virtually identical with standard diesel fuel. The only differences are the colour and the taxation, because this is always very much cheaper than the vehicle fuel. For obvious reasons it is forbidden to use this as a vehicle fuel, but it is theoretically possible.

Heating oil can be stored in large quantities without any special permits, which is not the case for vehicle fuels. Containers for it are readily available and may already be on the property. It will arouse no especial comment if you order it and store it.
It can be ordered in summer at a lower price usually.

Since it is a common consumable there is no difficulty about rotating stocks, especially if you have an oil-fired heating.
The standard central heating will not function without electricity for the pumps, but there are plenty of individual stoves that can burn heating oil extra light.

If the world goes pear-shaped, then nobody is going to be checking the fuel in diesel vehicles to see that it is the correct one.
Diesel powered vehicles are generally more robust and will last longer with little maintenance, in addition to using less fuel in most cases.

Diesel vehicles will generally operate on old and dirty fuel, although the modern electronic systems are now leading to motors that are more fussy. The old style mechanical injection pumps needed clean fuel, but otherwise would keep running.
The cooling oil used in large electrical power transformers can also be burnt in a diesel engine, especially in summer. Please only remove the coolant from a transformer if you know it will never be switched on again, you are not likely to be the flavour of the month if you drain the coolant from a transformer that is in use! - Simon F., Across The Pond

JWR Replies: Diesel fuel stores for 10+ years if an antimicobial such as PRI-D is added.

Here in the United States, red dye is also used to differentiate "Off Road Diesel." This is to ensure that this untaxed fuel is not used in vehicles operating on highways. Depending on state law, dyed diesel is generally legal for use in farm tractors, off road vehicles, stationary engines, to burn in frost protection smudge pots, or for use as a substitute for home heating oil.

Most diesel engines work fine when burning dyed diesel or even home heating oil. (But neither is legal, when driving on highways.)

Be advised that some of the latest-generation Chevy and GM diesel engine vehicles have an optical sensor built into their fuel systems that can be stained and ruined by dyed fuel. I have read that they cost about $250 to replace!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dear Jim,
I wanted to provide a technical article to explain to your readers why refineries have to shut down more often than they used to. There's a good reason for this, and its not greed.
A few years ago I went to welding school. I wanted a post-oil survival skill that would make me money and have real value. During the course of my education I learned how to weld stainless steel, and one of the key components of welding stainless is something called the Heat Affected Zone. It turns out that when welding stainless steel you can crystallize out a crucial element which is key in making stainless steel resistant to corrosion. This band of rust-able steel can be reduced in size, but not removed altogether. Agricultural tanks, for things like wine, get around this by adding a coating of stainless steel powder over this Heat Affected Zone and greatly improves its acid/corrosion resistance, but you can't really do that with refinery pipes.
Light Sweet Crude has low sulfur, so produces little sulfuric acid. Heavy Sour Crude, which we get from Mexico and Saudi Arabia these days, is so loaded with Sulfur that its a resellable byproduct that goes to fertilizer plants and industrial processes, since its good for that. Unfortunately, refining it out means that sulfuric acid rushes through the refinery pipes and attacks the heat affected zone, eating them away until there's a leak. We had a big leak of exactly that about a year ago in Richmond, California at a Chevron refinery, one that sickened hundreds of residents and shut down the refinery, causing a temporary fuel shortage and 50 cent/gal increase in fuel price until repairs were completed and production started again. It will happen again if maintenance isn't done promptly. There's really no escaping this problem so long as we use high sulfur oil and mostly all we've got anymore.
Someday we'll be growing algae in reactor vessels or inclined glass tubes and harvesting the biodiesel waste, then burning that in diesel engines for fuel. It will require us to have diesel engines, but Hayes has proven that common rail diesel motors can be miniaturized and reliable in their motorcycle, and Ford is bringing their 1.0 L 3-cylinder diesel to the USA from the EU, a clean burning and reliable powerplant which would work for either a hybrid or a very light weight vehicle and run on synthetic biodiesel. This has no sulphur so gets around the whole issue of SO2 emissions that current diesels have to face.
The alternatives to diesel are the following:
1. Ethanol fuel made with stills from various source materials. Engines must be designed to burn this to get full efficiency. Current engines are a hodgepodge of compromises. They will have to be modified to run best. We can import cheap ethanol from Brazil, but what can we pay for it with that they will accept?
2. Natural gas, which UPS has their delivery vans running on. Many countries run their vehicle fleets on this. The natural gas will run out, but it can be made from various sources, like manure, and provide secondary income to sewage plants and dairies.
3. Electric cars, which are limited by both battery materials and battery capacity. If you can live with a 20 mph golf cart, you might as well get one soon. Lithium powered cars are like the ransom money in "Way of the Gun": A motive. A new battery chemistry is needed, but does not yet exist.
4. Fischer–Tropsch process: coal converted to gasoline. Works till you have no more coal. And you have to mine the coal.  
In the short term the answer to high gasoline prices is minimize consumption with fewer and shorter trips using the most efficient vehicle you have, and carpooling when possible. Here in the Sierras, I see more and more Geo Metros at commute times and fewer 4WD SUVs and Trucks. People are adjusting to the Post (Cheap) Oil reality.
Heat-Affected Zone
Fischer–Tropsch synthesis 
Synthetic Fuel definition and history
Diesel Motorcycles
OPOC Diesel Engine

Note: I am unclear why this engine was not released on schedule two years ago. There are no published reports on reliability or maintenance, and none from users in the real world.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I just read the entry about TRUFUEL.  I use Trufuel in my chainsaw because it contains no ethanol and has a long shelf life.  However, the containers leak.  I bought one and it fell on it’s side on the way home.  It leaked into my truck seat.  I took it back to the store, and we started looking through the containers.  Every single container contained signs of leakage.  If anyone is looking to buy Trufuel for long term storage they may very well lose much of it through evaporation.  Otherwise it is a very good product.  - Frank G.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hi James,
I was recently at the chainsaw shop and saw cans of something called TRUFUEL. It is basically one quart metal cans of gasoline, with most versions premixed for 2-stroke engines.  However, they also have a 4-stroke version that my chainsaw dealer tells me is simply 92-octane gasoline with stabilizers and other additives that would be perfectly suitable for running a car or other vehicle.  Haven’t tried it myself yet, but if plausible, big box hardware stores, power tool dealers, and some auto parts stores could have fuel available in a pinch (and I imagine for only a short time) if gas stations were out of fuel or out of service.  The company web site lists several big hardware stores that carry their products. Relying on it for any significant amount of fuel is going to cost you anywhere from $25-$35 a gallon, but under the right conditions, that might be worth it.  On the upside, the web site says that it has a two-year shelf life, although my chainsaw dealer indicated five years. Something in between is probably the real number.  For the record, I have no financial interest in TRUFUEL nor any connections to the company or their products. - Sean B.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

I have been a scoutmaster for 18 years. It is a lot of fun teaching scouts how to make fire using unorthodox methods.  Seeing the look in their eyes as they get their first fire built in the outdoors using no matches is a great experience.  As a matter of fact, in winter camps where the ground is not frozen I like to use a trench fire pit with rocks in it, then bury it and sleep on top for a very cozy and warm night. I too was bitten by the survival bug when I was a young scout, and the first priority in survival is ‘keeping your wits about you” so you can focus on what is important.  One real force multiplier in helping to keep people calm is a fire.  It can warm the heart as well as the body, but it doesn’t have to be a bonfire by any means.  As a matter of fact a small fire using only sticks can do just about everything you need, and is much easier to leave no trace with when you are done.  Here are a few simple methods anyone can use to get a nice little fire started.  Please remember that little is the key word in a survival or bug out situation.  Cowboys used to light a very small fire just big enough to put their coffee pot on, because they ate their food cold, and a hot drink was all they needed to warm their spirits. The methods below are simple and inexpensive methods of turning the first spark into a flame. 
Before we start, I would like to say that I have no financial interest in any company or manufacturer that I list, and only do so out of my experiences over the years with them.  No matter how much I would like to have them sponsor my scouts, the only thing I get from them is the potential opportunity to pay Uncle Sam his Tax.
Matches: enough said, unless it is windy in which case you may only have a 0.5 second flame.  Let’s read on, shall we?
Lighter: ditto…but wait what if your lighter is out of fuel?  Well if it still has a good flint, then you have a handy little spark generator.  I prefer the older Zippo style lighters since I don’t have to worry about a seal drying out and I can store some lighter fluid for many refills.  It also lets me have a refill of flints right in the bottom of the lighter.  Zippo even now offers a small 4 oz. refill canister that you can place into your pack and will not spill.  It will provide you enough fluid for one full refill of your lighter.  If you are thinking longer term SHTF scenario then storing fluid or using disposable lighters would be wise.  Then again if you keep reading I have some other ideas for you to consider as backups.
Permanent Matches:  These are an interesting combination between a Lighter, and a “Ferrocerium bar” (below). It comes with a small reservoir which you fill with lighter fluid.  The ‘cap’ has a magnesium striker it with a glass wick that is supposed to burn up to 15,000 times. The wick is in the screw top lid which extends down into the lighter fluid.  You strike the magnesium stick on the side of the container to ignite.
Fire Piston: The fire piston uses the friction from compressing air to get an ember from tinder.  You can buy them on amazon, but you can also find a variety of videos showing how to make your own, and how they work online.  If you are at all skeptical try searching Charles’ Law or Boyle’s Law on the Internet regarding pressure and temperature effects on gases.
Flint and Steel:  If you can find some flint, and you have a piece of high carbon steel then all you do is strike the two together and you get a spark.  These are usually used with char-cloth (cloth which has been charred) to catch the spark, but you could use a number of items to catch them.  To use it effectively you would hold the char-cloth just over the top of the flint and strike down onto the flint with a piece of steel, hoping to catch the spark on the cloth.  Videos of making and using char-cloth are also available online.
Ferrocerium fire starters:  Sometimes mistakenly referred to as “flint”, these come in many different styles from the straight bar you slide across a piece of steel to create a nice spark, to the Magnesium fire starter bars.  These all will get you a great spark, but remember that you want to pull your Ferrocerium across a stationary piece of steel so you can put your spark where you want it.  If you try to slide the steel down the bar you may ruin the tinder nest / pile you have created when you hit it.  Used with Dryer Lint or Steel wool, you will have a fire the first time, every time.  You can buy these inexpensively just about anywhere, but my personal favorite is the one made by Strike Force which has a small storage compartment in the handle.
Magnifying glass:   Everyone remembers burning insects with a magnifying glass, and yes you can get things to smolder, but you really need a good amount of sun to get a magnifying glass to start a fire.  To do it you need to focus the brightest part of the light coming through the glass into the smallest most compact point you can make it, and then hold it there.  It will work on paper, and really dry small vegetation, but you do have to be patient.  You could use a disassembled Camera Lens or Binoculars for the lens as well.
9V batter and fine steel wool:  I find that the finer the steel wool (0000), the better it lights.  Also spread it out just a little bit to get more air to the fire, and you don’t need a lot.  Just rub the steel wool across the top of the battery and the electrical shorting sparks will ignite the oil on the steel wool.  (The oil is what helps prevent rusting on the steel wool)  DO NOT STORE THE TWO TOGETHER…it gets hot fast. You can also use a standard 1.5v AA, C, or even a D batter, but then you have to stretch the steel wool from one end of the battery to the other, and it gets a little awkward.   A little goes a long way with this. Fine steel wool will also work very well with a Ferrocerium rod and will light right up.
Potassium Permanganate (a powder) and Glycerin (a viscous fluid):  Potassium Permanganate is an oxidant which can be used to sterilize water, treat ulcers like canker sores, and a general topical disinfectant, but it will stain the affected area purple. It is used to treat candidiasis (superficial fungal infections like Oral Thrush and Vaginitis) and will neutralize Strychnine (poison).  Glycerin, or Glycerol, may be used as a laxative (2-10 ml used as a suppository or enema), and has been used to treat psoriasis, burns, calluses, and other minor skin irritations.  It works as a bacterial desiccant (it removes moisture through absorption) on contact so it can also help with periodontal diseases.  Okay back to the point, when you create a small mound of Potassium Permanganate with a small depression in the top, and then place a few drops of Glycerin in the depression you get a very impressive exothermic reaction which will start a fire, or even can be used to initiate a thermite reaction.  It takes a bit of time for it to occur but don’t put your hands over it to feel for heat.  It happens very quickly and is very hot when it happens.  I recommend testing this method, but don’t do it on your kitchen table with a thick folded up piece of heavy duty tinfoil.  It will go through it and make your wife very unhappy with the black mark it leaves.  Trust me on that one.
FRICTION FIRES:  There are many different ways to start a fire using friction.  The hand drill method, for example, where you spin a stick on a flatter piece of wood with a hole in the bottom and something to catch the ember below (blisters galore of you don’t wear gloves, and you will get tired very quickly).  The old Bow drill method (below) which is better, to the fire plough where you create a long notch in a piece of wood and then slide a stick back and forth in the notch and push the ember out onto your tinder pile.
Hand Drill: You will need a straight stick with a narrowed end (Drill), a notched piece of wood with a depression for holding the narrowed end of the stick (the notch should extend into the bottom of the depression for air movement). You will also need a piece of Leather, or metal under the notch to catch the ember. The notched board goes on the ground and you hold it in place by putting your foot on it or kneeling on it.  .  The drill should be standing straight up out of the depression, and held in place by your two palms.  By spinning the drill between your palms, and pressing down you will create friction and over time a smoking ember.  You will continually have to move your hands back up to the top of the drill as they will move down as you continue to spin and push down on the drill.  When you see some smoke coming from the depression then you can remove it to see if you have an ember.  When you have an ember you will need to move it quickly to your tinder and begin the process of nurturing it into a flame.
Bow Drill:  This one is probably the most complicated in that you must have: a straight piece of wood about 8-12 inches long which is narrowed on both ends (drill), a notched piece of wood with a depression for holding the narrowed end of the drill (the notch should extend into the bottom of the depression for air movement), a flexible but strong piece of wood about 16 to 24 inches long that has a slight natural curve to it (the bow) , a string (bow string) and a piece of something hard enough to withstand the heat from the drills friction with a depression to help control the top of the spinning drill.  You will also need a piece of Leather, or metal under the notch to catch the ember.  The notched board goes on the ground and you hold it in place by putting your foot on it or kneeling on it.  Then you have the drill standing straight up out of the notch.  The bow string goes around the drill (one wrap only) and then on the top of the drill is held by the hard small piece of wood and your hand (gloves are a good idea).  The bow string should be tight enough that when you push the bow back and forth it will spin the drill but not bind on it.  Once you have this balancing act in place, you move the bow back and forth until you see an appreciable amount of smoke coming from the notch then you look under it and see if you have an ember.  If you do then transfer it to your tinder immediately and start the gentle blowing that will bring you a flame.  If you don’t have any In-Laws that frustrate you, then this will help you understand what frustration is all about.  If you can do this, you can do anything.  This is a really primitive ‘art form’ method of making fire.

Getting that first spark to actually ignite your tinder is a little harder that it appears on the silver screen.  I have had many scouts go grab a handful of what they think is dry bark, or weeds only to find that it is still too wet, or the oils in them only smoke no matter what they do.  One of my favorite examples was an episode of a survival BASED reality television show where they gave the contestants a magnesium fire bar.  They were holding the magnesium side, and striking the flint side with a machete.  They were getting a pretty good spark too, but there was NO WAY they were getting a fire.  My wife, whom I love dearly, was sitting there saying “Oh that was a good one”, for every spark they got.  I on the other hand was sitting there thinking, “They would die in a real survival situation”.  It wasn’t until I explained to her that you can scrape magnesium into a little pile, hold the fire starter right down on the pile, and scraping the blade (held at a slightly obtuse angle towards the pile ) down the ‘flint’ side so that the sparks land in the magnesium and “Heywhadoyaknow” you have fire.
Ethanol based hand cleansers: these come in pocket bottles or pumps and the 10% ethanol will burn for a short time.  A spark can ignite this but the ethanol will evaporate quickly.  I only list this because of the dual purpose this item has.  I don’t recommend using any type of “Scout Water” (read: Flammable liquids) to start a fire due to the dangers involved.
Cotton balls and Vaseline:  These will burn once ignited just like a candle will.  If you spread out the cotton so it is not just a clump, you can light it with a good spark.
Paraffin and Cotton balls:  Very similar to above, just different substance.
Sawdust and paraffin blocks:  Fill the depressions in a paper based egg carton with a mixture of melted paraffin mixed with sawdust (from wood not particle board due to the glue).  Let them cool, and cut or break apart the individual parts, with the cardboard attached and it can be lit with a lighter, or match and will burn like a candle.
Dryer Lint:   This is my personal favorite.  Simply take the lint out of your dryer and place it into a pill bottle, Ziploc baggie or other water resistant container and it can be started with the smallest spark.  This will also win you points with the significant other by cleaning out the lint filter.  With it being so flammable you may want to confirm that your dryer vent is clean and connected.  This is especially important if you have a furnace, water heater, or if your dryer is heated by Natural Gas (flame) in the same room. Remember; safety first.  Dryer Lint will also work very well with a Ferrocerium rod on the first strike.
Wax and newspaper:  Dip pieces of newspaper in paraffin wax and it burns like a candle. This one is similar to the sawdust but you can leave some of the paper not covered in paraffin and it will ignite easier.  You can do this with cardboard or any other paper product as well.  The paraffin only makes it a little slower burning and a little more durable.
Gun powder:  Yes you could remove a bullet from a cartridge with a pair of pliers and use some of the powder inside to catch your spark, but it is a violent reaction so if you are desperate enough to try this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL. (All the usual safety warnings and legal disclaimers apply.)

TeePee:  This is your typical campfire where you have sticks in the shape of a TeePee over your tinder and kindling.  It is great to keep warm, and puts out a lot of light.  This would be fine if you are trying to be found, but not if you don’t want to give away your location.
Parallel Fire: This fire has two logs, one next to the other, and the fire burns starts at one end and burns towards the other.  You need to have them slightly separated at one end and more so at the other.   You build the fire at the wider end, and can put a pot right on top and air can still get to the fire to keep it going, and the log does provide a bit of light discipline, but there are better ways to achieve this.  This one also provides some good heat. 
Swedish Fire log: Take a log and quarter one end (only one end if possible, but if you go through then just bind the bottom back together).  Into the end where you have partially split it, stuff some tinder down into the split and light it.  This will burn for a long time, and can provide heat and light when needed.  This is also be called the “Swedish Torch” so keep light discipline in mind.
Trench Fire: For a Trench fire, you will need to dig a trench and then build a long fire in it.  The idea is that it can burn for a longer period of time as the fire moves through the trench from one end to the other.  Depending on the depth, it can hide the light from the flame pretty well, and you can put a grate across it to cook on.  You need to be sure it is not so deep though that air cannot get to it and put it out.
Reflector Fire: A reflector fire is basically any fire built next to a block to prevent heat or light to escape in a certain direction.  These can reflect heat into a shelter, and help block light from moving, however the light can then again reflect off of whatever it hits and in the dark, the glow is enough.

Log Cabin: A log cabin fire is a fire where you stack the outer ‘walls’ as you would in a log cabin.  It is great to cook over because the heat tends to leave the top, in the same manner as the chimney of a house.  It too provides good heat, and light when wanted.
Dakota Fire: The Dakota fire [pit] is a convection fire, which provides a great fire with very little light.  First check the direction of the wind if possible to help your fire burn better.  Dig a hole in the ground about 1 foot wide at the top, 4 to 6 inches wider at the base on one side, and at least 1 foot deep.  The wider part of the base should be on the downwind side of the hole.  Then dig a second hole, with the closest part of the hole, about a foot away from the first one, on the upwind side of the first hole .  The second hole should be six inches across, and dug at an angle towards the bottom of the first hole.  In the first hole build your small fire and after you get it going you will see that air is moving from the second hole into the first one to keep the fire going, and it will become more efficient and put off less smoke due to the conductive air movement.
Fire stoves:  These have been around for years, and have been made from everything from a number 10 can (Hobo Stoves) to some of the wood gas stoves like the Sierra Stove.  I list these because they burn for heat, use the same materials that a campfire would, and last for a long time providing a stable cooking surface.  There are videos on the web on how to make wood gas stoves that you can build and put in your B.O.B. or Get Home Bag (G.H.B.)
Well there it is.  If you can’t get a fire started with the instructions above, then please be sure to live in the middle of a large population center so you don’t have to suffer to long in the event of a natural disaster or socioeconomic crisis.  Don’t get me wrong, a fire is not difficult, but you should know how to do it before you need it.  It is also very cool to be able to show your kids, friends, or others you want to impress how to make a fire without matches, or a lighter. For those who wish to be proficient at it a little bit of practice is all you need.  Remember when you are cold, hungry, and out in the middle of nowhere, a fire can save your life.  Just remember to think about what kind of fire you really need
Keep your powder (and your tinder) dry!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

There is a plethora of good, sound information and articles on SurvivalBlog.com that I have researched, absorbed, and adapted into much of what we have done to prepare.  I would like to personally extend my gratitude to all the contributors of this subject and let them know that the information they have freely shared has been very helpful.  In addition, there are countless other informative sites, books, and organizations gained from this web site that has also been very useful.  This article describes our particular situation, the challenges, and planning to make our escape from the crowded suburbs of Atlanta to the sanctuary of the American Redoubt.  It is not a perfect plan and there are many risks involved, but in the end, one must do what they must with what they have and be prepared for the worst.

Finding adequate long-term retreat locations in the southeast United States is proving expensive and leaves one to doubt its protection near so many people.  As with many beginning prepper’s, we started over a year ago with the basic focus to improve our food & water situation at home along with basic gear needed for an extended bug-in situation.  In the midst of this, we realized we were not in an ideal location and would not be able to bug-in forever if things got really bad.  We decided to start looking for recreational acreage in the southeast to provide a retreat and develop into a new homestead over the long term.  The problem has been finding the right place, in the right location, for an affordable price.

Having grown up in the California, Colorado, and Idaho areas, I’m very familiar with the region’s resources, geography, political climate, and culture.  Overwhelmingly it appeals as the better place to be when SHTF and we have changed our focus to purchase property and move to the Redoubt region to establish our retreat/homestead for retirement.  The goal is to purchase ample acreage to build a self-sufficient, off the grid home and make the move.  My troubles began when I questioned what we would do if the excrement hits the rotator before that plan is finalized.  What do we do, where do we go, and how do we get there?

It comes down to a choice of hunkering down in the suburbs, bugging out to nearby forest or wilderness, or high-tailing it west where we want to be.  Believe it or not, we decided that if it comes down to it, we’re making a bee line for the northwest.  Since that decision, our prepping has focused on that being the primary plan until we are able to relocate.  Once we move, the prepping focus will change accordingly.

Since I have traveled the road between Atlanta and Twin Falls several times, planning a 2200 mile bug out seemed simple enough but quickly became a monumental task.  The more I got into it, the more challenges I uncovered.  This undertaking is much more involved than a simple road trip and the necessary planning becomes complicated and risky – almost to the point of scrapping the idea entirely as hopelessly impossible or insane.  I’m not here to profess one thing over another, but to pass on what I’ve found to be noteworthy getting from point A to point B, 2000 miles away, within my comfort zone.  None of this is a guarantee of mission success.

Living east of the Mississippi one quickly learns there are a number of circumstances and factors to consider in developing a workable escape plan.  The most troublesome element is that 58% of the country’s population resides east of the Mississippi river in roughly 1/3 of the total land mass.  This is a huge impediment in reaching and crossing the Mississippi river, a formidable natural barrier.  It will be a continuous challenge avoiding the mass of people, possible road blocks, checkpoints, and other hazards on the first third of the journey.  Another issue is multiple large rivers to cross with limited bridges away from populated areas.

My current location requires 7 hours of driving to reach the Mississippi river – by interstate.  For me, this is my first tactical objective.  It’s not west enough, but it’s a line that once I’m on the west side, the bulk of the population is behind me, my odds of success are improved, and I can breathe a little easier.  The goal is to get across it as soon as possible, before the bridges become impassible in a worst case scenario.  Naturally, this all depends on the nature and scale of the event and in some scenario’s, this trek would not be possible and we’d have to find refuge elsewhere.

Planning a route to carry you a thousand miles or more during a crisis is challenging.  In this case, to go from Georgia to Idaho requires some 230 gallons of gasoline (my vehicle only) and 46 hours driving time – under normal circumstances.  In this plan, I have added an additional 400 miles to the route by avoiding the larger cities and denser counties.  I cannot carry enough fuel for that entire distance so I must rely on the availability of gasoline along the way.  It is the single most critical item in the plan and without it we are dead in the water.  This is certainly not the ideal solution and the only way it can be successful is to get going before the fuel runs out – before the panic.  This is easier said than done.

Two days before hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast, word was spread over the Atlanta news that the Colonial pipeline, which supplies Georgia and parts of the eastern seaboard with gasoline from the gulf coast, would be temporarily shut down.  It was also mentioned that there was at least a 10 day supply of gasoline in the Atlanta area for normal consumption and the supply line was expected to be back online before any shortages occurred.  It didn’t take long for a needless panic to ensue.  A gas buying frenzy started and prices jumped to $6/gal in 4 hours.  Within 3 days, most urban stations were as dry as the sand in the Mojave.  That’s how quick a situation can change and any plans will be bust if you wait too late.  It was weeks before supplies and costs returned to normal so fuel will be a constant critical item in the route plan.

To aid this situation, I have designed and in the process of building a 50 gallon rectangular stainless steel fuel tank that can be quickly installed in the bed of my truck.  Basically it’s a simple transfer tank to be used to refill the truck’s main tank via a hose and hand-crank pump. Combined I now have approximately 75 gallons of fuel capacity giving me a 900 mile range.  This should easily get me across the Mississippi river as my cross country route is only 600 miles.  The idea is to have sufficient fuel to cross the river and the plan calls for refueling at any opportunity along the way.

The questionable availability of gas requires specific gear and consideration.  Two critical pieces are the siphon hose and a 12 volt dc pump to reach the gasoline in the underground tanks.  It’s the only way to get fuel if power is down.  Underground tanks can be accessed through the lids found on the lot surface and the tank cap can be removed to allow a suction hose to be dropped inside.  Most underground tank bottoms are around 15 feet below the pavement surface.  (I reckon it should be mentioned that this is extremely hazardous.  One good spark and everyone around will know where you are and what you just attempted to do).  The pump needs to be self-priming, explosion proof or hermetically sealed, powerful enough to lift fuel at least 20 feet, and provide a minimum of 5 gallons per minute flow using at least a 1/2” outlet.  (Plans for a suitable pump setup are available at SurvivalBlog.com using a spare automotive fuel pump).

Many variables can adversely or favorably affect the route plan.  A road or bridge being open or closed is a simple example.  Fuel being available here or there is another.  Since it would be nearly impossible to know before getting within sight of a bridge, etc., I decided to plan for both possible situations, one being primary and the other secondary, and in some cases, a third alternative.  Every critical part of the bug out route is thought through for possible problems and solutions.  If we get to the primary bridge over the Mississippi River and find it impassible, we divert to bridge B.  Rather than stand around and scratch our heads figuring out where to go, we keep moving toward a new target.  If that one can’t be used, plan C is implemented and so on.  The plan has to be flexible and if all else fails, we bug in somewhere and wait.

We found one of the most critical components of our planning was the preparations needed just to get us on the road.  Unless the event is an instantaneous major tectonic malfunction of cosmic proportions, events should unfold and develop such that we have time load and go.  Two things become vital in the beginning stage; vehicle readiness and the loading process.  Naturally, any bug out vehicle must be maintained, fueled, and ready to go at a moment’s notice, but we are not always that disciplined.  This requires that we have the means to do it very quickly and carry spares.  The plan requires us to leave town in a moment’s notice so all our ducks need to be in a row.

A whole article can be written on the proper condition to maintain a bug out vehicle.  I simply treat it as I do any other vehicle and keep it maintained such that I have no worries to jump in it right now and head for the west coast.  I know it will make it, but there are always those rare times when something takes the opportunity to unexpectedly fail.  To counter this, I keep an assortment of spare parts stashed under the rear seat.  Accessory drive belt, ignition coil, spark plugs, and tire plugs just to name a few.  The key is to keep it in good running order; oil changed regularly, good tires, healthy battery, etc.  If you are concerned about it making a 2000 mile trip, then it isn’t ready or reliable.

Unless one has a dedicated bug out vehicle that stays locked and loaded, we must factor vehicle loading into the equation.  What can be thrown into a particular vehicle in the least amount of time and how does it all fit?  The clock is ticking and the window is rapidly closing so there isn’t a whole lot of time to waste figuring out what to take, where it all is, and how to pack it all.  To simplify and minimize loading we pre-packaged everything and keep it stored in 2 places that can be reached easily and quickly.  Normally, most of this gear and supplies would be stored at a hideaway location, but in this case, we are creating a mobile retreat of sorts.  God help us.

We pre-packed our food supplies in identical boxes that can be easily stacked and transported.  Each sealed box contains 4 to 5 days of food and supplies for two adults.  Like a deluxe family size MRE, each box contains a variety of canned & dry goods, stove fuel, water purification, can opener, personal hygiene, meds, and other items needed for living and surviving comfortably in the boonies.  Except for the canned items, everything else is vacuum sealed to protect against moisture.  We store the boxed food supplies in a cool, dry place along with the backpacks and med kit to maximize shelf life.  Our plan is to carry a minimum of two month’s supply of food in the event we have to hold up somewhere and wait out a situation, recover from an injury, etc.

Containers of gear are pre-packed in a similar manner – tent, stove, first aid, fishing and hunting gear, radios, spare batteries and the like.  These are loaded along with a shovel, dry wood, axe, tool bag, extra fuel, water drum, camo netting, and the ice chest full of what refrigerated and frozen food will fit in it.  In addition, the backpacks (BOB’s) are tossed in full of clothing, MREs, water, sleeping bags, maps, and other survival gear.  Included in this is our financial pouch of documents, currency, and coinage.  All the gear is stored together in the garage where it is easily accessible and can be quickly loaded.  Lastly, the firearms and ammunition will be retrieved and loaded in the cab.

We found it was highly beneficial to practice loading as we learned several things; order and method of loading, where to store things, waterproofing the load, and the physical aspects of gathering everything.  It took several attempts to fit everything in the truck and find the right places for some of the gear.  The loading process was too time consuming and required too much physical effort.  We also had items stored in several different places which required more time to collect.

To improve these issues we moved the gear to a special storage area built above the garage door to put it closer to the truck.  Originally it was scattered between the garage, utility room, and in the basement with the food supplies and significantly increased the number of trips up the stairs.  Another solution was to improve the loading of the food supplies stored in the basement.  Rather than haul the boxes up the stairs and through the house to the garage to load, we moved the truck to the back yard and passed the basement supplies through a window.  The house is a tri-level and the basement is actually concreted crawl space with about 4 ½ feet of head space.  By removing the widow sash from the utility room (where the crawl space access is), we could easily pass the boxes through to just above ground level in the backyard.  With the truck right there the loading was much simplified, saving a substantial amount of time and labor.  An added benefit was that we were concealed from the street in doing this.

Once we got the loading figured out, in 30 minutes we can be on the road heading due south to our primary rally point located about 80 miles away.  We picked a location that will allow us to stay if needed and have an alternate site picked out in case the primary is compromised.  The rally point allows us the opportunity to re-assess and monitor the situation, take stock, meet-up with others, prepare for the longer march, and if necessary, bug in for the duration.  At this point, we have escaped the Atlanta area and are in a relative safe zone.

Masses of people trying to escape the urban areas will have, for the most part, a predictable flow.  Like water, they will follow the path of least resistance.  They will generally follow the interstates until they clog up and then to the nearby smaller highways, and so on.  Authorities could be implementing evacuation plans and I found it useful to read those I could find for major cities along our path.  One thing I learned is that they provide evacuation routes out of the city but indicate no defined shelter or specific location to go to.  People will be ushered out of the cities and the surrounding outskirts will be highly congested with lost, stranded, and confused people.  This situation also introduces a big uncertainty of where the government will set up refugee camps.  So far I have found nothing defining where those may be and it would be a bad thing to unexpectedly come upon one in the middle of bugging out.  With all this in mind, our route will stay at least 80 to 100 miles from all large metropolitan areas and avoid interstate corridors exiting those areas.

A valuable source of useful information in planning our route is the U.S. census bureau.  On their web site one can find state population density maps that show you by state, what the population density is for any given county.  These maps were used to define a primary corridor through each state to avoid more populated areas.  Even when using this method to define a path, the routes still funnel to the few river crossings available so we still have to navigate a few populated areas.

Each city or town along the route can be a potential problem or benefit.  A handy web site to use is www.city-data.com to find the population, number of gas stations, grocery stores, demographics, crime statistics, and other useful information.  The local crime statistics revealed an unknown (but not unexpected) vulnerability in our initial route planning.  Many of the counties along the shore of the Mississippi River have above average crime rates of robbery and assault.  In addition, these are some of the least densely populated counties and are some of the most depressed in the country.  Just because the density is low doesn’t mean it’s without other hazards.  In addition, the web site provides the past voting history of the town as well as the county.  We used that information in defining routes by traveling through areas that are more conservative than liberal – for obvious reasons.

Discovering all the crime statistics along the river didn’t create a warm fuzzy feeling about getting across without issues.  The possibility of the highway robbery or the bridge being blocked by a band of thieves is increased and one might have to fight their way across.  That’s not something to look forward to and in this case, it makes the interstate crossing worth a second look.  Each has risks involved that have to be mitigated in order to reach the goal of getting across.

Since we were unfamiliar with the area, we diverted a recent trip out west to follow our initial route through the countryside of Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.  We learned several things both good and bad.  The population along this route is low as we traveled mostly through agricultural lands and the bridge across the Mississippi is a few miles outside of the nearest town and can be reached without having to travel through it.  The down side was the fact that the area of the crossing is economically depressed, had higher than average crime, and we stood out like sore thumbs.  On the west side, we were dumped into a light suburban area that will require navigating through to reach the more rural farmland.  Along this entire route we passed through several small towns, some of which could be a problem in a bug out and will need to be approached cautiously.  Overall I give the route a plus and will have to have a defensive posture during the approach, river crossing, and beyond for 10 or so miles.  We have worked out an alternate route and will recon that one as well to see if it is any better.

We know the quickest and most direct route is by way of the interstate highways.  My assumption is that they will be mostly useless, especially in the east.  They all pass through highly populated urban areas and the likelihood of impenetrable gridlock and possible closure is too great a risk.  One would certainly become trapped in the city they are trying to pass through and for this reason, our primary route was planned to use only federal & state highways and back roads.

With that in mind, we have specifically addressed the points where our route crosses interstates as all of these highways have interchanges connecting them.  Most of them are packed with hotels, restaurants, and gas stations.  We want to avoid these interchanges as they will most likely be blocked with traffic.  People on the interstate needing fuel, food, or shelter will exit at these locations causing major gridlock and the filling stations there will be dried up.  We plan to use less traveled points around these interchanges to cross that will require slight detours from the main track.  Many nearby roads cross interstates without access and are the ones to use - preferably those that cross over the interstates than pass under.  I used Google maps to zoom in to these interchanges and then scan up and down the interstate for overpasses without an interchange.  Then I printed out that segment and added it to the route plan.

In rural areas, federal and state highways will have less congestion than the interstates.  In addition, there are countless county roads crisscrossing the countryside.  Detailed county maps will be needed to navigate and use these roads.  These can be downloaded and printed from the web or printed directly from Google maps.  They are used for the necessary bypasses and detours around specific points and are stored in a binder in the vehicle.  For state maps I prefer the large fold out maps over the ‘vacation map’ books for the greater detail they provide.  These can be ordered through the web or obtained at state welcome centers.

Along the way it is highly important to listen to all radio news reports and gather any information concerning the route.  This, of course, depends on somebody still broadcasting.  We must constantly keep up on what’s going on locally and soak up every scrap of information available.  This data is used to update the maps, note the areas to avoid, and make navigation decisions.  It will be important to constantly gather intelligence, adjust plans accordingly, and to be acutely aware of where you are.

With regard to crossing major rivers, there are a limited number of bridges available to use.  Interstate, federal, and state highways generally have bridges across the major rivers that you will have to use.  In some cases, a secondary road or an old highway roadbed may cross a river by way of an older bridge, sometimes right next to the newer bridges that’s still used for local traffic.  These are the gems to look for because they are off the beaten path and less traveled.  Find all of them and list as alternates, they may very well become the primary.

The census maps and city-data information was used to determine likely fuel locations in the sparsely populated rural areas.  The idea is that the fuel stations there will not have been drained dry by the evacuating masses because the rural folks may choose to stay where they are.  In addition, our route keeps us away from the evacuating mass where fuel will still be available.  There are numerous little towns dotted along the state and federal highways that will have fuel longer than the urban areas or along the interstates.  If the grid is down, we’ll rely on our 12 volt pump.

We also considered small aircraft as an alternative means of transport.  Taking to the sky is not a bad consideration since I have the skills to fly, but cargo capacity would be limited with my rating.  In pursuing this train of thinking, I realized that most small airports and airfields have a modest supply of aviation fuel.  As a refueling alternative, general aviation 100LL (low lead, also known as 100 octane Avgas) fuel will burn in an unleaded gasoline engine.  It will eventually play havoc with your emissions (catalytic converters & sensors) but will not harm the engine.  With this in mind, we located and noted all small airports along our route as possible refueling points.  There are airport/facility directories available in the aviation market that publishes airport information regarding available services and fuel availability.

The whole point of this essay is to stress the importance of deep thought and planning of the possibilities and factors involved in a long distance bug out.  Having the gear, supplies, and knowing how to make cornbread from tree bark are the easy parts.  The further I dig into the details, the more I discover I’m not as prepared as thought.  Just writing this article has revealed several deficiencies in my preparations and adjustments are warranted, the plan is refined, and I learn more.  No plan will ever be perfect and hopefully I get moved before this one is ever needed.

Go over your plans inside and out, determine the variables, and look at the risks involved.  Work on mitigating the risks so that the impact does not negatively affect your goal.  Practice your plan, take a vacation and drive your route and see what you may be up against.  Adjust your preparations accordingly and carry the necessary items to deal with the potential problems and provide options.  Be ready for the unexpected but more importantly, think of the unexpected and plan for it.

Regardless of the situation, we have to do what we can with what we have and if the world goes to hell in a hand basket tomorrow morning, we execute our current plan.  I urge everyone to stay informed, refine and practice your plan, and learn new skills.  The goal is to get to a safe zone and survive.  The future depends on it.

Monday, December 31, 2012

I'd like to believe that after Earth for more than 61 years, that I'm getting a little bit smarter in my old age. Well, maybe not smarter, but a bit wiser, might be a better description. There was a time, not too many years ago, when I could hump 50-pounds around the boonies, with a full-set of A.L.I.C.E. gear and a full combat load of ammo and some manner of AR-15. Those days are long gone! However, I'm actually in better shape physically these days, than I was 10 years ago, but that doesn't mean that I want to pack more gear than needed in my BOB. To this end, is why I believe I'm getting a little bit wiser. I still want to be able to survive - as best I can - with the smallest amount of gear that I can carry. If you believe you can haul all the gear and equipment on your back that you'll need for long-term survival in the wilderness, you are only kidding yourself. However, we can pack smarter, and make wilderness survival a bit easier.
Like many folks, I enjoy a good camp fire, however that isn't always needed, especially when cooking a meal. If you've ever had to gather wood out on a camping trip, or a survival training weekend, you know it can be a lot of work to gather enough wood to keep you going for several days. Consider the Emberlit Camp Stove that can making camping and wilderness survival a lot easier in many respects. With the Emberlit Camp Stove, you don't need to build a big camp fire to cook your meals, all your cooking can be done with this small camp stove, and a very small amount of wood, or other products that you can burn in this neat little stove.
The full specs on the Emberlit Camp Stove are available at their web site, so we'll only touch on a couple of them: First off all, the stove is only 1/8th of a inch thick when folded flat. And, the stainless steel model only weighs in at 11.3-ounces and is 100% Made In America. There is also an Emberlit Camp Stove made out of Titanium, and it weighs a mere 5.45-ounces. I tested both stoves, and for my money, I'd pay a little bit more and get the Titanium model - remember, I talked about saving weight in a BOB - this saves a few more ounces.
I've tried quite a few small camp or cook stoves over the years, and while they all worked to one degree or another, they all required that I carry fuel with me - some required small tablets that when lit produced a heat source. Others required Butane gas, and some required white gas or propane, or even a gel - all a pain to have to carry in the boonies, and you are adding a lot of weight by having to carry these sources of fuel - plus some of the stoves were just too big to carry in a pack. I want to accomplish the same tasks with less weight and less bulk these days - again, I'm getting wiser and thinking smarter these days.
The Emberlit Camp Stove assembles in a minute or less, and your don't even need to read the directions that come with it - I like simple, and simple usually equates to stronger and better in my book - less things to go wrong. You can also get an optional carrying case for the Emberlit Camp Stove - although I believe in my humble opinion that, the carry case should be included with the stove, instead of being sold at $6.95 - but the carrying case does fit nicely on a belt, if you don't want to carry it in your pack. Still, I believe the carrying case should be included with each stove - just my take on it.
We were still in the burn ban part of Fall when I tested the Emberlit Camp Stove, so I had to do my testing in my covered carport, instead of out in the woods. Still, I believe I gave the Emberlit a good work-out several times - cooking several meals without any problems. And, believe it or not, this little stove would really get good and hot with just some small twigs. I did have to add some twigs during the cooking process because the stove is so small, you can only fit so many twigs in the stove at any given time. Still, I had no problem cooking over the stove, with my camp cook gear - read: military pan/tray. I even tried doing some cooking with wadded-up newspaper (without colored ink, of course), and I could cook with that - although I did have to constantly feed the fuel into the stove - still, it worked just fine.
I spoke of "simple" and this is about as simple as it comes for a camp stove - again, simple means stronger and with less things to break. Emberlit does offer extra cross bar members for their stoves, and it's probably a good idea to have a spare set on-hand, just in case. When the power grids go down, and you've run out of propane or natural gas doesn't flow to your kitchen stove any longer, the Emberlit Camp Stove can be a real life saver. And, with the small amount of wood it takes to cook a meal, a person can easy scavenge enough wood to keep the stove cooking for a good long time - just about anything that can burn can be used as a fuel. You could even burn some old tax code books if you had to. A face cord of wood, split into small pieces and cut-to-fit the Emberlit Camp Stove would probably last you a couple years of daily use. I've also written about  having a source of safe water to drink, and one way to have safe water is to bring it to near a boil - and you can easily do this with the Emberlit Camp Stove, too.
The Emberlit Camp Stove is the brain-child of Mikhail Merkurieff, and he categorically states on his web site that he wants all his customers be happy with their purchase, period! How many times have you read that you have a one-year warranty, or a limited lifetime warranty on a product, and there are always "ifs ands and buts" when it comes to placing a claim. Merkurieff doesn't put limits on his promise: If you aren't happy with his products, for any reason, he wants to make it right. That is very refreshing in this day and age.
The basic stainless steel stove cost $39.95, and the Titanium model is on-sale right now for $64.95 and a mini Ti model is on sale for $59.95 - for my money, the Titanium version is worth the added cost. Remember what I said about packing smarter? Well, if you can shave off a couple ounces here and there, it adds-up in short order, and any more, I don't want to pack one more ounce of gear than I need to carry. I really believe I'm getting wiser in my old age.- SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio

Saturday, December 22, 2012

As any survivalist quickly learns, the “three basic essentials” to survival are air, water and shelter. However, I learned to realize that there is a fourth basic essential, that being a stove--which provides a way to reliably purify the water, cook the food and make the shelter more comfortable.

Of course, there are many types of water filters, solar ovens and warmer clothing for those needs but, somewhere along the line, the ongoing need for a practical, portable, concealable, quick and highly-efficient means of heating will be needed. SHTF heating that can purify your water, cook your food and warm your shelter.
Like many other survivalists who began their prep “journey”  in preparation for Y2K, my knowledge and supplies have since grown exponentially, expanding my supplies and knowledge with countless lists, articles and learning from invaluable web sites (such as survivalblog.com), to prepare for the soon-to-come world upheavals to come.

Over that time, I’ve also concentrated on learning ancient & medieval survival techniques, as well as learning how people survive in today’s war-torn areas and third world countries. Such information has given me real insight into real-world situations, with the internet and books such as “Life in a Medieval Village” or the “FAMA Sarajevo Survival Guide” being invaluable resources.
My explorations began in ancient history, where cooking fires were open, basic and offered no protection from wind or rain. Perhaps ringed by stones and supporting some type of grill, this type of fire continues through U.S. campgrounds today, as well as many parts of the world. The biggest disadvantages to this type of fire are a tremendous inefficiency in cooking and fuel use, as well as the smoke-trail. Fuels then, as now, include anything that will burn, including animal dung. Also, smoke is composed of unburned particulates so, the denser the smoke, the less efficiently the fire is burning.
In addition to outside fires, native peoples began moving fires indoors with holes in the center of the shelter’s roof, for smoke to draft upward and escape. This was much more efficient, lowering problems with wind and rain, as well as heating the shelter interior. However, it was still largely inefficient and still had the very visible disadvantage of a smoke-trail.
The medieval world brought about the castle and the fireplaces large enough for a man to stand in. While used for cooking, another crucial purpose of these larger-than-life fireplaces was for the heating of the stone castle rooms, aided by large tapestries on the walls and covering both doorways and floors. With an addition of a canopied bed with side-curtains and thick blankets, one could stay cozy on a cold evening. But these also left a dense smoke-trail and were inefficient in fuel use.

South American adobe ovens brought about more efficiency by enclosing the fire and concentrating heat to an interior cooking space. The smoke escaped through the chimney and, although more efficient for cooking, the dense smoke-trail continued.

Victorian times brought  multi-story dwellings with a fireplace in every room and the Colonials continued that practice here in America.
The industrial age brought about the smelting of metals and the iron age. Fireplaces evolved into standalone stoves which would allow a home to be fairly airtight and still vent smoke outside with piping. However, once again, portability and efficiency was’t available.

Since then, standalone units have evolved to be highly efficient, but many are now dedicated to heating only, using pellets or some other renewable fuel source. This evolution will, no doubt, continue… That is, until the SHTF. Once this happens, and it gets closer every day, you will be forced to re-think your methods of purifying water, cooking food and warming your shelter.
That is why you must learn now the principles of making and using a Rocket Stove, as well as having one in your supply. The Rocket Stove concept was developed to aid third-world countries, where fuel-wood is scarce and resultant pollution is severe.  Over the past years, many experiments, tests & contests have been conducted worldwide to develop a highly-efficient method of heating, which also uses a minimum of fuel.

The recent leader in tests has been the Rocket Stove design, the principles of which were presented by Dr. Larry Winiarski from Aprovecho in 1982 and stoves based on this design won Ashden Awards in both 2005 and 2006. The Rocket Stove design has been shown to operate on ½ the fuel as a traditional open fire, using smaller wood.
The principle is simple in that it is based on an “L” shaped combustion chamber, which allows for maximum draft at the low end and heat/height enough vertically to fully burn any fuel particles, which we call “smoke.” Many Rocket Stove designs are also highly-insulated, to minimize heat loss and maximize efficiency.

The Rocket Stove excels by having excellent air flow and high-temperature burning of fuel, as well as allowing the user to carefully control the heat by addition or removal of fuel as needed. There are four main components to the Rocket Stove: Fuel Load Area, Burn Chamber, Chimney and the Cooking/Heating Vessel.
The Fuel Load Area is at the lowest area of the Rocket Stove and enters toward the center of the stove. The fuel is not merely thrown in, but is set upon a “pedestal” which is usually ½ way up in the opening and allows a excellent air flow beneath the fuel. The pedestal does not fully enter the Chimney, but extends to the forward edge of it and allows the fuel (i.e.: sticks/branches) to hang over into the center of the Chimney.

The Burn Chamber is the intersection of the Fuel Load Area and the Chimney. It is the area where the fuel is burned and, when in operation, the burning ends of the fuel wood are centered in the chimney area.

The Chimney is a round, vertical shaft, extending upward from the Burn Chamber and of such height to both provide enough  updraft to maintain the fire, as well as enough length to assure the complete burning of all fuel particles (smoke), resulting in a burn clean enough to allow little or no smoke to be seen.

The Cooking/Heating Vessel is whatever unit you are using your Rocket Stove for. My StoveTec Rocket Stove came with a “pot skirt” to retain heat closer to the pot sides and is very useful for that purpose.

There is an abundance of videos on YouTube on how to construct your own Rocket Stove, of which I have made several. There are even Rocket Stove designs which have gravity-feed fuel loading and many different designs, such as off-the-floor ideas which can allow fuel storage beneath and less danger of child burning.

My current Rocket Stove was purchased from StoveTec (www.stovetec.com), a leader in Rocket Stove research and manufacturing which also provides these to third-world countries.
Their Rocket Stoves come in several model designs and have the benefit of being totally portable, designed like a 2-gallon steel bucket with side handles. Their basic 1-door model (the one I own) is excellent for general cooking, while their 2-door model also allows slow-cooking and baking capabilities. With whichever model, fuel use is minimal, usually needing only small sticks or branches.
They also offer cooking accessories and a “water pasteurizer,” which I just purchased, which fits onto the Rocket Stove. It holds several quarts of water, has a hole through the center to allow heat up through the middle of the unit and, looking down through is, has somewhat of a “donut” design in that the water is housed in a “jacket” which surrounds a “chimney.” The water is also “pasteurized” for purification and a reusable “dipstick” lets you know when the water is safe for consumption.

In addition to a main convenience of transportability, the lack of smoke trail is an obvious benefit in a SHTF situation. When water or food becomes scarce, neighbors will be on the lookout for any type of activity denoting cooking

In addition to no smoke trail, another excellent reason for owning a Rocket Stove is the ease of concealing your firelight in night or dark situations. Although there will be obvious firelight coming from the top of the Rocket Stove, the addition of a potskirt and pot will minimize any upward or side-view shining of  light coming out of the top of the Rocket Stove. However, light will still shine out of the lower Fuel Load Area. To help conceal this light, the easiest way is to face the Fuel Load Area away from any prying eyes. In addition, I also recommend the construction of a “tunnel,” much like the entry to an Eskimo igloo, long enough to minimize light and, ideally, painted flat black or blackened with ash to minimize reflection along the tunnel. The only drawback to that being the need for longer branches/sticks to keep fueling the stove without the tunnel needing to be removed.

In summary, my Rocket Stove has all the features necessary to be that fourth Essential, which is easily transportable, highly efficient and leaves little or no smoke trail.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Your reference to SASOL's gas-to-liquid synfuel project in Louisiana reminded me of a recent news story about Sinopec's joint venture in Medicine Bow, Wyoming to produce liquid fuel from coal.

They claim to be able to convert 1 ton of coal (Powder River Basin mine-mouth value: $10) into two barrels of petroleum product (value: $200+).

A great idea, if it works, but I can't say I'm excited about inviting the Chinese into our backyard to do this.

Best Regards, - Don in Oregon

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My husband tells it the best: the utility power was out for miles around after the transformers blew. Driving up to our home in a darkened neighborhood after a harrowing commute, our house shined with soft glow outside of solar lights along the driveway and in the windows, candle light flickered inside, food was cooking out back on what appeared to be a stack of blocks, music from a wind up radio played in the background and my wife handed me a steaming mug of hot chocolate as I walked in. No generator in use….no power….yet warmth and reassuring life in a grid down neighborhood! "Lord, am I glad I married a prepper”!

Massive snow/ice storms, utility interruptions,  hurricane aftermath, solar flares, EMPs….many different problems can cause serious and lasting power outages. Thinking about having a plan….and having a real plan that works and that you have tested is different. When responsible for food preparation, you have to Plan to “Never Fail”!!!

We all know of the massive “bug out plans” in the event the grid goes down. Unfortunately, most of us who live in more populated areas such as suburbia would not be able to implement such a plan due to the traffic gridlock and high security risks that would occur within minutes. Being trapped on the highway exposes needless vulnerabilities for short term (weeks) of rustic food preparation. Setting up now and staging in needed skills and food stuffs will help you to transition into primitive skills our grandmothers were experts in.

Call it “Short Term Transition Crisis Cooking”. In every situation, the first stage can be the most frightening and you will feel overwhelmed. Face that fear head on and work through it a step at a time calmly. With a little planning, scheduling and advanced preparation, you can keep a regular nutritious and comforting meal schedule. You will calm the jangled nerves of all family members by your preparation.

Establish a Routine, then expand it. Families exist better with an established daily routine. Set meal times, then work backwards to ensure your preparations are in order and ready and all is done before darkness descends. Our grandmothers were marvelous at not wasting energy, food resources and keeping everything on track. Any bored or restless youngster was instantly put to work helping prepare for the next meal or tomorrow’s meals. Without modern conveniences we all take for granted, there will be a lot more manual preparation tasks to be done. Learning by doing will also teach your youngsters better self reliance; a mind set skill that is vastly needed.

Make a list for instant response for the first three days while you adapt to your new reality! Include how you will cook, what you will cook and how you will clean up. It matters equally!

Know your cooking resource, and know better it’s limitations! I hear many urbanites touting their piped gas stoves which are wonderful. However, many piped natural gas systems rely on electric pumps to move the resource. Depending on your utility’s emergency plan, you may have interruptions due to location, pumping limitations, physical damage (earthquake) etc. I highly recommend having a few back up plans. Practice every chance you have now. You’ll thank me later!

For example, our cooking plan is as follows:

Cooking Resource




Flame ignition/heat  source. Have as many options as you can muster!


Ranges from weather proof pocket matches or lighter to other fire starters, self ignition for grills etc. Solar

Weather, skill, tools to start fire with.

Gas Grill or charcoal grill

Most of us are familiar with grills so can instantly bring a meal together from the freezer etc with little stress in the hours following a crisis.

175 Lbs on hand in cylinders

20-10 lb bags of charcoal stored in metal garbage cans with lids.

Weather. Not frugal for long term cooking or boiling of water, soups etc.

Piped natural gas stove



Disruptions of pumping by utility, physical damage from earthquake etc

Canned heat, sterno etc. camping style cooking


20 hours worth

Temperatures hard to regulate, good for quick warm ups or small meals. Canned heat can leak and must be checked. Not good for ultra large meals.

Volcano Stove

Long term. Medium investment

Unlimited only by fuel such as wood or charcoal

Learning to use, regulating heat source. Recommend starting with hard to burn foods such as soups or stews, stir-fries and advance as skill and familiarity increases

Rocket Stove, either metal or made of bricks/blocks
*Recommend two! Comes in handy for cleanups, cooking more than one large item or even laundry.

Long term. Tiny investment to build from cans/bucket or used blocks or bricks. Many plans available on youtube.com and online.

Unlimited only by fuel such as wood or charcoal. Uses miserly amounts of wood per meal. Regular use extends other precious resources

Weather can be a problem with high winds/ pouring rain or pelting snow. Harder to use after dark.
*set boundaries/barricades for children and pets

Solar ovens

Long term. Investment varies from home made versions for a few dollars to ultra sophisticated models. Plans to build your own available widely on line

Unknown. Limited by amount of sunlight.

Extremely slow process for some cooked items depending on time of year and how often you must redirect oven. Extended poor weather impacts ability to cook. There is a learning curve to using one and making enough variety during sunlit hours. Volume of food cooked can be a limiting factor too.

Now for the meal planning itself:

Plan time for each meal to “build” to the next meal. For example, when cooking dinner, use the residual heat to start that pot of beans or rice rehydrating for tomorrow. If cooking pasta for dinner, I stir fry dry pasta in a little oil at lunch to enhance the flavor before adding water/broth using the last heat of the lunch cook time. I personally cook from bulk supply, so when I cook oatmeal for breakfast, I use the extra leftovers in bread for the dinner meal etc to avoid waste. (you can set up your recipes this way too) If you are a “store bought” kind of cook, stock up on the large sized pre-packed soup mixes in different varieties. Having these ready to go will only require some type of hot bread to be fried, baked etc. Reduces stress….for the cook and those eating.

Plan for more hot food than needed in the first weeks of any high stress time. I can not stress this enough. During these first days there will be many demands on your time, and bringing a hot delicious meal on time to the family will be a huge comfort.  The first week is the hardest! Start with tried and true items that are hard to burn (like a simple soup) and build your skill set as you evolve. Nothing breaks a cook’s nerves worse than choruses of “I’m hungry” in between meals and ever circling herds of family foraging while you are trying to work! Setting up a stockpot of constantly low simmer soup will help deal with the high stress, technology void and fear of the unknown and instantly supply a cup to anyone hungry in between meals. I recommend a slow cooker method such as a cinder block rocket stove so that few resources are used for hours of cooking. (good to add any leftovers into as well!)You can also have a constant pot/kettle of hot water on the ready with one of these. Our grandmothers knew this lesson and always had a soup pot on the stove and a kettle filled and ready. It brings normal into an otherwise surreal situation.

An often overlooked item is clean up. Paper plates are wonderful, but chances are will not last. Establish how you will clean up after meal time. Personally when starting the meal, I set a large older dishpan on the second rocket stove to start heating for wash up. A dish pan is wide and not so deep, and add a little soap and dishes as needed to begin soaking. When full pull off the fire (add another one) and wash, then rinse in cold water. Use the final pot of water to wash your dishcloths/sponges to hang dry, rinse any food residue near your cooking area, clean tables/counters etc. so that you can begin set up for the next meal making it easier to start over. (If needed you can add that last hot wash water onto any waiting laundry too for presoaking)

Most of us have endured utility interruption….we can overcome this by creatively planning and not just knowing our limitations…but by showcasing them! Practice your plans and experiment with your cooking methods. In times of stress, we all need the comfort emotionally and physically of timely meals or a hot drink, even a plate of rice crispy treats! Choose to cherish these skills you are learning, and face the challenges with a smile and cheerful outlook! With a few resources and practice, you provide inspiration and encouragement, uplifting the spirits of those around you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

There has been a lot of debate over whether or not to remain in place or to leave your home and retreat to another location within the prepper community. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but that is not the scope of this article. I simply want to address the moment that all of us may come to, both the bug-in crowd, when they realize their initial plan is untenable, or the bug-out crowd, when they have made their decision to move to “higher ground.”
We all remember the game “Red Light, Green Light”, we played as kids and tried to outsmart the signal caller and get to our “destination” without the caller catching us. If we take this same approach and label the “signal caller” the economy/collapse, I feel we can apply the same basic principles to our decision making process in regard to leaving our current location for our safe haven, retreat, bug out location, etc.

Several years ago I was driving home with my family from a wedding we had attended in Chicago. On the morning of our departure, there had been a fairly strong storm the night before that dumped a lot of water on the I-80/I-90 corridor. The weather was clear in the morning and when we left at 0800 in the morning for our return trip to PA, we had no idea what we were in for as the Interstate had become impassable on the east bound lanes. I am not one prone to panic but there was a growing uneasiness in the pit of my stomach as I realized we were in for a very long delay. As it turned out, the highway was closed for a majority of the day as the water had flooded certain sections out. Whether by dumb luck or by the grace of God (I choose the latter), I decided we needed to turn around and get off the highway pronto. I was in the far right lane and saw a cut in the retaining wall several hundred yards up and needed to get over quickly but this was problematic since it was a 4-lane highway which had become a parking lot. The long and short of it was I was able to inch over, very slowly, and get to the turn around and head west bound to re-assess our plan and get off the highway. This episode is one that will likely repeat itself throughout the country in the event of a catastrophe, man-made or natural disaster, and solidified my belief that I don’t want to be anywhere near a scenario like this if it does occur.  We got off the highway, made our way south to Route 30, but that was blocked as well due to the influx of the I-80 traffic doing the same thing we were doing. We finally made it all the way to the Indianapolis bypass before we could head east towards Pennsylvania. We arrived 14 hours later at midnight at our home, completely exhausted, when a normal trip should have taken us 8 hours. With three small children in the car who were thankfully sound asleep, my mind was made up that I would never again consciously put my family in a position like that and have since then thought long and hard about what I need to do to protect my family when we travel long distances; both before a SHTF event and even more so after that. The event shook me to my very core, not because we were close to any dangerous situations, but because it illuminated how quickly a situation can change from a normal family trip into one of potential disaster.

What I did wrong on that return trip was fail to plan. I had no extra food or water in the car, I did not have a full tank of gas when I left Chicago (I was just going to fill up on the highway when I left) and I had no means to protect my family if the situation required it since I didn’t even have a handgun with me. I was traveling to Chicago which has the most restrictive gun laws in the country. With that said, I do not see myself traveling to the Windy City ever again with my family until the gun laws are changed in favor of concealed reciprocity.  Although nothing happened during the trip, it made me realize how fragile the thin veneer of normalcy is in this country and how quickly it can turn into a volatile situation; putting you and your family at risk.
A lot of preppers have an exfiltration plan from their current situation to a safe haven if the SHTF and we are no different but we all need to drill down on our plans and ensure they are workable in a less-than-desirable socioeconomic catastrophe. Our plan is to bug-in but we have an alternate plan to bug-out to western South Dakota where we have extended family and a large self-sufficient ranch. The only problem is getting there in one piece. How do we do this? I have asked myself this very question and have come up with some ideas and wanted to share them with your readers and also look for feedback as I know that no plan survives the first volley of shots fired.

When will I go? This is what gave me the idea for the title of this article. Presently I can see three types of scenarios that involve traveling. The first level of travel is our current social situation, which I will call a “green light” scenario. There is little to no impediment to travel across the US with the exception of high fuel costs but essentially, if you want to, you can load up and drive from coast to coast. This will not last forever. Whether by man-made or artificial catastrophes, a pre-planned False Flag or Black Swan event, at some point in the future, our ability to travel freely within this country may very well be curtailed. This is the gray area of the decision making process. Obviously we would like to be able to pick up and go at our leisure but that is simply not realistic unless you are able to see into the future so I will concentrate on the “yellow light” scenario which is that some event has triggered a less than optimal travel scenario within the US and you will not have complete access to fuel, food, water and the expectation of security so you need to plan for that contingency. The “red light” scenario is one in which travel is essentially prohibited either by law, force or instability and there would be no expectation of being able to make it from point A to point B so I will concentrate on the yellow light scenario and the assumption that you are ready, willing and able to make this monumental move before it is too late.

Where will I go if I have to leave in rapid fashion?
This is based on the premise that you have decided to leave your present location and move to a safer haven. If an apocalyptic event transpires, the looting and mayhem that happened during Hurricane Katrina and the Los Angeles riots will look like child’s play. Have an exfil plan from wherever you live, to a place of safety and make the decision to leave early and DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. Remember, this is a move to a place where you are going to settle for a long period of time. Family and friends who live in the country, away from large cities,  and who have land are your best bet but you must make arrangements with them well beforehand. Do not show up on their doorstep without talking to them about your plans long before you leave, and make sure they have agreed to this arrangement as well. Also, do not show up empty-handed if at all possible.  This may not be possible but as a prepper, you are doing your family a disservice if you are not ready to make a large scale move with your provisions from your present location to you safe haven. Think about how you will embark all your gear and move to your new location and have your family do at least a dry-run through.  The time to find out that you need an essential piece of equipment is not when you are doing this in prime time. The pre-planning for this move is probably the most crucial aspect of your entire relocation. Going back to my Chicago incident, had we simply looked at the local news or weather channel, we would have saved ourselves several hours even if the trip would have taken longer. We never would have gone near the interstate had we simply planned ahead. Bottom line, have a plan on where you are going to go, what are you going to bring, how are you going to transport it and when are you going to make the decision to leave?                 

What will I do for reliable transportation?
This exodus will most likely be accomplished in caravans like the wagon trains out in the old west except this time it will be SUVs and trailers. You will need to plan for food/fuel & water from your location to where you want to go and you need to be able to do it without the aid of gas stations/rest stops or any other modern day convenience (remember, this is yellow light time).  Although there may be gas available while you travel due to multiple circumstances and the type of SHTF event that you are preceding or escaping from, you should absolutely plan for a self-contained move with no outside assistance. If the assistance is there, fine, but don’t make it a lynchpin of your plan or it will fail. For my own family, I will travel west to South Dakota where we have extended family. It’s about 1,500 miles from our home so I have to answer the question; how do I refuel along the way? You do not want to carry fuel in your car and to travel that kind of distance would require more fuel than there is room in the vehicle. In addition it is highly dangerous to do this, even in the trunk. I would recommend getting a small trailer capable of towing 1,500 to 2,000 lbs and make sure your hitch has the same capacity. Inside or on your trailer, you will need a fuel storage/delivery system that allows you to refuel quickly. 55 gallon drums are relatively cheap so I would probably need two of them to make the trip. Calculate your mileage, divide by the worst gas mileage your vehicle gets and that gives you the number of gallons you need. For me its 1,500 miles divided by 15 mpg = 100 gallons. (2) 55 gallon drums will give you 110 gallons so it should do it. For me, I would add 20-30% for detours and carry 150 gallons minimum to get me where I was going. If you want to go the path of least resistance and buy the red Jerry cans, that’s 30 containers to make 150 gallons. Although simple, it is not optimal in my opinion. I have been practicing refueling with them on a regular basis and they do have some drawbacks. First, they leak, plain and simple. No matter what you do, they will leak a little and sometimes a lot if you get the nozzle twisted around while refueling. Secondly, there is the storage requirement of 30 red 5-gallon fuel cans and most garages don’t have the room for that many and everything else we have stored in there. Can it be done, sure, but I think there are better ways, especially if you have the time to plan. Regardless of what container(s) you will use, I recommend that you buy a simple pump attachment for your fuel container and run a hose from the fuel to your gas tank. This avoids a lot of spillage with the “lift and hold in place for several minutes until the fuel can is empty” routine. I have a local Tractor Supply store which carries simple hand-cranked pumps and electrical ones as well. Using the Rawlesian computation of 2 is 1 and 1 is none, having multiple ways to pump fuel is probably a good plan to have!

I will travel with my 5 x 8 enclosed trailer with a towing capacity of 3k lbs. so I can bring more gear with me. (3) 55 gallon drums will weigh approximately 1300 lbs. so I’d have an extra 1700lbs to play with for supplies. As an alternative, you may have a vehicle in your convoy that does not have a trailer but is still part of the overall plan. I have a 2’ x 6’ platform trailer that hooks into my trailer hitch. The sides of this platform are 5” tall and can carry (12) 5-gallon Jerry Cans totaling 60 gallons. With a full 15 gallon internal capacity, I can travel 1125 miles on just what I carry on the platform combined with internal fuel and would only need 20-30 more gallons to make it to our destination. The additional fuel you carried in your trailer could easily make up this shortcoming.  In the military, we called this war-gaming; thinking of every possible thing that could happen and coming up with a plan to deal with it. Have everyone take turns acting as the “doubting Thomas” and have them try to shoot holes in your plan. If it is apparent that your plans need adjusting, make it so.

Do not travel anywhere near big cities (remember my Chicago episode!). Only use the stretches of highways and Interstates where they do not go near cities like New York, Chicago, etc. My route out west, by the shortest route, takes me right near Chicago but I will bypass to the south and add upwards of 200-300 extra miles just to stay safe. I expect the cities to be congested and potentially dangerous. In addition, always have an alternate plan that gives you the ability to change routes along the way with little backtracking required. This may require some detailed planning and I would even recommend that a few persons in the group travel the route and do a route reconnaissance beforehand. Let’s say you are traveling through Iowa on your way to Wyoming and the American Redoubt and realize that your original route is blocked or less than safe. Turning around and executing a “shift on the fly” route change should not be the first time you execute this. Practice it beforehand so you get the feel for how much time and effort it will take to get a 3 to 4 vehicle convoy going in another direction. Have each vehicle ‘commander’ take turns in executing a route change so everyone is comfortable in that position if the need arises for them to take over the navigation responsibilities.

What will I do for security?
Bottom line, more crowds = more potential danger. Do not travel as a single family if at all possible. In the novel The Raggedy Edge by Michael Turnlund, there is an episode when the husband and his wife are trying to move through a roadblock and he has to make the decision to have his wife drive while he shoots from the passenger window. Don’t let this happen to you and plan for this contingency and how you are going to deal with it. If you have a convoy, you can set up a hasty blocking position and have a designated element envelop the trouble spot from the sides while the rest of the convoy sets up a base of fire.  Some of you may be reading this and saying to yourself, “I can’t handle this type of situation” and while that may well be true, you need to have individuals within your convoy who are capable of dealing with this situation or your bug-out to your safe haven may be cut very short.

If a catastrophic meltdown does happen, there will probably be rogue elements that would prey on families and take their food, fuel and gear. Think: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I would travel in as large an SUV as I could and have a minimum of 2-3 other vehicles that were going to the same place or area. Remember there is safety in numbers. If you already know who you might want to travel with you, start getting together on a regular basis to discuss your evacuation plan, much like someone in a flood zone, hurricane alley, etc. Sit down with them and discuss everything that could go wrong and have a plan to deal with it. The more prepared your group is, the easier it will be to make the decision to evacuate. Discuss emergencies, vehicle breakdowns, health issues, food, water, weapons, ammunition, and fuel. A previous article on Survival Blog discussed convoy security and this should be part of everyone’s plan. Don’t just talk about it, exercise you plan on smaller trips to uncover any potential problems you may have missed during the planning stages. Discuss how you will deal with a catastrophic vehicle breakdown where you might have to leave one behind. Also, now is not the time to discuss the issue of firearms and the right to bear arms. Deal with it, everyone will be packing heat and everyone will know it too. That’s not a bad thing. My guess is that a lot of folks will be scared but at the same time, we are a nation of mostly law abiding citizens, so take comfort in the fact that a lot of people are in the same boat. Always be cautious but do not be afraid to help someone who obviously needs it. This will be the cornerstone of the communities that will rise up from the ashes of this national emergency. 
Since everyone will need more human power to work their land and provide security, most reasonable and logical persons will understand the efficacy of allowing you to join them at their safe haven. This is where you trade your labor for a safe haven, a place to live, and the fruits that the land bears but negotiating on their doorstep when you show up un-announced is not the appropriate time to do this. Make sure they know you are coming so they can prepare as much as you should have!

What will I do for communications?
Make sure that you have a communication plan and the ability to talk to those within your caravan. And do not rely on a single point of failure system either. Have a back-up and a back-up to the back-up. Cell phones will not necessarily be reliable if the power grid goes down but the portable walkie-talkie type radios will be invaluable. Some forward thinking folks may have SatPhones which, unless the Chinese shoot down our satellites, should work during this period. This is not to say that they will always operate. Whatever form of government remains may not have the ability to maintain a system of satellites that we currently have but it’s worth it if you have the money to purchase them now. The government may also be less than accepting of the type of communication that is going on via the grid and try to shut it down as well. If you live in a place where you absolutely know you will not stay in the event of a societal meltdown, send a SatPhone to the place where you will go and have your family and friends on both ends practice with and test the system to make sure it will work for you.  I will use the MURS hand held radios and have a full set of cheap walkie-talkies as a back-up (in addition to cell phones). That’s three modes of digital communications in addition to hand and arms signals. I would also recommend that you buy good quality headsets that have either a push-to-talk (PTT) capability or voice actuated (VOX) for hands free comm. I flew helicopters in the military and the VOX capability is a force multiplier in the cockpit since it is a multi-tasking nightmare at times.

What will you do if your transportation breaks down?
Make sure you have a complete extra wheel/tire combo, not just the tire. If you get a flat, you will not have access to a garage to change your tire. I would have two extra wheels/tires as well as enough Fix-a-flat to re-inflate several tires. Remember to be completely self-sustainable and walk-through all the potential hazards of a long trip that you would normally take but add to this the fact that you cannot count on any water, food, or logistical support outside of what you can carry in/on or behind your vehicles. Several companies make roof racks that are specifically designed for carrying maintenance, camping, and survival gear and can easily be adapted to carrying tires and wheels as well. You may look like the Beverly Hillbillies but you are much less likely to be stranded on the road with an immobile vehicle. In addition, let’s make sure to practice changing a tire on the side of the road prior to having to do it in an in-extremis situation for the first time.

What should I do about carrying weapons?
Some of you may be worried about carrying weapons in your car. If this scenario goes down, this will be out the window as law enforcement officials are just like you, they have families and concerns of their own and will not be worried about what is inside your vehicle if it is obvious you are relocating your family to a safer place. If it makes you feel better, apply for a concealed-carry permit.  The scenario that may be of a gray area will be if you have decided to bug-out well in advance of the collapse and it will be relatively easy travel to your safe haven. In this event, I would not advertise the fact that you are carrying an arsenal in your vehicles but make sure you have the ability to defend yourself and your family should the need arises. This will be a call on your part depending on when you leave.

With the exception of Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and a few other states, a state concealed carry permit is recognized in many other states. In addition, the US House has passed its version of the nation-wide concealed carry reciprocity bill, H.R. 822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011. If the Senate passes it we will get a clear indication from the current occupant of the White House whether or not he supports the rights of gun owners across this country. I have a Pennsylvania concealed carry permit and an out of state non-resident permit, and I could drive all of the way to South Dakota and still be in accordance with state laws, with the exception of Illinois, with a loaded weapon in my car. Remember, your family’s safety is your primary concern. Do not let anything deter you.

At this point in time we are in a “Green Light” scenario in regard to CONUS travel but it will most likely not last indefinitely.  Start planning your exodus now and do not leave any details unattended or they will come back to bite you in the rumpus! Have a place already picked out, stage as much gear and supplies there as is humanly possible and work towards completing a self-contained move that includes all aspects of the move; vehicles, fuel, food, water, supplies, security, and communications. While this is not an exhaustive list by any stretch, it should give you a starting point. Blessings to all and Semper Prep.

I just wanted to throw this out there for general information. This past Saturday my neighbor was cutting some trees with his chainsaw. Not long after he started he was over to my house asking to borrow one of my chainsaws because he got his hung up in the tree.

I grabbed one of my three saw and went over to help him out. I figured he got his hung up I did not wish him to hang up mine also. After we got his cut out, I mentioned to him if he had a spare bar and chain for the saw, he could have very easily removed the drive engine from the bar and chain put on his spare and continued cutting. He was lucky I was at home and had a saw. I know when many people with chainsaws prepare. They pick up spare chains, oil, bar oil and such but hopefully they think ahead and also pick up a spare bar or two. - Tom in Virginia

JWR Replies: Having a spare bar (or better yet two) and a half dozen spare chains is indeed important. In addition those rare pinched bar situations, keep in mind that bars can get bent, chain guide grooves can get distorted, and tip rollers can wear out. (Or burn out, if you forget to check your bar lube oil reservoir consistently.) If you run a saw a lot, at some point you will need to bolt on a spare bar.

If and when you ever do have to extricate a bar that has been pinched, it calls for great caution. A bar is usually pinched when a tree is in a precarious position-often when a tree has a rotten core, so the trunk has shifted in a unexpected way. So use extreme caution. and work only from a side where the tree won't fall. Also, if you need to cut out a pinched bar, work very slowly and exactingly, to make room for plastic or hardwood felling wedges. You should have at least three felling wedges. And of course never use steel wedges for felling! When making a cut toward a pinched bar, go slowly and conservatively, or you will end up with two destroyed chains and two destroyed bars and the potential to throw shrapnel. Again, your goal is to make room for a wedge that you'll drive in enough to free the bar. Lastly and most importantly: Never fell trees when it is windy and be sure to keep you eyes up very frequently, watching for any signs of the tree tilting, so that you can make a hasty exit. Leave yourself a couple of clear escape paths and if need be, drop your saw to speed your escape. The saw is replaceable, but you are not.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Regarding the ability to store a fuel reserve onboard the vehicle;  Before your readers consider an expensive custom military fuel tank (which may not meet DOT standards), they many want to consider an option that is already approved by the DOT and is very affordable.
As a race car and off-road truck enthusiast I’ve participated in many events where cars/trucks must meet Department of Transportation (DOT) certification before the vehicle can compete.  A majority of the “modified” vehicles run gasoline and use aftermarket fuel tanks of various sizes.  Depending on the style of racing many of the tanks have baffles to prevent “sloshing” and spilling, as well as mounting brackets to keep them secure in the event of a crash.  The sizes of these tanks range from 2 quarts to 45 gallons, with everything in between.  The fuel cells I’m referring to do not operate the same way a Home Depot fuel can does, and instead have a filler hole and at least one pre installed pickup tube where the liquid is pumped or drained into the engine.  I could envision a system that drains via gravity or a pump into the primary fuel tank when needed.
A word of advice to anyone considering mounting an auxiliary tank in the interior of their car (including trunk), gasoline does have a fairly low vapor pressure, which causes it to turn to a gas (vapor) form easier then diesel or water for example.  This effectively will cause a sealed tank to become pressurized in the heat, and an unsealed tank to emit lots of fumes.  These fumes are what causes gas to be more flammable than some other petroleum products.  In the old days, this problem was solved by simply venting the tank to the outside of the vehicle via a hose and a check valve. Regulations vary by year of vehicle, but generally do not allow for a tank to be vented into the atmosphere without either a carbon filter or through the combustion process.  I’d recommend you visit your local reputable mechanic for specifics about your application.  Hint:  a local reputable race car builder is a good place to start asking questions. They are usually fountains of knowledge and are much easier to talk with than a factory dealer mechanic.
A good place to start looking for these tanks would be either SummitRacing.com, or Jegs.com.  Both of these companies have excellent customer service and have been around for many years.  Look for “fuel cells”.  Prices range from ~$35 to ~$250.  While you are at it, peruse their catalogs.  These companies have many other automotive parts that could make your vehicle both more reliable and robust.  By the way, I don’t work for either of them and don’t have any financial benefit.
Whatever you decide, do it correctly and stay safe. - Race Fan from Colorado

Monday, November 26, 2012

Can you recommend a way to properly store 1-2 gallons of fuel in a trunk for emergencies?

I think something like a Kolpin Fuel Pack with some Sta-Bil in it would last in a confined space for an extended (3-6 months) period of time.

All The Best, - Travis R.

JWR Replies: For regular carry in a car trunk, there are just a few truly safe containers that will prevent your car from becoming a veritable flaming bomb, in the event of a major rear-end collision. One that I can indeed recommend is the Explosafe can. And FWIW, I prefer Pri-G as a fuel stabilizer.

Monday, November 5, 2012

All the recent news stories showing people in New Jersey on foot queuing up at gas stations with red gas cans in hand, reminded me: gas cans are heavy! Did anyone think to put a old fashioned Pack Board in with the rest of the supplies? You know the kind, the one with the lip at the bottom? It would hold a two full gas cans with much less strain than carrying them in your hands. Or, how about taking a small load of fire wood to your relatives' house? Just a thought. - Dale K.

JWR Replies: That is a valuable reminder. In addition to the older-generation military pack boards, keep in mind that ALICE Series (LC-1 and LC-2) backpack frames can have a cargo shelf clipped on, for the same effect. There are also commercially made (civilian) equivalent packs, like those made by Stansport and formerly by Kelty. These are often used by people who own remote "pack-in" or "ski-in" cabins, and for those who work at fire lookout towers that are only accessible by foot.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Good day, Mr Rawles...

Here in West Virginia, we have experienced a wide variety of weather from Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy.  Last Friday, it began raining well ahead of storm making landfall. Rains continued off and on thru the weekend, gradually increasing in steady rains all day Sunday and well into Monday. Around 7 pm our local time, that rain turned to snow and that's when things began to get interesting. 

I tend to be a light sleeper so it was the 'sound' of power going off at 2:34 am on Saturday morning that awakened me for the day.  I got coffee started with the percolator then sat by a window watching and listening as trees and branches snapped due to winds and the weight of a foot of heavy, wet snow that fell since dark the night before.  Once your eyes have a few minutes to adjust to the sudden darkness, it is quite uncanny how aware of things you become.  Sounds are amplified, movements are detected more quickly, response time to your surroundings are automatic, perhaps mechanical in a way. I think I like this!

As of this writing (Friday), we do not have power nor do we expect it to be restored anytime soon.  On top of the more than 2 feet of heavy, wet snow that Sandy delivered, there are literally hundreds of trees and power lines down throughout the state.  Our county suffered structural damage to some main power stations (including transformers). Yesterday, I was told by the Dept. of Highways that the county road about a mile from our house would not be plowed due to downed power lines. At the same time, the power company stated they could not begin to work on electric lines when the roads had not been cleared. Go figure!

For us, our preps and food on hand prior to the storm will keep us sustained for a very long time. Heat is not an issue. We have free natural gas on our property, plus more than one heat system that does not require electricity to function.  Water is also not an issue. We have a gravity fed spring, not a well, that does not require electricity to get our water. Cisterns collect thousands of gallons of this pure water and gravity flow delivers it to our home. Water pressure isn't optimal (like having city water) but it's a reliable clean water source (one of many). I can live without being pressure washed in the shower. We have not yet finished our secondary power source installation for maintain electricity but it is still in the works. Currently, we run our generator 2-3 times a day for a couple of hours at a time to keep the freezers and inside refrigerator cold. We keep fuel topped off at all times as well as have plenty of other fuel sources on hand for lights, cooking or whatever else might arise. After the first 2 days following the storm, we were able to clear paths to the main roads and can still get to town for things if needed. 

About five months ago, our area endured an unexpected, black-swan weather event (a derecho) over the summer. Five counties in this area were completely black and without electricity.  It left thousands without power for days, some even weeks. Our electric was out for more than 10 days in a 100 degree heat wave.  I would much rather endure loss of power during winter than summer. That event left many without food and water simply because they failed to heed even the basic guideline of having a minimum of 72 hours worth of food and water on hand in the event of a crisis. Folks did not connect (in their brains) that a lack of power to the city water systems would result in their water supply to suddenly stop flowing. They questioned why didn't the city just have generators in place to take up the slack (they did). These same people also didn't realize lack of power meant no way to pump fuel to power the generators. Panic ensued from many who finally realized their ATM, debit/card cards weren't going to work. The shock of businesses not accepting checks, only cash for payment of goods or services was enough to bring out the 'zombiesque' in many people. I was prepared to begin canning hundreds of pounds of meat, etc. even with the summer heat, rather than throw it away. Many people I talked to hadn't even thought about canning and these are people who grow gardens and routinely do some food preservation each season. Duh-mazing! Fortunately, we were able to keep enough fuel on hand for the generators in order to prevent such loss.

Superstorm Sandy was not a sudden surprise. There were many advanced warnings. Local, state and federal officials spent hours on television, radio and Internet pleading with those in harms way to evacuate or be fully prepared to hunker down with sufficient supplies for possibly a long while. In our area, we are used to snow storms...bad ones are not uncommon here. Yet, people still fail to plan or prepare, fully expecting someone to come rescue them when the going gets tough. The term 'normalcy bias' immediately comes to mind.

Now, we are in the middle of another natural disaster and there are still plenty of people who are clamoring about officials not having some kind of plan in place for everyone. These are the same folks who were demanding they get their food replaced from the summer storm losses.  There are people in our area (and others) who do not even have enough common sense to make a natural, outdoor cooler from all this snow to their cold/frozen goods in for preservation. I have been continually shocked at the complete absence of critical thinking, especially from folks who I really thought 'knew better'.

I read recently that a first responder in the New York/New Jersey area said, "We simply cannot save people from themselves." I don't believe I fully realized just how critical mindset is in a SHTF situation until now.  Sure, I talked about it, saw things first hand with how mindless and crippled society has become but I never really grasped the brevity of that until this storm.  Granted, this is not a TEOTWAWKI situation or even a long term SHTF event (thus far). We are fine in our supplies and, thank the Lord, have not endured loss other than some structural issues with our farm fencing due to falling trees. Our current setup is better than most but yet it is very painful to see other human beings suffer, often times simply due to their failure to do anything to protect themselves or their family.

For those of you out there who are still reading and planning but not yet doing anything, please, please, please get off that carousel of inaction and begin putting that gray matter to use! Don't be one of those people who freeze up during a catastrophe or one of those who crawl back into bed, hoping they will wake up and everything will be okay. You have been awakened for a time and a purpose. Don't waste the opportunity to do better for yourself and your loves ones. Just remember, "indecision is still a decision". Are you ready? - C.A.T., the Transparent Shepherdess


Good Morning,
We faired very well, thanks to our preparations, which were enhanced by the knowledge gained from your fantastic web site these last several years.  Being “old Yankees” farm raised, we always knew that we needed to be as self-sufficient as possible.  We have thirteen older house cats, one feral outside, and one of our cats is insulin dependent.  Hence keeping his insulin at proper temperature is very important.  We have standard size refrigerator/freezer, a smaller one, and a small upright freezer.  We always have frozen freezer packs and containers of ice and many thick foam coolers, so we are set for many days.  Sterno stove is great for warming and even cooking, as well as backup with twig camp stove, small pellet camp stove and charcoal grill.  We ate very well:  grass fed beef, organic vegetables from local farm, and have months worth of No. 10 cans or all kinds of food and MREs.  Hundreds of gallons of drinking and flushing water as we are on a well.  Filled up both cars before the storm hit, and being retired no need to go anywhere, nor plans to do so.   

The living room has propane gas stove and three 100 gallon propane tanks.  We just completed installation of 15,000 watt Wenco generator and 500 gallon propane tank.  The “maiden voyage” of Wally Wenco and Polly Propane was 100% effective, plus we were able to provide basic services to the tenants in the 1200 sq. ft. guest house.  Neighbors notified they could come for hot shower, etc. if need be after the storm.  We ran the Wenco only a few hours AM & PM, to conserve propane.  Had plenty of flashlights, batteries, two crank radios, hundreds of books, hundreds pounds of dry and canned cat food, and the “means” to defend ourselves.  So, these two old ladies were just fine, and the year before had 22 trees removed from near the house on this almost four acre lot in a small town, so the house was safe!  Power went out Monday afternoon and came back Wednesday night.

Because we have always been financially frugal, maintain our older vehicles, and do not spend our money on fancy electronics, clothes, etc., we were able to upgrade our survival comfort with the propane generator.  We know that a long term survival in a true TEOTWAWKI for us is not possible, but we have that covered also, especially as just a few miles from us is a nuclear plant.  Were we a few decades younger, we would be living in the American Redoubt, because we have “knowledge” that would be useful, and physically be able to survive.  We are still trying to convince our younger relatives to be more prepared, because someday we will not be around, though they know that our long term food and other supplies are a legacy we can leave them for America’s uncertain future! - L.H. in Lyme, CT

Good morning. If still of use to your readers, here’s Storm Update #3 for Princeton and Margate City, NJ, that I just sent to our friends.
Friday morning. No power still.
Yesterday, after my early run for gasoline, we did the first laundry since Sunday. I cranked open the window and rigged up the extension cords to the genny. Our daughters hardly issued a complaint with helping to fold – a chore they dislike – but under the circumstances, I’m guessing there’s something extra nice about fresh, warm, clean clothes. I continued cleaning-up the property and then helped my wife (Steph) make lunch. We heard back from our eldest daughter’s piano and singing teachers… they were willing to accommodate lessons cancelled by the storm if we could get there. Both are within a few miles of the house and a minute away from each other. The piano teacher gives lessons from her home and the singing teacher uses a local Church. Both had power restored. Needing a break of normalcy, my wife and I agreed. I would stay at the house with our youngest, while she ventured with the other. My wife was also going to see if the local farmer’s market was open.
Steph went to the farmer’s market and did her first ever shopping by flashlight. There was a line, and the store was allowing five people in at a time with an employee escort for each with flashlight to assist with shopping. Cash payment only. They only had non-perishables and the shelves were sparse. Several items she wanted – mostly soups – were gone. She did find a wonderful organic butternut squash soup among other groceries, and a bag of carrots. These were part of our dinner mix last night. On the way there, she sadly observed the destruction around Princeton. Trees down everywhere, debris, cars and houses hit, but lots of lucky falls as well – a few feet in either direction and the tree damage would have been far worse for many people.
In the afternoon, mail was delivered. I spoke at length with our delivery person. The workers that had reported for duty were sorting mail by lantern/flashlight, first class was backed-up for this week, and if they didn’t find more gasoline, mail would not be delivered for a few days even if the power was restored.
About an hour later, our next door neighbor knocked… they were leaving to find a hotel. This is a neurologist who works at a major medical center. Not wealthy, but he could have afforded a house generator system if like minded. I offered our home (these are also good folks), but they didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. They simply asked that I text them when power returns. Coincidentally, I checked in via mobile text with my best friend from Maplewood, NJ, telling him my concern that all of our neighbors were vanishing to hotels or extended family, and the reply text stated that he was in a hotel in Philadelphia with his family.
So, at this point, we have three categories of people. Those without generators who left days ago, those who have generators but not hooked up to the critical systems (leaving for lack of water, food, sanitation, heat, etc.) and those with hard-wired generators staying put as long as the natural gas flows or gasoline is available. Remember, these aren’t hardy country folk or preppers. They aren’t used to grid down or even making do with less. My friend in Maplewood – I’ve known him since 5th grade – he can afford anything he wants and still no house power system or supplies. I wonder how many people have now received the wake-up call? Perhaps Sandy is a blessing in that regard. Still, as much as I’m grateful not to be overwhelmed by cold and hungry neighbors, the evening walk with Aslan our dog was eerie. Empty houses greatly outnumbered the occupied. What would these people do if there was no external refuge in which to retreat? Would my family be a target even among friendly neighbors? Last night, I began thinking more seriously about the Mossberg secured under our bed… I train/shoot at Range 14 at Fort Dix in NJ.  I’d also like to put in a half-way plug here for solar lighting. My experience is that even the top of the line flood/spot lights will have a failure rate approaching 50% after a year. However, beyond a sizable alert dog, there are few better crime deterrents here than good exterior lighting. Our house is bathed in a blue glow of solar lighting for most of the night. I understand this cuts both ways in terms of standing out… but there are other homes with accent solar lighting on walkways/driveways, so perhaps it does not make us that much of an oddball, especially with the interior of the house dark.
We received a message that there would be no school on Friday - today. The roads and lack of operating stoplights are still a safety hazard, and it turns out the school’s fire safety system shorted out during the storm. They estimate that it will be fixed by Monday, November 5th, and that classes will resume then. Things in Princeton are improving each day, and we hope to have power back soon. Other parts of NJ are still chaotic as you get more urban (Jersey City, Hoboken) and closer to the Shore.
Turning to Margate City, under immense pressure, the barrier island access restriction was partially lifted by the Governor late yesterday. Several of my Shore friends – the locals – were finally getting into town to survey the damage. The ones that stayed had been giving us a reasonable heads-up on conditions. No food or water available on island (but the local bar was serving drinks) and the word is that wherever the water surge line stopped at your house is the measure of damage. Margate has modestly varying heights of property, bulkheads and dunes for protection. But when ocean meets bay, pretty much everyone is in a jam. Mom is stubbornly making her way back to our family home on the beach block. Bull dozers are clearing walking paths through the sand on a street by street basis. We should have a full report later today on the interior water damage. Ventnor City remains voluntarily closed due to the infrastructure issues, and the access restriction for Atlantic City still holds – at least that’s what I last heard.
I’m going to start the day’s work. Best to all. - Bill H.

Hi Jim,
Where I live in southern Pennsylvania, it rained solid, although very lightly most of the time, for 6 days straight. Today it's finally letting off. We did have some high winds on Monday and Tuesday, but we haven't had any flooding (despite living in a valley beside a stream) and no wind damage. The power did go out for a few hours Tuesday morning while we were sleeping, but otherwise it was a non event here.

Having lived through a high wind storm a number of years ago that took out our power for a week, we're a little more prepared than we were then. We now have a 500 gallon propane tank and a gas range (cooking stove), a wood burner with plenty of seasoned wood, and a hand pump for water if needed.

A few notes about that might interest readers:
Regarding the gas range, we can light [the cooktop burners] with matches, which means we need to have a large supply of matches on hand for extended power outages. Also, we didn't realize the oven [portion of the range] won't light without electricity because it has a fancy-dancy electronic control mechanism. Fortunately we don't use the oven much, but we now know better and next
time we'll make sure the oven is usable without electricity.

Also, our
house and well are situated in such a manner that we have a Bison hand pump in our basement. In the event of a power outage, all I have to turn is turn a few valves and we can pump as much water as we need. We also can hook up a hose from the pump directly into our water system. It won't be enough to shower, but it'll be enough to flush toilets, which certainly beats using buckets to flush!

Lastly, where I work, we have a lot of customers that were hit hard by Sandy. I've been astounded by how unprepared they were. It's very clear many did not make any effort to have disaster recovery tests. They need RSA security tokens to access our system, and we've had numerous calls from customers stating "when we evacuated, we left our tokens at the office". I've also heard "our server is under water". I hope they had an offsite backup! If nothing else, this [relatively] "minor" Category 1 storm should help them be prepared for the next one.

Regards, - C.G.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dear Editor:
In the 1880s milk sold for $0.56 per quart or $2.24 per gallon which at the time was 0.112 oz of gold per gallon of milk.

To put that in perspective today, it would cost $190 for a gallon of milk.

So if you had a cow producing 1 gallon per day 10 months out of the year, it would have been the equivalent of having $57,000 / year in revenue today. (You have significant capital and labor costs gathering hay and water for just one cow not to mention the distribution costs and short shelf life).

At that same point in time, rent would cost $16 per month (equal to $1,360 today) and you could have paid your rent with the equivalent of less than 2 gallons of milk per week.

With prices like these it is no wonder that every family had their own cow which would have cost $70 dollars or 4.3 months of rent or $6,000 in today's dollars.

So today a cow costs $2,000, raw milk costs $10 / gallon and industrial milk costs $4 / gallon. This shows you just how much our economy has grown in the past 130 years, the relative price of milk has fallen to 5% or less of what it use to cost.

This also shows you how valuable a cow and the milk it provides would be if the global food distribution system were to have any significant problems as a result of hyperinflation. - Daniel L.

JWR Replies: While a comparison of prices before the days of electric refrigeration might not be completely fair, your illustration at least shows the long term erosive effects of chronic currency inflation. It also gives a glimpse of what people might be willing to pay for milk in the event of a grid-down collapse--when reliable refrigeration will presumably once again be scarce.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Good Day, James,
First – have greatly enjoyed your blog site and your novels. I particularly appreciate the fact that although the stories are fiction – they provide a wealth of preparedness information. As a principle in Power Research Inc. – a company with extensive international sales to the commercial marine and power generation industries – I have deeply investigated the world economy and our present financial system in an effort to protect my company, my family, and my employees. There is absolutely no question that the present system is unsustainable, and the ramifications of an economic collapse will be severe. I have made my own preparations and have encouraged my employees, little by little, to do the same. My personal take is – based on cycles – a rapid acceleration of the present crisis is likely in the 2014 and 2015 time frame. We’ll see. As to the extent and severity of the collapse, only Our Father knows.
Secondly – I am glad to see that you have addressed the issue of long-term fuel storage. Interestingly, more than half of emergency generator failures during a crisis can be directly attributable to degraded fuel. This was  found to be the case post-Katrina. The product STA-BIL that you reference in your writing, will, in fact, stabilize gasoline and diesel fuel. But bear in mind this is a “consumer” type product – designed with strength only sufficient to extend fuel life 6-to-12 months. The active ingredient in this product is actually in a very small concentration.
We manufacturer PRI-D and PRI-G for diesel and gasoline respectively. While we largely sell these products to the industrial market, we also have made them available to recreational boaters and RV enthusiasts through several hundred outlets nationwide. The chemistry we offer in our consumer package is in the same strength we provide to industrial users – users that include nuclear power facilities,  and countless thousands of entities that store fuel for emergency power generation.  These products have also found a popular following among those of us in the “prepper” community. On average, one dosage will keep fuel fresh for about five years – sometimes much longer. We have had some fuels in storage as long as 12 years – and they are still refinery fresh. As a side note – even kerosene for lamp oil can deteriorate, so it is also of critical importance to treat these fuels as well.
Bear in mind that fuel stability is dependent on a number of factors. First is refinery processing – which can change day to day. The stability of a fuel produced one day can change the next owing to minor adjustments in feedstock and refinery processes. Second is storage conditions – bearing in mind that heat and exposure to oxygen are key factors. This is where most amateurs go wrong.
Personally – I believe long-term reliance on a generator for power is untenable, as one would have to have a major fuel supply on hand. That said, use of fuel for power equipment like a chain saw or roto-tiller or well pump can make post-collapse life a bit easier. As for personal transportation – I favor an electric bike, which can be re-charged with a solar generator.
One of the things I find most interesting is that most of us in the USA are just one or two generations away when most of the American population was self-sufficient. I come from a Southern Illinois farm family. We grew our own food, made our own soap, and even grandma made all of our clothes on a non-electric Singer sewing machine. I had one farmer cousin that had no electricity at his place, and relied on kerosene lamps at night. We also learned to hunt and fish at an early age. My dad bought me my first .22 rifle when I was 11 and taught me to shoot. Many times he would send me down the road and out into the fields to dispatch varmints. Can you imagine an 11 year old today simply walking down the local highway with a rifle in hand? We also learned to work on our own cars – replacing transmissions – rebuilding engines – mostly from junkyard parts. How the world has changed. Fortunately, even though I'm now in my 60s I am in great physical shape. I can thank the Lord for that. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, get plenty of exercise in trying to keep this temple clean. Most importantly, I realize that there is a God and He is not me. I put myself humbly before Him every day in thanks that he sent his Son for our salvation. I thank you, James, for carrying His message in your books. The best preparation for any of us is to be spiritually fit.
Long-term, I am very optimistic. Truth and righteousness will prevail. I see an economic collapse as a collapse of the humanistic, progressive New World Order concept which eliminates God in favor of the concept that we humans have the capability to make a Heaven on earth. The failing here is that earth will always be earth and full of sin. That is immutable. A collapse should finally hammer that truth home, perhaps once and for all. Then taking the principles upon which this great country was founded, we can again re-build. When a collapse happens, we should all be thanking God for this opportunity. This will truly be His grace. - A Corporate Officer of Power Research, Inc.

Friday, October 12, 2012

I recently fabricated my first two rocket stoves using $25 in parts per stove, and gave one to my local volunteer fire department fundraising auction.  It takes just over an hour to make one and it works great.  The fuel/vent stand is key for ensuring air flows under the fuel for maximum combustion.  The pot grill is key for ensuring maximum heat transfer to your cooking pot without choking the fire.  

It was pretty nice the other morning making scrambled eggs without having to use propane, electricity, or the fire pit.  The rocket stove is one of the most efficient wood fuel stoves ever devised.  

You can find a photo of one of the finished stoves, here.

The following is how I made the rocket stoves:

- 5 gal steel paint pail from commercial paint store, with lid $12 (or free if you find a used metal paint can)
- 18" x 24" wire deck from Lowe's SKU# 319519 $5 
- 4" galvanized duct elbow $4
- 24" piece of 4" galvanized duct $4
- small sheet metal screws
- Wood ashes

- Saber saw with metal blade
- drill bits and drill motor
- tin snips
- pliers
- vise
- electric hand grinder with metal cutting wheel
- half round file

- Cut the wire deck with the cutting wheel to create both the fuel/vent stand and the pot grill
- Bend legs of fuel stand at stable angle so that top of stand lines up with center of vent pipe when raised off of bottom of pail about an inch
- Taper front end of fuel stand so that three inches of it can fit into vent pipe without binding.  Leave two small studs protruding so that they can fit into notches cut into vent pipe
- Mark paint can on side where vent pipe would be centered and draw 4" circle
- Do the same in center of paint can lid
- Remove foam seal in paint can lid
- Drill starting hole with 1/4" bit and wiggle to widen hole enough for saber saw blade to fit
- Cut out both circles (don't worry much about the quality of these holes
- Attach vent to elbow and fasten with three sheet metal screws, avoiding screw at top of vent where fuel will be shoved through
- Measure width of bottom of paint can and cut duct with grinder cutoff wheel so that the pre-assembled 90 degree angle will easily fit in the bottom of the can (it will protrude properly once the  duct is centered vertically in the can)
- Attach remaining section of duct to other end of angle duct
- Pre-install duct into both holes to confirm fit, and mark top end of duct at 1/2" above top of lid and cut off excess duct with grinding wheel
- File cut edges of both ducts with half round file to reduce risk of sharp edges
- Fill paint can with wood ashes and slightly compress with hands as you fill it, while maintaining duct centered in can
- Put lid on and crimp closed with pliers
- Mark horizontal duct 1" in from edge to align with the two attach stubs and drill clearance hole for fuel stand stubs
- Cut clearance notch in duct slightly above clearance holes to allow stubs to slide along duct and drop into place into the clearance holes like a detent position
- Cut remaining piece of wire deck so that you can bend four support legs and bend the outside corners in a bit to fashion a grill
- Cut the support legs so that the grill stands at 1/2" (or slightly under) above the duct edge (this may take trial and error, but you want to maximize heat transfer to your pot without choking your air flow)
- You're done.  The commercial guys sell an adjustable pot skirt which directs the heat up the sides of the pot.  I might make one of those as an accessory one of these days.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I make charcoal to sell at the local farmers market. I'm a farmer and prepper. I use two steel drums, retort method, which produces high quality charcoal.

Charcoal has many uses. It used for cooking and heat without flames, water filtration, making pyrotechnics and has some medicinal uses. This is hot, hard work but simple to do. With a little imagination all components can be changed or modified as long as age-old principles are followed. I prefer using red oak. It comes out naturally pitted so there is no need for enhancements for water filtration.

Concept: Small pieces of quality hardwood are placed in a small steel drum. The small drum is placed into a larger steel drum. Scrap wood is then stacked in the gap between the two and burned. This “cooks” the quality wood into charcoal without allowing it to be consumed by oxygen.

Primary Components:

Furnace – 55 gallon steel drum with removable lid. Called an “Open Head”.
The lid is held on with a quick lever closure ring (preferable) or the nut and bolt closure ring.

Retort – 15 gallon steel drum with removable lid. The crimp type lid is most common.

Both can be purchased new from and oil distributor or obtained used from trucking companies or large farms etc. First burn out any residual contents of used drums with an open fire.

Secondary Components:

3 fire bricks or spacers, used to raise small drum off the bottom of the large drum.

Wood: 2 types

Any quality hardwood makes great charcoal. I prefer red oak. It comes out very pitted with large cracks. It is easy to light and produces a very even burn when used for cooking. Great for water filtration without enhancements. For pyrotechnics use muscadine or grape vine.

Perfect scenario – Cut red oak logs and allow it to dry for nine months or so. For making a batch cut pieces, 5 inches long, off the end of logs. Quarter it, and split it into 1.5 inch thick bricks. Use a hand axe and cut the bricks into pieces 1.5 inches x 1.5 inches x 5 inches or smaller. If the pieces are larger then it just adds unnecessary cooking time.

Tip on tree selection – Pick a red oak inside a stand of timber that grew at least 100 yards from any open area among older trees. It would have grown straight, tall and fast, with very few knots, and hence great for splitting! You don’t want a tree that grew near the edge of a field. It would have had lots of limbs in its first 25 years, lots of knots, very hard to split.

Scrap wood, hardwoods produce a steady even heat. Small amounts of scrap pine lumber produces quick heat, helps regulate cooking process. All are split small enough to go in between the sides of the barrels and about 2 feet long.

Note: Pictures of my furnace and retort drum set-up can be found as attachments to my posts at the Eat The Weeds Forum.


A. Furnace Drum

1. Removable Lid: it is used to help regulate air flow during the cook. Raise with wood or rebar just a little while cooking. Most have 2" x ¾" Head Fitting Plug, also helpful with air control. You can also mount a piece of flue pipe with damper in the center of the lid if you want to be creative.

2. Cut vent openings along bottom edge of 55 gallon drum. Cut 3 vents, 3 inches (v) X 8 inches horizontally, evenly spaced around circumference. Leave one end [of each vent tab] attached so they can be partially closed to control air flow. After the burn, cover them with dirt to seal off air.

B. Retort Drum

1. The small drum bottom must be vented. The purpose is to allow gas to escape from the oak while it is being cooked. These gases also burn outside the small drum during the process. This reduces the amount of scrap wood used. These are the same gases used to run a gasifier or woodgas engine. A full small drum will weigh about 55lbs and produces about 18 lbs of charcoal.

2. In the bottom of the small drum drill 1/4 inch diameter holes. Drill about 30 holes
Note: I'm sure at some point early in the process, there is a quick flash burn in the small drum. Oxygen is gone soon, no ash. Gases don't burn until they leave the small drum.
At night you can see 30 blue jets of flame from bottom of small drum. Waste of scrap wood cooking at night. did it once just to see.
Ash from scrap wood starts to clog big barrel vents. pushing it back keeps air flow going straight up (chimney effect) away from bottom of small drum. I rarely see any ash in small drum, then just a little on few pieces in bottom.


1. Put the fire bricks in the bottom of the big drum to support the small drum. This allows space for out gassing. It also prevents the ground from wicking heat from the small drum.

2. When the small drum is loaded and the lid is clamped set it on the fire bricks.

3. Drop kindling down the sides of the small drum and then scrap wood up and over the top.

4. Stuff paper and tinder into the large drum vents and fire it up.

Cooking a Batch

Moisture is always your enemy!

The goal is to hold 700 plus degrees in the small drum for at least 1.5 hours assuming that the small drum is full and the moisture content is low. If the moisture content is high then it will add hours to the cooking time.

Only cook in hot weather, 90 plus degrees and sunny. If the temp is around 70 you will use a lot more scrap to cook the same batch, more work and time for the same return.

When the batch is done put the lid on the large drum and tighten the band. Close the bottom vents on the large drum and cover them with dirt to stop all air flow.

Tip: Don’t allow the scrap to burn out naturally. When you decide the charcoal is done then seal the Furnace. The burning scrap will use up remaining oxygen and prevent charcoal loss.

Before ignition, be sure to fill the small drum to the top and then shake it thoroughly. You'll then be able to add several more pounds of oak. Important - you still have to get the lid clamped on tight--freely without forcing.
There will be very little space for air. When the flash burn occurs it will be rapid. When gas starts escaping from the oak there is no oxygen for it to burn until it exits the vents in the bottom.
Also folks worry about cooking long enough. I tell them, "you will only under-cook one time." When you go out the next morning and find your mistake, you'll have to clean out the barrels, prep all the scrap, and re-cook the same batch. You wont make that mistake again!
Leave the air tight Furnace to cool over night. If you expose the charcoal to oxygen while it is still hot it will ignite and burn up all your work. The next day when the Furnace is completely cool remove the small drum. It should weigh about 20 lbs, if it feels a lot heavier then you did not get a complete conversion.

Pour the contents onto a framed 1/4-inch mesh screen to filter the tiny pieces and dust. Next bag up your charcoal. You should have 18 lbs of high quality natural charcoal.

Tips on Getting it Right:

You have to learn to "read the smoke." There is an art to this!

The first smoke will be heavy and white. This is moisture from the scrap wood and will continue for a while. Next the smoke will almost disappear. A short time later the white smoke will reappear but not so heavy as before. This is the moisture from the oak in the small drum.

This is the most important part of reading the smoke. The amount of white smoke from the small drum tells you how long to burn scrap. Only experience can teach you!

There is a small amount of loss as ash, maybe 1 to 2% at the bottom of the small barrel. Although crude this is a very efficient process for producing high quality organic charcoal.

Note that this charcoal-making process can be scaled down. The aforementioned procedure also works with a 5 gallon metal bucket and a 1 gallon metal paint can. Use you imagination, I’ve seen a pottery kiln used with several 1 gallon metal paint cans.

Activated charcoal is nothing but natural charcoal treated with liquid Calcium Chloride or Zinc Chloride for 12 plus hours. It becomes very pitted. Red oak comes out naturally pitted. (Not as good as activated but close.)

Warning: Use only natural unprocessed/untreated wood for charcoal. Things like pallets have been treated or had a host of chemicals and heavy metals spilled on them that are not consumed by fire.

You’ll get only about 15 to 20 batches out of a set of barrels, as they will deteriorate with high heat over time.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wood is one of the most readily available materials for homestead construction projects and is also an important fuel source for many of us. I’ve always loved forests and trees, so I drew on my experiences growing up in Alaska and my work in the timber industry in Western Washington to write this post. 

If you are lucky enough to own your own forest, I highly recommend the book A Landowner's Guide to Managing Your Woods by Hansen/Seversen/Waterman.  This book will give you an excellent overview on how to keep your forest healthy and profitable, as well as giving you a broad overview of the logging industry. 

You are most likely already familiar with some logging tools. The most versatile and important tool is the axe, and you should have several. I prefer a double bit axe for felling and a single bit for limbing and pounding in wedges. Antique/junk stores can really help out here, as old axe heads of high quality can be had on the cheap often only needing to be sharpened and cleaned of rust. Supplement your limbing axe with several small hand saws.  A Peavey is another important tool that consists of a long lever with a hook for rolling logs. Again, you may be able to find one on the cheap at an antique store. Make sure to have a good supply of plastic felling wedges, which come in very handy when you are felling trees with a funny lean to them, as they take pressure off the saw when making the back cut. When using a chain saw, never substitute metal wedges for plastic or hardwood, as this could result in severe damage or injury if the chain makes contact with the metal. For moving logs, you will want a choker, a cable that can be wrapped around the end of a log to drag it from place to place. Additionally, you may want some extra cable, a come along, and few blocks or shivs.  For some larges species of tree to be cut by hand, you may need a spring board, which is a 2 x 4 with a steel spike at one end. Placed in a tree above the gnarled flare of the tree, it allows the lumberjack (or lumberjill) to make cuts with axes and saws in the softer, narrower part of the trunk. If you are going to be doing a lot of felling and bucking, you will want a logger's tape measure to ensure you buck to just the right length. Otherwise, you can use an ordinary tape measure for the job. 

Every prepper should have at least one large crosscut saw, preferably a two-man. Some of the older saws are superior in quality and craftsmanship, but ones in good condition can be very expensive. There are kits available for sharpening crosscut saws, and you will need to get one of these as well. Sharpening crosscut saws was specialized work back when they were in wide use, and it is a skill I have not mastered. Youtube has a few excellent videos on the step by step process for this, but I think the best way to really learn is to find someone who is willing to teach you. Another tip to make your lumberjacking easier: If you look at photographs of the old time lumberjacks with their “whips of misery,” you will often see what looks like a whiskey bottle off to the side. These bottles were filled with the oil used to lubricate the saw to make cutting through large trees easier. 

After you've cut a few trees by hand, you will think of a chainsaw as your best friend. I’ve always been a skeptical about keeping machines running post TEOTWAWKI without the benefit of substantial stockpiles of fuel, lubricants, and extra parts which most of us can't afford. The one machine I make an exception for is the chainsaw. There is no power tool more versatile to the homesteader. Besides its obvious use for felling and bucking logs, it makes log construction a much easier task. Post-TEOTWAWKI, I believe that anyone with a reliable chainsaw and a good stockpile of premium gasoline, 2 cycle oil, bar oil, chains and spare parts will be able to trade their services for a high price. In one afternoon, a man with a chain saw can do the work work that 24 men with crosscut saws did in a day. When electricity is unavailable, the chainsaw can be pressed into use for carpentry projects as well. Of course, keeping a low profile may make using a gas powered saw unacceptable, so always have the much quieter crosscut saw as a backup. 

Although there are many brands of chainsaw, Stihl and Husqvarna are the only two that I trust. Both of these brands have saws at the lower end of the price range that are intended for the suburban home owner market. Avoid these and choose a saw that is professional grade. The Stihl Farm Boss is a good choice for many people. It is a reliable saw, big enough for most tasks that a homesteader has to take on, but light enough that it can be used by smaller folks. In keeping with the “two is one” mantra, I recommend that you have multiple chainsaws of the same model, as well as spare parts.  

With a little maintenance, you can keep a quality saw running correctly with minimal problems. The most important preventative maintenance you can do is cleaning the air filter often. Remove the filter and use an air hose to clean it out from the inside and remove the junk that it accumulates. If you don’t have access to an air hose, you can use a can of compressed air duster for electronics. Use quality 2 cycle oil, this is definitely one place not to skimp, ideally from the saw’s manufacturer. For bar oil, you might be able to find cheap stuff at Wal-Mart or the like. Some folks I know use old motor oil for bar oil. This is not a good idea because the viscosity is different from real bar oil, and may damage your bar. Additionally, bar oil is biodegradable, which will help ensure the health of your forest. Some important spare parts to keep around are extra bars, air filters, chain sprockets, and a cylinder replacement kit. You will need lots of extra chain, which can be purchased in bulk rolls from Bailey’s, an online logging supply store. 

For safety equipment, a hard hat, Kevlar chainsaw safety chaps, eye and ear protection, and boots with excellent ankle support are musts. If you are going to be doing a lot of logging, you will also want a pair of caulks (pronounced ‘corks’), which are spiked boots for walking on slippery logs and soft hillsides. 

An important thing to understand is that felling trees is the easiest part of the job. You make your cuts at the butt end of the tree, and gravity does the rest. Moving a tree that weighs several tons once it is on the ground is much more difficult. For the logger working without the benefit of heavy equipment, felling timber in exactly the right place can mean the difference between successfully harvesting the tree and leaving it on the ground to rot because you are unable to move it. The best resource for learning about safe felling is a booklet from the State of Oregon entitled “Fallers Logging Safety,” available free as a PDF online. Follow safety procedures and stay within your skill level. Nothing can replace hands on experience, and I can't emphasize the importance of proper falling technique enough. Seek out real experts who will teach you the safe, correct procedures for felling so that you can develop good habits (as with many aspects in life, people who tell you they are experts are often anything but).  

Hand logging is the art of moving timber to the mode of transport with human power. Old time lumberjacks would typically work a hill side from the bottom to the top. Trees would be felled across the hill, limbed, and the rolled downhill to the stream, sea, road, or railroad by lumberjacks using peaveys. Sometimes, trees would be felled down the hill on top of several small logs laid perpendicular to the larger tree. The log could then be skidded down the hill on a path made of these smaller logs. Moving large logs uphill is going to be nearly impossible, so make sure you always fell trees into the best position for being moved. 

The sheer difficulty of moving large logs without heavy equipment may necessitate the adoption of building techniques that use shorter, smaller pieces of timber. My friend and former employer lived on the tree line in the mountains of Alaska where most of the timber was on the scrawny side. Never the less, he was able to build a sturdy log cabin with spruce logs that he cut to lengths of  6’ to 12’. If you live in an area with a good snowfall, winter can be the best time to harvest timber, as logs are much easier to drag across the spring’s firm snow pack than the summer’s uneven forest floor. A snow machine (called a snowmobile by you lower 48ers) is excellent for winter timber harvest because they can get to areas inaccessible by wheeled vehicles. A timber sledge for a snow machine is easily constructed by using two long 2x6s as runners, allowing you to haul long logs for cabin ridgepoles and larger structures. Another reason that winter is an ideal time for harvesting timber is that the sap will all be in the roots, meaning there will be less moisture content in the wood, always a consideration for firewood. Spruce and Douglas Fir harvested for cabin logs in the winter will be perfect for peeling in the spring. Often the bark can be removed in large strips using nothing but a hatchet. 

During summer months, you can use trucks and ATVs to harvest timber, vehicles with a winch being especially useful. Using a choker, logs can be dragged out of the woods to the road or trail so that you can pull them to where they are needed. The problem with this is that you will be restricted to only those areas accessible roads and trails. Another primitive way to move timber is with draft animals, giving you a much better option for those hard to reach timber stands. I think for any sort of large scale post-TEOTWAWKI logging, this is going to be the only way to get any real logging done unless fossil fuels are still available. Without machinery and only human power, you will reduced to using only the smallest logs, greatly diminishing the size of structures that can be built. An Alaska mill another possible solution to the problem of moving timber without heavy equipment.This device uses two chainsaws to form a primitive sawmill. With one of these, you can rip felled trees into lumber while still in the woods, allowing you to avoid moving large logs. 

On a closing note, my favorite story from the Hebrew scriptures has always been the story of Gideon, one of Israel's judges. It is a story about faith versus doubt, the importance of watchfulness, and God giving victory to the righteous in the face of overwhelming odds. While doing some research the other day, I was interested to learn that Gideon in Hebrew means "destroyer," "mighty warrior," and also "a faller of great trees." Happy cutting, and stay safe in the woods.       

Monday, August 20, 2012

In keeping with our well-entrenched philosophy of redundancy, we now have five ways to cut firewood at the Rawles Ranch: 1.) A reliable (but noisy) Stihl 024 gas engine chainsaw with a 20" bar, 2.) An assortment of felling axes and mauls, 3.) an early-1900s vintage 1-1/2 man saw, 4.) A Makita electric chainsaw that can be powered by quiet a Yamaha 2.8 KW inverter genset carried in the back of our utility ATV, and 5.) An even smaller Black & Decker 18-Volt cordless electric chainsaw. (The latter lacks the muscle for anything more than cutting saplings or for limb cutting. I bought an Ultimate Battery backpack battery to give it three times running time per charge. And BTW, this same battery can also be used with my Dewalt brand 18 VDC cordless tools, when using a different battery pack adapter.)

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Citizen Shooter Saves Officer with Amazing Shooting: A 66 Year Old Texan Vic Stacey Puts Four 357 Magnum Pistol Rounds into a Killer Rifleman at 165 Yards

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F.J. suggested: Make Shingles from Aluminum Beverage Cans

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Cat parasite that worms into humans' brains can drive victims to suicide. (Credit to Pierre M. for the link.)

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I noticed that our SurvivalRealty spin-off web site now has more than 120 active listings, including our first one in Ecuador.

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H.L. sent: Living in a 70 square foot floating cabin.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mr. Rawles:
Today is Wednesday, July 4, 2012.  I am writing from a small town in central West Virginia and I would like to share some thoughts, observations, and lessons from the recent Derecho windstorm experienced by the mid-west and east of our great country.  As I sit here, we are in day six of total power outage caused by a freak storm that came with little or no warning.  Power may not be on for another four days.
I have been a long time reader of your blog and have lots of lists and plans but sadly my preparations for hardship were found lacking.  We here in West Virginia are used to disasters such as floods but the mountains tend to shield us from tornados and high winds are rare.  Within an hour span power was knocked out to 50 of the 55 counties in the state.  The towers of major transmission lines were twisted wrecks.  And then the “fun” began.  This incident has galvanized me and my neighbors.  My observations will be preaching to the choir in this forum but here goes:
·          Gasoline was gone within 24 hours.  Lines were just like the 1970s fuel embargo.
·          Ice became the chief commodity and was in short supply or no supply.
·          Water was out for most people at least for the first two days.
·          Most big box stores and gas stations were up on generator power by day three.
·          A new shipment of 250 generators was sold in a few hours.
·          Temperatures in the high 90s added another layer of difficulty.
     Most people kept their cool and neighbors helped each other.  Many are much better neighbors now.  With all traffic lights out it was hectic but for the most part people were safe and courteous.  We used to have a tourism commercial about West Virginia that showed four cars pulling up simultaneously to a four way stop and each driver motioning for the other to go first.  The tag line was “Traffic jam, West Virginia style”.  I am happy to say that was true in most cases.
     The holes in my preparedness were:
·          I needed good high quality kerosene lanterns with reflectors and extra wicks.  The cheap Chinese red ones at Wal-Mart are toys.
·          Batteries, Batteries, Batteries.
·          Propane, Propane, Propane.
·          I needed a good tough portable radio with multiple charging sources.  I was reduced to listening to a car radio and risking battery and gas.
·          I should have had several barrels of water on hand
·          A couple of deep cycle marine batteries would have been nice.
·          A generator and fuel reserve have moved from the nice-to-have list to the have-to-have list.
The local radio station stepped up to the plate and suspended normal programming and went live 24 hours on generator with news and call-ins giving information.  The unpreparedness of some of the call-ins was instructive.  On the second day several were screaming for FEMA to arrive.  Well, in our recent primary election, Democratic voters supported a prison inmate in Texas with over 40% of the vote, so I do not expect FEMA anytime soon.  It is obvious to me now that there will be a die-off in any major disaster.  Those on medical oxygen or diabetic will not survive.  There is also an element of just plain stupid out there.  One lady drove 30 miles to a neighboring town to get water for her children when simply listening to the radio would have directed her to a fire station two blocks from her house.
Mr. Rawles, I know your feelings about areas anywhere east of the Mississippi but I must say that, in general, West Virginia enjoys some advantages as a retreat.  Property prices and taxes are low, low population density, low crime rate, no urban problems, minimal gun laws, and a conservative and religious population.  For the most part, it is “Almost Heaven”.
I have turned a corner on preparedness and I hope my neighbors have too.  Bottom line: We must have three days of supplies at a minimum and build from there.  Thanks for your blog.
Wavetalker in West Virginia

Friday, June 8, 2012

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. 

JWR Adds: This article is further evidence that properties with their own "home tap" natural gas wells are not a myth. And you don't have to move to the Four Corners or to Oklahoma to find one. They are all over the country, if you do a concerted search. Properties with gas wells are also often available at our SurvivalRealty spin-off site. Here is an example, in Kentucky.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Near the top of the List of Essentials is is keeping warm. One surefire way to do that is with a wood-burning heat stove. Wood stoves are reliable as a main source of heat or as backup but can cost between $1,000 and $2,000 new, so buying used is a practical way to go. Before you buy however, there are a few things you should know.

First of all, you need a good, certified wood stove. Why certified? Because they use less than half the wood that the previous generation of wood stoves used, don’t exhaust clouds of unburned soot into the air, and have close clearances to combustibles, some as close as 4″. Also because certified wood stoves are mandated by the EPA in all fifty states.

Virtually all certified stoves have a ceramic window that looks like glass but is impervious to heat, through which you can enjoy the fire and keep up with the need  to adjust the wood or to feed in more.  I don’t recommend getting a stove with a catalytic combustor as they are more expensive and have a declining efficiency. The efficiency of a non-combustor-equipped stove never changes and newer standards have been met without combustors since 1990, when the current EPA standards were established.

The fire chamber in certified stoves is engineered to burn wood efficiently without smoldering, even when shut down all the way. This gives you more heat from each piece of wood while exhausting cleaner and hotter, thus almost completely eliminating creosote buildup in the chimney. By the way, never connect a 6″-exhausting certified stove into a 8″ chimney. Because of the engineered burn, all certified stoves are designed for a 6″ flue which has a stronger draft than an 8″. Be sure to use listed stovepipe and adhere to the clearances on the pipe and the stove for a safe installation. Your insurance company can deny a fire claim caused by a stove that is improperly installed or is not safety listed. Also, I recommend a wind-directional rotating cap on all wood stove installations. They are the solution to back drafting, caused by a high wind forcing itself down your chimney and filling your house with smoke. You will want one after the first time the smoke alarms wake you up in the middle of the night!

Here are some things to look for on a used wood stove :
• All legal wood stoves must have an EPA sticker on the back. This sticker shows the production date, efficiency, grams per hour (gph) of emissions, as well as the clearances to combustibles for various applications.
• The production date should be July 1, 1990 or later.
• Inside the firebox and above the secondary air tubes is the baffle plate. Look for warped baffle plates from overheating the stove. This is more common in a smaller stove used to heat a larger area. The steel plates are removable and can be replaced for about $50.
• A cracked glass can be replaced for about $75. This is usually Robax ceramic and is impervious to heat although it breaks like glass. The prevention is to make sure the log fits inside the stove before closing the door on it.
• If the stove needs a paint job, use Forrest Stove Bright paint. After wire-wheeling off the rust and loose paint and cleaning with lacquer thinner, fog on the first coat. Follow with a slightly heavier second coat, and finish with a normal third coat. This paint fully cures under heat so a small fire must be built initially, followed by a hotter fire until out-gassing is completed. When the smell goes away the paint is cured. Open the windows during the curing process.
• The braided gasket around the door can be replaced for around $20 and will need to be glued in place. The special glue is around $10.
• Firebricks can be purchased at your local wood stove store. They are around $4 each.

Once installed, a wood stove should give you a lifetime of trouble-free service. There is however some maintenance involved. The ash will need to be removed from time to time and the window cleaned daily. The inside of the stovepipe will need to be cleaned annually with a wire brush but don't be surprised if you don't find much creosote. The newer stoves burn clean, remember? They accomplish this by burning hotter inside the firebox and exhausting hotter (and cleaner) into the flue pipe. The newer flue pipes are packed with ceramic wool and rated to 2100 degrees. The unburned creosote that used to build up in the old triple-walled air-cooled flue pipes is sparse and, with annual maintenance, so are flue fires. The newer insulated pipes get hotter quicker and stay hot longer, thus increasing the draft and practically eliminating creosote buildup.

Keep your eyes peeled on Craigslist for a good deal on a used stove. Just last week I called on a newer Lopi for $400 but someone offered them $450 and they took it. That was a $1,800 stove when  old new four years ago and it was barely used. Once in a while I will find a certified stove in good shape for around $200. I am always on the lookout for used stoves for friends and sometimes I’ll turn one over for a profit.

If you buy a used stove manufactured after July 1, 1990, it will comply with the Phase II standards which are 7.5 gph of particulates. Washington  is the only state to have it’s own standards which are 4.5 gph. Most new stoves and some used ones will meet this standard and some are as low as 1-2 gph. Check “EPA Certified Stoves” online if you find a used stove you are considering. This site lists most of the stoves which have been certified but not all of them. Some stoves presently being manufactured in other countries are missing from the list.

Inside the house, I keep a weeks worth of firewood near the stove in brick bins built for that purpose. The raised hearth is 3 1/2″ thick concrete and full of rebar, allowing me to split kindling right on the hearth. Under the hearth is a large kindling drawer where I also keep paper. Implements are hanging on hooks nearby. I use a coal hod to carry out the ash and to carry in more kindling.

My favorite wood stove is a Brass Flame. They are certified of course, and are built like a Sherman Tank. They have a double-air opening for quick-starting the fire, they look good and burn efficiently. I have found used ones for several friends and relatives. I am a little prejudiced in this department; my brother developed the Brass Flame and it was the first stove to pass the emission standards without a catalytic combustor. All certified stoves on the market now copy his combustion process, the big secret being lots of secondary and tertiary air. He made 10,000 of them before selling to Earth Stove, who made them for a few years and then sold to a bigger company, who dropped the line. If you can find one, you won’t be disappointed! Other brands I look for are QuadraFire, Lopi, and Avalon but I will consider others, especially if they are in good shape.

When heating with wood, it is a good idea to keep a pot of water on the stove to replace the moisture removed by the dry heat. An old cast-iron kettle serves well for this purpose. Another addition that is very helpful is a ceiling fan, positioned close to the stove and used to move the heat away from the stove. Without a fan, the heat takes a longer time to fill the house. Since heat seeks cold, it does eventually warm the place up, but in the dead of winter, who wants to wait? This small addition makes a big difference!

One more thing that makes a big difference in helping to heat your home more efficiently is bringing in outside air directly to the stove. This is required in mobile homes and all new homes, but is a good idea in any home. If you have a crawlspace under your home, a 3″-4″ pipe into the crawlspace is adequate for this purpose. In my case, I  put in a 4″  pipe to open air before the slab was poured.  Pedestal stoves are designed for outside air while stoves with legs will need to be adapted. Special outside-air adapters can be ordered or made for any stove.

When buying a wood stove, look for one with a flat top on which you can cook your food in a pinch. All newer stoves have a baffle plate around which the exhaust must go and in the process the stove top heats up nicely. Stoves with a stepped-top lack the space for a frying pan. During power outages, your stove can do double duty, heating the home and cooking your supper!

To clean the ceramic glass in the morning when the stove is cold, I simply get a piece of newspaper wet with water and emulsify the creosote, scraping it off with a razor. Even the best stoves get buildup on the window.

It is comforting to have my three cords of oak firewood put up for the winter, knowing that if a storm or blizzard should blow through or the power should go out (sometimes for days) my family and I will be warm and able to cook on our trusty wood stove. Our kids remember those times as special, with all of us in the same room not far from the stove while outside the snow is piling up and the wind blowing. There is nothing like the steady warmth of wood heat to soothe the soul and warm the body. It is primal. To me, it seems the way God meant it to be!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

For most preppers, the action plan for a TEOTWAWKI scenario can be neatly categorized into basically one of two categories:  Bug in or Bug out.  Many people live in rural areas with sufficient security and provisions to be able to go to ground in the event of a disaster and ride out the storm.  “Sufficient” security might include bunkers, shooters, stockpiles of ammunition and weapons, spare parts, etc.  “Sufficient” provisions might be enough food to get the defense force and extended family of the principal through to the harvest, and enough seeds to ensure that the harvest will feed the crew indefinitely.  For many rural preppers, this scenario is an attainable goal.  For many urban preppers, however, this goal could never be realistically accomplished.  For that reason, we have to consider the possibility of bugging out.
There are some relatively standard considerations that almost anybody with a functional brain housing group would think through prior to bugging out.  Where am I going to get fuel?  What type of vehicle do I need?  How much food and water should I be taking with me?  Where am I going?  These are the basics of bugging out, and many of the conversations I see around the topic within the forums are geared towards that end.  These are great considerations, and they need to be considered as a bare minimum before attempting a bug out.  But, having experienced moving through combat zones for most of my adult life, I’d like to offer some other considerations that may not be so obvious.

As a caveat, these considerations are based upon several assumptions.  First, we are assuming that the power grid is down.  Second, we are assuming that the domestic security situation has degraded to the point that the police are no longer capable of providing safety and order (if they ever were capable to begin with).  Therefore, based upon those two assumptions, we have to further assume that traveling is a very dangerous activity.  People will be looking for targets of opportunity for any chance of finding food, water, or supplies. 
Here are some not-so-obvious considerations for bugging out based upon those assumptions:
What are my primary and alternate routes going to look like?  Yes, I said “alternate route.”  While it may be expedient to travel along paved roads to arrive at your bug out location, it may not be realistic.  There are several reasons why traveling along paved roads may not be the best idea you’ve ever had (remembering that we are assuming the security situation has degraded significantly):

  1. Paved roads are highly visible.  Traveling along paved roads will draw attention, particularly in a scenario where practically all vehicular traffic has ceased because of fuel shortages and security concerns.  Doing so may expose you to bands of roving thieves and other not-so-friendly types. 
  2. Bridges and overpasses make excellent choke points.  This means there is only one direction that you can travel, and it also means that you are in an extremely weak position to defend against a well-planned ambush.  It’s worth saying that if I weren’t a prepper who was working towards building supplies for my family, and the apocalyptic disaster happened upon me, I would probably use this method to feed my family.  A good ambush can be executed with a few well-placed individuals given the correct terrain.  An overpass or a bridge is the correct terrain.  It’s best just to avoid them.
  3. Roads may be impassable.  Think about a scenario where traffic was so bad that sat in their cars for days and didn’t move.  Many would eventually just leave the cars in the middle of the road and head home.  Remember, we’re talking about an urban situation here.  You might not even be able to fit your bug out vehicle down those roads. 
  4. Some people are capable of making shots at 500+ meters.  If you were driving down the side of a major highway, your enemies would be able to see you from far enough away that you would never hear the bullet that killed you.  There is relatively little cover and concealment on highways. (Obviously it is hard to drive through cover and concealment.) 

Since your primary route was probably a highway, I’d like to challenge you to come up with an alternate plan.  Let’s try it on foot this time, through the woods if possible, or at a bare minimum through back streets where ambushes would be less likely.  If you’re a smart cookie, as many of you are, the thought of reaching your bug out location on foot will immediately trigger several other considerations.  Here’s a small list of things to think about:

  1. How will I navigate?  Since we are assuming the power grid is down, you probably won’t have a charge on your fancy little GPS system (if the satellites are still functional).  You’re going to need a good, old-fashioned map and compass to get where you’re going.  Do you know how use land navigation techniques?  You’d better start thinking about taking a class. 
  2. How much food and water can you carry on your person?  This might necessitate changing your overall bug out location. 
  3. How good is the cover and concealment along your alternate route?  Will it provide sufficient concealment for your needs, or do you need to augment your concealment through camouflage clothing?  What type of camouflage is most effective in your environment?
  4. How much private property are you going to need to cross to arrive at your location?  Can you detour through a publicly owned National forest or other location where you are less likely to run into the security forces of other private citizens?  Remember, trespassing during a major disaster might get you shot repeatedly.

Where are my en-route safe havens?  “What the heck is a safe haven?” you may be asking.  Think Custer’s Last Stand.  Where are you going to go when the stuff hits the fan right in the middle of your trip to the bug out location? 
For obvious reasons, I recommend having as many safe havens built into your route as possible.  One safe haven for every mile or two would be ideal.  They need to be thoroughly discussed, known by all members of the travel party, and visibly marked on all of the maps (of which everyone should have a copy).  A good safe haven will offer limited entry access, ballistic protection, cover, and concealment.  Concrete buildings work great.  Bathrooms within concrete buildings work even better (there is only one door in, the doors can typically be locked from the inside, and they are usually made out of concrete).  In a pinch, a thick grove of trees can serve as a great safe haven as it offers the bare minimum of ballistic protection, cover, and concealment.  You get the idea.  Here are a few additional things to consider about safe havens:

  1. Public buildings such as fire stations and park buildings are less likely to be defended by gun-toting militia members.  You might even run into a friendly fireman who has medical knowledge if you’re lucky, but most likely all government operations will have ceased by this point.  If you choose to utilize someone else’s property for a safe haven, you need to be prepared to fight for it.  This might not be the best idea, considering you might be getting chased at the time.  Even Hitler couldn’t win a two front war.  Think about it.
  2. You need a running password.  In the event that your group is split up, everyone will have directions to rendezvous at the closest safe haven.  The first person to arrive will secure the location and wait.  If other members of the group are inbound in a hurry, they need to have some way to communicate that they are secure and not under duress.  I suggest sign/countersign.  It can be as simple as a number combination.  For instance, let’s say our number combination was seven.   I might challenge the runner with the number “Four.”  The runner would reply with a verbal “Three” and, since those two numbers add up to seven, I would know that all is well and not feel compelled to shoot my friend.
  3. Ideally, a safe haven would not be too far off of your route.  It’s best if they lie along your route so that everyone knows where they are and how to get there.  The fewer the barriers between your route and your safe haven, the more quickly you can travel there when SHTF.  For instance, a river between your route and your safe haven could be disastrous. 

Do I need geocaches of critical supplies?  Since we’re now on foot, we obviously can’t carry as much as we would like.  We might need extra food, supplies, medical kits, ammunition, and more.  Since we can’t reasonably carry them with us, we have no choice to but to store them along our route.  I suggest planning en-route waypoints where critical resupply caches can be pre-positioned.  I would bury them if at all possible, on uncontested land (like somewhere deep within a national forest).  Mark them on your map, and then build the waypoints into your route.  If you get there and don’t need the supplies, leave them alone.  You never know when you might come back through. 

Obviously, you would need to develop some way of storing your cache in such a way that your supplies would not be ruined.  You have to keep it dry and serviceable despite weather and potentially having been buries for a long time.  Also, you need to think of a way to mark the cache so that it’s obvious to you but won’t cause cousin Earl from the local farm to dig up your supplies out of curiosity. 
As a general rule, I recommend one geo cache for each day of foot travel required to reach your bug out location.  Of course, many people will label me paranoid and crazy for even suggesting the practice, but then I guess I am a bit batty. 

I hope this article has helped someone think of a few extra considerations about bugging out that might save their life if TEOTWAWKI ever actually happens.  As always, any prepping is better than no prepping, so take it one step at a time and do it over time as you become able.  You’ll never regret being prepared. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

In How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, you missed mentioning one of the great uses of "bypassed areas" -- that of an en route cache.  There is no question but that it would be plain stupid for any family to wait to leave the big cities and urban areas until the very last moment when TSHTF, urban riots have broken out, and the freeways have become one big parking lot full of shooting and looting.  But many families will want to hang on in the cities as long as possible because of employment, family commitments for the care of elderly relatives, and other reasons.  When they do leave, it would be much safer for them to quickly exit along the back roads with only the clothes on their backs and half a tank of gas than to take the time to stuff their vehicle full of survival goods and become a visible target of great interest to looters along the road. 
Their first destination would be their own unimproved wooded one acre lot in one of the "bypassed areas" within an hour's drive of their urban home, with only a small, used, stripped down camping trailer on it and maybe an outhouse.  It is not going to draw much interest from potential looters.  By stripped down camping trailer, I mean an old one with the wheels removed and sitting on concrete block.  Its propane tanks and battery would also be removed.  To an outsider looking in the window, it would look very Spartan with no supplies or anything useful.  There would be no source of water there.  So what good is such a property?
Somewhere on the property would be a 20 foot long metal CONEX shipping container completely buried under about a foot of soil (deep enough so you can cover it with plants and its location will not be obvious) and a specially constructed entrance to the back doors of the shipping container that is also buried under the same foot of soil and plants.  It might take an hour of shovel work to dig out the entrance to your buried shipping container.  This is your supply cache with the important supplies and gasoline that you will need to safely travel the rest of the way to your permanent retreat.  It also contains the wheels to your trailer along with the propane tanks, battery, generator, and plenty of gasoline for your vehicles and what ever else.  It contains food and water, and pre-positioned supplies that you would need for safe travel or to remain at that site for a few days or a little longer.
The advantage of such an arrangement is that there is little that is visible from the road to tempt thieves.  And if they loot an old, empty travel trailer - so what?  Your real cache is buried underground and is well out of sight.  It is also out of danger from forest fires that would likely burn your trailer to the ground.  In such a forest fire, you will not have lost anything that is not easily and inexpensively replaceable.   The best part of all -- such an acre of worthless ground that is covered with brush, stumps, and scrub trees should not cost very much.  The general impression that people will have of it will be, "This guy is really hurting if that is his retreat."
The disadvantage is that [in northern states] it is only likely to be accessible about nine months out of the year with snow closing the roads during the other three months.
Hope this helps and adds something to your work - Paul O.

JWR Replies: As has been discussed several times in the blog, CONEXes cannot be buried without concrete reinforcement. This is because they are designed to take loads only on their corners. With the weight of rain-soaked soil, their walls and roofs collapse. So, when all is said and done, it is actually more expensive to buy, reinforce, and bury a CONEX than it is to build a dedicated reinforced concrete shelter. From a practical standpoint, I'd instead recommend burying a much less expensive poly water tank with a man hatch cover just below the ground surface.

As for the camping trailer: Why have anything above ground at an unattended property? That just attracts junkies and assorted lowlifes. Storing a wall tent inside an underground cache makes more sense, to me. If you need to store a trailer, then make it a simple box trailer, with the wheels and lug nuts buried nearby. The advantage is that an open box trailer won't prove to be an attractive place for drug addicts to use as a recreational cabin.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Have you seen the latest reality television show, “Doomsday Preppers”, from National Geographic?  I made a mistake a few years ago – after 20 years of successfully resisting the cries and moans of my children, I gave in and allowed cable television to be installed in my house. Should have known better, but as they say, that’s a whole ‘nother subject.  Now, every week, National Geographic brings us “Doomsday Preppers,” Animal Planet serves up “Meet The Preppers,” Discovery beams in another episode of “Doomsday Bunkers” and the new pay-to-view internet network GBTV fires off a round of “American Preppers.”  Can some kind of copycat show from TLC be far behind? I guess maybe the good thing about these shows is that I no longer am tempted to confide in my friends about my efforts to be prepared for fear they might profile me into the same category as the folks they’re watching on television.  Better to keep it under the radar anyway.

I don’t really watch the shows but I’ve seen little bits and pieces of them as I walk through the room when they’re on and seeing the barns and bunkers filled with years’ supplies of food and water can give a guy a real sense of inferiority.  Am I doing enough?  How can I ever be as prepared as the stars of those shows?  Is my family at risk because I’m not taking this all seriously enough?  My total larder isn’t up to the level of what those guys spend in a single episode!  My steel trash cans filled with vacuum packed bags of rice, beans and oatmeal seem like just a thimble-full compared to the warehouses of canned goods kept by the celebrity preppers.  Since I’m not being paid thousands of dollars an episode to parade my efforts in front of a voyeuristic audience, I just don’t have the disposable income to lay up that kind of stash overnight.  Am I going to be a failure at this?  Not a chance.

In spite of the fact that we’re experiencing 8% real inflation and even though I live in a state where the economy is in a deep ditch and I subsequently haven’t had a raise or a bonus in four years, I’ve still been able to squeeze $10 a week out of my budget to engage in the process of laying up the things I might need WTSHTF.  I would dare say most people waste more than $10 a week on things like soda, fast food and movie rentals.  Think about your own expenditures for a moment.  How much could you save just by brown-bagging your lunch?  Plenty - like $5 or more per day!  Or kiss Starbucks goodbye and take your own coffee from home – treat yourself to a really nice travel mug and some quality beans and you’ll still save.  My wife and I do the cash-in-envelopes budget thing so on pay day I go to the bank and take with me our cash for the week.  In that cash is my $10 for prepping.  Lately I’ve been swinging by the nearby discount grocery store and grabbing ten bucks worth of rice, beans, peanut butter or cooking oil, and when I get home after work, into the larder they go.  Or some weeks I’ll stop at a big box department store and grab a couple 2-packs of propane cylinders or a gallon of Coleman fuel.  If I skip a week because the beans and rice are piling up on the kitchen counter waiting for me to vacuum pack them with the FoodSaver, I’ll grab a box of ammo or a couple replacement chimneys and spare wicks for my oil lamps.  While the 15-minutes-of-fame guys on TV might be spending $1,000 a month on supplies, I can’t do that.  But $10 a week is $500 a year and that’s a measurable step in the right direction that almost anyone can afford.  It would be nice to do this all overnight but you’ll be surprised at how your stockpile grows if you just are consistent and disciplined about working your smaller scale plan.

Sometimes, we’ll save up our $10 weekly allowance and splurge for something special or bigger.  We live about an hour from a large settlement of Amish folks and they have a great mercantile in their community filled with items designed for simple living.  My wife and I took a Saturday awhile back and drove there for the day.  We came home with an awesome stoneware crock for making sauerkraut and a pile of re-usable canning lids.  I was drooling over the hand powered grain grinders but we’ll have to save a little longer before I can come home with one of those!  They also sell basic foods in bulk in that community.  We came home with a 25 lb. sack of oatmeal for $11.25 and a big brick of Strike Anywhere matches.  If you’re fortunate enough to live near a store like this you can find almost anything you need for off-the-grid living at very reasonable prices.  If you don’t, just click on one of this blog’s banner ads and send a little business to one of them.
     I’ve also learned that the local big box membership warehouse isn’t necessarily the best place to find things on the cheap.  I assumed that if I bought a big bag or rice there that would be the cheapest way to go.  Wrong.  My wife the Coupon Queen showed me that it’s actually cheaper to buy in three-pound bags at the discount grocery – 30 lbs. for $16.90 versus about $25 at the “club”  store. Shop around and save.

     You might be asking, “Okay, but from a practical standpoint, what can I really lay up for $10 a week?”  Well, here’s what I’ve been doing:

Unit Cost
+/- $10 Purchases
Rice     3 lb. bag @ $1.69  6 bags = $10.14
Dried Beans 1-1/2 lb. bag @ $1.99 5 bags = $9.95
Vegetable Oil  48 oz. bottle @ $2.49 4 bottles = $9.96
Olive Oil    17 oz. bottle @ $3.49   3 bottles = $10.47
Flour 5 lb. bag @ $1.65  6 bags = $9.90
Sugar 4 lb. bag @ $2.39 4 bags = $9.56
Peanut Butter    18 oz. jar @ $2.29 4 jars = $9.16
Wood Matches 3 ea. 250 ct boxes @$2.89  9 boxes = $9.18
Coleman Fuel  1 gal. can @ $9.68 1 gal. = $9.68
1 lb. Propane Tanks    2 pk. @ $5.37 4 tanks = $10.74
Ivory Bar Soap  10 pk. @ $4.27 20 bars = $8.54
Winking Owl Cabernet $2.69/bottle (really!)  3 bottles = $8.07
Coleman lantern mantles 2 pk. @ $2.37 8 mantles = $9.48
Oil lamp wicks 5 pk. @ $2.07 25 wicks = $10.35
Chlorine bleach 96 oz. bottle @ $1.19 8 bottles = $9.52
Toothpaste  $1.79/tube   6 tubes = $10.74

The key is to be consistent and disciplined and make that $10 purchase every week.  A few months into it you will be amazed at what you’re accomplishing.  A year down the road, you’ll be experiencing a lot less dread about facing an uncertain future.  Two years . . . well, you get the picture.  Obviously there is much more to be done before I can call myself “prepared” for a grid down situation or the collapse of civilization as we know it, but I’m not convinced that we never really “arrive” anyway.  I’m finding it’s more of a journey.  I’ll do it this way while the lights are still on and look for new ways if and when they go out. 

Not to digress too far from my main topic of $10 prepping, but we’re also doing additional things on the home front that will help us be further prepared.  We left the city six years ago for four acres of paradise in the country.  Even though I hadn’t yet begun prepping at that time, I thought now that I was a country gentleman I should do something country-gentlemanish so I put up a little chicken pen and bought some chicks at the local tractor store’s “Chick Days.”  We’ve been raising birds and selling pastured eggs at our roadside stand ever since – a child could do this and succeed at it.  And since my favorite food group is bacon, a couple years later my oldest son and I trenched in some “hog panels” and built a shelter out of an old pickup truck camper shell and put in a few feeder pigs.  I now raise premium Berkshire pork for our freezer and for a few friends and family.  Food, water, shade and six months – that’s about all it takes to raise a hog.  Now we’re constructing a cow pen and I’ll be picking up a recently-weaned Angus steer next month.  It’s comforting to know that I can actually raise livestock and the meat is just so much better than the factory farm stuff you get at the store.  By the way, the livestock operation doesn’t fit into the $10-a-week scheme but rather comes out of our grocery budget.  I’ve also started gardening at almost zero expense.  Last year I grew 64 tomato plants and my wife canned over 160 quarts of various tomatoes, juice and sauces.  We also canned copious amounts of sweet corn and green beans.  There’s a real learning curve to gardening, though, so start now. You’ve heard it before – if you wait until the grid goes down you’ll starve to death before you master growing your own food.  Start with a few tomato plants, some beans, a few zucchini and a potato barrel.  Just take it one step at a time and eventually you’ll get somewhere.  Once again, it’s about being consistent and disciplined.

Like the Good Book says, “A Prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”  (Proverbs 22:3) Prudent or “simple” – what’s it going to be for you?  While $10-a-week prepping won’t get you on TV, if it’s all you can afford (like it is for me) I believe it will earn you the title of Prudent.  While you won’t be a celebrity like the television preppers, you will be at least somewhat supplied in the event of TEOTWAWKI.  And if that day doesn’t come for awhile yet and you’re consistent and disciplined between now and then you’ll be a lot more than just somewhat prepped.  You’ll be ready to face an uncertain future with one less thing to worry about.

Friday, March 23, 2012

James Wesley:
The author of the article “A prepper’s guide to Beginning Ethanol fuel distillation” is using the wrong recipe for his mash.  Corn will not ferment unless it is “malted” either by sprouting the grain and then drying and crushing it, or by treating crushed corn with the enzyme diastase.  The old, illegal, moonshiners did this by sprouting and then drying whole, fresh corn.  The enzyme treatment is usually done by incubating the crushed corn with a malted barley high in diastase content, such as malted six-row barley.

When your author ferments his corn/sugar mix the only thing he is fermenting is the sugar.  The corn is wasted.
This is because the yeast cannot break down and metabolize starch but rather only simple sugars.  The crushed corn is high in starch but has very little sugar.
Even more important:  Do not drink this distillate!  Not only is this illegal, it is also dangerous.  Production of safe to drink ethanol requires fractional distillation because the first, more volatile, components coming off the still are highly toxic.  Among these is methanol (wood alcohol) but butanol and other nasty byproducts are also present.  There are books available that tell how to do this safely but it is still illegal in the USA to produce alcohol for consumption without a license.   Not recommended. - Mark R.

D.P. 's article "Fire -Your Partner in Survival was very good! 
I would like to add that firewood storage life depends greatly on the type of wood.  Oak and other similar types can be stored for well over 20 years with no problems. (Especially if split and covered with a quality tarp or stored in a woodshed with a good roof.) But in contrast, un-split white birch will start to rot in a single year. Poplar and some other species also degrade quickly.
D.P. is right on about the type of heater to use.  When I built my house back in the very early 1970's, I just had to have a conventional Heatilator type fireplace for the open fire romance.  I should have listened to the old timers back then who told me to just put in a stone hearth and plain wood stove!  In the end, I wound up closing the fireplace damper, filling the flue with fiberglass insulation and putting a steel cap on it!   Now I'm just using the wood stove in the basement [with a separate chimney] to easily heat the entire house with lots less wood than the fireplace consumed.
Gasoline to run chainsaws can be kept for a very long time with the addition of PRI-G stabilizer. The same company also makes a stabilizer for diesel, called PRI-D.
(I recently started a gas engine that has been sitting for over 12 years with the original gas in the tank. Started right up and ran fine.  (I did add a little extra PRI G every few years during it's storage time)
I have no financial interest in PRI G or PRI D. I'm just a very satisfied user.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Very Important Introductory Note: Owning a still is legal in the United State according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). It is not legal to use your still to Distill Ethanol Fuel without a permit nor is it legal to Distill Spirits for personal use. I created my still after watching countless YouTube videos and reading various reference web sites. I made one small batch of Distilled Ethanol Fuel, less than 1 liter, which I later found out was illegal in the US because I did not have a permit for it- even though it was a one-time experiment! Well- I now have a permit. After going through this process I believe, that every serious prepper would be well served by reading this essay in full, making a simple still , and then deciding on whether to legally test the process or just have it as a backup tool.

Now to begin formally- Every serious prepper should understand the basics of distilling and have a small still set up and ready to use, just in case. Why? Well a still is a terrific multi purpose tool to have at your bug-in location. With a still you have the ability to produce Ethanol and make Spirits, both for trade and personal use. You can also use a still to make Distilled Water – useful in a number of ways. If you want to get specific, a still is a tool that will help you separate liquid substances through the application of heat. Upon different boiling points of your mash, different liquids will be released as vapor. A still will create the environment for the separation and then using a cooling process, will return the separated vapor back to liquid form for collection.

In the event of a protracted failure of the current social contract or an extended period of hyperinflation, you will have a both a tool and trade. With enough investment in time and materials you will have a renewable source of fuel for your non-diesel vehicles. If you are like me, it is just fun to learn and potentially very useful in case TSHTF.

Since this is a Beginner's Guide, I'm only going to share some very basic information about stills and the capabilities of Ethanol. Disclaimer: I am also a beginner at Distilling Ethanol . I am fairly certain I am not the only Survival Blog reader to experiment in this direction but it looks like several years have passed since the topic has been addressed and not to the level that any prepper could start out with and 'take to the bunker' in my opinion. Let me say that there are definitely a lot of folks who know a whole lot more than I do (especially about various yeasts, mashes, enzymes, still design and basically everything about Ethanol Fuel production) but I do feel comfortable relating the basics to an audience. Please keep in mind this is a Beginner's Guide, and there are a very, very many ways to skin this proverbial cat. This is a quick and dirty bang-up that just about anyone can put into use over the course of a weekend like I did- as a proof of concept . You will not learn truly efficient production of Ethanol Fuel from this essay, but you will be exposed to possibilities and resources to guide you further in your studies and I encourage you to study further.

My goal is to give the SurvivalBlog community enough information and resources to quickly and legally work through a proof of concept Ethanol Reflux Still with capital outlay of less than $100 and to provide enough information so that even if you do not work a still, you will be able to tell if someone else is actually doing enough of a correct process to not cause you problems.

Why do you want to have a still? Well for me the ability to produce Ethanol was of terrific importance. The ability to produce Spirits was a vague intellectual interest as well, but most importantly is the idea of personal responsibility and self sufficiency that I believe many preppers share. Sure- we stock pile food and ammunition but those are non-renewable resources. If you don't have the capability or desire to grow your own food and raise your own livestock you still need some sort of useful skill that will allow you to retain your capital resources and focus on growing through other sustainable enterprise. Distilling Ethanol for fuel seemed like a good choice to investigate further. After all – garbage is eternal .

So what is so great about Ethanol? Here is my short list.

Ethanol is a clean burning fuel (much cleaner than even bio-diesel) that can work in your vehicle and can be used as a cooking fuel. Ethanol mixes very well with Kerosene – allowing for an extension of supply. 100 years ago Ethanol mixed with Turpentine was often used for lighting (Just in case you don't store kerosene). Ethanol can also be added to gasoline (It must be dehydrated first!) and with the correct supplies and purifying process you can even make your own E85 (85% Ethanol and 15% Gasoline) fairly easily and at a greatly reduced cost than what you experience at the pump.

(Read: potential to extend supply of existing gasoline and to further create your own Fuel if that supply is exhausted. Some Survival Blog readers are sure to have non-Ethanol unleaded gas stored for a rainy day due to its extended storage life. How about planning on adding Ethanol on an as-needed basis? Just a thought. For me, it is the potential of 50 gallons of Fuel at 17 MPG +/- or 100 Gallons of 50% Ethanol Mix at about 14 MPG – the math kind of speaks for itself there as long as the supplies exist to create the Ethanol Fuel as needed.)

Many vehicles sold today are Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) that are designed by the manufacturer to run either Gasoline or E85 or any mix between the two. If you don't have an FFV vehicle you CAN re-chip what you do have if it is electronic and whilst you may experience more maintenance- you will certainly save money in fuel costs if you are making your own fuel at a reasonable production level and have close enough to the same mileage per gallon. If you have a carburetor in your vehicle you can account for the lower temperature, slower burn of Ethanol Alcohol by retarding your timing, having a multi-fire distributor and increasing the Air to Fuel ratio. If you run straight (100%) Ethanol Alcohol as a fuel there are more considerations involving fuel lines, jets, gaskets, cylinder compression and filters. (I am only brushing the surface here as this topic could easily be its own essay but I will say that it greatly surprised me to find that the first automobiles were all fueled by Ethanol and not gasoline.)

Fuel is a very important consideration in the present environment. As an example of how producing Ethanol Fuel could help me personally, I drive an old Full Size Jeep with no electronics – I would just need to retard the timing a bit and possibly fiddle with the choke if I put a Ethanol mix into it – I do not plan to go E85, I might try out a 25% Ethanol mix and then see if 50% Ethanol mix worked well with minimal changes to the motor, fuel delivery and ignition systems. If I did a 50% Ethanol mix then the price to fill my tank drops about 25% according to my estimates- but the trade off is the time spent managing the operation safely and consistently.

Ethanol stores well – in an airtight container it will sit for years- if left open to the air it will suck moisture out of the atmosphere and gradually lose potency. Ethanol is a common solvent and even has medicinal properties, most commonly used to cleanse wounds (but ouch! it stings). You can also whip up Alcohol stoves out of tin cans if you decide you need a cooking surface quickly or power an actual alcohol stove – which delivers a nice constant heat... Quite a few uses really.

Best of all, in my opinion, Ethanol alcohol comes from the fermentation of yeasts that eat sugar out of starches and cellulose. While corn is traditionally thought of for a mash to produce ethanol (mostly for economic concerns for production), in reality it can be produced (though not as efficiently) from almost anything that you might normally compost from your leftovers...if you have the right enzymes to facilitate the breakdown of starches and cellulose into sugars. Some examples would be Beets, Carrots, Potatoes, Sugar Cane, any Sorghum grain, Artichokes and especially for those of you in the Midwest, Switchgrass is apparently an excellent producer of Ethanol. You can literally create Ethanol Fuel out of garbage with the right process and enzymes- again it wont be as efficient as with, say, Sugar Cane (which is what Brazil uses) but you get the idea. Many Ethanol producers clean and sell the waste mash as feed for livestock- depending on what you are fermenting this may also be a possibility for you. I don't have any livestock so after I was done with the mash, it went to the compost bin (where it would have been anyway), but if you ramp up to a serious production level Ethanol operation, you can usually use the leftover corn mash as hog feed at the very least. Yeast eats sugar and not corn or vegetable matter. Your mash uses temperature and maybe enzymes to help release the sugar from the starch or cellulose so you have a better idea of what your waste material is if you choose to use it as feed.

See the Wikipedia page on Ethanol for more information about this useful substance.

I recently made my first Reflux Still at a cost of $75 in one afternoon. This was not a 'Production Still', but served as a test in theory. With this small still, I can distill 5 gallons of corn mash or sugar water into approximately 1 liter +/- of Ethanol Fuel, which was my main purpose. There are many types of stills, very basic ones are functionally no different than a Pressure Cooker or Stock Pot with a hose poking out for the Steam/Condensate to pass through and a bucket of cold water to help the Ethanol Alcohol go back into liquid form. More advanced types, such as the Reflux Still I made, have a length of (usually Copper or Stainless Steel) pipe with non reactive stuffing in the pipe like glass or stainless steel marbles. I used Stainless steel scouring pads. This extra 'stuffing' helps greatly to catch condensate and 'purify' the end result. The general pot and tube method may be able to generate as high as 75%-80% ethanol which is not fuel grade but fine for Spirits. Most of the online videos showing folks making Rum or Spirits use this method which is illegal and not practical for producing Ethanol Fuel. The Reflux Still method can go as high as 96% which is much closer to fuel grade (100% Alcohol) for sure. My test run using baker's yeast had about ½ cup of the first Ethanol distillate that measured almost 90% alcohol but the results quickly lowered in Alcohol percentages, just to give you an idea.

My simple Reflux Still is a 30” length of 1 inch copper pipe stuffed with 2 stainless steel wire scouring pads-cut in half (solid core ribbon and not covered thread). There are 2, 1-inch 90 degree elbows soldered to the top to form an upside down U shape. The water cooling jacket is formed from the other side of the upside down U shape. There is a 1 inch to ½ inch reducer that is soldered to a 12 inch length of ½ inch copper pipe which provides the outlet for the Alcohol. The Water Jacket (for cooling) consists of 2, 1 inch to ½ inch Reducer Ts that are capped and soldered together with ½ inch holes drilled in the caps. 2 additional lengths of ½ inch copper pipes are soldered to the Reducer Ts to form the Water Inlet and Water Outlet. Each of the 3, ½ inch pipes protruding from the water jacket are fitted with ½ inch male adapters to fit hoses onto.

The main Reflux Chamber is added to a 2 gallon Stock Pot which has a 1 inch hole drilled into the cover. I supported the Still Reflux Chamber by adding a 1 Inch T section to the bottom of the Reflux Chamber and bolting the T wings to the Lid. The lid is held onto the Stock pot by three Vice grips set firm but not crazy tight. Now a lot of folks will use a pressure cooker here for the gasket seal and safety valve (which is more energy efficient and more recommended than what I did). I used the vice grips and coated the Pot Lid and top of the Stock Pot with a flour and water mixture to provide a seal of sorts that will still vent a bit without blowing up. If you decide to use a Pressure Cooker (again, recommended but keep in mind you will be at 15 psi rather than the 1-3 psi that I am with my set up - just a thought.) then you will probably spend more than $100 for your Proof of Concept unless you get lucky at a Thrift Store – remember you will have to drill through the lid – some of the older cast aluminum pressure cookers are quite thick.

If you decide to use a Stock Pot (or a 55 gallon steel drum for that matter) and are concerned about a buildup of pressure – a very simple pressure release valve to consider using is another scrap piece of pipe sticking up out of the lid with a weighted can over it (maybe a ½ oz or 1 oz fishing sinker weight for example- heck even a small rock would work)...this will bubble up and release your steam when/if the pressure gets high enough (1-3 psi was my target, rather like a normal pot lid) and allow you to proceed with extra caution and safety.

I used Lead Free Solder and Flux and also used JB Weld on the hole in the Stock Pot Lid. The capabilities of JB Weld go to 600 degrees, far above the 170 – 215 degree temperature your pot will cook mash in.

Now with your still ready- you can make a quick mash and get to producing Ethanol.

The first step is to thoroughly clean everything! If you use a plastic bucket for the mash to ferment then use a non abrasive cleaner, but clean everything at least two times! Make sure the bucket is a food grade. If you have a glass carboy great – clean it. I also steamed the inside of the Reflux Still for 30 minutes before I got the mash cooking.

Quick Mash- Mix a 5 pound bag of corn masa (not flour- you want it grainy but not clumpy!) with a 5 pound bag of sugar in a plastic 5 gallon food grade bucket. Add bottled or filtered water to close to the top of the 5 gallon bucket. Stir it around real good and add a packet or two of some simple baker's yeast. Stir it around some more getting it good and oxygenated. Then cover it and let it sit for 2-3 days. (If you feel the need for a one-way vent then a simple way to do it is to drill a small hole in your bucket lid and tape a surgical glove over the hole then use a needle to poke a small hole in one of the fingers. You will see the fingers of the glove partially inflate while the mash ferments.) Agitate the mash again real good after 2-3 days by shaking the bucket- you don't need to open it. The yeast is done fermenting the sugars to alcohol when all the sediment stays at the bottom and is no longer partially suspended. This usually takes about 4-5 days.

Now you are ready to distill the Mash.

Get yourself a heat source and don't use your kitchen range unless your family is particularly forgiving of strange and potentially foul odors permeating your home. Ideally you have a something like a propane turkey fryer element or an electric hotplate set up in a safe and controlled environment. Get a bucket full of ice water and a small submersible pump for the water jacket. Create a closed loop of cold water in to the water sleeve and hot water back into the bucket. Apply your heat and monitor temperature. I found that a handheld digital infrared thermometer worked well for my one-time experiment unless you want to spring for some pipe surface thermometers at additional cost. It does require you to be more hands-on, constantly watching and measuring temperature, but this was only a one-time proof of concept test – you can always grab a good book or a friend and a deck of cards and remember to manage your production run as safely as possible.

Since the Reflux chamber of my simple still was only secured with vice grips, I also tied 2 safety guides to the U bend at the top of the pipe just to be extra sure that the apparatus wouldn't tip over unexpectedly- you might want to do the same. Be on the lookout for steam leaks - Alcohol vapor can be explosive so be sure to test your still and carefully monitor for Steam leaks- if you have a leak that you didn't catch when boiling water you should stop and fix it before you continue your production, especially since this still is attached directly to the mash pot, which is being heated. Be Safe!

The alcohol will begin to boil off at about 170 degrees. My Reflux still showed signs of boiling closer to 180 degrees F. The water jacket part of your still should bring the temperature down to about 70-80 degrees F at the outlet which is about perfect for the Ethanol to turn back into liquid form. As the alcohol level decreases, the temperature of the mash and the (Stock Pot) will increase. When your mash pot reads close to 215 degrees then your mash is done producing Ethanol and is starting to produce Steam Water. The entire production run for this small still should last about 2.5 hours, I stopped at about 100 minutes. A larger Mash Pot will of course take longer to heat...my advice is to do what I did, start small to get a feel for it, and of course get an ATF permit first to be legal and check with your County for additional requirements.

Now a quick note on using Ethanol as fuel for your car. Do not take your Ethanol from this production and pop it in your gas tank! Fuel Grade Ethanol is 100% alcohol and the very best you can get with any still is going to be around 96% alcohol. My still's total production from this experiment averaged only 76% Alcohol when totaled together– you don't want that anywhere near your engine! To make sure all of the water is out of the Ethanol you need to treat your batch with Zeolite chunks (which is a molecular sieve that absorbs the extra water content). Zeolite is expensive – expect to pay north of $100-$200 for enough of the type 3A gravel chunks to be worthwhile but it is infinitely reusable, soak your Ethanol in the Zeolite chunks overnight and strain out the 100% Ethanol- Dry your Zeolite chunks over your BBQ periodically and you are good to go. Also Invest in a hydrometer to double check your alcohol percentages (and look like a mad scientist when doing it- I put on a white lab coat for full effect) – a hydrometer is usually around $20 and recommended to make sure you are fuel grade before adding Ethanol into your gas tank. Water in your gas tank is bad!

Ok- so you have made Ethanol. Would you be surprised to learn that nearly the exact same process is how you go about making Spirits? (Remember- the ATF says distillation of Spirits for personal use is 'impractical' due to numerous permits and taxes that are to be paid) Molasses makes Rum, Potato makes Vodka, so on and so forth. There are additional nuances for each type of Spirit but now you know the basics for sure. Your simple production run of Ethanol from above “could” be divided and proofed down (watered) and flavored to make Schnapps or homemade Kahlua for example, so your quick and dirty production is potentially not worthless...it is just very strong and somewhat impure drinking alcohol. So for about $10 in raw materials for the mash – depending on what flavoring you use and how strong you like it- you can probably get 3-4 bottles of homemade Spirits which is, again, not legal to make for personal use according the ATF, but in the event of the End of the World it is reasonable to assume the ATF may either overlook your transgression or be otherwise occupied.

Now I do feel compelled to state that this simple Ethanol still is designed for Fuel and not Spirits- it will certainly kick out trace amounts of other alcohols that are not good to digest – like Methanol and Butanol let alone having JB Weld holding some seams...so just keep in mind this is not the right set up or process for making quality Spirits, at a very minimum you would want to proof the product down to 40% Alcohol give or take and you would need a series of food grade charcoal filters to help clean up the Product before you should even consider drinking it(and I'm not sure I would even trust that too much), you will see what I mean if you tackle this experiment using my quick examples! For making Spirits really drinkable the process is called 'polishing' and normally takes anywhere from 1 week to a month of soaking activated carbon in the Distilled Ethanol and then filtering the carbon dust out of the Alcohol to remove the bad stuff that gives to 'yuck factor' to moonshine and turns the product into something more like Vodka, tasteless and odorless.

Remember, the point of this essay is for Ethanol Fuel Production . Please take the time to familiarize yourself with the legalities, the YouTube videos that are everywhere about Distilling generally gloss over the legal requirements if they are mentioned it at all. It is a mess that you do not want to get involved with if, for some reason, the ATF does a check on your Homemade Liqueur Operation because you post it on YouTube and you are found to have homemade Distilled Spirits or Ethanol that has not been denatured. Then they find out you are a prepper and have more than three days of stored food, then they notice you have more than one magazine for your pistol and more than 50 rounds of ammunition in your house...I am sure you get the idea.

Here is how my production with baker's yeast as first-time experiment turned out.

1.75 gallons of mash started to boil at 47 min at 182 degrees F. The chamber read 105F, between the water cooling pipes read 95F, the top read 111F and the jacket read 74F. After 10 minutes my product was filmy and pungent, and measured 89%-92% Alcohol. 12 minutes later the pot measured 189F, the chamber 111F, between the cooling pipes read 89F, the top measured 101F and the cooling jacket read 80F. At this point I have about 2 cups of product but the alcohol percentage for the second cup reads only 74% alcohol – far less film and stink. The temperature readings stayed approximately the same for another 50 minutes. The production of Ethanol was about 3.5 cups. Total alcohol measure of entire production was 76% Alcohol. So- I got about 3.5 cups of 76% Ethanol Alcohol after about 1.5 hours and could have run the production longer but decided not to. Note- Alcohol percentages in the output dropped considerably over time.

Now I need to try out champagne yeast or turbo yeast for extra alcohol content, et cetera to really see how much Ethanol fuel I could really net from capital outlay – but I think you get the idea here, making a quality Ethanol product isn't just a wham-bang deal, its needs some precise expertise to make it really functional and worthwhile. Consider also that this simple Reflux Still also leaves something to be desired when compared to one designed by a professional...but it is pretty inexpensive and it works better than pot with a copper tube sticking out of it for close enough to a Fuel grade product to be workable in a pinch.

Now that you have done a simple run with your still, you are well positioned to explore using different yeasts for increased alcohol production (baker's yeast obviously isn't the best). If you work out an agreement with a local farm for example – you may be able to buy your bulk corn- mill it down and instead of adding sugar, add certain enzymes to your mash to facilitate a more natural breakdown of starches for sugars. After you are done with your production, the leftover corn mash can be rinsed and dried and used as feed. My understanding is that normally 100 gallons of mash will produce about 10 gallons of fuel grade Ethanol if you have a really tight process...which mathematically fits the production made from my test run of 1.75 gallons of mash to get about 3.5 cups of moderate to high proof Ethanol. Buy corn in bulk for about $7 a bushel (on the exchanges at least) which is about 70 pounds – just one bushel would net you about 40 gallons of mash give or take, or you can just use bulk sugar if you like. Enzymes are a little pricey as a capital outlay but last a long time. You could probably expect to get your fuel grade Ethanol cost down to between $1.50-$2 per gallon if you got serious with it, maybe less is you re-sold or bartered the mash as livestock feed.

Okay, now for some more specific legal considerations. Before you make anything with a still, you need to check with your County jurisdiction about obtaining a permit. You will also need to be registered with the ATF and in case of an inspection you will need to know how to denature your Ethanol so that it cannot be used for homemade Spirits. Form 5110.74 is the document for a Fuel Distiller and they will want to know the general layout of where your still will be located on your property. They do not want to see it in your back yard patio or in an attached garage or next to your least favorite neighbor's bedroom window so keep in mind safety and practicality. Use an outbuilding 20-50 feet away from your home and other structures if at all possible. There is no cost to file for the ATF permit and they do not even require your social security number, however you will still need to invest time at the local level to track down the correct process for your jurisdiction.

For making Homemade Spirits by Distilling with the intent for personal consumption – again, be aware that it is NOT ok according the the ATF. Also I want to remind you all again that even a one time experiment such as this one (even if you are 12 years old and need a science fair project) can only legally be done by obtaining a permit through the ATF BEFORE you make Ethanol Fuel. I did not find out about the permit requirements until after my first batch because I watched too many You Tube videos so learn from my mistake. I do have a permit now, so I count it as a learning experience.

Now for some more End of the World considerations about distilling Ethanol Fuel. The process takes time and makes a stink. I found the smell noticeable at 20 feet and I can imagine it getting much worse if you are fermenting garbage because it is SHTF time. It might not be a good idea to have a still operating right next to your bug out location or biggest cache. Alcohol is, of course, flammable and Ethanol is particularly hard to see when lit unless it is mixed with Kerosene for example. It is fairly easy to separate your mash pot (which is on a heat source) from the Reflux chamber, unlike my quick and dirty example. This is recommended for safety reasons especially if you cannot watch your still while the Alcohol is being separated from the mash (but you should always watch your product run and have fire extinguishers on hand – I know- its pickle when you are dealing with the End of the World, but try to be as safe as possible under all circumstances, remember that alcohol vapor can explode and treat accordingly!). Fully off-grid Solar Stills could be engineered using mirrors, a Fresnel lens or a parabolic mirror but you will need to carefully consider temperature management. It would be fun to think through how to tackle that one!

I think I have covered all of the basics pretty well, and maybe a bit more than the 'basics' but these are the key points I feel preppers should be aware of regarding this alternative do-it-yourself Fuel Source and its capabilities. Incidentally, by reading this essay you now know a few key questions to ask someone else who might be making Ethanol Fuel or Spirits to see if they know what they are doing in case TSHTF, if they do not filter or polish for Spirits and have no idea about dehydrating the Alcohol for Fuel you know the quality will be lacking...which may lead to complications that would be otherwise avoidable.

Good Luck!

Some of the very best resources I have found to help you dig deeper:

Robert Warren's Site on making your own fuel If you don't go to any other link – go to this one, it is the best!

Home Distillation of Alcohol for a terrific breakdown of different stills and Home Spirit production

ATF Permit (Form 5110.74)

ATF FAQ for Distilled Spirits - Don't do it! Read the penalties.

Mother Earth News Articles – Chapter 7 Distillation Process

Mother Earth News Alcohol Fuel Basics

Alcohol Can Be A Gas – Terrific video

Rainier Distillers – Excellent FAQ and source for Zeolite, Enzymes and Yeasts

Friday, February 24, 2012

To say we have had a mild winter here in Iowa is an understatement to say the least. That was until recently. It would be safe to say that with temperatures in the 50 degree range I have gotten a little complacent this winter. Like many who read SurvivalBlog I spend time watching the news and trying to keep an eye on the big picture. At least in this case it came at the expense of some of the details. Like everything in life I would like to remind myself as well as all my Brothers and Sisters out there that might read this that like all things in life we need to take a balanced approach.
We did have a snow storm and nature reminded us that it was still winter. I guess this would be one of those situations that Attitude made the difference in the whole day. That was something else that I think I may have forgotten. At my house we don’t prep just to survive. If all I was interested in was surviving I would not put so much time and effort into what we have done. Personally I want to survive with a life worth living.  I personally am not someone that is going to wonder through the woods with a backpack eating bugs having lost everyone and everything I love. If they are going to get to the people and pets that I love and care for then they are going to have to go through me to get there. So if those things are gone they would have had to take me out to get there. So while I’m here I might as well enjoy the life that I have.
Instead of taking the doom and gloom look at what all went wrong let’s take a positive outlook on the day and see what I was able to learn from our experience. Life is a choice. Where you are in life is a sum of the decisions you have made so you are exactly where you have chosen to be. Look at it this way: If you are now willing to make changes to your lifestyle such as giving up cable or eating out then you have made a conscious choice. You have chosen to keep things exactly the way they are. Since you are not willing to do anything different you must be happy with the way things are in your life. So let’s take a look at where the choices I have made took me for the day.
Waking up to about 4 inches of snow meant that my first duty of the morning was to get out and get rid of the snow off the driveway and sidewalks. Not a big deal. My Cub Cadet has a two stage snow blower on it and I race my neighbor to see who can do the others sidewalk first.

The first thing I notice is this has got to be the heaviest and wettest snow I can remember in a long time. As soon as you step down on the snow it instantly turns to ice on the sidewalk under your feet. This is the first time I can ever remember my machine struggling to throw the snow out of the way. I’m usually having to angle the shoot down so the snow does not go too far and end up where I don’t want it. I happily spend an hour or so removing the snow from our property and a couple of my elderly neighbors. Rats, Rick has already gotten the sidewalk. Score one for him. I’ll get him next time.

I pull the tractor back into the garage and notice that it is unusually dark inside. I thought I had turned on the lights in the garage when I went in but must not have. Well no big deal there is plenty of light coming in from the open garage door. I put the tractor away and pull my truck back in and prepare to go back into the house. Like most people I go to walk out the door and hit the automatic garage door switch and nothing happens. Click, Click, Click? I looked over and I had turned on the lights but they were not on? I guess all this heavy wet snow has taken down some of the trees in the area.

A power failure is not a huge deal. I pull the release cord on the door to disconnect it from the drive and close the door manually. Here is where our first learning experience comes into play. Don’t you just hate those? With the door being connected to an automatic garage door opener there are no operating locks on it. Being an accountant by trade I’m not the most mechanical person on the planet so I have to subscribe to the K.I.S.S. principle.  So believing in this instead of trying to do something elaborate I just grab a set of vice grips and clamp them on the rail to secure the garage. It would have been no big deal if the door had been closed when the power went out but since the side was all the way back there was no way to secure the door. A nice set of Vice-Grips on the rail worked quite well in my opinion.

At this point my vicious guard dogs decide to wake up and come downstairs and see how much of my breakfast they can talk me out of. This is where I would really suggest one of those LED head lamps if you don’t already have one. The kitchen is on the North side of the house so does not have a great deal of outside light this time of year. Having both hands free makes tasks much easier than trying to hold a light with one hand and do everything with the other. Of course there is always the hold it in your mouth and slobber all over yourself method. Personally I prefer the head lamp. Slobber all down the front of your shirt first thing in the morning seems to bring a lot of pesky questions. Or at least it does at my house.

At this point the power has been out from probably an hour and a half at my estimation. With Winter having shown up with the snow the temperature outside was far from what we had gotten used to. No big deal “I HAVE PREPS”. Quite proud of myself for having thought ahead I have a backup heat source. I have a kerosene heater out in the garage that I keep around for just such an occasion. So closely watched by my ever vigilant guard dogs we go out to the garage to get the heater and bring it into the house.

I do have to interject here that I was quite proud of myself at this point. I have read here on SurvivalBlog quite a few times that you can never have too many flashlights and the read many praises on the new LED flashlights. Having done so a while back when I was at Home Depot I saw bulk packs of them on sale and picked up several. She Who Must Be Obeyed and I then went around the house and put at least one flashlight in every room of the house. Several rooms we put a couple. Luckily for me the flashlight was right where I expected it to be and worked great.

The Dogs and I then went out and brought in the heater and wiped off the dust and checked it over for proper operation before I tried to light it. I used to use it regularly to heat the garage before having a heating system put in. Since then it has sat patiently on the shelf waiting. This is when I noticed that last time I used it I had forgotten to refill it. Not a big deal. I was prepared. I knew I had extra kerosene in the garage. I had several unopened cans that I had purchased for just such an occasion. So the dogs and I trekked back out to the garage to get some kerosene to top it off before we put it into operation. I knew the cans were unopened and therefore full. I checked on them by looking over at them to make sure they had not been damaged several times a year but had never physically touched them since I had put them off in the corner against the wall. I know they were full because I had purchased them and put them over there.
This was when I realized that Murphy's Law had not been repealed. The cans were strangely light when I went to pick them up. Almost as if they were empty. I look at the top and the seal is still in place right there where it is supposed to be. They simply can’t be empty could they? They were new when I put them there and the seal is still on top right where it was supposed to be. I shake the can and there is no slosh like there should be. No one ever told me that if you put a steel can on a cement floor that the bottom of the can will rust out. It must have happened over a long period because I never remember smelling kerosene in the garage but the bottom of the can was rusted and the cans were empty.

Well we must keep our beautiful wife warm so we go back into the house and strategically place the heater in the kitchen on the bottom floor of the house and light it. I did this because heat will radiate up. So by putting it at the bottom of the house farthest away from the stairs the heat will radiate through the bottom floor and eventually upstairs. The sun has finally come out so I open up the curtains on the south side of the house to let in as much sunlight as possible. I was surprised that within a half hour I had to go back downstairs and turn the heater off. It was starting to get way too warm upstairs.

Not knowing how long my existing kerosene still in the tank was going to last I went to plan “B”. Being a believer in "two is one and one is none", I had recently purchased a backup heat source to my backup heat source. Truthfully I had picked it up for the 5th wheel we have recently purchased and placed out our bug out location. On another trip to Home Depot I had purchased a Mr. Heater tank top heater. I had plenty of propane. All of my back up cooking is based on propane if the gas were ever to go out I had stocked up with the normal grill tanks with the adapter to fill the small tanks our camping stove uses and had a supply of tanks for our grill as well as three different 100 lb tanks to take down to the 5th wheel. We are still in the process of setting up the camper so they have not been moved down there yet. All were fully charged for just such an occasion.  With no better time to test our new heater than the present I assembled our new heater and attached it to the tank. I was amazed at the heat this thing put out and had to quickly turn it back off. I was confident that we were going to be nice and warm for as long as we would be without power.

So that gave me a few minutes to sit down and go through my checklist to see what needed to be done:

  • Shelter is in place and safe? Check
  • Water? Plenty stored and water still running check
  • Food? Well stocked for both 2 pawed and 4 pawed family members so Check
  • Everyone Safe and warm? Check
  • Light? Plenty of candles, flash lights with back well over 100 back up batteries (Sale at Bass Pro shops on back Friday), Oil Lamps with extra wicks and oil, all in place so check  

Not being the type that would be willing to leave a heater on and unattended this gave me some time to sit by the window and go over our situation and evaluate what still needed to be done and see where I had missed things. As I sat there in the a comfortable chair looking out the sliding glass door watching it start to snow again I noticed a few things. Please let me share them with you.
As I sat there in front of the window I had a sense of calm and peace flow over me. It had started to snow again fairly aggressively. I could see several neighbors loading up their cars forced to trek out into the storm looking for a warm place to go. Meanwhile I was sitting there in my chair warm and comfortable. Knowing my family was safe and warm. I didn’t have to care what the roads were like. I didn’t have to care how much it snowed. I didn’t have to care when the power came back on. For the first time in several years the house was quit. I could almost hear the house talking to me. Those subtle noises that a house makes that are always there but are hidden behind the background noise of all the gadgets of our modern life create. I had a calmness and peace that I had not felt in quite a while. The simple things in life were all taken care of because we had the foresight to prep not just for the big disaster but also for the little things.
I realized the mistakes I had made. I had gotten complacent in knowing my preps were there and had not taken the time to periodically check and make sure they were still in operational condition. Luckily I had subscribed to the "Two is one, and one is none" theory and that had saved us.
My pointed out an area I had thought of once and had completely forgotten about. As unromantic as it sounds at this point feeling so good about how well things had gone overall we forgot about the toilet. Where we live we have a high water table so the sewer system cannot be buried very deep. Because of this we have what is called a grind pit in our back yard. All the waste from the house drains down into this pit and a device in the bottom grinds up all the solids and then pumps them “UP” to the sewer system. With no power there is no pumping action and the pump would become full rather quickly if we did not monitor how much water went down the drain. Of course this is when Murphy decided to make his presence known again. I had not really worried about it too much because I had a nice Kohler generator. Well as you might guess we don’t currently have our generator. It is over being worked on by the small engine person of our Mutual Assistance Group. We are experimenting with retrofitting the generators of our group with automobile mufflers in an attempt to quite them down considerably so they will be safer to use at our bug out location in a SHTF situation. The loud roar of several generators will carry for quite a ways in that type of situation and we are attempting to lower our decibel output as much as possible. Because of this my generator is not currently available.  Not a severe problem I can always grab one from work and bring it home once the storm passes if necessary but defiantly something that I need to work on.
At this point there is only one thing left on the list to do. So I go upstairs and see my beautiful wife and my vicious guard dogs all curled up on a pile of pillows on the bed. This is a scene that would make the cat proud. My wife is comfortably reading a book basking in the sunlight coming in from the window. My lab is comfortably curled up on my pillows and my Shepherd is sprawled out across what is left of the bed.
I update my wonderful wife on our situation and my conclusions. Then I inform her the only thing we have left to do to insure our survival is work on shared bodily warmth and comfort. That this is a critical part of our survival plan. The fate of the world could depend on it.
My loving wife then looks up from her book. She looks at me with those beautiful hazel eyes. Her long beautiful hair cascading down across her shoulders and pillows. The absolute picture of loveliness. A gentle smile crosses her face only to be replaced by her tongue sticking out followed quickly by a raspberry thrown in my direction. Dejected and rejected I was banished to the couch where I had to spend the afternoon taking nap lessons from the cat.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hello James,
To follow up on the recent letter about running gasoline engines on "drip": I have never used drip gas, but an old friend of mine who lived and worked in Texas told me it was often necessary to remove the sulfur from drip gas. I would suspect your nose would tell you if sulfur was present [in high concentration] by the rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide. The trick used back then was to let the drip gas sit in a container full of copper wool.  Obviously copper wire will work, but over a longer time period, as the copper wool has more surface area. The sulfur in the drip gas reacts with the copper to form a very black flake that then falls off the wire, leaving a black sediment in the container.  

The reason this is important is that the sulfur can also react with the copper in bearings of your engine, leading to a major failure. Burned sulfur in fuel, now sulfur dioxide gas, after passing through a catalytic converter is converted to sulfuric acid, leading to a rust out of your exhaust system. All of this can be eliminated and tested for by soaking with shiny copper wire, wool, or even pennies.  

Watching a sulfide containing liquid, such as Ortho Dormant Disease Lime Sulfur spray, to remove all the copper off of a post-1982 penny is an interesting experiment. It leaves the pure zinc penny naked of it's copper shell. Now imagine it is pulling the copper off your engine's bearings. Best to you, - Dave B.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I noticed your description of "drip" as an alternative fuel in your novel "Survivors". Many years ago I was on a task force in Farmington, New Mexico to catch and convict "drip thieves". I was then a Special Texas Ranger and worked along with New Mexico Highway Patrol, local law enforcement officials and the then Tenneco Oil Company Security investigators. Theft of drip was very big then, as probably now due to the high cost of gasoline. I will share with you some of what we learned from the experts, the actual thieves we caught.

First of all it is not called "drip oil", but only "drip" in thieves term. It is actually what the oil industry calls "condensate" and as you correctly stated is a by product of natural gas production. It is the condensate liquid that forms from natural gas as it is produced from the wells. Some wells are "wetter" than others and produce more condensate. Those are the wells drip users look for. Wells produce through a well head valve system and flow through pipes to the collection system. Each well has a flow meter, usually a Barton type, that measures the volume of gas produced. Several wells may feed their condensate into what is usually a "210" barrel collection tank, also low points in the pipelines collect the condensate and are routed to the storage tanks. These tanks are the targets of drip users, which will fuel vehicles.

Drip users, which is illegal but common in areas where it exists, like the high gravity clean type, and different wells produce different types. One thief explained the tests he used to test drip, the spit test and the burn test. He would get drip from the valves on the lower part of the storage tanks, the 210 barrel type. He would first get a sample through the top of the tank by climbing the catwalk to the upper hatch, oddly enough called the "thief hatch", he would lower a small can into the hatch and obtain a sample of the condensate, either a coffee can or similar. Once he had several inches of drip, he would first spit into the drip and see how fast it sank, the faster the better the drip. If it lingered on top or was slow to sink, it was not what he wanted. If it sank and passed that test, he would light the fluid and watch the flame, if it was blue, it was great, if it was yellow or orange and let off smoke, it was too high in sulfur and not too good. Once he identified a good well, he always remembered where it was located.

One thief drove a van and had 55 gallon drums in the back that he would fill. The 210 designation tanks were 20' tall and gravity would usually fill the drums. He would also fill his own gas tank in the van. But, a good thief would always install a drain cock in his tank in case he got bad drip and had to dump it. Many thieves would use drip for mainly private consumption, however we caught some selling it to regular gas stations who would just mix it with their regular gas and sell it blended, no one knew.

Some thieves told us they needed to advance or retard their distributors a bit to get drip to run the best, but that was in a day before all this electronic fuel injection stuff.

I hope I did not go into too much detail, but now you have a basic idea of drip usage in vehicles and how it is stolen. If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to ask.

Regards, - C.R., Retired in Colorado

Friday, February 17, 2012

Thanks again for doing everything you do.  It is with great pleasure I write to you again to contribute some of my knowledge. I mean no offense to Caspar d'Gonzo, but after reading his article I have the notion that he has not yet actually constructed a gasifier based on the FEMA instructions.  Though his article was very good about covering the theory and basics.

I was first fascinated with gasification when I saw them make a gasifier on The Colony.  I read about it and planned to build one.  Not long after I almost wrecked my Jeep while driving through northern Pennsylvania when I saw someone using a home-made gasifier on a car.  I pulled over and chatted with them and now I really had a passion instilled in me for an alternative energy vehicle.

Fall of 2010 I had a college course called Alternative Energy, and the final project was constructing something relevant to the class.  Some classmates and myself tackled the FEMA wood gasifier.  Other groups built solar food dehydrators, small hydro-electric generators, waste oil burners, etc.  The FEMA gasifier instructions are a good starting point, but far from all you need.  Ingenuity and creativity will get you from the FEMA instructions to a working model.

I sized my gasifier to run the 134 cubic inch, 72 horespower engine in my 1963 Jeep CJ5.  At the beginning of my project, I wanted to run that CJ5 with the gasifier.  Now, I see that this will wear out an engine faster than normal fuels, so I will be building a dedicated gasifier powered vehicle in the future.  Also, the gasifier ended up being very large overall, and requires a pickup truck or trailer.  It would not fit in the back of my CJ5.

I was fortunate enough to have full access to a local salvage yard that was sympathetic to college students.  I could go out and pick through acres of scrap, and I still could not find some of the items that FEMA called for.  The instructions are outdated.  Be prepared to deviate and get creative.

Some things I learned...

Harbor freight has the cheapest ball valves for the carburetor unit.

Garages have 125 lb grease drums/gear oil drums that make good filter housings.  They usually throw them away or use them for garbage cans.  I got one with a re-usable lid just for asking.

Home Depot sells a fireplace sealer in white tubs that worked well on the inside to protect the metal from heat cycle fatigue and seal welds and gaps. But be sure to put it on thin or it will never cure.

I used two 55 gallon drums from the scrap yard instead of garbage cans.  They're thicker and usually found for free, but make sure they didn't have anything in them that could poise a health risk when you have a fire inside.

For the shaker bowl in the bottom of the gasifier, I found a stainless steel colander (bowl with lots of holes) large enough at a restaurant equipment supply store.  They had lot's of sizes and very economically priced.

I used flexible steel exhaust hoses to connect the gasifier to the filter and the filter to the carburetor unit.  They were kind of pricey at my local auto parts store but I was having trouble locating heat resistance flexible pipe.

I used a 4" Attwood Turbo 12v inline blower to draw a vacuum at the carburetor unit and get the gasifier going.  This fan worked really well and I found PVC pipe fittings at Lowe's to connect it to the exhaust pipe. These fans are built for pulling fumes out of boat hulls, so they're typically advertised as spark-less, and the best price I found was online at walmart of all places.  This fan was really useful, because by flipping the wires I could run the fan backwards and blow air into the gasifier to fan the flames on start-up.  Switch the wires back and pull the gas through.

The only free fuel I could get my hands on at college were green pine wood chips made for mulch use.  I would not recommend that less than ideal fuel, but it did still produce flammable gas.  I had tar and filthy water pouring out of my filter.  The FEMA design for a filter was really ineffective.  When I get back into the gasifier project I will be researching what other people are using because a can full of wood chips will not keep your engine running for long.  Lot's of tar and moisture were bypassing it.  Obviously, I did not have enough temperature drop for condensation and particulate filtration going on.  The fuel definitely needs to be a good wood, not pine, that is dried.  Dried goat manure was used with success on the PA Apocalypse TV show.

The only testing I did was on a 6 HP Briggs & Stratton small engine and it ran fine on the gas I was producing, but when I took the head off after test running there was a lot of tar inside.  I was always able to light the gas coming out of the gasifier outlet for entertainment value and have a nice pink or orange flame to verify it was producing gas.  Also, I only used my gasifier while stationary, not mobile on a vehicle, so I was frequently shaking the bowl in the bottom to pass ashes through it and pushing the fuel in the top into the fire tube.  Mobility is a must with this design so that shakes and bumps going down the road keep things running, but other designs exist that are intended to be stationary.

Right now I'm playing with burning waste motor oil and vegetable oil in a 1967 military surplus M35A2 ("Deuce and a half") I purchased with great success.  For now, my gasifier will sit and wait until I have more time to experiment with filtration and quality fuel.  I hope to find an older 4-cylinder truck, like a cheap Chevy S10 to mount the gasifier on.

Good Luck with Gasification, - Josh in Pennsylvania


James Wesley:
The recent article by Caspar d'Gonzo in SurvivalBlog left out the advances by the open source group gekgasifier.com

They have taken the WWII design into the modern era, with a much more efficient design, as well as a design that is easier to start and produces much less tar than the FEMA design. Best Regards, - Bill M.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

World War II has always fascinated me. I spend a great deal of time reading and researching a wide array of books, articles and Internet sites about this period. To the conquered peoples of Europe and Asia, it must certainly must have seemed like the end of the world as they knew it.  

One of the most fascinating aspects of my studies is discovering how individuals and groups in Axis-held countries survived behind enemy lines.  Valuable lessons can be gleaned by looking at the tactics and techniques of underground and partisan groups in France, the Philippines, Yugoslavia, China, Norway, Belgium and many other invaded lands.

Recently, I read a book written by Lt. Colonel Will Irwin, US Army, retired. His book The Jedburghs: The Secret History of the Allied Special Forces, France 1944.  Irwin’s research is excellent; it is a riveting chronicle of secret teams that were dropped deep into Nazi occupied France. Working with local partisans known as “maquis”, the teams conducted a roaming guerrilla war against German forces.  

The book revealed that French resistance forces had little or no access to gasoline during this period. The Germans needed every gallon for their own military needs, so many French improvised a technology that -- in today’s übermodern high-tech society -- has long overlooked.  This technology, gasogene-powered internal combustion engines, became a popular method of fueling cars, trucks, and even buses during late World War II.

Simply defined, standard gasoline-fueled vehicle engines were converted with a wood- or charcoal-burning unit.  The unit did not generate steam for power, but instead it created a combustible gas to run the engine.  Such knowledge had been around since the late 1800s.

The gasogene device is known as a wood gas generator or gasifier by engineers.  This gasification process has all but disappeared in vehicle propulsion in the 21st Century. Gasogene devices create a mixture of nitrogen, hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and other, combustible gases. When these are cooled and filtered they can be introduced into an internal combustion engine as an efficient fuel.

In a TEOTWAWKI environment, one quickly realizes that wood, charcoal and other natural items (even coconut husks) would be plentiful and easily acquired.  Having a gasogene powered car, tractor or generator would be a huge advantage in surviving a post-apocalyptic world.

In a FEMA document on powering vehicles through gasification it was noted that “a catastrophic event could disrupt the supply of petroleum in this country so severely that this wood gas generation might be critical in meeting the energy needs of some essential economic activities, such as the production and distribution of food. In occupied Denmark during World War II, 95% of all mobile farm machinery, tractors, trucks, stationary engines, and fishing and ferry boats were powered by wood gas generator units. Even in neutral Sweden, 40% of all motor traffic operated on gas derived from wood or charcoal. All over Europe, Asia, and Australia, millions of gas generators were in operation between 1940 and 1946.”


Internal combustion engines use gasoline. What many do not realize is that the liquid that we know as gasoline is turned into a vapor and burned as a gas. The technology under the hood converts the liquid form into the gas form.  The vapor is injected into the engine and is explosively burned (combustion).  The same is true for wood gas.  Burning wood in a controlled gasifier creates a combustible vapor that will fire in the engine.

The gasogene creates a chemical process where the superheated vapors evolve into gases that the engine then burns. This is also known as a stratified, downdraft gasifier as the vapors go through four zones within the device and into the engine.  

The first zone is at the highest point of the machine.  Because the vapors are drawn down and into the second zone (the downdraft), the first zone is a 20 to 30 gallon metal container positioned atop the second zone, a smaller 10 to 15 gallon container.

The first container might be a small metal trash can or other type of metal box than can hold wood fuel.  This upper container draws in air to aid in the combustion of the wood.  A fire box connects the upper container with the lower metal container.  The fire box is surrounded by open air in the lower container and a metal grate or screen is at the bottom of the fire box.  Burnt wood char and ash fall from this grate into the bottom of the second container.  This container has to be cleaned of all spent ash to keep the process efficient.  This first container stacked above the second container (zones one and two) are the gasification segment.

From the second container a pipe runs to a third container, known as the filter unit. This enclosed container is filled with clean wood chips that act as filter medium to draw off particulates that are moving with the hot vapors in the smoke.  The wood chips draw off these contaminates and a clean stream of hot vapors moves through to the final process.  A blower is located above the third container to maintain air flow.

From the filter unit a longer pipe takes the vapors downstream to the engine manifold.  An air intake valve pulls additional cooler outdoor air to “sweeten” the combustible gases just before entering the engine.  A modifier connection attaches the gasifier pipe to the engine.  A throttle valve is also mounted just before the pipe enters the engine so the flow of fuel can be controlled and help regulate vehicle speed.

Described by a layman, imagine a small metal garbage can mounted above a metal canister about the size of a five-gallon paint bucket. A short pipe connects to a third canister (also the size of a five-gallon bucket. A longer pipe, with throttle and air valve, connects to the engine manifold.

Hundreds of thousands of gasogene engines built during World War II demonstrated that innovation in use of cans, buckets and piping had little or no effect on performance. Clever mechanics used all types of scavenged and jury-rigged components.

Three things are critical to overall success and performance of the gasogene:

A. The most critical element is that the fire tube’s (running into the manifold) inside diameter and length must be carefully matched to the rated horsepower of the engine.

B. The gas generator units and all piping must be totally airtight at all times.

C. Friction must be eliminated in all air and gas passages. This is done by avoiding
sharp bends in the pipe and by employing pipe sizes which are not too small.


One primary skill will be creating metal connections.  Cutting metal using snips is important.  Bending and brazing pipe is about the most difficult of the work.  It is much a combination of plumbing skills and metalworking -- but it is well within the skill set of most people who are moderately familiar with tools.

Having someone with plumbing skills assist makes construction of the device much easier, but not essential.  Many in World War II constructed these fuel generators with basic hand tools, components found in junk yards and assembled in extreme conditions.


The Gasogene unit burns wood and this means that frequent cleaning of the wood container and fire box.  Ash and char will fill the lower container under the fire box very quickly.  Starting the wood fuel will take some practice.  Depending upon the engine itself, most units will be able to power an average sized automobile about 15 to 20 miles at regular road speeds.  Shutting down the unit requires a cooling down period.  

There are safety considerations that require attention.  The gases produced from the unit are toxic and attention must be paid to ventilation.  Enclosed cars, garages and such must be adequately vented to prevent dangerous build up of toxic gases.  However, the same could be said for traditional gas fueled engines.

Having a container filled with burning wood on a moving vehicle is always a major consideration.  Under normal operating conditions, this is not much of an issue.  But, in the event of an accident it is very important to remember that fire risks are increased.


If gasogene is of interest to your future plans for self-sufficiency, it is important to be proactive now.  The good news is there are plenty of resources to give you the exact plans and specifications needed to create an efficient operating gasogene engine.  Kits are available to accelerate the build, but are absolutely unnecessary.


for Fueling Internal Combustion Engines in a Petroleum Emergency
FEMA Document
The absolute best reference was published by FEMA.  It not only covers all of the conceptual aspects of a gasogene-powered engine as well as a complete set of technical plans with parts list.  It is a single-source document that is free and available online as a PDF document.  This should be a part of any document package being assembled for future times.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
FAO Forestry Paper 72
This UN document contains 139 pages of technical charts and graphs, scientific analysis and economic data on the potential and reality of wood gas fuels.  It is free as an online PDF.  Interesting for those seeking greater rationale on why wood gas can be an efficient alternative to petroleum in an emergency.

'Coast to Coast on Homemade Fuel,' Mother Earth News (#73) pp, 178-179. Jan/Feb 1982.
'Wood Gas Update,' Mother Earth News (#71) pp. 164-165. Sep/Oct 1981.
Mother's Woodburning Truck,' Mother Earth News (#69) pp. 126-129. May/Jun 1981

Some Useful Web Sites



Mother Earth News Wood Gas Generator Plans ($15.00)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I read your blog daily.  Thank you for all the great info.  After reading the article on a little store for bartering I wanted to add some items for consideration.  Flip style lighters (Zippo style) are excellent items.  I have recently bought four at thrift stores and flea markets.  I bought the smaller size and full sized lighters.  I stocked up on lighter fluid.  The cheapest fluid I found was at Wal-Mart and I bought lots of flints too. At Wal-Mart the flints were 40 cents for five.  At a local flea market I found flints at 20 cents for nine.  I bought all of them.  While searching on the Amazon web site for pistol holsters/protectors I came across Zippo lighters that ranged from $8 to $45.  Quite pricey.  The lighters I bought at the flea markets were all less than $3.  But, I read that if you have old Zippo brand lighters (just Zippos) that you can send them to the Zippo factory and they will refurbish the lighters to “new” condition for free.  They will not refurbish the outside, or case, just the innards.  That works for me as I don’t really care what the lighter looks like as long as it performs. Extra wicks for your lighters should be a great barter item also.  As for the fluid, I have Ronson and Zippo fluid. 

I use both in my fluid style hand warmers.  They seem to warm up better than the charcoal style hand warmers and don’t have such a strong odor. I believe Paper book matches and any size of wooden stick matches will be great barter items.  I have Thousands of each.  I have a good number of glass containers with calcium hypochlorite in each that will disinfect 1,000 gallons of water each.  You must know how to use this disinfectant and how to safely store it. 

I do not smoke or consume alcohol but I will have tobacco and alcohol for barter and medicinal purposes.  I already have the little 1oz. and 2 oz. containers to divvy up the alcohol out of large containers.  Buying the little individual serving bottles of alcohol is cost prohibitive for me.  Finally, I have bulk purchased feminine napkins and disposable latex gloves.   All styles, All sizes, All brands.  The napkins are also great for 1st aid use as they are super absorbent.  I keep them in all my first aid and doctoring kits.  That’s enough for now.  Thank you and keep filling us up with info.  Peace, - Shadowfaxhound

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Preparation, by definition, is this:

"1. the act of getting something ready. 2. a state of getting ready."

So what is it you are getting ready for? Are you taking action and making a plan? Are you stocking-up?
“Sure!” you say with enthusiasm “I am a prepper!”  You boast, as you align yourself with the great people of the past that were also prepared for catastrophes and unseen calamities of their day.

Today is my opportunity to give you some insight on a topic that might easily be overlooked. I want to touch on the subject of “preparedness”, specifically a mental preparedness. Maybe you’re thinking “Who cares about that?”
Just tell me the steps to making a wickiup (lodge) in my back yard!
 Hold on!  Let me give you another definition. Change: to cause to have a completely different form…to put another in place of.
Think on that for a moment. Your life will have a complete new form; your life style will have another style ‘put in its place’. Are you prepared for that? Is your family prepared for that?

If you are single and going it alone this wake –up call may still be for you but it is most definitely for the man that is family minded and wants to prepare for the survival of his kin.

Let me introduce myself, I am the wife of a survivalist-prepper.
I do not have any statistics to go off of, but I feel strongly that it is the man that has his families’ best interest at heart who takes on the task of getting ready for the end. Wives, please give me a moment of your time.
I’m thinking as I sit here by my woodstove, bundled in a blanket wearing my jacket (hat and all!)
Lately I can’t seem to get more than a few feet from this behemoth of heat before I feel the chill of winter begin to creep into my bones.
I am thinking about the wives of these pioneering men that we love. Those men, the fierce hunters, the brave and the strong, the man you married and trust to take care of you when the world collapses.
Wives, I ask are you preparing as well?

Are you just stocking up for a food shortage or are you planning on “going off the grid”?
Some of the greatest wisdom is to take the gift of learning from others mistakes. Though my words may seem ominous at times, I assure you I have only your success in mind. The mental attitude you take into your new life will factor into what you purpose to do.
If you’re a mother you will affect your children as well. Know it or not you are the hub of the home.
Never in my life was I one to sit around and wait till things got so far out of hand before I made a move. We have been told on many occasions that we are extreme people. Maybe that is because instead of talking about a thing, we will just go and do that thing. It has taken us everywhere in the U.S. and made us the hearty people we are today. Though we are very independent in our ways, it is by the grace and mercy of the Lord that we abide.

We chose to go all the way in our preparations for TEOTWAWKI, and we moved to an off-grid location. Years prior to the move, we bought acreage and paid the loan off early. I did not want any land payments to contend with during the building process.
Yet, before this enormous leap of faith many things came up. We even moved to Alaska and derailed our plans for off grid life by a couple of years, always keeping the notion tucked away in our mind.

As tough as Alaska was, moving to the foothills of the Adirondacks was even more brutal. We have had many mishaps and made tons of mistakes along the way. I glory in telling you that we have great successes and unmatched accomplishments from our endeavor as well.
Can you learn from a wife and mother that is currently living out the “worst case scenario”?

My first mistake was letting my husband do everything.
Though I was there when the land was purchased, all I cared about was the quaint little town and how cute it looked. He was looking at hunting opportunities and the distance from town. I was still thinking about Wal-Mart, which by the way is nearly an hour from our location. He was already planning on gardens and feeding ourselves. I was not. Wasn’t the food in the sealed buckets enough of a plan?

I thought that I knew enough.  I really believed that all the years of reading and research would prepare me for what we were going to do. Studying about photo voltaic systems and learning about which batteries held the best charge. I studied what others did and drew plans for my own. I have to laugh because it doesn’t matter what system you buy, if the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing you simply have no power. Oh sure you can get a generator for all your needs. But wait, what if that breaks? And your back up breaks as well? If your husband is handy enough he will try making several other forms of power, as mine did. All systems challenged by nature and all failed at one point or another. The answer is this, learn to live without power. Set yourself up to live with none, and then add a little bit back into it. I had to come to the realization that I was not out here to sustain a life I already had, but to venture into a new way of life. I was having trouble making the adjustments.

When you are forced to boil water for bathing and are out in the cold September nights heating over a campfire to wash your children you will then be faced with the harsh reality that you live off-grid and life doesn’t get any tougher than this.

Don’t lie to yourself. If you tell yourself that you like camping, and this is just like a camping trip you are lying to yourself and you will be miserable. Consider this, what if your temporary situation becomes permanent? By that I specifically mean the bathroom. Yes, you better believe it, the toilet is a number one priority!  We have three children, one is a teenage girl. When the camper van toilet was no longer an option we had to go to a type of can privy thing. As if that wasn’t bad enough the area flooded and we had to wade through and jump on rocks to use the potty in the rain. Of course a new facility was built up on a deck and we felt spoiled for a while. Then the cold weather came. Can you mentally prepare yourself for no flushing toilet? Consider your alternatives now before you get into the situation.

Without water you will die. Mistakes were made here too. I brought two-liter bottles, lots of them. I would refill them at the laundry mat. All summer while we built our home with our own hands, I washed dishes in an outdoor kitchen. This took a toll on me. I always felt like everything was dirty. Then one day our super fantastic filters broke. I could no longer filter the water we drank. Think about the amount you have to boil for five people and animals too. We bought large holding tanks, but the rain was delayed. A four-wheeler and 35 gallon trash can were used to get water from the creek two miles away.

I will never forget the pastor's face when he came out to our cabin and saw the water collection system that was in place. It seemed that we never had enough time to get all the things done that needed doing. Our gutters were not up on the porch that was not built, so we had tarps that came down off the cabin to collect rain water into the tanks. Our tank was nearly empty. During his visit, it started to pour! He helped us push and pull the tarps to guide the water into the tank. We collected nearly 150 gallons every 20 minutes. It counted as our shower that day too!

Can you imagine our desperation of not having running water? I was not prepared for that mental challenge. In our community we are known as the modern day Ingalls. Today we have thousands of gallons of water on hand. Filtered and running freely. We know exactly how much we use each day.
Weather conditions; because we moved to a new area we were not completely knowledgeable about the summer or the winter weather.  Living in Alaska had prepared us for harsh below freezing temperatures if we drove in it or went outside, that is to say we knew about getting studs on our tires and dressing for -27? on a daily basis, and plugging in our vehicles so they would start in the morning, those types of things.

Where I made the mistake was that I did not take into consideration how I would actually heat the inside of the home. I took for granted that my warmth would be a readily available and come from a reliable source.

Our untested woodstove which was acquired in summer became a terrible distress in the winter. I never knew that a stove could be equivalent to a newborn baby.  It has needed feeding every two – three hours for months now. That adds up to a lot of sleepless nights.
Also, the insulation in our home never was completed. That is another thing I was not prepared for. I am not a carpenter. I am a stay at home mom that home schools the children. I can’t really build anything, well not something you can live in!  I was not prepared for the months of care my husband would need if or when he got hurt.

Another Mistake: normalcy bias. This is the mindset of “It can’t happen to me.”
This goes back to the first thing I mentioned about letting our husbands do everything. What will you do when the unthinkable happens?  If you are a team, then you need to do all the preparations as a team. Continue to be team minded. I did not know enough about what to do if my team member was out of commission. In my defense I would like to say that I am not a wimp either, we have had to super glue cut legs, from knife injuries and pull porcupine quills out of dogs, put animals down and more.
 You learn to do what is necessary, or worse things happen. However I did not even know where the hospital was located or which way to go when my husband had an accident with the circular saw. On a nice sunny day in November and he was outside working on the bathroom floor. Next thing I know he calmly says “I have to go to the hospital now." I am thinking "What?"
 “I am hurt real bad” he tells me. “I cut off my fingers” YIKES!
 “Do you have all the pieces?”

Now I am the prime care giver in every situation. He is gone for days. Who will turn on the solar? How will we actually get the things done that need doing? There are no light switches or plug receptacles. If you want power you need to know how to turn on the solar controller and the inverters, switch batteries over or start the generator etc.
You adapt and you learn.  I found out just what kind of metal I am made of.
 All was not lost; I didn’t quit and move into town. I snapped out of my comfort zone and I stepped up to the plate. Use whatever cliché you want, but my time came to step into my new identity forever and completely.
I can say that I am a prepper, and I can mean it. I have taken the steps of pulling the plug on a lifestyle that I was very comfortable in. My mental attitude now is that I can do this.

The greatest adversity you will ever overcome comes from what lies within you.
Yes, I can haul rocks and stack or chop the wood. I can gather water and have found new ways to get everyone and everything clean. I can cook with propane, campfires or on top of the wood stove.
I have made the best out of some of the worst things. I know that every time I climb my stairs I have victory over the trees that nearly crushed our cabin. We turned them into steps and wood flooring!

We live free of debt, because we paid cash for everything, we live free of the weight of society to have it all, because we know that we have what is really of value. We have each other and our time is our own.
We have become self- sufficient.  It came at a price, but it was worth the investment.

My simple steps to being mentally prepared:

  1. Detox yourself from the Wal-Mart Super Center. It will close. You will not be able to go there WTSHTF. Can you accept that mental challenge? We started out waiting two weeks to shop, and then we worked our way up to six weeks. Can you stay away from the Super Center for six weeks?
  2. Learn to do without. No one is coming to help you. If you do not take it with you, then you will need to know how to make it yourself or live without it.
  3. Take the steps now to get your water harvesting system in place before you spend one night in your new off grid home. If you’re digging a well, have the proper documents taken care of and the well drilling done before you bring your family on site.
  4. Learn to cook with little or no food. Seriously, try making some new dishes that are prepared from whatever you have before you go shopping. Try cooking on an open fire. That is a tough thing to learn but one of the joys I now have is making something delicious right outside on an open fire. Even in the rain. My family really appreciates my efforts all the more.
  5. Have a back-up plan for the back-up plan. Trust your instincts because you cannot prepare for everything, no matter how much you prepare.
  6.  Unplug now, why wait? When you could still step back into things if you wanted. Knowing that you’re doing this because it is your best decision for your family, that you took matters into your own hands is very empowering. Do you wait till you are forced to make the choice? Then it is no longer a choice and it becomes mandatory.
  7. Let experience be your teacher. Get involved and learn some new trades. My little 6 year old can make fires using things like steel wool and parabolic lenses (supervised of course) My 8 year old can shoot a frog with his long bow, even in muddy water, and he can set snares too!
     My teenager is amazing, we especially like it that she makes fresh bread in the Dutch oven (and she taught herself through trial and error)
  8. Do the “drastic” thing. We sold all of our real estate and most of our “stuff” (couches, furniture, appliances and extra baggage) we pooled our resources and made a budget to live off of and accomplish our goals. Do not expect your family or neighbors to understand; after all they are still addicted to the power grid.
  9. This isn’t last by any means. We put God first in all that we do and know fully that He is the One that has given us strength and joy and peace in all our trials and our successes.

 My last question to you before I close is this, how will you even know you were prepared for TEOTWAWKI until it happens and you are in the midst of your new way of life? That day is the day you discover if you stocked enough food and ammo, should you have gotten a cow instead of the goat, bought gold instead of silver…etc. What I am saying is that you can never know if you built your house up high enough to avoid a flood, unless there is a flood. The difficulty then is that it is too late to do anything different.
I have the same mindset in my “prepping” tactics. Do what I can, and let the Lord do what I can’t.
 May I present this train of thought; the end is already here.
 Has there not been enough evidence that the world around us is different? What else needs to happen for us to wake up and take action?
Life around us is changing, a little each day.

If your being stirred to preparedness, then set your mind to that, go about it wholeheartedly without second guessing.  Everyone thought Noah was crazy too, but the rains came and they’re coming again. May The Lord Be With You.

Friday, January 27, 2012

It's been interesting to see the buzz about coal lately. Certainly something worth looking in to. I'm not for or against it, but I do have a few comments:

If you are into blacksmithing, a coal supply will serve multiple purposes.

Not all coal is equal. High grade coal is less sulfurous than low grade coal, though I only notice that when I am working with open burning coals like over a forge. It may not be an issue in a stove. I don't know but it might be worth washing low grade coal. It's something I want to look into.

When I worked over coal every day for a few months, I developed a bad cough and wheeze. Ventilation in any context is important when dealing with coal.

Also, machine dug coal (which is all coal now) can be dusty. This too can be adverse to your health.

The spent coke from your coal could have many useful purposes, like as a substitute for vermiculite as a soil additive [, in moderation]. - J.D.D.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hello Jim,
I would like to make a few observations on Dale's letter concerning alternative heat and home power.

My first would be his perspective on the use of propane as a primary fuel source.  I have used propane for heating, emergency spot heating (no electric required), cooking, and domestic hot water for more than a decade, and with proper planning it is a very reliable and cost effective fuel source that stores well long term, and can also be used to power most generators with an inexpensive conversion kit..  I currently have two 1,000 gallon above ground tanks, holding a combined 1,600 gallons, which can provide my energy use (minus electricity) for approximately 15-16 months of normal use, or 24+ months in austerity mode.  These tanks and associated hardware (regulators and plumbing) have paid for themselves many times over, due to the fact that a large bulk propane purchase in the summer can save upwards of $1 per gallon over peak winter prices.  Tank maintenance is as simple as keeping grass and other plants mowed or otherwise removed from the tanks, and the occasional wire brush and painting of places when the paint may peel.  In more than a decade I have had no issues with leaks, although we do shut off the valve from one tank until the other is nearly empty, in case that situation should occur.

Use of coal for home generation of electricity vs. its use at the utility scale is not only a matter of scale, but one of technology.  I have friends in the power generation business, and commercial power generation uses very fine tuned and sophisticated steam generation arrangements.  The coal is first powdered and injected with air into the firebox of the boiler system.  The dry (non-condensing) steam in the system runs at temperatures of 600+ degrees, with very high pressures, and is used in multistage turbines that are finely balanced.  Although a small version of this type of system might work at the home scale, the hardware would be cost prohibitive.  Small stationary boilers running steam generators and turbines or pistons (like the old steam locomotives) might be doable, but these actually require nearly constant management and maintenance, and if you don't know exactly what you're doing, can have catastrophic failure modes.  Operating such a system pre-SHF would also most likely require an operators license and inspections of the equipment.

One possible alternative would be a Stirling engine, like the ones manufactured by Stirling Technology Inc., in Athens, Ohio.  They claim that their ST-5 engine can power up to a 3.5 KW generator, using only a heat source.  I only know about this company because some friends who work at the local university and share my self reliance interests have mentioned it to me.  I don't know any of the details about the unit nor it's cost, but I do think that the required generator is not included.

One final thought on coal is something that I recall from a Mother Earth News article from perhaps 20 years ago.  The author dug a huge hole on the back of his rural property, lined it with rubber/plastic sheeting, dumped in something like 50 tons of hard coal, covered the coal with additional sheeting, and then replaced the soil.  He re-seeded the area with grass, and called it something like his personal post apocalypse coal mine.  I've never had the space or money for such a thing, and you might need to keep an eye out for the EPA if you did this today, but I've always remembered it as something I thought was a clever and interesting idea.

Good luck, - LVZ in Ohio

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mr Rawles,
To chime in on the "heat to electricity issue": A Stirling engine or "hot air engine"), might be what Dale from Vermont is looking for.  There are not many commercially available - one company was making them in New Zealand before the earthquake, but a quick Google search has also revealed that they moved their manufacturing to Spain. There may be others.  According to their web site they haven't yet resumed their 'off-grid' line of  engine production.

They can be quite efficient, and run off any heat differential.  For example: Hot air temperature and a cold spring, or a wood stove and cold air outdoors.  They do need the heat differential, or in other words a heat sink, to provide convection and motive power.  They are several generations/styles that have been developed over the years.  I believe they could be made to turn an alternator.  There are many 'do-it-yourself" videos on the net by people from all over the world. Hope that helps! - E.B.


In response to article Some Thoughts on Burning Coal, writer Dale from Vermont:
There are possibilities for building a 12 or 24-volt low voltage direct current system using automotive or aviation industry components and a wonderful little device known as a RhoBoiler, devised by the Rhodesians during the time of economic boycott by the world's bully nations, which drove the Rhodies to greater self-sufficiency. The RhoBoiler varied in design and construction materials [often a former 44-gallon fuel drum] but was in general a low pressure remote boiler from which hot and sometimes pressurized water was supplied.
A recent web search turns up a few descriptions and pictures. An obvious starting place might be a scrapped-out water heater boiler, but obviously, pressure release valves are critical, lest a boiler explosion result. Most of the RhoBoilers were wood burners, given the local availability of wood as a fuel source, but the concept can certainly be adapted to coal-burning and electricity generation as well.


Regards, - George S.

Dale from Vermont wrote about the idea of a coal-fired home generator. Here's a link to a $13,000 steam engine unit. The electrical output isn't specified, but based on the 3 horsepower rating of the steam engine and
assuming about 40% heat-to-electricity efficiency, it might be as much as 1,000 watts - D.B. in Oregon

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Probably the biggest gap in our survival preparations at present is having a good source of energy if we have to stay underground for an extended period. If surface conditions are such that we cannot venture outside, then most likely there will be problems with our photovoltaic panels, solar water heater and hydropower, all of which are above ground. With currently available technology, propane seems to be the only reasonable solution to support heat, hot water, and electricity. Propane can be stored indefinitely and furnaces, stoves and generators that run on propane are readily available. However, storing enough propane underground to support our group for several years would be impractical. I'm also uncomfortable storing large amounts of propane for many years, since it seems inevitable that it will leak eventually, presenting a safety issue as well as a loss of the resource. Most people, including serious preppers, don't plan to rely on propane for more than a few days. For those with solar and hydro solutions that can work without pause for years, a 3-day backup system in the form of propane seems superfluous.

I keep coming back to coal. Like propane, it can be stored forever [if protected from weathering.] (Before it's mined, it's basically being stored indefinitely underground in a mine.) With existing, mature technology, coal can support all the things propane can be used for: heat, hot water and electricity. Unlike propane, there's no danger of leaking, and it's much more practical to store tons and tons of coal underground than it is to use buried propane tanks. There's only one problem: unlike propane, electrical generators that run on coal are not readily available for individual household use. This seems strange, since coal is the number one energy source for electricity generation at the utility scale.

Are you or my fellow readers aware of any practical, reasonably efficient solutions for home electricity generation using coal as an energy source that don't require an engineering degree to implement (if I had the skills I'd just build the generator from scratch myself)? I would be willing to pay a significant amount of money for such a system.

Thanks in advance, and best wishes. - Dale from Vermont

[JWR Replies: When ever wood heat or coal heat are mentioned in the blog, invariably someone will then Thermoelectric generation (TEG) technology . Unfortunately that technology hasn't matured sufficiently to be reliable. Sadly, TEG circuits burn out with alarming regularity. So steam power--at least for now--seems to be the only reliable way to turn heat into electricity. Perhaps some readers would care to chime in with some alternatives.]

Monday, January 23, 2012

Financial calamity can take many different forms.  The Brazilian saga of hyperinflation / depression / recovery from the 1980s leading to one of today’s most robust economies is a classic tale of overcoming adversity.  Argentina’s economic collapse in 2000-2001 followed by hyperinflation in 2002, debt repudiation and seizing foreign deposits is another story with a solid recovery afterwards.  The disastrous 20-year Japanese experiment with deflation and negative growth is at the other end of the spectrum.
Which will the US experience first?  And, how quickly will we feel the scorching fire of hyperinflation or the freezing blast of deflation?
The short answer is that today we should be preparing for a recession in the near future with actual deflation in certain sectors.  We also need to anticipate the possibility of a deflationary spiral into the “Great Correction.”

As the economy struggles through the next recession, we need to be alert for signals that the Federal Reserve has screwed up and overshot its goal of controlling deflation.  A big miss with too much monetary expansion and the US economy could lurch into hyperinflation with very little warning.
In JWR's novel Patriots, our heroes experience an occupation force of primarily European UN troops.  Today, that seems unlikely but only because the European countries are determined to make a bigger mess of their economies even more quickly than the US.  After all, politicians in Europe have over-promised for even longer than politicians in the US.  The cost of providing the European welfare state has proven far more expensive than forecast, and the bill is now past due.

Almost everybody watching the Euro crisis has concluded that Europe is headed straight into a major recession – regardless whether or how the Euro crisis is solved.  The recently mighty Euro has been steadily losing value to the US dollar and is no longer a candidate for a replacement reserve currency.  In fact, Euro-denominated assets, especially the government bonds of Greece, Italy, and Spain, are almost toxic.

Updated Collapse Scenario

Does that mean that the disaster scenario in Patriots needs to be updated?  No way.  In fact, all that matters is that Patriots provides a realistic scenario that could easily lead to the rapid collapse of infrastructure especially in large cities.  The story line makes the point that rational people need to be prepared for the worst and that working together is much better than going it alone.  The take-away message is about being prepared and not about the details of which camouflage pattern or what brand of battle rifles.  If those details stick in your mind, that’s great, but the real lesson is to think ahead and start planning before Schumer comes knocking.
In the meantime, we have to get on with our life in today’s real world.  The characters in Patriots had to deal with their particular environment; we have ours.  Each of us gets to deal with our jobs, our family and friends, and “our” government.
Keep in mind that how you define a problem can artificially constrain how you think about the solution.  If you imagine that the most likely problem is hyperinflation and soon, that framework might justify spending critical savings to stockpile supplies before prices skyrocketed.
But if, as I predict, the US will deal with several years of recession first, the heavy spender might use up critical savings needed to deal with an unexpected problem like major illness or loss of a job.  Also keep in mind that the frugal saver who does reasonably well in a recession may overlook or ignore the warning signals for hyperinflation and see the value of his savings evaporate in a few months or even weeks.

Being an International Banker

My first job out of business school was trading foreign currencies in Beirut for one of the largest American banks and then as branch manager in another Middle Eastern country. After several more job moves including working as the international treasurer for a Fortune 500 company, I was recruited to head up global treasury management for the largest bank in the US.  Eventually, I left the financial sector and got a real job running a company that manufactured products in the US.

Like many people I read the news headlines and generally ignore the daily ups and downs of the stock market.  Most of my attention goes to more technical articles following trends in currency swaps, forward currency transactions or futures, inter-bank lending rates, national bond offerings, and changes in credit default insurance rates.  Not very sexy stuff, but these details paint a clearer picture of world events than the sound bites carried on television news.

As a banker, I was paid to make bets on major currency movements and the direction of national economies.  Sometimes, I was just plain wrong and lost money.  Occasionally, I had the right trend or direction but was way off in the timing.  That also counted as a loss.  Fortunately enough of the bets paid off, and I kept my job.

Most of us may not recognize the reality, but today everyone in the United States is making a daily bet in the world’s foreign currency markets.  We are all international economic forecasters.  What happens in Greece or China or Japan has a direct impact on the US dollar, the US stock market, the rates on US savings accounts, the price we pay for bread, or the cost to fill up our Toyota, Hyundai, or Chevrolet.

Major Bets

You say, “Wait, I don’t even own stocks.  I’m sitting tight hoping that everything blows over.” My friend, that is a bet – a very big one.  You are betting on the status quo.  In fact, you are putting your livelihood and your savings on the line placing a number of bets at the casino every day.  By doing nothing, you are actually making the following very specific bets, for example:
a.)            The Euro-zone remains intact;
b.)            None of the European Club Med countries default;
c.)            Crude oil stays between $80 and $120/barrel, and the Middle East stays peaceful;
d.)            The Federal Reserve can and will keep interest rates between zero and 2% for at least two more years;
e.)            The Fed’s interventionist policies will keep the US from a recession in the next two years or at least until the presidential election is over;
f.)            The Muni bond crisis in the US will be postponed at least a year;
g.)            Obama will win his second term as President; and
h.)            Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker John Boehner will continue their ineffectual sparring with neither party making much ground in the 2012 elections.
The list could go on, but I think you see the point.  Taking no action is a gigantic sucker bet.
By the way, you also made the bet (correctly) that Obama would keep his word and that troop withdrawals from Iraq would proceed according to plan.  After all, everyone knows that Iraq and Afghanistan have been completely pacified and are capable of responsible self-rule without any assistance from the Evil Empire.  Further, there is absolutely nothing that could disrupt the steady supply of Middle Eastern oil to Europe and Asia – not even the Ayatollahs of Iran and the Straits of Hormuz.
When you placed those wagers, you were making the exact same bet that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is making, namely an ever-increasing federal deficit can be financed indefinitely by an ever-expanding supply of cheap credit.
Further, this surplus of credit, according to Keynes and all his disciples, will lead only to moderate but not excessive growth which will allow the US to solve all of its economic problems by the end of the second Obama administration. 

Bernanke is too old to have such faith in the Tooth Fairy, and so are you.

The European Mess

Each week for the last several months, the press has alternated with good news that the Euro crisis has been fixed once and for all with the following week’s announcement that some new catastrophe has derailed last week’s bailout plan or solution or new treaty or whatever.  My personal bet is that at least one of Club Med countries will default on its bonds in the next six months.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether the first to go is Greece, Italy or Spain.

The most likely consequence of any major national default is that this will be the final trigger point for a long-term recession in Europe with repercussions in the US economy and the rest of the world.  Even without a specific trigger, Europe will slide inevitably into recession generally considered to be two consecutive quarters of declining GDP.
How likely is it that a major recession in Europe will lead to another recession here?  Most economists and central bankers think it will happen quickly once the house of cards called the European Union starts to tumble.  In fact, many of the most common measures used by the National Bureau of Economic Research already point to an extended decline here in the US in real income, actual vs. reported unemployment, retail sales, and industrial production as well as other key measures.
Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner believe in the linkage, and the Federal Reserve has already taken extraordinary steps to delay the inevitable collapse in Europe just to postpone the recession here.

International Monetary “Easing”

On November 30, 2011, the Federal Reserve issued a press release announcing greater availability and lower pricing for “temporary U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangements.”  What really happened is that Bernanke, without the approval of Congress, agreed to make the Federal Reserve a lender of last resort to the rapidly failing commercial banks in Europe.  These banks have enormous exposures to various European national bonds, and the Fed is effectively taking on that liability.  You read it correctly - the commercial banks.  The US taxpayer is now backstopping the shareholders of foreign banks.
A press release announcing a done deal means that there were weeks or months of intense, behind-the-scenes negotiations as well as position papers and PowerPoint presentations detailing the consequences of opening up that credit window.  These documents have not been and probably never will be released.  Where is Wikileaks when you really need it?
Will these new credit facilities change the outcome?  Not really.  Utilization of the credit facilities may slightly delay the starting date for the European recession, but the sad truth is that the US government and the US taxpayer is now much more exposed to a commercial banking collapse in Europe.
We thought that the Mother of All Bailouts (MOAB) had occurred here in 2008 and 2009 to avoid the bankruptcy of Bear Stearns and the collapse of the US banking system and AIG.  Not satisfied, Bernanke is now offering bail-out money to Europe’s banks.

The Euro Summit and the “New Treaty”

Clearly the 27 Euro-zone leaders believed that a major recession would be the best outcome they could expect from the spreading Euro crisis unless they took extraordinary action.  The 27 heads of state participated in an all-nighter in Brussels on December 8 and 9.  The result is that member states have been asked (blackmailed?) to ratify an amendment to the European Union treaty setting new mandatory economic guidelines.
The most important requirement is that each country must take active measures to reduce “structural” deficits to no more than 3% per year.  This means drastically reducing the maximum amount by which any country can outspend its net tax revenues.  This was the non-negotiable demand that German Chancellor Merkel imposed on all the member countries at the Euro Summit.
What the Germans wanted and got was agreement that member countries would reduce their deficits by immediately cutting government spending and simultaneously raising tax revenues.  “Cutting government spending” is Euro-speak for firing a significant number of government workers and reducing funding for government programs.

In addition to cutting public sector employment, these measures will lead to a further loss of jobs in the private sector.  The obvious consequence all across Europe is greater unemployment, a further loss of consumer confidence, a continuing reduction in consumer spending, and a corresponding decrease in capital expenditures by businesses.  To that recipe for economic disaster, stir in the simultaneous requirement to raise tax revenues.

Tie Your Hands

With this toxic combination how can the EU member countries avoid an outright recession?  Not possible.  This was the reality that every head of state knew in advance of the Brussels summit and had already accepted. Even more amazing is that all of these government leaders also agreed to keep from using the conventional Keynesian tools for fending off or turning around a recession including reducing taxes or increasing government spending.  They have tied their hands behind their backs even before the fight started.  You have to ask was this  the epitome of stupid politics, or were these leaders even more afraid of the inevitable economic catastrophe from a collapse of the Euro? How long before this new treaty is effective – if ever?  According to a Reuters article, French President Sarkozy admitted that the earliest expected ratification was June, 2012.  Obviously, the “big rescue” is not a “quick rescue.”  In the meantime both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have placed almost all European countries on credit watch, often the first step before a down-grade in credit rating and a major increase in borrowing costs.

Too Little and Too Late

Many commentators have opined that the simmering Euro crisis will boil over long before the new treaty can be approved.  The summit got great press coverage, and the Euro leaders got to pat themselves on the back.  But, an honest assessment has to be too little real substance and way too late to do any good.
Put the pieces together.  Europe’s leaders have basically given up and are reconciled to a large and extended recession beginning no later than the first half of 2012 along with a big jump in public and private sector unemployment plus major increases in national borrowing costs.  By accepting Germany’s terms, the members of the EU have also agreed in advance to a very slow recovery from the inevitable recession.  No reason for optimism here.

The Toilet Bowl Spiral

First, what is the practical definition of deflation?  Second, why is it such a big deal?
The official definition of deflation is a decrease in the general price level of goods and services typically measured by a decline in the Consumer Price Index.  In other words, real inflation drops below zero measured against the prices of a consumer basket of goods and services.  The major concern is that deflation can get out of hand and lead to a deflationary spiral.
In this type of downward spiral, the vicious circle starts as businesses try to maintain or increase demand by lowering prices (think Christmas sales).  If lower prices fail to stimulate demand, businesses have no choice except to lower production or reduce retail inventory depending on where they are in the delivery chain.  Manufacturers fire excess workers and cancel any plans to increase plant capacity.  Retailers place smaller than normal orders and leave empty shelf space.

Unemployment goes up, real income goes down, real estate prices continue to plummet, tax revenues at all levels go down, and the deficit gets even bigger.  City, state, and federal governments – especially since they have already borrowed too much money – are finally forced to cut non-essential services and begin reducing essential services such as fire and police.
And, the municipal bond market takes a big hit as several major cities and one or more states default on interest payments and fail to pay vendors.
Then, even more government entities are forced to cut more public employees but usually not near the top where it would help.  Unemployment goes up again; aggregate income goes down even further; consumer borrowing drops more; consumer demand drops faster and further; and prices drop yet again to chase decreasing demand.

The Spiral Continues

Businesses create no new jobs.  There are no new housing starts.  New automobile production gets cut again.  As the spiral continues, businesses have to reduce their payroll even more by firing the most recently hired, by eliminating all entry-level jobs, and by firing the most expensive hourly workers – usually the oldest ones.  They even start firing middle management.  Just for the record, the last thing they cut is executive compensation.
There are two really important reasons for understanding why deflation is such a big deal – especially right now.  The first is that once this vicious cycle gets a good start, it is really hard to stop until it bottoms out like it did in the Great Depression.  Second, and maybe even more important today is the realization that deflation is at the current intersection of a massive academic ego and partisan politics.

Bernanke’s Ego and Obama’s Political Ambitions

Assuming that the Republican Party can eventually nominate any plausible candidate, even Waffle House Romney, Obama knows that the most important issue in his re-election campaign will be the economy.  Unlike Europe’s leaders, Obama cannot afford to give up and accept the inevitable recession unless he is also willing to be a one-term president.  He will do everything he can and support any idea no matter how far-fetched that has the slimmest hope of injecting good news into the gloomy economic picture. But Bernanke’s motivation is even more dangerous.  Ben Bernanke graduated from Harvard College and earned his Ph.D. from MIT.  He taught at Stanford Business School and NYU before becoming a tenured professor at Princeton.  His entire academic career focused on the policy decisions leading to the Great Depression.  In numerous papers and articles, he has expounded his theory that uncontrolled deflation triggered the Great Depression and delayed recovery.

While at Princeton, he was appointed a Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve in 2002.  He became Chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors in 2005.  Bush nominated him as Chairman of the Federal Reserve in 2006, and he was reappointed to that position by Obama in 2009.  He is now able to treat the US economy as one giant laboratory in which to test his academic theories.
Nine years ago, then-Fed Governor Bernanke gave a speech called “Deflation: Making Sure “It” Doesn’t Happen Here.”  Read Bernanke's words and weep:

"Thus, as I have stressed already, prevention of deflation remains preferable to having to cure it.  If we do fall into deflation, however, we can take comfort that the logic of the printing press example must assert itself, and sufficient injections of money will ultimately always reverse a deflation."

The Magic Printing Presses
In fact, Bernanke has been pushing and pulling the economic policy levers in an unprecedented way since he became Fed Chairman under Bush.  Even with access through the Freedom of Information Act, the public may never know who really said what to whom as the federal government struggled with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the almost bankruptcy of Bear Stearns, the catastrophic melt-down of the sub-prime mortgage market, and the bailout of the banks that were “too big to fail.” What is clear is that the US tumbled into a recession, and the Fed under Bernanke’s direction did everything possible to contain it.  Some economists argue that it would have been better to allow capitalism to run its course, let the failures occur, and set the stage for a real recovery. The recession that started in 2008 continued in 2009, and true to his fervently held beliefs Bernanke injected massive amounts of money into the US economy, especially after Obama became President.  We can debate whether the bailouts were necessary or even beneficial, but for right now, that issue is irrelevant.  The world learned a crucial lesson about the way that Bernanke and Obama will handle any major economic crisis.

Avoid deflation at all costs!  Roll the presses!

The US Treasury has the national mints, but the Federal Reserve has printing presses.  Some of the presses are real intaglio printers used to print currency, and they are churning out new Federal Reserve funny money in larger denominations and greater quantities 24/7.  But the really dangerous ones are the virtual presses that put digital money on balance sheets without any intervening creation of goods or services.
One obvious example is “Quantitative Easing.”  This term deliberately obscures the real meaning.  Translated it means that the Federal Reserve purchases US government bonds from private holders (e.g., commercial banks) and pays for them by simply making digital entries in the selling bank’s account at the Fed.  No new goods or services.  No Congressional approval.  More money in the system.
Let’s admit that the whole world – China, Europe, the oil producing countries, and the US – face recession and possibly deflation.  We know for sure that Bernanke is self-righteous in his view that with enough money he will reverse deflation and avoid the deflationary spiral.  And, Bernanke believes that history will lavish great praise on the economist turned super-hero who saves the world.

Near-Term Forecast

Europe, will continue the inevitable slide into recession despite the best efforts of the European Central Bank (with no printing presses and no authority to manufacture money) and the Federal Reserve (with all printing presses working overtime).
On a slightly slower timetable, the US will slide back into recession as well.  Bleating like a lost little lamb, Obama will “encourage” the Democrats to create jobs, to tax the rich, to save the unions, to preserve jobs for public employees, to keep their pensions intact, and to preserve at all costs every single entitlement program, such as Social Security.
The Republicans will continue the full range of political brinkmanship.  Compromise is unlikely.  Nothing significant will happen to create jobs, reduce spending, or actually change the debt level for at least a decade.  In other words, same old stuff except that the government will officially acknowledge what we already knew in our pocketbooks.  The US is in another recession less than two years after the federal government declared a victory over the last one.

With the prospect that a back to back recession could easily lead to deflation and the dreaded spiral, Super-Hero Bernanke without any congressional oversight will be busy doing his magic.  The money supply will increase.  Interest rates will stay down.  Even so, commercial and consumer borrowing will drop.  Real estate will drop even further.  Frustrated because the story-book ending is not working out, Bernanke will pour even more money into the system.  After all, Ben runs the risk of losing his super-hero cape.
In summary, until this phase of Bernanke’s grand experiment with the American people runs its course in 24 to 36 months, you can count on three things:
1.)            Recession with a 30% or more chance of significant deflation.
2.)            Overcast conditions with no glimmer of sunshine from a grid-locked Congress.
3.)            Heavy precipitation in the form of money and credit raining down from the Federal Reserve.

This is the good news, and I fervently hope that we get a two-year run!

Black Swan Theory

The bad news is that the economic environment could go from recession to much worse very quickly if any one of several unexpected events occurred.  The “Black Swan Theory” holds that highly unpredictable events with low probability have a major impact often because we have overlooked such events and have ignored the huge impact of these supposedly rare occurrences.
For example, we can see that the list of possible disasters might include a spike in energy prices, another major terrorist attack on US soil, North Korea flexing its nuclear arsenal, the bankruptcy of the US Postal Service, or another major conflict in the Middle East.
Precisely because these events seem possible or even likely, they are not Black Swans.  But, if we think outside the box, we can speculate on events that might change everything – at least in their immediate sphere.  For example:
1.)            President Obama decides not to run for a second term, and Hillary Clinton becomes the 45th President.
2.)            North Korea offers to reunite with South Korea, and South Korea destroys its own economy in the process.  This leads to a collapse of the Asian “Tigers” in a mirror of the Euro crisis.
3.)            Iranian Hezbollah agents from Lebanon set off a small-scale nuclear device in Tel Aviv.  Israel retaliates against Syria and Iran.
4.)            The housing bubble in China explodes leading to full scale riots in six to ten cities that are quelled only with massive military force.  Chinese exports decline; imports, especially of raw materials, stop almost completely.
5.)            The national referendums on the new EU treaty trigger bloody rioting in Greece followed by popular uprisings in Spain and Portugal reminiscent of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya.  The Euro dies a painful death bringing down major commercial banks and private sector companies.
6.)            King Abdullah is assassinated, the Allegiance Council of the House of Saud is unable to name a successor, warring factions take over the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior, and oil shipments stop.
These ugly events almost qualify as Black Swans, but the fact that we can conceive of them and have some idea of their impact might take them out of the category.  You have to imagine something even more unpredictable and more capable of sweeping change.  You will know it when you see it.

Near-Term Conclusions

Increased self-reliance is the best plan to get you and your family through the next two to three years.  For that short period, the US dollar will be the safe haven currency – not gold or silver.  Individuals, corporations, and governments around the world will decide to hold greenbacks and not local currencies or hard assets.
In fact, one possible explanation for the huge drop in gold in the last several months despite the Euro-crisis on the front pages is that major gold investors have already concluded that recession is the near-term problem not hyperinflation.

Study the SurvivalBlog “List of Lists,” and plan your expenditures carefully.  Look for sales and discounts.  Smart retailers have already figured out that consumers have become deal conscious and realize that retail prices have to drop to get customers in the door.
If at all possible, avoid taking on more debt other than student loans (just the opposite advice if hyperinflation were on the immediate horizon).

Given any reasonable opportunity, get out of an urban or suburban mortgage.  Even on an after-tax basis, renting makes more sense than owning.  Commercial and residential real estate will take another big drop in the next two years.
Before signing any contract extending more than 60 to 90 days, make sure that you are protected against wild price swings and unusual government delays of any sort.
Be prepared to dump digital cash and digital assets, i.e., bank deposits and brokerage accounts, on very short notice.
Have you been putting off a decision about relocation?  If you already live in a major urban area in the West like Denver, Phoenix, or Cheyenne, you are much better off than if your job keeps you in Cleveland or Harrisburg.  Use this window to visit some of the best candidates on your list.
If you decide to purchase silver dimes and take possession, don’t be surprised to see silver drop even lower before gold and silver surge past their previous highs.
Now is the time to develop additional skills that might be marketable in tough times and to look for financially secure employers.  Plan ahead for the consequences if one of the major bread winners in your family were to lose their job.
Even in the middle of the recession, keep a vigilant eye on the early symptoms of hyperinflation.  Anticipate a Black Swan event.  Be prepared to implement Plan B instantly.

Make a Plan B

Let’s assume that my conclusion regarding the near future is a good working forecast and that the next two years are bad but not ugly.  Even so, each of us has to be prepared to change our direction and actions on the spot.  In my experience, the best way to do this is to have a genuine contingency plan or “Plan B” worked out in advance.
Start with the assumption that some aspects of your plan will not work or will be just plain wrong.  Once you have developed a plan and worked out the implementation, changing that plan to fit the circumstances that unfold is much easier and quicker than doing a Plan B from scratch.  Unless you need to plan only for yourself, the other great benefit is that family or friends or members of your prep group are all on the same page.  Do the discussion before the crisis.
Although it may not be a part of your action steps, I recommend that your Plan B specifically address possible trigger points and that you get buy-in to take action as soon as certain trigger points are reached.  Even during the next two years of recession, an abrupt turn to hyperinflation is a real possibility.

  • Be alert to the early warning signs of hyperinflation.
  • Have your money out of the banks before the lines of angry depositors form.
  • Buy gas or diesel and storage containers before prices take off.
  • Practice packing and know how long it will take and what you really can carry.
  • Get home or bring family home while airlines are still flying.
  • Be prepared to leave Dodge City near the front of the convoy.


Friday, January 13, 2012

I've been struggling with an age-old problem trying to find a safe way to carry gasoline in my vehicle. I found a way I would like to pass along. Typical five gallon plastic or metal cans don't cut it. I'm a former EMT, so I've seen what a collision does to a vehicle carrying a five gallon can in the trunk, and it's not pretty.

I want a metal shell around a plastic bladder filed with aviation foam.  Paranoid?  Yes.  Possible? Absolutely! It turns out you can get fairly low cost racing fuel cells from several sources that meet the bill - and two of them will fit in the trunk of my Prius or back of my Jeep. See this at Amazon: RJS Racing 32 Gallon Fuel Cell. These sell for $269 including shipping. You can get the same fuel tank without the metal shield but with aviation foam for about $150.

In my Prius, that gives me an un-refueled range of 3,330 miles, allowing a coast to coast run with gas to spare or dash and back x2 from Northern California to Northern Idaho.

Which gives me more options than the average bear. - Michael M.

Friday, December 23, 2011

We now have indoor plumbing and a Wal-Mart, along with the millions of acres of wooded wonderland. Some of our forests are so dense and vast that even the DNR officers have become lost. We are alive with moose, wolf, cougar and black bear, to name a few. My husband and I are in our mid 50s and bought our 40 acres of forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula 20 years ago. Can you believe it; we paid only $13,000 for our woods and small cabin? Back then, no one in his or her right mind wanted to live in this harsh, almost Siberian-like wilderness, especially in the winter. It was a time when the only good paying jobs were in logging and mining and we still had a four party telephone system. Many places did not even have electricity. It is crazy how much things have changed in a few short years.

Back when we were settling into our new forest environment, we quickly discovered that the old-fashioned back yard garden becomes a lesson in futility until one learns that Mother Nature owns your butt. You do not do anything in this neighborhood, without her permission. Mesmerized by the warming of your world in early spring and the arrival of the first fawn, the chances are good that you have forgotten who is running the show. By mid spring, dear Mother will send a massive cloud of no see ems to eat out your eyeballs. By late summer, her army of Deer flies and Mosquitoes arrive to finish the job of reminding you that her justice is real.

At the beginning of winter, which can come anytime after the second week in September, Mother Nature unleashes her heavy cloud formations and delivers them in off Lake Superior. By mid-December, cranky, old man winter gets his gears moving and orders his cold winds to storm down from the Canadian arctic. The old guy mixes it up with Mother Nature and together they can dump an average snowfall for the season of 100 to 300 inches depending how close to the pristine, moody, Lake Superior you are. The Upper Peninsula is rich in soil minerals, however most soil for growing crops is horrible. A soil PH of 7 is a great find and is much treasured.

My reason for setting the stage is that one of the biggest obstacles of living up here will be fresh food. Having the ability to hunt and loads of dehydrated food is great but we need live, fresh food too. Therefore, the question is; how do you grow food in such an inhospitable climate and rotten soil? There is very little farming in the upper peninsula, and only one or two families make a living from strawberry u-pick farms, a couple of blueberry farms and a select few potato growers, that is it. Notice the crops mentioned like an acidic soil?

Our mission has been to grow a years worth of food without spending a shipload of money. Our ideal system would be a sturdy greenhouse and a low or no cost heating unit. Solar is almost useless during the time that we would need it the most, so we crossed it off our list. In the beginning of our homestead, we built a makeshift greenhouse out of windows the neighbors had donated to get them out of their garage. It was fun to build and use. Glass is wonderful for use as a greenhouse but the wooden frames eventually rot due to moisture and mildew. It served us well for almost 8 years but the needed repairs exceeded our budget, thanks to a lot of wind and a falling tree branch.

With paper and pencil in hand, we figured out the size of the new greenhouse we would need and the amount of cash we could afford to spend. We wanted to be able to extend the season by two months in both directions since our growing season barely makes 90 days some years. (Some of the old timers say that they have seen it snow at least once, in every month of the year.) It is also not out of the realm of possibilities for the temperature to fall to -40 or -50 on a clear night, although normally it only gets 20 below. There is just no growing anything from November to February here either, even if you had megabucks to spend on heating a greenhouse or had a good south-facing window. There just is not enough sunlight to do the job without very expensive artificial lighting. People living in Maine for example, do not seem to have the problem we do with dark cloud cover for those 3 months of the year. During December and January, it is totally, 100% dark at 4:30 P.M. (central), in the afternoon, another reason we won’t even try to grow in that part of the winter.

We began saving some our limited dollars and eventually were able to purchase a corrugated polycarbonate greenhouse, 16ft. X 20ft. (It is smaller than what we had hoped for, but money being hard to come by we settled on what we could afford.) I want to kiss the person who invented this type greenhouse. I was in love! It was delivered the second week of March during a blinding snowstorm. Needles to say, we did not get it up until June and much bad language from hubby. For the first couple of years we were unable to use it from late October to late April. We could only extend the season a couple of months in the spring and a few weeks in the fall, we wanted more. It needed heat to take advantage of what this beautiful polycarbonate building had to offer. After a winter’s worth of research, we came up with a plan. Using ideas and experience from several authors, we put something together that is relatively inexpensive to get started but holds up well and works fabulously. Most of it is made from scrap or junkyard salvage. For the very first time, I grew beautiful sweet potatoes. (These critters are delicious but space intensive. I just wanted to see if I could do it.) Here is what we did.

Before we put up the polycarbonate greenhouse, we had 3 yards of gravel brought in and dumped. At the time, we were only interested in making a level spot for the greenhouse. The spot we had chosen had a great south facing view but had a sizable slope to it. The hill had too much of a slope to put up a greenhouse without added material. The dump truck left a mountain of gravel right where we wanted it. We hauled and leveled the huge pile by hand which took about three full days. The instant the area was leveled and smooth, we unboxed the greenhouse parts and got things sized, measured and eventually, up.

When the time came to put in some sort of heating, we decided on a modified version that we found in a book called “Solviva”, by Anna Edey. Anna had a grant to build her experimental greenhouse, so she was able to have solar panels and all the gizmos and gadgets that go with solar as a back up heat. Too expensive for us, but what she covered in the book that we used was the example for a wood fired device she had in the center of her massive greenhouse. We used her idea and modified it to fit our greenhouse.

Parts list;
55-gallon metal barrel cut in half, long ways.
An old metal bed frame, taken apart.
Angle iron, one eight footer should be enough.
Steel plate 26” x 40” 1/8 inch thick. Thicker would work but this is what we had on hand.
4” chimney pipe, purchased~ not very expensive.
Two small hinges, taken from a barn door.
Woodstove gasket
First, we found an old 55-gallon barrel and cut it in half-long way. Make sure the barrel did not have toxic material in it. Next we hand dug a hole in the back center of the greenhouse, deep enough to fit the half barrel. I think the hole was about 20 inches deep, 45 inches long and 30 inches wide. You will need room to lower the half barrel into the hole and backfill around it.

Next, we found an old metal bed frame and dismantled it. We kept only the sidepieces, the two pieces that hold the mattress. Hubby then cut two lengths to fit either side of the half barrel, since the sides will be weight bearing. Next, he found some sturdy angle iron and cut four of them slightly longer than the width of the barrel; these will sit on the bed frame sidepieces. Fill in any gaps with wood stove gasket. (The first year we had this up and running, we put the barrel level with the gravel as that is what Anna did in the book. She also used longer angle iron across the barrel and sunk them into the backfill before laying down the sheet metal. Her model was much bigger due to the size of the space she was heating.) Next, hubby cut a sheet of steel plate ½ inch longer and wider than the half barrel. Looking at the steel plate long ways measure in 14 inches and make a cut on that line. On this, you will put two small hinges before placing it on the top of the barrel. The hinged flap becomes the door where you load the wood into your new in floor wood stove. Our design worked great for the first year but the second year we had such heavy snowfall that when the snow melted it filled the greenhouse with water. We have found that if our half barrel sticks up from the gravel about two inches or so, the spring melt will not leak into the barrel and put out the fire.

The first in-floor woodstove we made: Hubby cut a 4-inch hole in the end of the half barrel, and this was where the original chimney connected. It worked fine for the first few years but the connecting elbow filled with creosote, which clogged the pipe. We had to dig up the pipe from the backfill to clean it. Since then we made a new stove and put the chimney on top through the steel plate. It is much nicer but limits the space on top of the unit. The chimney should extend 2 feet above the surface of the greenhouse roof. It is better for draft and heat and smoke will not damage the plastic roof material. The re-enforced steel plate is used because once your in floor woodstove is finished and ready to fire up, you will want a waterproof container sitting on the steel plate. Once your bucket or barrel is filled with water and is heated, it acts like a pan of water on the kitchen stove. The heat and moisture add comfort back into the room. In addition, what we have found is that the gravel around the woodstove stays warm for a long time even when there is no fire in the stove. This area makes a nice place to put seed starting flats. The bottom heat is perfect for little sprouts to come alive. Even when it is minus 4 degrees outside and I will have little pale green life making their first debut against the rich black soil.

Here we are, the second week in December and we have just finished the last of the salad fixin‘s. We served a robust tossed salad for our Thanksgiving meal of Butterhead lettuce, green and red spinach, Tah Tsai (spinach mustard), Pac Choi and Kale. Once the last of the salad greens are harvested, it is time to clean the greenhouse and put her to bed for the winter. About the second week in February, I start the seed flats with new potting material and lovingly place the seed into their new home. Depending on weather conditions, how cold nighttime temperatures, I may let my seed flats stay inside the cabin for a week longer. Hubby cuts an extra cord of firewood in the fall just for the greenhouse. I do not want to use it all right away, so I may wait to fire up the greenhouse. In addition, I have better control of germinating temperatures when the seedlings are in our cabin at super cold night temperatures. About the end of March, I can use the greenhouse floor for germinating.

Another maneuver I used before the woodstove was installed, that turned out well, is making a greenhouse inside the greenhouse. I made a small wooden frame about 24 inches tall X 48 inches long X 48 inches wide and covered it with plastic. Place this mini greenhouse over the growing seedlings. Cover with a blanket at night to keep the daytime soil heat from escaping. It is surprising how efficient it is. If you do not mind using a little electricity, you can place a small electric heater in there too. I have started spinach and mustard greens and kale in September, placed them under the mini greenhouse in the greenhouse raised bed and had them spring to life when there was enough sunlight to make them happy. They were in a kind of holding pattern during the dark months.

Money is an issue

No money for a fancy greenhouse? Not a problem. For the price of a few feet of 6-mil white/clear plastic, you can have a nice greenhouse and can still use the woodstove idea. We experimented this year with an almost no cost way to extent the growing season.
We had some scrap 2 x 2s which we used to erect a frame. We also had on hand, scrap fencing material, some galvanized cattle fence and some chicken wire fencing. Whatever the material you use, it needs to be bendable. After we were satisfied with the frame construction, we mounted the fence over the framework and stapled to the 2 x 2s. Next came the plastic sheeting, which was also stapled onto the 2 x 2s. Because it can get quite windy in the fall and winter, I used regular clothesline rope to tie it down. We drove 6 stakes into the ground, three on either side of our new greenhouse. Next, I took the rope and went back and forth over the plastic knotting the rope around each stake as we went until all the rope was used, leaving enough to tie the end to a stake.
We have not yet, put a woodstove in this plastic covered greenhouse, but there is certainly no reason why you couldn’t. I would recommend, however, that you use a section of plywood to mount the chimney through the roof. The heat coming off the chimney can wreck havoc with plastic. Our plastic covered greenhouse sits in the garden where we previously made a raised bed. For this winter, I placed over wintering perennials in it. It held up very well through all the nasty windstorms we have had this fall. I was very happy with this setup.

You can see pictures of the in floor woodstove and the wire and plastic covered greenhouse here.

Some key reference books from our library:

Friday, November 18, 2011

I recently attended a “survival camp” with my son’s Boy Scout troop and was surprised how many of the boys were unable to get a good fire started.  Today’s emphasis of “don’t play with matches” even seems to have most kids scared of fire.  A fire provides warmth, the ability to cook, and even a setting to bring the day to a close.  Building a sustainable fire quickly and comfortably is a survival skill that everyone should know.  Some preparation is required, however to be able to start and keep a fire burning.  Everyone’s kit should include some type of fire starter.  This could be anything from waterproof matches to a 9 volt battery or a piece of flint and steel.  Some type of kindling should also be in your kit.  Some compact examples include, dryer lint (a small pinch of that stuff most people throw out can easily ignite a lasting fire), sawdust (some people even coat it in a wax and store it this way), cotton balls (these can be soaked in alcohol or vaseline and kept in a plastic baggy), or even small strips of newspaper. 

When the need for a fire arises, one needs to be able to construct a fire that will light quickly and stay lit.  First, an area to build the fire in must be cleared.  An area in the center of your camp is ideal unless you are trying to stay hidden.  Clear a large area of sticks, leaves, grasses, or debris.  Find some large rocks or debris to create a fire circle to delineate the fire area from your camp.  Be sure not to use rocks from streams, lakes, or other bodies of water as these may contain small traces of water that when heated will “explode”.  If you are worried about your fire giving away your location, it is possible to build a covert fire.  This can be done by digging an actual pit for the fire to burn in and surrounding the pit with larger nonflammable items to act as a wall.  It is possible to construct a fire that can still give off heat and be used to cook over without it being seen from a distance.  It is also possible to build your fire in a non-flammable metal container as well (i.e.  50 gallon drum).  Once a fire pit is established it is time to prepare the actual fire itself.  It is important to select dry wood for a fire.  Branches and limbs that have fallen are a good place to start.  An old trick to determine how wet a piece of wood is is to break the wood.  If you get a distinct cracking sound, the wood is dry. If the sound is muffled or dull sounding than the wood may be too wet to burn and should be set out to dry.  It is also possible to find dead branches still attached to trees that will be dry enough to burn.  Also make sure you do not select and poisonous material to burn especially if you will be using your fire to cook! 

When setting up a fire you must consider that a fire requires oxygen, combustible material, and a source of ignition.  Your kit should contain two of these items and your body will provide the oxygen, however there must be a way to get it to the fire as it burns.  Two simple types of fire setups that meet these criteria include the lean-to type and the teepee type.  The lean-to type of fire is constructed by placing a large log to the side of the cleared out fire pit.   Finding the smallest possible sticks, stack these in a perpendicular row with one end on the log and the other on the ground creating a triangular space between the ground, large log, and small sticks.  This area will be where the fire will start and you can add oxygen by blowing into this tunnel or fan this area.  Continue to build on top of the small sticks with slightly larger sticks.  When this is complete, there should still be space between the original row of small sticks and the ground for starting the fire.  A second option is the teepee fire.  This requires a little more skill and three half inch to three quarter inch diameter sticks.  These should be arraigned in a pyramidal structure in the center of the cleared out fire pit with one end in the ground and the other ends all touching.  This can be modified by tying the sticks together or lashing the ends but will increase the time necessary.  Just arranging them so that they lean on each other should be sufficient to hold them up.  Taking small sticks and using the “pyramid”, stack around the structure to create a teepee keeping a small opening to light the fire and add oxygen.  Once small sticks are all around move on to larger sticks and build up a good size teepee.  This structure should collapse on itself as it burns.

Once the basic frame for your fire is setup you are ready to light it.  Take a small piece of the lint and pull it apart to create more surface area.  Use a match, striker, or other means to get a spark on the lint and it should begin to smolder and burn.  With gentle even breaths, begin to grow your fire.  Place this in the opening of the teepee or in the tunnel of the lean to and gently blow on the spark to get it to grow in size and intensity.  A steady slow exhalation works much better than many short breaths.  This small fire is all that is necessary to get the smallest sticks burning, though some people find it helpful to start with small dry leaves or dry grass and increase the size of the flame before getting to the sticks, although this will increase the amount of smoke given off by the fire.  These small sticks will burn quickly and move to the larger sticks.  Be sure to increase the size of the sticks as the fire builds and move to logs when the fire is of sufficient size.  It will be necessary to keep a supply of wood nearby or send groups out to gather wood throughout the night.  The larger logs may burn slower and with less light, but the coals will stay warm for hours. 

Cooking over an outdoor fire also requires a little forethought.  Before lighting the fire it may be necessary to setup some way to keep food over the fire, but still be able to retrieve it without burning oneself.  This can be done, obviously, with a long stick whittled down at one end.  You may also consider placing two large sticks on either side of the fire and connecting them with a string far enough above the fire that it will not burn.  It will then be possible to suspend your food with fish hooks and line directly over the fire to cook.  It is also possible to cook over the coals or flames using pots and pans.  One trick, though, is to coat the outside of them with a liquid soap first.  This will prevent them from scorching and will allow them to wash off very quickly with a minimal amount of water.

When your fire is out and it is time to leave it behind, there are still a few necessary safety items to consider.  Even if it looks like a fire is out and nothing is there except ashes, it is still important to douse your fire circle, pit, etc. with a large amount of water before you leave.  One should be able to safely put their bare hand through the ashes to ensure it is completely out.  No one wants to be responsible for accidentally starting a large forest or brush fire.  If you worry about leaving behind a sign of your fire, once it is completely out, the ashes can be scattered, buried, or covered over without fear of them re-igniting. 

It is possible to expose your children to safe use of fires without them even realizing they are being taught.  Having a bonfire a few times, roasting marshmallows with them, cooking smores are just a couple of ways to introduce them to fire building skills and safety.  Let them gather the wood for themselves, pick their own rocks for the circle, or pour the water on at the end of your fire time – kids inherently want to help with whatever they see their parents doing and this is an ideal way to let them learn.  It is also an ideal way to let them see a fire does not have to be a scary thing but can be used as any other tool for good or bad.  A fire is an ideal way to prepare meals, keep kids busy (gathering wood, telling stories, etc), and provide a centerpiece to camp.  One of man’s earliest gathering places was around a fire and may be again some day.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reader R.B. recently mentioned obtaining 55 gallon drums to store diesel as it "lasts for years."
Gasoline will also "last for years" IF it is stored properly. I recently tapped into a 55 gallon drum that had been stored for 5 years - and was surprised to get 2-1/2 better m.p.g. while experiencing considerably more horsepower going up several mountain passes.  Some of this may be due to 5 year old fuel having a lower percentage of Ethanol than recent production.
USE A QUALITY PRESERVATIVE - I like Pri-G gasoline treatment, but STA-BIL seems to work as well, and use 25% more than suggested.

ELIMINATE AIR - Oxygen chemically reacts with gasoline. Use only a metal storage container, since air molecules gradually go right through plastic. Be sure to fill it the container to within an inch of the top. Put the cap on tight and wait for your rainy day.  - Chemist in the Rockies

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I cannot even remember a time when I wasn't a "prepper".  Although until a few years ago, I had no idea of what I was preparing for.  Before the dawn of my awakening, I had serious urges to learn how not to kill plants and flowers. I wanted to grow my own food eventually, so I started with a trip to the local Big Box store, and bought some bare root fruit trees. Now in my mind, they are already dead, so if I could resurrect them, and keep them going, I was on my way. If they didn't survive my over-nurturing tendencies, then I wouldn't feel bad, as they were dead already! To my surprise, all but one survived the first year, and I tasted the sweet success of peaches fresh off the tree!  What I didn't know then, was that you always thin out the fruit the first year or two, or all the branches break. I learned the hard way.  That summer I built two 4x8 raised bed garden boxes, and planted up a storm. I read nearly every garden web site, watched all the you tube videos and read all the books that I could get my hands on, and learned about proper drainage, shading, and organic pest control. It is all a balance act as I found out, but I am now eating most of my diet from my garden. Quality garden soil is the key. Everything else can be managed. 

Along the way, I found articles  and blogs on TEOTWAWKI and WTSHTF. I read Bible prophecies, Hopi indian prophecies, and listened to those whom I trust, warn of impending disasters, and world wide trouble. Economic collapse, social unrest, changing weather patterns, and evidence of global disasters increasing in intensity, and frequency, answered any questions I might have had about the urges to prepare that I had been experiencing for many years.   In a disorganized way, I started buying long term food storage, beans, rice, wheat, and canned meat. At the time, I did not have a wheat grinder, and had absolutely no idea of what I would do with it, when the time came.  A plan would have been the smart way to start, but I eventually bought a hand grinder.  It was not until the electric grinder that I found at a yard sale, came into my life years later, that I actually ground the wheat to make bread.   Another lesson learned along the way : White wheat? Red wheat? Which do I use for bread? Gluten? Why do I need to add that?  Gluten needs to be added to make it rise better. After a few flat loaves, I asked  questions. Once again, I learned the hard way. I also did research, and learned that the nutritional value of wheat is increased by up to 700% by sprouting. What a find that information was, for my long term food storage plans. I will sprout my wheat, and throw it into salads! 

Momentum was building, as guns were acquired, CCW permit obtained, ammo purchased, water tanks, 72-hour kits assembled, and a trailer for hauling what I needed out of town if it came to that.   I'm a single mom here, with two grown boys, and I was feeling a little bit lonely as I used what extra money I made, to purchase more and more food storage, for at least a year's provisions. I personally knew of no one else doing this. I was feeling a bit like a hoarder, and occasionally had to do a reality check. Finding like-minded people on web sites, and blogs like SurvivalBlog.com was a tremendous help, to center myself.  Reading and re- eading the lists of organized ways to approach preparations has helped me move forward. I sure wish I had started that way.  Just after the real estate bubble burst, I saw the values declining so rapidly in housing, that I realized one of the most valuable pieces of advice given to me is to be debt free of consumer debts, and to own a house free and clear. I accomplished getting free of installment debt after a time, but the house mortgage was going to be a bigger challenge.  

I still had a little money in savings, but really felt uncomfortable with the money in the bank, after having narrowly avoided the markets' mini-crash in the late 1980s, and read about savings and loans collapsing.  So I decided to use what I had, to build my emergency short term, or long term retreat on a piece of land that I had purchased some seven years prior when I had been buying things to prepare without knowing why.  This was a perfect plan, to secure a small home that would be paid for, off grid- independent of city utilities of any kind.  It would be for me, a great investment, and a place to retire to as well. I work for myself, so for me, this was it. This was the only retirement fund I would have, a place to live.   Construction started two months later, after researching plans found on line. Again,  planning was lacking, as there was urgency in completing this project, and the builder was pressed for time too.  But my cabin stands proudly, in a rural area, 165 miles from the nearest city, and 15 miles from a town of 20,000.   

There is a fantastic neighbor across the street, but the first line of defense, is a fence! So that went up right away with the help of one of my sons, and some friends.  In spite of broken bits for the rock drill, cuts, bruises, and sore backs, we made it through the excruciatingly long week of stretching fence, and barbed wire on top. I did the hard part - I watched, and made lunch for everyone! :)  

The house is equipped with a composting toilet because I bought property without doing a percolation test first.  (Learning the hard way.) The perc test determines if a septic can be put in, and in this case, there were too many rocks!  Water must be hauled, but there are underground tanks that can be purchased inexpensively, to hold plenty of water. (you can buy up to 10,000 gallon tanks) I presently have 1,200 gallons stored, in 300 gallon tanks,  but will be installing two 1,500 gallon tanks this next summer. Wells dug in this area run $35,000 and up.  When in conservation mode, the average adult uses three gallons or less per day for drinking, cooking and washing (heated over the stove- sponge bath I would suppose)  So I will have plenty of water for over a year. The water system is pumped with a 1/3 horsepower recreational vehicle water pump, and an extra pump is hidden away for emergencies. Water is run through the cabin with pex line, which is easy to work with. I installed an on demand propane water heater for the shower, and kitchen sink. The Berkey water filter sits proudly by the sink, and is always filled. Extra filters are in the pantry. 

The cabin has a ventless propane heater, and a cast iron wood fireplace.  A funny thing about propane I learned last winter: In extreme cold, regulators freeze, and propane heaters do not work, nor do propane stoves and ovens!  Last winter I went to the cabin to experience the Christmas season in the snow. Hah to me. the temperature had dropped to -15 degrees Fahrenheit and everything in the cabin when I got there at 9 p.m., was frozen!  I think of SurvivalBlog, where I learned "two is one, and one is none". Oh thank goodness I thought, that I had just installed this new woodstove. I had not yet used it, but this was to be it's maiden fire.  Funny thing about fire places and wood stoves... there is a bit of a learning curve. I was being conservative of electric, because I wasn't sure of how charged the batteries were on the solar system, so I lit the oil lamps for light, which adds a cozy feel, and I set out to light myself a great fire! I remembered to be sure the flue was open, but I left the door open while I was attempting to defrost the cabin. I grabbed a cast iron pan from the kitchen, threw in a piece of chicken and some veggies, and shoved it into the wood stove.  Yum, dinner was great, but when I stood up and turned on the light to wash the dishes, I realized that the whole room was filled with smoke, and if I had installed a fire alarm, everyone within miles would have known what a dummy I was with my first fire!  

The smoke was so thick in the cabin that I had to sleep on the floor that night, because I couldn't breathe!  Yes, I did open the windows a crack, to vent the smoke outside, but I realized that there was a flue adjustment, and the door was suppose to have been closed.  (No wonder the cabin was still cold, outside the four foot ring around the hearth).  I called a friend in a panic, who after having a great laugh at my expense, told me how to adjust it to heat the house comfortably. (yes I learned the hard way - again)  

The following day was sunny, and a bit warmer but still no propane. No worries, I have a solar oven. It worked like a charm to cook lunch, but I soon realized that if I was to survive with this thing, I had better plan my meals a day in advance, because the sun is out for a limited time. No planning dinner at 3 p.m. in my neck of the woods!   The sun... A funny thing about the sun I discovered. It never makes appearances when you need it! I had decided with the cabin, solar was the way to go. So I started small, with two 175-watt panels, and eight T105 batteries, and an Outback pure sine wave inverter. Great system if the sun is out all day. Some days it is not. Darn that jokester the sun. It seems to be out all day when I am not there, but when I go to visit the cabin, it is cloudy. The battery bank is drawn down too quickly, and then Wham! I'm out of juice. No lights, no water pump, no radio, no charging the cell phone.  During the summer, which is the rainy season, it happens this way every day.  So I learned two more lessons the hard way:   Lesson 1. Always have a water tank that provides gravity feed to a house. Lesson 2. Buy more panels to charge the batteries up faster, or a wind generator.  I also have a gas generator, but it does require gasoline, and I am 15 miles from town. Lesson 3. Always keep a spare can of gas handy.   So now I have a great log sided shed built behind the cabin, to house the back up generator, and the 25 gallons of gasoline, the stockpile of charcoal, the 8 gallons of oil lamp fuel, the tools, washer (which will be run with generator power, and gravity fed water), dryer for use when it is raining, and all of the camping supplies.  

I have built up to a two year supply of food, soaps, Clorox, medical supplies, hundreds of matches, and flints for when it is raining, and I am outside for what ever reason. Handguns, rifles, shotgun, ammo to hold off an army,  300 + seed packs 1/2 heirloom, and 1/2 hybrid to sell or trade.  I am finally taking inventories of all that I have stored, to best rotate, and plan for future needs. I have learned that vodka is used for making tinctures with herbs, and I may consider buying a couple of cases to sell or trade in an extreme situation.   I am designing my green houses, and a heating system to extend the growing season well into winter.  I am collecting books to read, mostly non fiction, and movies to watch on cold dark nights. I have purchased 4 more solar panels 190 watt each, and before they are installed, I will be pricing the tracking pole mount. It increases productivity by at least 30%. 

I now have two 55-gallon drums, and hand crank gas pump, which will all be assembled and filled next summer. I expect to fill one with diesel fuel for barter or to sell. Diesel lasts for years, and I have distant neighbors who use it.  A four wheel drive vehicle is a must in a rural area during winter.  I would love to learn about ham radio, and to be certified to operate one.   I have a 10x20 covered chicken run with a coop at the retreat location and a small flock of eight hens. They live in the city for now with me, but travel to the cabin and stay in the summer for extended stays. They seemed to enjoy their last summer vacation. I always have eggs to share with neighbors.  Last but not least, My son and I purchased an older kick-start dirt bike, kept in our home in the city, with a 72 hour kit nearby, and an off road map from point A to point B.   Next year my project is to learn to use those fishing poles I bought at the swap meet!  Respectfully submitted B. R. in Arizona

Friday, November 11, 2011

While remodeling our kitchen several years ago we purchased an antique coal/wood kitchen stove.  This stove was a replacement for a wood-only cook stove that had seen better days. With the economy crumbling and living in New Hampshire where winters can be long and harsh we thought it would be a good idea to have an alternative to our all-electric kitchen.  Power outages are relatively common here as well. Several years ago we lost our power for 8 days due to an ice storm.

We have lived in our current home for 33 years. It is a log home several miles outside of a small city of approximately 25,000 people.  For the most part we have burned wood and home heating oil for heat.  My only previous experience with coal came 35 plus years ago when we lived in town in an 80 plus year old cape with little insulation.  My father-in-law was an experienced coal-burner and set us up with a small coal stove in the cellar. 

Our original cook stove was given to us by a friend who found it in the barn of a house he had purchased.  The stove was in sad shape, but the price was right; free, just take it away.  After having it sandblasted and reassembled it sat in our kitchen for 30 years.  We only used it when the power went out or when the temperature got below zero for a couple of days.  Other than that, it was only lit on Christmas and Thanksgiving when I would cook a turkey or prime rib in the oven as a special treat. 

Our original plan during the kitchen remodeling was to get the old stove restored.  After searching on-line I contacted a father and son team in southern New England and brought the stove to them for an inspection.  It was in worse shape than we suspected, so a replacement was in order.  Replacing the stove opened up options we would have not had if we had stuck with the old stove.  I had not given coal any thought for many years.  When we walked into the stove shop they had a coal fired base heater running…it was fantastic! 

After wandering around the stove “junk yard” for several hours we settled on a coal/wood burning model from the 1920s.  This “new” stove had several options our old stove did not; a warming oven and a compartment under the oven for storing pots and pans.  It was also narrower in length than our original which helped the overall design of the new kitchen. 

We got the stove up and running during January of 2010.  There is a “learning curve” required to burning coal.  After getting the hang of it, you can light your fire in October and shut the stove down in April if you want.  I shut ours down every couple of weeks so I can clean out the fire box, ash pit, and the area around the stove so the ashes don’t build up. Ash build-up around the oven makes the heat transfer to the oven less efficient. Unlike wood that burns up rather quickly, coal will burn constantly as long as you are available to shake down the grates and restock the fire box several times a day.  I have also found that the coal burns at a more consistent temperature without the “highs and lows” you get with wood. 

The first season I purchased my coal locally through the last remaining coal dealer in the region as well as one of the local hardware stores that happened to have a supply.  I chose to buy bagged coal for convenience and ease of handling it.  Even at 61 years old I can handle the bags without much trouble.

Depending on your area coal may or may not be readily available in bulk. Bulk deliveries require a specially designed truck capable of lifting the bed and dumping the coal through a chute into a bin, usually located in the cellar.  In most areas bagged coal should be fairly easy to find.  Coal is available in several sizes.  Our stove uses “nut” coal; others may require “pea” or “stove” coal.  Some experimentation may be in order to find the optimal combination for your stove.  For me bags are easier, no coal bin, less mess and unlike cordwood, it can be stored just about anywhere.  Bags are either 40 or 50 pounds each depending on the supplier.

This year I got together with three other people and arranged for a tractor-trailer delivery of bags from Pennsylvania.  The truckload consisted of 22.5 tons of coal in bags on 18 pallets.  I borrowed a skid steer with forks from a friend to unload the truck.  You could unload it with a tractor or by hand. But I would plan on getting some younger, strong backs to help. In the end I kept 10 tons for myself.  The savings by buying in bulk was almost $170 per ton over purchasing the coal locally!  The cost per ton, delivered, was $270.  10 tons will last several years heating my house and shop which also has a coal fired boiler. 

According to a chart I picked up at the local plumbing and heating supply store coal at $270 per ton has the equivalent BTUs of oil at around $1.70 per gallon, propane at $1.10 per gallon, wood pellets at $190 per ton and [hardwood] cordwood at $200 per cord. 

I recently filled my oil tank with #2 fuel oil at $3.499 per gallon. Last week I bought propane for our gas cook top at $3.53 per gallon  Earlier this fall I bought some cordwood as well; 16” lengths were $180.00 per cord and 10” lengths (for the cook stove in the early fall and late spring) was $200.00 delivered.  Makes the coal look like a pretty good value to me considering how much easier it is to deal with.  Keep in mind, the closer you live to the source of the coal the cheaper it will be, we had about $1100.00 in transportation costs with our 22.5 ton load and it was still a “deal”.

Once I start the stove in the kitchen in the fall we do the vast majority of our cooking on and in it for the rest of the season.  In fact it’s rare for us to start the electric oven or our propane cook top in the winter.  Once you master the “art” of burning coal there is very little work involved. 

When I get up in the morning I open the damper on the smoke pipe and open the air intake under the grates.  This causes the fire to burn hotter.  While I am waiting for the fire to pick up I put my percolator and water for my oatmeal on the cook top.  After a half hour or so I toss on a shovel or two of fresh coal.  It takes a few minutes for the new coal to take off.  When it is going good I shake down the grates letting the ashes fall into the ash pan in the bottom of the stove. If we are not going to cook anything until supper time or the outside temperature is moderate I will shut the pipe damper and leave the air intake about 1/4” open.  On our stove this equates to about a 200°-250° oven, just right to keep the kitchen area warm during the day.  Every couple of days I empty the ash pan out back.  That’s it.  (Be aware that every stove is a little different; every chimney draws a little different so you need to adjust you technique to your situation.)

When I get home at 5:00 p.m. I repeat the process from the morning and normally cook supper on the cook top or in the oven as I feed/shake down the fire.  I repeat the process at bedtime.  Typically I put between 25-30 pounds of coal through the stove daily. 

Like just about everything in this life there are pluses and minuses to burning coal. Nothing is as easy as walking over to the wall and turning up the thermostat on your oil or gas fired furnace…but we’re talking about alternatives here.

Coal is not for everyone.  If you are considering an alternative to your oil/electric/gas heat, give coal a look.  In my opinion there are several distinct advantages to coal.  The BTU content of coal is superior to most other fuels per dollar spent, it is more convenient to store than wood, either in bulk or bags, it will not rot like wood (it’s already millions of years old) so you can buy years ahead and store it without fear of losing you investment.  It takes up much less space than the equivalent amount of wood or pellets.  As I get older I find it is easier to deal with a bucket or two of coal than the amount of cord wood that it takes to provide the same amount of heat.  From a safety standpoint coal does not produce creosote, so chimney fires are unlikely. Stoves designed to burn coal will also burn wood; wood stoves can not burn coal without the proper grates. 

On the negative side:  Coal is harder to obtain than wood, and unlike wood you can not mine it yourself [unless you are very fortunate to have a surface coal seam on your land].  Burning coal is dusty no matter what the hard-core proponents tell you.  You will be vacuuming and dusting more often. I have not heard of a use for the ashes other than as fill, and as a traction compound under your tires if you get stuck in snow or on ice. If anyone else has any other uses for the ashes I’d like to hear about it.

A side note that might matter in a SHTF situation is that coal burns without any visible smoke.  Looking at my chimney you can see heat “waves”, but no smoke.  Coal does have a distinct odor but in my experience wood smoke is more of a problem from an OPSEC perspective.  My closest neighbor is 1/8th mile away; I know when he has his wood stove running, I have been at his house and there is no indication that anything is burning at my location.  Being able to cook and heat in a grid-down situation without attracting attention could be a real asset.  Another advantage to coal when/if the SHTF is the ability to store large quantities out of sight.  It can be left outside, in a cellar, or even buried to be dug up years later…try that with cordwood. It also never goes bad…try that with fuel oil, kerosene or gasoline. 

If you are planning for a SHTF or a grid-down scenario I would look for an older stove that was designed/built in the late 1800s to early 1900s when coal burning was prevalent.  These stoves were state of the art at the time, burn relatively cleanly, are simple to operate, and require no electricity to run. Vintage (and new) cook stoves are available with options including warming ovens, cabinet models with storage underneath the oven,  left or right side fire boxes, fire box extenders for burning longer pieces of wood, water tanks, and water heating coils.  Many times the original users of these stoves also got their domestic hot water from them as well.  There are also coal fired stoves used for heating only, these can be used in a living area or in the cellar to provide heat throughout the living space. I am also experimenting with a small coal boiler that I have attached to my oil fired boiler for our radiant heat and domestic hot water.  I will report back as I make progress on that project as well.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dear Mr. Rawles,
I just began reading your second novel and in some ways find it even more fun to watch the beginning of the action knowing some of what lies in store in terms of "future history."

But the purpose of my e-mail today is to describe a simple container I've been making to transport a variety of items including doses of medicine and fire starters.  As many of your readers know cotton balls saturated with vaseline make really good fire starters.  But how to transport them and keep them fresh?  This is my method: Get two plastic 20 ounce plastic sodapop bottles and save their caps.  Using a bandsaw or a hacksaw cut the bottles right under the plastic lip (right below the end of the screw threads).  Use a sander or sandpaper to smooth the bottom flat.  Then use Gorilla Glue to glue two of these lips together.  Use a vise or weight to keep them together until the glue sets.  When you put the caps back on you have a container large enough for three cotton balls that is small, light-weight and water-tight.  You can use PVC cement instead of Gorilla Glue but I've had less success making it completely water tight because of the small gaps left from sanding.

I have also used larger bottles from Gatorade to make a larger version of these mini-caches.

Respectfully, - Bruce S.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Way back in 1979, when my wife and I were first married, I was working two full-time jobs to make ends meet. My wife, who had just graduated from college with a degree in elementary education, couldn't find work. One job I worked consisted of working three 12-hour shifts on Friday , Saturday and Sunday. I was working for a security company, and my job was to patrol an industrial park. That job wasn't too bad, as most of the patrolling took place in my vehicle - just driving around the industrial park, and checking for trespassers, and ensuring doors were locked.

The other job I worked - that was a tough one - but the pay was outstanding. I was making $10 per hour - and back then, the rate of pay was something like $3.75 per hour for most jobs. This was another security position, with a bit of a twist. I had worked with K-9s before, and also trained them for personal protection. On this job, I worked Monday-Thursday, from sunset until sunrise. What we did was handle the outside perimeter security around the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, that was about 50-miles outside of Portland, Oregon. As if it wasn't bad enough, having to drive over 50-miles to work, then 50-miles back home, after a long, long night. We also had to pick-up our K-9 partners along the way, and at the end of the shift, take our K-9s back to the kennels and feed and water 'em.

In 1979, we didn't have waterproof clothing or footwear. Oh sure, we had rubber overboots, the ol' "galoshes" as we used to call 'em. However, wearing those things all night long, made your feet sweat, and it was the same as if you weren't wearing waterproof boots - your feet were soaked from the sweat. Same goes for your clothing--there was no such thing as Gore-Tex back in those days. I tried wearing a waterproof rain suit - and once again, the perspiration couldn't escape and your clothing was soaked by the end of your shift. I switched to a military poncho later on. That helped - a bit.

I worked with a Doberman as my K-9 partner, and they don't have heavy coats, like German Shepherds do. So, about halfway through the night, these dogs would start shivering, and we had no way to warm the dogs. We patrolled all night long, through the woods and around the outside of the perimeter fence. It certainly made for a long, cold and wet night. A Thermos of coffee or tea helped take the chill off - at times. Still, no matter how hard I, and the other officers tried to stay warm, we just couldn't. We were always wet and cold - and this was during the Fall - and we get a lot of rain in [Western] Oregon in the Fall (and Winter) months.

These days, we have Gore-Tex lined boots and clothing, to help keep us dry and warm in the wettest conditions. Gore-Tex also helps wick away perspiration, keeping us nice and dry. I would have given anything to have some of today's water-proof clothing and boots back then.

Enter one of those "Gee, why didn't I think of that?" inventions - the "Commence Fire" emergency stove. I received a sample of the Commence Fire for test and evaluation for this article, and I must say, I was totally impressed with it. It is so simple, yet such a great idea! Now, obviously , the Commence Fire, isn't a backpacking stove, it weighs too much, at around 20 lbs. However, it's a great item to have at your hunting camp, or in your emergency supplies, for those just-in-case situations, where you need quick and instant heat, and a very intense heat.

What we have with the Commence Fire emergency stove is a black, 5-gallon can, with a lid. There are also holes drilled around the top side of the stove for ventilation. On the top of the Commence Fire, there is a hole, that has a chimney that you pull out. Inside the chimney is the fire starter material, water-proof matches, a couple metal cups, a few boxes of water and tea. Inside the Commence Fire canister, you'll find wood pellets.

The whole idea behind the Commence Fire stove is for a quick and hot fire - when you need it most. The Commence Fire was originally designed as a one-time-use item. However, testing has shown that it held up in good shape for more than 10-12 uses. You can buy refill packs for additional uses.

Now, you can go to the Commence Fire web site and read all the technical stuff behind this invention if you're interested in knowing how it all came about. It's worth the time to look at the web site, and watch the video on how to use the stove. This unit operates backwards from most fires/stoves, in that, it uses the "top lit up draft" also called "self-feeding."

Inside the stove there are hardwood pellets, as already mentioned, with tinder/firestarter layer on top. They also use Excelsior wood shavings lightly coated with paraffin on top to ignite it all. Sounds more complicated than it really is. The main fire burns from the top down, creating a smoky gas called "producer" gas, which is burned in a second extremely hot (1,200 degrees Fahrenheit ) fire on top, that completely burns up all the smoke for a super efficient, no-visible-smoke fire. Well, there is a tiny bit of smoke when you first start the stove, but inside of a minute or two, there is no smoke, just a super hot fire burning inside.

You can then take your water boxes, and put the water into the provided cups, with a tea bag, and inside of a few minutes, your water in boiling, and you have a nice, warm cup of tea. You could also substitute instant coffee or bouillon cubes for a soup broth. And, this stove's top gets extremely hot - so you could also cook on it, if you had a mess kit, or place a trout or other meat right on top of the stove and it will cook-up for you faster than you can believe it.

I waited until our Fall rains started here in Western Oregon, in order to really give the Commence Fire a good work out. It only took a minute or two, to get the stove up and running and a hot fire going. It a pouring rain, the stove stayed "dry" in that, as soon as the rain drops hit the stove, they evaporated instantly - we're talking a hot fire - that will burn from 1.5 to 2.5 hours. You can also add some dry pieces of wood to the fire by dropping 'em down the chimney, for a fire that will last a little longer.

I would have given just about anything to have the Commence Fire, when I was patrolling around that nuke plant all night long, in the cold and rain. It would have made a big difference between being cold and wet all night long, and having a chance to warm myself and my K-9 partner, making the long, wet nights more comfortable. I could have easily hauled the Commence Fire unit to my patrol area, and simply kept it out there all week long, and recharged it nightly for an opportunity to warm myself. It would have made a big difference and made that job a lot more tolerable--both for myself and my K-9 partner.

Now, the Commence Fire doesn't come cheap, but it could be a real life saver and blessing, when you need a hot fire in a hurry. The unit retails for $99 plus shipping. And, you can purchase recharge kits for $19.95 each. And, as I said, you can add some small branches to extend the fire once your pellets start to burn down.

Believe me, I would have loved to have had this emergency stove when I was out in the woods all night long, in the cold and wet rain with my K-9 partner. I think the Commence Fire would be a great thing to have around your hunting camp, and to keep in your emergency supplies. You can't honestly appreciate this type of invention until you are really cold and wet - then you'd be willing to pay just about anything for this sort of hot fire. It's a very good idea, and this is a new company. Check out their web site, and watch the Commence Fire in action.

As I said, it one of those "Gee, why didn't I think of that?" ideas. - Pat Cascio, SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor

(per FTC File No. P034520): I accept cash-paid advertising. The makers of the Commence Fire stove are not SurvivalBlog advertisers. They did provide Pat with one stove to test and evaluate and they recently began providing one free stove as a prize for our writing contest, but that had no bearing on my decision to run this review, nor did it have any bearing on the content of Pat's review, and in fact Pat had already written the review before the company's decision become a contest sponsor, and this will be the first time that they will see the review. To the best of my knowledge, as of the date of this posting, the maker and none of my advertisers that sell the products mentioned in this article or contest sponsors have solicited me or paid me to write any reviews or endorsements, nor have they provided me any free or reduced-price gear in exchange for any reviews or endorsements. I am not a stock holder in any company.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

SurvivalBlog reader "Entropy" recently wrote a great article about building a fire in a post collapse world and being a Scoutmaster for 18 years it is a lot of fun teaching scouts how to make one.  Seeing the look in their eyes as they get their first fire built in the outdoors using no matches is a great experience.  As a matter of fact, in winter camps where the ground is not frozen I like to use a trench fire pit with rocks in it, then bury it and sleep on top for a very cozy and warm night. I too was bitten by the survival bug when I was a young scout, and the first priority in survival is ‘keeping your wits about you” so you can focus on what is important.  One real force multiplier in helping to keep people calm is a fire.  It can warm the heart as well as the body.  Here are a few simple ways anyone can use to get a nice little fire started.  Please remember that little is the key word in a survival or bug out situation.  Cowboys used to light a very small fire just big enough o put their coffee pot on, because they ate their food cold, and a hot drink was all they needed to warm their spirits. The methods below are simple and inexpensive methods of getting the first spark into a flame. 


Match: enough said, unless it is windy in which case you may only have a 0.5 second flame.  Lets read on, shall we?

ditto…but wait what if your lighter is out of fuel?  Well if it still has a good flint, then you have a handy little spark generator.  I prefer the older Zippo style lighters since I don’t have to worry about a seal drying out and I can store some lighter fluid for many refills.  It also lets me have a refill of flints right in the bottom of the lighter.

Permanent Matches:
 These are an interesting combination between a Lighter, and a “Fire Stick” (below).  It comes with a small reservoir which you fill with lighter fluid.  The ‘cap’ has a magnesium striker it with a glass wick that is supposed to burn up to 15,000 times. The wick is in the screw top lid which extends down into the lighter fluid.  You strike the magnesium stick on the side of the container to ignite. 

Fire Piston:
The fire piston uses the friction from compressing air to get an ember from tinder.

Flint and Steel:
  If you can find some flint, and you have a piece of high carbon steel then all you do is strike the two together and you get a spark.  These are usually used with char-cloth (cloth which has been charred) to catch the spark, but you could use a number of items to catch them.

Magnesium fire starters:
  These are a gray rectangular piece of magnesium with a bar on one side that when you slide a piece of high carbon steel down, it will spark.  These are very handy to keep around.  Just scrape off some magnesium into a small pile, and then place the ‘sparking bar’ right on it and when you scrape the bar, it will ignite the magnesium for a hotter ignition source.

“Fire Sticks”:
  Everyone has seen these they are simply the piece of steel with the post you run it down to get a spark.  These are similar to Flint and steel.  There are many out there which range from a very inexpensive stick and steel on a small chain, to the more survival sized ones.  I have used one called a “Blastmatch” in the past which is a spring loaded plunger type of stick with the steel scraping it as you press down on it.  It gave a brilliant spark (almost too much for OPSEC) but then it broke very easily.  So really ‘tool time’ these when you are shopping.

Magnifying glass:
  Everyone remembers burning insects with a magnifying glass, and yes you can get things to smolder, but you really need a good amount of sun to get a magnifying glass to start a fire.  To do it you need to focus the brightest part of the light coming through the glass into the smallest most compact point you can make it, and then hold it there.  It will work on paper, and really dry small vegetation, but you do have to be patient.

9 volt battery and steel wool:  Just rub the steel wool across the top of the battery and the electrical shorting sparks will ignite the oil on the steel wool.  DO NOT STORE THE TWO TOGETHER…it gets hot fast.  A little goes a long way with this.

Potassium Permanganate (a powder) and Glycerin (a viscous fluid):  Potassium Permanganate is an Oxidant which can be used to sterilize water, treat ulcers like canker sores, and a general topical disinfectant, but it will stain the affected area purple. It is used to treat candidiasis (superficial fungal infections like Oral Thrush and Vaginitis) and will neutralize Strychnine (poison).  Glycerin, or Glycerol, may be used as a laxative (2-10 ml used as a suppository or enema), and has been used to treat psoriasis, burns, calluses, and other minor skin irritations.  It works as a bacterial desiccant (it removes moisture through absorption) on contact so it can also help with periodontal diseases.  Okay back to the point, when you create a small mound of Potassium Permanganate with a small depression in the top, and then place a few drops of Glycerin in the depression you get a very impressive exothermic reaction which will start a fire, or even can be used to initiate a thermite reaction.  It takes a bit of time for it to occur but don’t put your hands over it to feel for heat.  It happens very quickly and is very hot when it happens.  I recommend testing this method, but don’t do it on your kitchen table with a thick folded up piece of heavy duty tinfoil.  It will go through it and make your wife very unhappy with the black mark it leaves. Trust me on this point.

Hand Drill: You will need a straight stick with a narrowed end (Drill), a notched piece of wood with a depression for holding the narrowed end of the stick (the notch should extend into the bottom of the depression for air movement). You will also need a piece of Leather, or metal under the notch to catch the ember. The notched board goes on the ground and you hold it in place by putting your foot on it or kneeling on it.  .  The drill should be standing straight up out of the depression, and held in place by your two palms.  By spinning the drill between your palms, and pressing down you will create friction and over time a smoking ember.  You will continually have to move your hands back up to the top of the drill as they will move down as you continue to spin and push down on the drill.  When you see some smoke coming from the depression then you can remove it to see if you have an ember.  When you have an ember you will need to move it quickly to your tinder and begin the process of nurturing it into a flame.

Bow and Drill:
  This one is probably the most complicated in that you must have: a straight piece of wood about 8-12 inches long which is narrowed on both ends (drill), a notched piece of wood with a depression for holding the narrowed end of the drill (the notch should extend into the bottom of the depression for air movement), a flexible but strong piece of wood about 16 to 24 inches long that has a slight natural curve to it (the bow) , a string (bow string) and a piece of something hard enough to withstand the heat from the drills friction with a depression to help control the top of the spinning drill.  You will also need a piece of Leather, or metal under the notch to catch the ember.  The notched board goes on the ground and you hold it in place by putting your foot on it or kneeling on it.  Then you have the drill standing straight up out of the notch.  The bow string goes around the drill (one wrap only) and then on the top of the drill is held by the hard small piece of wood and your hand (gloves are a good idea).  The bow string should be tight enough that when you push the bow back and forth it will spin the drill but not bind on it.  Once you have this balancing act in place, you move the bow back and forth until you see an appreciable amount of smoke coming from the notch then you look under it and see if you have an ember.  If you do then transfer it to your tinder immediately and start the gentle blowing that will bring you a flame.  If you don’t have any In-Laws that frustrate you, then this will help you understand what frustration is all about.  If you can do this, you can do anything.  This is a really primitive ‘ART FORM’ method of making fire.

Getting that first spark to actually ignite your tinder is a little harder that it appears on the silver screen.  I have had many scouts go grab a handful of what they think is dry bark, or weeds only to find that it is still too wet, or the oils in them only smoke no matter what they do.  One of my favorite examples was an episode of a survival-BASED reality television show where they gave the contestants a magnesium fire bar.  They were holding the magnesium side, and striking the flint side with a machete.  They were getting a pretty good spark too, but there was NO WAY they were getting a fire.  My wife, whom I love dearly, was sitting there saying “Oh that was a good one”, for every spark they got.  I on the other hand was sitting there thinking, “They would die in a real survival situation”.  It wasn’t until I explained to her that you can scrape magnesium into a little pile, hold the fire starter right down on the pile, and scraping the blade (held at a slightly obtuse angle towards the pile ) down the ‘flint’ side so that the sparks land in the magnesium and "poof!" you have fire.


Ethanol based hand cleansers: these come in pocket bottles or pumps and the 10% ethanol will burn for a short time.  A spark can ignite this but the ethanol will evaporate quickly.

Cotton balls and Vaseline:
  These will burn once ignited just like a candle will.  If you spread out the cotton so it is not just a clump, you can light it with a good spark.

Paraffin and Cotton balls:
  Very similar to above, just different substance.

Sawdust and paraffin blocks:
  Fill the depressions in a paper based egg carton with a mixture of melted paraffin mixed with sawdust (from wood not particle board due to the glue).  Let them cool, and cut or break apart the individual parts, with the cardboard attached and it can be lit with a lighter, or match and will burn like a candle.

Dryer Lint:
   This is my personal favorite.  Simply take the lint residue from drying cotton clothing out of your dryer and place it into a pill bottle, Ziploc baggie or other water resistant container and it can be started with the smallest spark.  This will also win you points with the significant other by cleaning out the lint filter.  With it being so flammable you may want to confirm that your dryer vent is clean and connected.  This is especially important if you have a furnace or water heater (flame) in the same room. Safety first.

Wax and newspaper:
  Dip pieces of newspaper in paraffin wax and it burns like a candle. This one is similar to the sawdust but you can leave some of the paper not covered in paraffin and it will ignite easier.  You can do this with cardboard or any other paper product as well.  The paraffin only makes it a little slower burning and a little more durable.
Gun powder:
  Yes you could remove a bullet from a cartridge with a pair of pliers and use some of the powder inside to catch your spark, but it is a violent reaction so if you are desperate enough to try this, . (All the usual safety precautions apply. For example, never grasp a rimfire cartridge by its rim, with pliers!)

Don’t get me wrong, a fire is not difficult.  For those who wish to be proficient at it though does require some practice.  But when you are cold, hungry, and out in the middle of nowhere, a fire can save your life.  Just remember to think about what kind of fire you really need
Keep your powder (and your tinder) dry. - Brad M.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Recently (based on a suggestion by a SurvivalBlog reader) I began a Meetup Group for Emergency Preparedness.  One of the Meetup events that I’m soon to host is entitled “To Build a Fire”.  Hosting this Meetup which I originally conceived as simply a fire building class has forced me to think logically about tactical fire building in a WTSHTF scenario where you are forced to build a fire for survival purposes.  I’ve synthesized these ideas into this article.

By “tactical” what I mean is “low observability” because technically no true definition of tactical perfectly fits this discussion.  However people should generally understand the points I’m making.

My experience with fire building includes six years in the Boy Scouts (attaining Eagle) in addition to years of post-Scouts camping and using working fires for various reasons on my property.

Inherently a fire is not tactical; however building a fire may be a requirement when no other alternatives exist.  Thus the question is posed: How can I make a fire as tactical as possible?

People may think that in the worst of future scenarios they can simply bugout and build fires for warmth & cooking.  My hypothesis is that using a fire in such a situation is the worst thing to do because of the high likelihood of negative outcomes, such as getting killed for your supplies.

Why do we build fires?

Much of the time it’s for pleasure: Inviting friends over to chow on good grub, or just hanging out in front of a warm bonfire and having a great time.  Other times a working fire is necessary for burning dead wood on your property or for other reasons.  When camping, fires are useful for cooking and to provide a lighted, warm, and friendly environment around which campers will gather.  Not as common are survival fires for sterilizing food and water, raising one’s body temperature, drying clothing, signaling, or repelling wild animals and insects.

Tactical strategies are generally not important for these types of fires and usually not even considered by the fire builder.  This can be a huge problem in a SHTF scenario because the effects of such fires tend to be highly observable.   Easy observation by sight, sound, and smell makes the pinpointing of a fire’s location simple, both during the fire and afterwards.

  • By sight: Fire, smoke, and general site destruction (broken or cut tree limbs, absence of normal levels of dead wood, footprints, trash).  Thermal imaging devices increase the chance a fire will be observed.
  • By sound: Preparation activities (breaking, sawing, or chopping fuel) and popping wood while burning.
  • By smell: Smoke and cooking food.

Tactical strategies are extremely important when building a fire in a SHTF or bugout scenario.  Starting a fire for any reason will attract people for miles unless extreme care is taken.  My recommendation is to not create a fire at all unless absolutely necessary for survival reasons.

Alternatives exist that must be considered prior to igniting a fire to keep your sight, sound, and smell observability to a minimum:

  • Food: can be eaten cold
  • Water: can be filtered or sterilized by other methods
  • Hypothermia or freezing: body heat can be shared and/or shelters built.

Stoves can be used if raw food must be cooked or water boiled but only if you’ve prepared with such equipment.  (Read this as: prepare with such equipment!)

If no alternatives exist and building a fire in a SHTF world is required for warming people in critical hypothermic or freezing conditions or to remedy other survival problems, then you must: 1) Know how to build a fire (an extremely important survival skill.)  2) Control and limit the observability of your fire.

(My disclaimer) Prior to the next discussion pre-SHTF safe fire building practices must be mentioned.  These are:

1) Know your local fire ordinances. 
2) Remove combustible material from around your fire building site.  The larger the fire is the greater this requirement.  Don’t forget to remove overhanging branches.
3) Do not build a fire in windy conditions. 
4) Prepare a readily available and continuous water supply. 
5) Ensure your fire is “cold out” when you’re done with it.  After spraying plenty of water on the remnants of the fire, turning over all unburned fuel and spraying again, carefully put your hands in the wet ashes to ensure no hot coals remain.  Bonus: after rinsing the ashes off your hands you’ll notice they are nice and clean from the mild lye solution created by the water and wood ash.

My experience is that most people think they can quickly start a fire in the wild because they can light a barbecue or a fire in their fireplace.  Fire building in the wild, especially under survival conditions and with added tactical considerations, will be quite daunting.

Building a fire is fairly simple but without knowledge and practice is challenging.  In less than ideal conditions starting a fire is extremely difficult.  Watching SurvivorMan on television does not make you an expert and when a fire is needed for survival reasons it’s critical that one is made quickly. 

Three prerequisites are required for a successful fire: ignition, combustibles, and air.

Ignition: Creating the initial heat source which is then amplified during the next sequential fire building steps.  Many tools are easily available for igniting a fire, prepare your bug-out bags with several of these options and practice using them.  Examples are: Waterproof/weatherproof matches, lighters, and magnesium style striker tools (BlastMatch, etc.).  While its fun to watch Les Stroud igniting a fire using a fire bow, this takes long hours of practice, precisely the correct wood types, and a relatively long time to manufacture the tool and to produce an ember.  Use a match instead.

Combustibles: Generally described in three categories: tinder, kindling, and fuel.

  • Tinder is composed of the smallest or finest flammable material.  Its purpose is to amplify the ignition source enough so that kindling can be burned.  Examples are: Pine needles, dried grass, tree or vine bark (cedar, birch, or grapevine), mouse nests, bird nests, etc.  The list is endless.
  • Kindling is woody material that is the next size up from tinder, but smaller than the fuel.  Size ranges from about 1/8” to 1” in thickness.  Its purpose is to amplify the fire enough to light the fuel.
  • Fuel is the material that’s added to the fire after the kindling stage.  Generally smaller sized fuel is used in the early stages of the fire but as the coal bed becomes larger the fuel can increase in size.  The fuel’s purpose is to be the main working part of the fire.  It provides the direct heat or burns down to hot coals with which to cook food, warm bodies, or for other reasons.

When building a fire you must sequentially move in order from tinder to kindling to fuel.  Skipping a step will not work, especially in wet conditions.  Combustibles must be as dry as possible for effective fire building.  Techniques exist for dealing with wet conditions, such as using a knife to expose the dry insides of the combustible material; you should familiarize yourself with these skills.  Another tip is to use hanging dead branches as they tend to be drier than fuel on the ground.  Finding sap covered tinder or kindling is a bonus.  Pine or other sap is flammable and very helpful when starting a fire. 

Air:  At first you may not think air is much of a problem because we are building a fire on Earth, not the Moon.  However, when a fire is not properly constructed, too little air will flow into the ignited fuel and the young fire will not effectively burn or will go out.  This is the last thing you want to have happen if you are attempting to build a survival fire.

Airflow is controlled by the fire lay.  A fire lay is the fire’s method of construction and an effective fire lay is critical for starting a fire.  A mature fire usually ends up as a pile of fuel with a hot coal bed, so the fire lay eventually disappears.  If a mature fire goes out, it can typically be restarted by adding fresh fuel onto the hot coals.

Too many fire lay configurations exist to review in detail (teepee, lean-to, hunter’s, log cabin, etc.)  You should research and practice using different types so you know when to build a specific one.  Fire lays can generally be categorized as “above ground” or the less common “below ground.”

Below ground fire lays are superior for controlling and limiting the observability of your survival fire.   A below ground fire lay of particular usefulness in a SHTF world is the “Dakota Fire Lay” or “Dakota Fire Pit” (DFP).

A DFP consists of a jug shaped hole dug with a wide base and narrower top.  The lower part of the hole is connected to a smaller angled air intake tunnel.  The air intake entrance is dug upwind from the main hole.  In essence it’s a small wood burning stove built into the ground.  An above ground fire lay is used to start the fire within a Dakota Fire Pit.

As a Scout I never made a DFP because they were too time consuming to build.  I made one this week and it took me 75 minutes to dig and that’s with proper hand tools.  For a young Scout that’s too long when you can use an above ground method to prepare and ignite a fire within a few minutes.

Again, not building a fire is the best way to maintain your operational security, however if a fire must be built and you have the time the DFP is excellent for these reasons:

  • Minimal light and heat signature:  Most important for tactical considerations is that it produces the least amount of observable radiant light and heat because the fire is totally underground.
  • Efficient burning of fuel:  Little or no smoke is produced, again reducing sight and smell observability.  The design of the DFP is such that a draft is created to supply fresh air to the fire as it burns.  This configuration allows the fuel to burn completely which produces little smoke.
  • Quiet: The DFP is quieter than other fire lays because the sound of popping and cracking wood is suppressed.  When digging it I suggest using sticks or other non-metallic tools because when a metal hand tool is struck against a rock it’s quite noisy.
  • Safe for windy conditions:  A low chance of the fire spreading exists because (That’s right!) it’s underground.  Furthermore this fire is easy to light and maintain in such conditions because the wind has little effect on a below ground fire.  Wind actually improves the fire by blowing through the air intake and increasing the burning efficiency of the fuel.
  • Easy cooking: Lay a couple of green sticks across the top of the hole and put your pot on it, or create a green stick grill onto which meat will be laid.  All of the heat is concentrated with this fire lay instead of spreading out as with other types.  You’ll notice your food cooks more quickly than expected, a definite tactical plus.  You can also wait until the fire burns down and cook directly on the coals, or use the pit as an oven or smoker.
  • Simple site restoration:  Just fill the hole with any remaining signs of your camp and fill it with the dirt that was removed.  If no chip producing saws or axes were used to prepare the fuel, then the vacated site will never be recognized for the campsite it was.

If the ground is too wet, frozen, rocky, or otherwise unsuitable for digging, or if no time is available to properly dig a DFP, quasi-underground alternatives exist which aren’t as effective, but are better than above ground fire lays.

One example is the trench fire lay which is a simple trench dug in the ground into which the fire is built.  It’s not as efficient or secure as a DFP however it achieves some of the same results.

Any fire should be kept small to minimize the output of light and heat.  Small fires also reduce the amount of fuel consumed which means less fuel collection and preparation is required, ultimately translating into minimal site destruction.  Additionally, fewer calories are used by the people maintaining the fire which means less food consumption is necessary. 

Ideally no tools should be used for preparing the fuel.  It should consist of small pieces that don’t need further cutting, again minimizing site destruction and leaving few telltale clues (wood chips, saw dust, or limbs broken or cut from trees) that you occupied the site.  You want your location to be 100% unrecognizable as a camp after you depart.  Also the sound of chopping wood with an axe can be heard for miles, and sawing is quite noticeable in quiet woods too.

To summarize:  In a SHTF world a fire will draw unwanted attention.  Before you make that fire always think of alternative methods of eating, sterilizing water, or getting warm.  If a fire must be built, keep it to the smallest size possible to meet your needs.  Use cover (dense woods, low spots, cliffs or rocky areas, even buildings) to help hide your fire, and seriously consider digging a Dakota Fire Pit to maintain your operational security.  This type of fire lay minimizes observation by sight, sound, and smell thus reducing the chance of attracting attention.

Lastly: Practice this essential skill now!  Don’t assume you can build a fire in the wild. Identify and use native materials around your bugout sites and travel routes.  Practice in both dry and wet conditions and in different seasons.  Prepare your bugout bags with some of today’s commonly available fire starting tools (magnesium type fire igniters, paraffin & fuel type fire starters, etc.).  They increase your chances to successfully and quickly build a fire; however don’t think you can build a fire just because you pack them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Okay, I admit it, I’m a Prepper.  The first time I read the Boy Scout Motto “Be Prepared”, I was hooked.  "Be prepared for what?" someone once asked Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, "Why, for any old thing." said Baden-Powell.  My real awakening with the Boy Scout Handbook was my first introduction to fire.  Learning to make a basic campfire, a cook fire, bonfire and camp-fire television were the first tastes of what would prepare me for the future. I camped, earned merit badges and worked my way to First Class and Patrol leader all the while putting an end to cords and cords of wood with gusto.  Being a Scout taught me at a young age to think about prepping as a natural part of my life.  When I read Jack London’s epic story “To Build A Fire”, I understood that being unprepared can be the harshest schoolmaster.  So I began my life in the workaday world planning on being the one who was prepared.
Fast forward to ‘married with children’ and I can hear my patient, psych-majored, wife say, “prepping meets a basic need”.  In my mind, prepping meant to know ‘everything’ about being prepared.  It was important to understand not just how to prep, but what to prep for and to understand the root causes for why one had to prep.  Several books I read provided the best explanation of what was coming: 1) The Fourth Turning by Strauss and Howe, 2) Conquer the Crash by Robert Prechter, and 3) The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.   All three helped me understand what I was preparing for and instilled a real sense of urgency.  Knowing the why, I also pursued the how by reading: 1) Boy Scouts Handbook (First Edition, 1911), 2) The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery, and 3) How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It, by James Wesley, Rawles, the best among many others.

After years of reading books, articles and blogs, it slowly dawned on me that I would never know ‘everything’ about prepping, but at least I could know ‘everything’ about a couple of things.  My work consisted of designing and building process equipment, which requires large vessels called retorts that are used to heat mercury vapor, hydrocarbons and air to over 1000F.  The retorts are kept under a mild vacuum, to prevent the conditions for combustion and fire from ever happening. After more than ten years of designing and building retorts, I became interested in biomass gasifiers, which are in many ways, similar to retorts.  My prepping had led me to look at alternative fuels for our family’s two diesel fueled sedans.  Although already easy on fuel, I was interested in what alternatives there were to using straight diesel fuel.  Peanut oil, soybean oil, palm oil, coconut oil, used fryer oil, used motor oil, LP gas, compressed natural gas and producer gas are all mentioned as alternatives to diesel fuel.  Wait a second!  What is that last one - producer gas? It is fairly common to convert a diesel to run on LP and compressed natural gas, but what was producer gas?  As it turns out, producer gas is the result of burning biomass (basically wood) with insufficient air. In fact about ¼ of the normal amount of air necessary to completely burn wood will yield a smoky, but burnable producer gas consisting mostly of Carbon Monoxide (CO), Hydrogen (H2), Nitrogen (N2) and smoke (unburned hydrocarbons).  Producer gas from a gasifier must have the smoke reformed into producer gas before it can be piped directly into the intake of a diesel engine. This could reduce, but not completely replace the diesel fuel that the engine uses.  I was intrigued by the possibility that we could use biomass to power our diesels.  After studying biomass gasification for about two years, we built our first test gasifier.  It was a batch-type, stratified, downdraft gasifier, which we built with insulated, stainless steel chimney sections and small axial blower. It was a very simple, yet excellent way to learn more about biomass gasification.  With this test unit we gasified every type of biomass we could get our hands on – wood chips, wood pellets, sawdust, cocoa shells, wood shavings, paper, and dried distillers grains (don’t ask).  In addition to producer gas, the gasifier also yields a charcoal, also known as biochar, as a valuable byproduct.

Needless to say I was excited, but then my wife says I’m always excited about something or other, having been born fully caffeinated.  Now I could make producer gas and biochar simply and on demand.  With some development time, stainless steel fabrication, and a digital control system - I could see this becoming an entire new business.  I made a plan for our prototype and my faithful sidekick, Jake, drew up good looking solid model drawings, which he then built.  To our surprise, the unit worked and generated producer gas that we flared off in an impressive blue flame about two feet long.  To our amazement, we also got it to power a 5 kW gasoline generator which we converted to run on producer gas using the tri-fuel generator kit available from US Carburetion.  So I showed my wife the unit, showed her how it operated, the big beautiful blue flame, ran the generator and told her my idea of how this was the basis for a whole new business.  Her immediate response, “That’s great dear – but don’t quit your day job.” Well I haven’t given up mercury retorts, but I could tell by her enthusiastic response that she was behind me all the way. 

Soon after, young Jake and I were discussing gasifying the various types of biomass, whether hardwood, softwood, nutshells, paper, and grains, and how the process seemed to be straightforward. Our conversation got around to size and again how simple the process was to gasify average size wood chips, wood pellets and other “average” size biomass, just as we could easily gasify small size biomass like fine sawdust.  I mentioned to Jake the importance of testing the other extreme, to which he immediately shot back, “then gasify logs”.  Ouch! Now that smarted.  Wood blocks, can do; small branches, check; short 2x2 cutoffs, no problem; but logs, full size logs?  That little challenge from Jake, faithful apprentice and right-hand man, forced me to think about the real reason we were doing what we were doing.  We really needed to be prepared for the time when the gasoline, diesel fuel, LP and natural gas were gone.  The time when the natural gas pipelines were empty, when we had used the last of our LP tanks, and when our diesel fuel and gasoline tanks were empty.  What happens then?  How would that happen? Whether war, EMP, political upheaval, famine or plague – it matters little.  Because when you’re cold and it’s dark, no one is interested in motives or underlying causes, you just need heat and light. 

All that would be left as a renewable resource would be our firewood, but how can we effectively use firewood?  Normally, the traditional campfire can provide heat to warm you up, cook your food, dry your clothes, signal your location, and provide you with adequate light to see and read.  However, under abnormal situations involving the high stress of no shelter, extreme cold, deep snow, high winds and driving rain; building a fire can be a lifesaving, but tricky proposition especially for the inexperienced and unprepared.  This is the part where having read Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire” was crucial to my thought process.  If you never read it - now is a good time.   Just what does it take to properly build a fire in extreme conditions?  It requires: first, shelter from wind and cold surfaces like snow; second, a good quantity dry wood; third, some kindling consisting of dried wood cut in thin sections or slivers; fourth, some flammable tinder, which can catch and hold the smallest flame or spark; fifth, all-weather waterproof matches or flint and steel; sixth, knowing the process of assembling the wood, kindling and tinder that will enable you to start and maintain the fire; and seventh, practice.   The best campfire resource on the web that I’ve seen is The Campfire Dude who provides you with solid information matched with years of practical experience.  Making a campfire is not that easy, in fact it requires skill under good circumstances, and can be near impossible in high stress situations.  Add to that the fact that a campfire is absolutely the least efficient means to burn wood to generate warmth and you may well be permanently disappointed. 

Jake and I had learned that it was easy to gasify almost any biomass using our downdraft gasifier, as long as it had been nicely chipped, chopped, pelleted, trimmed, dried and graded for uniformity.  However to gasify logs required a completely different approach, we found a clue at the 2010 U.S. Biochar Initiative Conference at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. There we saw several versions of inverted downdraft stoves and were intrigued by one large unit in particular.  One big problem was that it required electric power and a blower to operate - we were not interested, as our unit had to operate without power.  Instead we developed an idea, which used the updraft heat from the fire to drive the necessary airflow to feed the fire in place of the electric blower. We designed the layout for our basic prototype from our initial calculations, which required that we place correctly sized openings for primary and secondary air and chimney. Proper location, sizing and spacing all were important, in that they determined, how fast the wood burned, how hot the fire got and how completely it burned the wood fuel.  We built our first unit and were again amazed that it worked at all.  Our testing used metal containers, which ranged from 5 gallon metal pails holding 12 inch long split wood to 30 gallon cans where we tested full sized logs. 

We discovered in our first test that:
1) The burn was extremely hot, enough so to warp the metal container,
2) The wood burned with no visible smoke except on startup,
3) 20 pounds of wood burned down to less than 5# of biochar, and
4) The burn lasted more than two and one-half hours. 

Thus was born our "Commence Fire!" Emergency Fire and Heat unit, which includes:  one 5 gallon shrink-wrapped container, chimney, 20# of hardwood pellets, tinder/fire starter, stormproof matches, metal cups, water pouches, single servings of tea and a reflective Mylar blanket. 

To operate the Commence Fire!, first strip off the shrink wrapping, remove the shrink tube from inside the chimney, firmly pull the chimney completely up until it locks in place, charge the unit with the tinder/firestarter mix by pushing it completely down the chimney, remove a stormproof match from its package, light it and immediately drop it down chimney. 

Within five minutes of opening the shrink wrap, your fire should be well established. Next fill a cup with water and in a few more minutes you will have boiling water ready for hot tea.  Immediately search for about 100 pieces of small diameter logs and branches that are dead but still off the ground, and which you are able to break into 12” lengths using your hands or feet.  Lean the accumulated wood, even if wet, on the Commence Fire! unit to get it dry – as you will be using this wood as a continuing source of fire.  It is also recommended that you stack rocks up around the outside of the container to be heated and later brought into your tent or sleeping bag for long lasting warmth. Proper positioning of the Mylar blanket enables you to shield yourself from wind and rain, while reflecting heat from the backside of the unit.

You probably know that you can remain conscious for only three minutes without air. You may not know that you are likely to remain conscious for only three hours without adequate shelter and heat in extreme cold and wet conditions.  To reverse the effects of exposure and hypothermia you need the means to provide heat and shelter to reduce exposure and the means of increasing your core temperature by drinking warm liquids. With the Commence Fire! you have a unit with everything you need to start and maintain a fire in any weather and to provide shelter and warm liquids fast, especially when it is pre-positioned and ready in your BOV, retreat, cabin, boat, or cache.

Indoors, most folks believe that their fireplaces will be their backup heat. But the harsh reality is that a fireplace can be only slightly more efficient than a campfire in extracting heat from wood.

JWR Adds: The author makes an interesting new stove and tinder kit dubbed Commence Fire! It will soon be reviewed in SurvivalBlog by Pat Cascio. It is notable that the kit is specially dry-packaged for use in an emergency, so the contents stay dry, even if its shipping box gets soaking wet. Here is a demonstration of a Commence Fire! kit. 

Disclaimer (per FTC File No. P034520): I accept cash-paid advertising. To the best of my knowledge, as of the date of this posting, none of the companies mentioned in this article have solicited me or paid me to write any reviews or endorsements, nor have they provided me any free or reduced-price gear in exchange for any reviews or endorsements. I've been told that they will be providing Pat with one of their kits for test and evaluation, but nothing else. I am not a stock holder in any company.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

That was an excellent article by A. Arizonan! As a former newspaper deliverer (rural route in the American Redoubt), I would like to add that there are benefits to delivering or subscribing to newspapers.

As a deliverer who serviced home customers and coin-op boxes, I could amass "extra" or "unsold" paper to the tune of about 300 to 500 pounds a month. To this day I still have about 2000 pounds in storage. I'd have more but I can't properly store any more.

The added benefit of my former route was that I got to meet a lot of people and explore places near me that I wouldn't otherwise go. This has proved useful in learning more about where I live and who lives in it.

I also found some of my customers would return the rubber bands and plastic sleeves so I could reuse them (as they cost me money to use). I asked one customer if they would return their papers as well so I could "recycle" them and they were more than happy to. (As if I needed more of what I couldn't save, but you see my point).

After giving the route to a friend and fellow prepper, my friend has told me that he now has two customers who want unsold or "used" paper! He, like myself, struggles with storage space (he has about three times what I have in paper) so he is happy to not go out of his way to the recycling place but rather leave the "extra" with someone who has a use for it.
If you would like a massive amount of newsprint in a short amount of time, you can either get a route or simply talk to your delivery person. - T.M.

Dear Mr. Rawles,
One quick point with regard to the statement: "Some frown on cellulose as an insulator because of two of its other main properties, namely flammability and absorbency (ask anyone who has had a roof leak into an attic with cellulose fill)."  Commercially available cellulose insulation is treated with borate, and is actually safer than fiberglass in nearly every regard including fire safety. Regards, Peter in Maryland

A. Arizonan mentioned: "Cooking. My grandparents used to have a grill that utilized only newspaper to cook on. Quite a while back I even saw these advertised on late night TV."

Newspapers may contain toxic chemicals and these chemicals might end up in your food. Typically paper is treated with toxic beaching agents and these toxins remain in paper. Newspaper also utilize recycled paper which may also have become contaminated other with toxins from their previous use. - An Anonymous Reader

JWR Adds: This warning is particularly true of slick color-printed inserts. These should all be shunted off for recycling, as their risks outweigh their benefits in almost every potential application.

Friday, September 16, 2011

My wife and I have been hard at work obtaining supplies, developing practical skills, knitting key relationships, and generally preparing for societal disruption for about four years now. Our journey into this endeavor began after some research into the nature of the U.S. dollar (or more appropriately, Federal Reserve Notes) woke us up to the fragility of our world systems.  For this and other reasons, we have taken the message of Proverbs 22:3 to heart: “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished.”

Achieving a level of satisfactory preparedness for what life may have in store has been no easy task in Northern Arizona, where we have little water, poor soil, and high property prices. However, we have made great strides toward system independence in large part by consistently finding uncommon uses for commonly available goods.  One often-overlooked item has become almost indispensable to our day-to-day activity, and would surely make even more impact to our well-being in an extended grid-down or TEOTWAWKI type scenario.  I write about it because I see it get very little mention in survival-type forums, and I think others may find it helpful as well.

I’m talking about newspaper.  Newspaper has myriad useful properties of interest to a prepper or homesteader.  Newspaper is many things, including: absorbent, insulative, filling, soft, flammable, easily reducible, compact, lightweight, non-toxic, and perhaps best of all, cheap and highly available.  Let me highlight a few of these properties and show some practical applications of each.

Cheap and Highly Available
Although newspaper publishers have fallen on hard times with more Americans getting their information from television and the Internet, it is not at all hard to come by paper supply. I live in a small town of about 30,000 people and our local Lion’s Club drop-off bins are always jam packed.  While I do not suggest raiding charity bins for your stash, here are a few things that have worked for me:

  • Ask around.  I get all the papers I can use for free.  At one point I simply asked my co-workers for their back issues when they finished reading them and they gladly obliged.  To them it was clutter and something to tote to the curb each Tuesday.  Just ask the paper subscribers in your life for their supply and prepare for a constant stream of material.
  • The trash.  Certain places that sell breakfast often have tables of early morning readers processing their daily dose of information over a cup of coffee.  I’m not personally above gathering them off the tables as patrons leave or picking up a pile left on top of the  garbage sorter at a fast food joint.
  • Curbside recycling bins and drop-off location dumpsters. These are jammed with paper.  While some cities frown on people taking anything out of their containers (they are, after all, a source of profit), it might be worth a call to get permission.  At the least, checking out either will let you know which neighbors to hit up the night before garbage day.
  • Newspaper facilities. If you have one in your area, publishers will willingly sell you the unused portions of their rolls, typically for pocket change.  At my local press a leftover roll will run about two to three bucks.  The upside to this is they are completely free of ink and have been stored indoors.  Teachers will often utilize this for cheap, clean craft project paper for the kids.
  •  Recyclers. If you have a recycling facility nearby, newspaper can be had for mere pennies per pound.  Last I checked, the going rate was $.03 per pound/$6.00 per ton.  You’ll have to pay them a little more than they bought it for, but not by much.


            This is what first got me to asking for old newspapers in the first place. Newspaper, at its core, is very dry wood material in thin form.  It burns fast with when “fluffed” or crumpled to allow air movement, and slower if more compressed.  Here is how I’ve used it in the past:

  • Fire starter.  A few pages of newspaper crumpled into loose balls, topped with kindling, topped with a split dry log is usually all it takes to get a roaring fire built in my indoor fireplace or outdoor fire pit. 
  • Charcoal grilling.  Two balls of newspaper at the base of a charcoal chimney starter, whether the store bought types such as the Weber version, or a homemade one made out of an old can works much better than lighter fluid.  Not only will it light all your coals easier, it’s cleaner and unlikely to blow up in your face.
  • Cooking.  My grandparents used to have a grill that utilized only newspaper to cook on. Quite a while back I even saw these advertised on late night TV. These cookers worked like a charcoal grill, but somehow made use of newspaper balls as the heat source instead.  How it made crumpled paper burn long enough to make raw burger and steak into a family meal is beyond me, but it always worked like a charm on Grandpa’s back patio with very little muss and fuss.  These are somewhat hard to find, but I remember it working well and would certainly pick one up if I happened across one at a yard sale. 
  • Log alternative.  Not only does newspaper make for good fire starter, in a more compacted form it can produce a fair amount of longer-term heat.  In a pinch a section of newspaper rolled into a cylinder and bound with masking tape will burn much like a log.  You will have trouble lighting it outright, but when thrown into an already established fire or placed over a bed of newspaper balls and tinder it can replace firewood to some degree.


Newspaper is made of wood pulp, which can also be said of paper towels, toilet paper, and facial tissue.  As such, in a pinch it can be used as a cheap replacement for these functions, though the ink has a tendency to smear a bit.  One extra benefit to newspaper’s absorbency is that once used you can dry it out for other purposes, such as fire starter or composting. Some other ways I’ve used newspaper over the years:

  • Gardening.  Here in the southwest our soil runs two varieties: hard-packed or dusty fill.  Very few raise crops successfully without full-on soil management efforts.  Newspaper has been key in improving my food production efforts considerably. For one, it serves well as the carbon or “brown matter” base necessary to speed the decomposition of the nitrogen or “green matter” materials in my compost bin.  Worms love to bed in the stuff, increasing my compost breakdown all the more.  Best of all, it serves as a better moisture trap than almost any other common garden materials I have run across, and is certainly the cheapest.  When judiciously added to compost or directly to the soil it decreases my need to water as frequently and allows for better root growth.  That said, one cannot just add bales of paper to compost or soil, or it will suffocate microorganisms and plants.  It took me a while to happen on the best method for breaking it down to manageable bits, but I now use the “bucket method” (described below) extensively. This little bit of effort provides me plenty of loose, carbon-rich, absorbent, and mixable material to work with when planting crops.  I am currently experimenting with its use in applications which require potting soil.
  • Animal bedding.  Confined animals make messes in the same places they eat and sleep.  If these messes aren’t taken care of it makes for an unsanitary situation.  If one is raising animals for food purposes, this can lead to an increased likelihood of food-borne illnesses.  Newspaper is a cheap way to provide your animals soft bedding that can absorb their “downloads” and be thrown out/re-purposed before it becomes a problem.
  • Rags.  Doing laundry would be much more of a hassle during disruptions to modern lifestyles.  As such, it may not be in one’s best interest to use cloth rags or towels for common cleanups.  At the least newspaper can alleviate the burden by taking the initial brunt of the mess.  When I clean my guns I usually do so on a good layer of newspaper to absorb cleaners and grease while simultaneously preventing scratches from my bench.  When my kids or I dirty our hands, I will wipe the bulk of it off with a newspaper before coming in the house to wash up.  Newspapers are amazing window cleaners, and are a constant companion when I’m trying to keep the area clean when working on vehicles and machinery.  In the ongoing debate between the supremacy of disposable or cloth diapers in TEOTWAWKI in SurvivalBlog, it has been noted that one can extend the life of either type of diaper by padding it with newspaper. 
  • Deodorizer.  Not only does newspaper absorb liquids, it does a fairly competent job of absorbing odor.  This is one of the reasons old time butchers would wrap up fish with it.  Balled up paper will alleviate musty areas or the after-effects of a spill in a refrigerator drawer.  This function is also a side benefit to using it in animal cages. 


If you go to a hardware store that sells blown-in or “loose fill” insulation, you basically have two options: fiberglass or cellulose.  The cellulose type is typically composed of 75-85% recycled newsprint.  Some frown on cellulose as an insulator because of two of its other main properties, namely flammability and absorbency (ask anyone who has had a roof leak into an attic with cellulose fill). However, if accounted for, your old newsprint can serve you quite well as an insulator.  Some common usages, outside of raising a building’s r-factor:

  • Plant protection.  My wife and I, and many other gardeners over the decades, have saved several of our food plants from late frost by simply covering them with a good layer of newspaper.  For added effectiveness, we will sometimes then cover this layer with a plastic sheet to prevent moisture from getting through.  When the threat is over, simply remove it all and let your plants get some fresh air.   
  • Airflow barrier.  In the winter when I am no longer making use of our evaporative cooler I will place a layer of newspaper behind the grates to avoid the cold air blowing through.  Rolled up paper placed at the base of doorways reduces drafts from outside.  You get the idea.  I caution you to only use newspaper where moisture intrusions won’t happen or can easily be detected and cleaned up, lest you harbor mold.
  • Avoiding heat damage.  Newspapers are great to have around when one needs to handle slightly hot items (obviously, given its combustibility you don’t want it around things that are flaming hot).  If my wife and I are canning or cooking multiple dishes, we save our countertops by laying down a layer of newspaper to act as big oven pads.  When I’m zeroing in a gun in the wilderness, I will lay newspaper on my car to avoid paint damage before putting the gun down (rolled up, it also makes a decent bench rest in a pinch).  Newspaper spread over metal, such as siding or pipes will help it to avoid getting too hot on a summers day.  If wrapped around a skillet handle or building material it will allow you handle what you’re working with.
  • Food storage. In the days when my grandfather ran a grocery store, ice came packed in an insulative layer of sawdust, which allowed it to be shipped long distances, even through Arizona, without too much loss of product.  Since newspaper is essentially composed of refined sawdust one can utilize this same effect by wrapping cold/frozen items in newspaper, or conversely, hot items.  Not only will this allow you to transport the item and keep it at its preferred temperature longer, it will protect more fragile items such as jars.  When my wife and I travel any distance, we will often wrap our food packages, place it in a cooler, and surround it all with ice bags. 
  • Human bedding.  Go to any major city and in all likelihood a good portion of its homeless population lays on or under newspaper.  Certainly the more sophisticated of us can make use of it, too, for the same purposes.  Newspaper can be shredded and stuffed into sleeping bags and mattresses for an extra layer of warmth. 
  • Sound barrier.  Newsprint is, relative to more common forms of insulation such as fiberglass, much denser.  As such, contractors recommend it to those looking to muffle sound in homes.  If one seeks to lower one’s noise footprint for operational security (OPSEC) purposes, newspaper can be shoved into spaces between windows or sliding doors, crevices through which sound can travel, between wall beams, etc.  On structures which creak where two pieces of building material rub together,  I’ve found that placing a few layers of newspaper between the offending parties, then refastening the joint provides for a better fit and dampens the noise in one shot. 

As effective as newspaper is all by itself, here are three pointers for those intending to make use of it:

  • Newspaper and tape go hand in hand.  The handiest tape for any of its purposes is masking tape. It sticks well enough to the paper itself. Furthermore, when using newspaper there is often a need to adhere it to another surface, whether I’m using it under my kids’ paint pads or as a jar insulator, and masking tape will typically not harm such surfaces or leave residue.  It can also be left with the newspaper through its transitions to other purposes, such as fire starting or composting.  I recommend keeping a few rolls of painter’s masking tape on hand if you’re going to keep a pile of newspaper on hand.
  • Some care must be taken when storing newspaper.  Don’t store it near any source of flame or radiant heat.  Don’t expose it to liquids.  Even in safe, dry places it can become a haven for mice and insects if left in the open.  I recommend using plastic storage bins for indoor storage, and a plastic barrel with removable top works well for outdoor storage.
  • Depending on your use, you may have to break newspaper down into smaller pieces.  For the most part I can perform most tasks simply by tearing it by hand.  When I need to make it into finer strips a “guillotine” paper cutter (the type elementary schools use) works extremely well. In order to break it down into a fine pulp I use the “bucket method”:  I simply fill a standard 5 gallon bucket halfway with paper and the rest of the way with water.  Let this sit for a couple of days until the newspaper is thoroughly saturated and easily torn by hand.  Then get a power drill with mixer (mortar or paint) attachment and blend to a fine pulp.  Do this in an area and with clothes where splatter won’t matter.  You can now use the newspaper in its semi-liquid form for purposes such as gardening or spread it out to dry for purposes that require dry cellulose material, such as some insulation applications. 

Newspaper has literally hundreds of uses around the home.  I have but touched on those  of special interest to the prepper/homesteader community which I can personally attest to.  May you find newspaper to be as helpful to your preparations as it has been to mine.           

JWR Adds: Don't neglect using fire retardant (soaked or spray-on), depending on the application. For example, whenever newspaper will be used as insulation in an application where people might be sleeping or periodically absent, then flame retardant is called for.

Mr. Rawles,
I wanted to send a quick note that one option for a retreat's power/heating needs could be met with a natural gas well on the property.  Here is a link to a map which shows coal bed methane areas in the United States.  If someone was so inclined, a well could produce natural gas for a retreat for as many as 100 years and allow for a completely independent fuel source which can be added to other sources such as wood stoves and the like. 

Best Regards, - Jon H.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dear Jim

Yesterday at about 4:00 p.m. there was a massive power outage in the southwest. All of San Diego County And other parts of Southern California were without power for almost 12 hours some still are.

I learned a few very good lessons from this experience. I do consider myself a prepper but am limited to how much I can store because I live in an apartment. I had concentrated on food, water, and defense measures for the long run, but had completely ignored some more immediate short term supplies.

First and foremost, I overlooked cash. I have been buying silver but bartering wasn't necessary yet because this crisis didn't last that long. I know some people think ATM's have a "magic" power source but they don't. Every single one I went to was not working, and convenience stores were cash only. They did have great deals on ice cream 2 for 1.

I forgot to mention this power outage was in the middle of a heat wave. Southern California as you know is a desert with all of its water coming from other places. This outage happened because of one worker who removed a safety device in Arizona. That is what the news is saying, anyway. Another key element I missed was lighting and batteries. We had some candles but I don't like using them because I have a four year old who thinks that they would be fun to play with. I couldn't buy batteries because I had no cash. A friend gave us some batteries and we were able to listen to the news. We have some several media devices in our home that became very expensive paperweights last night. We did still have water but they had issued "boil water" orders for several cities. Remember that this whole deal lasted only several hours. Imagine if this outage had lasted for several more days.

One piece of technology we did have was a Verizon mi/fi wireless card, which was great until it ran out of power. We were able to surf the net and find out news, and go on Amazon to complete our emergency kit. A lot of people who like to run their cars all the way to empty found themselves sleeping at a gas station and some almost spent the night on the freeway. Keep your tanks full or at least enough to sit in traffic for a few hours. Headlamps were another thing we ordered they make life a lot easier than having to tote around a big flash light. We ordered a new radio that can be solar charged.

I don't believe there was any sort massive criminal activity just some people stealing liquor. San Diego is a very conservative city and with one of the cities with the largest veteran populations per capita. Civil unrest would be a bad idea. Our local nuclear power plant went offline because of what happened in Arizona. Our grid is very fragile and one person in another state was responsible for millions losing power, and it was an accident. Imagine what could happen if there was an intentional attack.

I learned that your frozen foods will be alright in the freezer if it is full [and kept closed]. Luckily we had just gone shopping and didn't have to throw anything away. Yesterday most of us in San Diego County were taken back to [the technological level of] the 1930s with the exception of a few Blackberries and other media devices. Had this lasted any longer those devices would have died.

In conclusion don't forget that not all scenarios are TEOTWAWKI situations and don't overlook the small stuff you keep putting off buying. It was the cheapest and easiest to get comforts that would have all the difference in the world. - C.R.


You called it. I can’t find the post at the moment, but I believe that you raised this issue recently. I was on the University of California San Diego (UCSD) campus when we lost power yesterday along with the rest of San Diego County. The electric eye-activated toilets and urinals in the new buildings were all nonfunctional, whereas the older models (with actual handles) in place in the older buildings worked fine. Exclusively installing toilets that don’t function without electricity in new buildings just seems like a bad idea. Thanks, - Robert B.


James Wesley:
Well, I finished my preps at the mountain retreat about a month ago (I fine-tune little things, but the bulk is done.)  And with the roller-coaster ride of the stock market, the Fed debasing our currency, one natural disaster after another, and everything else, I find myself resigned to the fact that something big is coming.  So I am growing slightly impatient.  I mean, this slow grind down is killing me.  I wish things would either get dramatically better, or just collapse already. 

Then something interesting happened at 3:38 PM on September 8, 2011.  My wife, our tenant and I were about to walk out the door to get a late-lunch / early dinner.  All the sudden all the lights went out (We live in Southern California.).  I immediately looked down at my cell phone.  It was still on.  I looked out the window and cars were still going by.  Okay, no EMP.  I assumed it was just a neighborhood blackout.  The little lady walked to the next property over to check on the preschool we run.  As she was making sure they were okay (they were), I hoped in my truck to run an errand or two.  The radio began to announce all the areas that were experiencing power outages.  In less than 5 minutes I was able to determine this outage was huge. 

I walked next door to the preschool.  All was well there.  The wife had set up a radio, and had had the same realization as I.  Since the facility closes at 6 PM, and it was now 4 PM, we only had about 10-to-12 kids left to go home. 

One note of interest was the fact that we had radio information, as did the entire county.  This made a big difference in how we (and the county as a whole) handled this situation.

I said to my wife that I wanted to go ahead and travel to the retreat after all of the children and staff were off property.  My lovely bride said, “I don’t want to leave the school.  It’s all I have.  You can go to the cabin if you want.” (She has owned and operated our main facility for 33 years.)  I explained to her that I meant after the children and staff had safely departed. 

Her statement put me in an awkward position.  Do I stay behind and pass on a great opportunity to do a dry run?  I really would like to see how well the battery-backed solar at the cabin worked with the grid down.  Not to mention the fact that while things seem reasonably calm at the moment, what if things spiraled and got worse? 

Or do I go ahead and go alone and be a jerk that leaves his wife behind? 

I went out back to freshen the chicken’s water, while thinking about what to do.  Fortunately when I returned, she had reconsidered. 

So once the children were gone, the last staff member informed me that she was a little worried.  She had enough gas to get home under normal circumstances.  But if she got caught in traffic, she was afraid she might run out on the road (most gas stations were down because no power equals no pumps).  Because my wife and I both had 75% full tanks in each of our vehicles (we fill up at 50%), I was able to give her two gallons of the ten gallons spare I had on the property.      

My tribe engineer had been in touch during this.  He decided to head up to the retreat as a dry run, as well. 

As I was casually packing the wife’s suburban for travel, my neighbor and favorite employee called me.  She informed me that the grocery store that was still open was getting cleared out (they had a back-up generator).  She was a little spooked, and said if I was going “up the hill”, I might want to do that sooner rather than later. 

So we hustled and got the dogs and the G.O.O.D bags in the car. 

I called my engineer (My back-up electrician was on assignment in Houston.  So had this been a real event…?) and said we were leaving.  He asked if any gas stations were open.  He was on empty.  Arrrrrrrr.  So I headed 6 miles in the opposite direction and took him a five gallon can of gas.  Traffic was light.  Many people were noted just walking around, walking dogs, that sort of thing.  I think the fact that information was readily available helped keep everyone calm.   

About ten miles into the journey, I realized I didn’t have one of the pistols I keep in the safe for just such an occasion with me.  Dang, I never in a million years would have guessed I’d forget something so basic.  I have a printed list of things to grab, but didn’t look at it.  Lesson learned on that one. 

I also realized later that I didn’t even think to grab the thousand dollars in cash I had.  That might have been actually useful.  Fortunately I didn’t need it.  But if I had, boy would I have felt dumb. 

Our 40 mile journey goes through a smallish rural town about 10 miles into it.  Traffic was very light.  Signals were out and we did brief stops at every intersection.  My engineer reported difficulty getting through that town two hours later.  A head-on collision had snarled things up.

The rest of the journey is a two-lane mountain road.  I was very relieved to see that almost no traffic was on the road.  This kind of makes sense, as nobody really lives out there.  But I wasn’t sure how that would pan out. 

Once at my cabin, I reached to my belt-loop for the retreat keys.  No Keys!  I forgot the keys to my retreat!  This really brings home the point that when the pressure is on, the mind can really go south on you.  Fortunately, thanks to the JWR philosophy of redundancy, I had a spare front door key hidden on property.  Once inside, I had a spare set of the rest of the keys. 

Our solar system was working like a charm.  Dinner was cooked, fans were running.  A neighbor below and one far above he generators going and their houses were ablaze with light.  The rest of the valley was dark, other than a candle or lantern here or there.  I kept our light signature low, just for practice.  I wanted to give my wife enough light to cook by, but not much more.  The five solar lanterns I picked up from Harbor Freight work very, very well.  I have let their batteries run down in the past, just because it is good to do once in a while.  They will run non-stop on a full charge all night, every time.  They did the same on this night. 

The tribe engineer arrived a few hours later.  It ended up being a late night, but we were all very pleased.

Power was restored during the night, and we returned home a little before dawn to resume our normal duties. 

After-action reports showed crime to have been almost non-existent during this blackout.  I attribute a lot of that to readily available communication.  Also, for the most part, San Diego County is still a fairly peaceful place.  I monitored all my Facebook friends’ comments about the event.  They all reported that neighbors got together, barbequed, drank a little wine around improvised camp fires, that sort of thing. 

All-in-all, aside from losing a little sleep, it was a great experience. 

I would highly recommend other tribes do a dry run just to see where your weaknesses are.  You’d be surprised. - L.B.

Friday, September 9, 2011

In this day and age of being able to go to a store and get practically anything you would ever need or want, the concept of preparing for a disaster escapes some individuals.  The time of “Victory Gardens” and canning your surplus vegetables and fruits have fallen by the way side in our current culture.  Our society sees people storing vast amounts of food and supplies as paranoid because they are simply not accustomed with the practice, nor do they see the need.  Most people cannot conceive the idea that they can be left without food or water, or that they may need to leave their homes in an emergency for a prolonged time.  The need for preparations extends to living day to day so you will be prepared for any situation that may arise.  Below I will share two separate instances during my childhood where my family being prepared either saved our lives or made life a lot easier to live.

When I was a teenager, myself, my parents, and two of my three brothers lived in rural Oklahoma.  One summer we had a massive barn fire which not only destroyed the majority of our cherished belongings but also burned our well pump house to the ground.  With the well pump buried under charred wood and sheet metal we were effectively cut off from our fresh water supply.  Luckily we are an avid outdoors family and had several water containers for fresh water, and a camp toilet.  We were able to simply go to the nearest State Park to get free drinking water for whatever we needed it for.  Seeing that we were stuck waiting for the insurance company to provide a settlement to replace the well pump for several weeks, we saved quite a bit of money not having to buy water to survive.  Since the barn was so far away from our house this was not a life or death situation but being prepared definitely made life a lot easier for the time being.   

Several years later we had a massive ice storm.  Several inches of ice covered completely everything, effectively causing the power lines to break under the weight of the ice knocking out power to a large portion of the state.  The roads were so iced over that when they sent out a repair truck it promptly got stuck in our hilly region.  For approximately one week our region was out of power.  Seeing that we only had two wheel drive vehicles and no snow chains we were effectively stranded from the outside world.

Luckily my parents loved to buy things that in my adolescence I thought were simply not needed, such as a wood burning stove.  Not only did it lower our heating cost but it had a substantial cooking surface.  We also spent several summers at our grandparents’ ranch clearing trees and picking pecans to sell for extra money (being a kid I thought that those pecan trees were like a gold mine).  We either hauled the trees to saw mills so we could use the wood to build our own furniture or we chopped them up for firewood (our wood pile would have made Paul Bunyan proud).

Furthermore since I was a child we always kept some form of livestock (mainly pigs or cattle) which we raised and butchered.  I learned how to care for the livestock and was responsible for their feeding and upkeep (as well as their far too often escapes from their pastures or pens).  We also always kept a large garden.  Being a teenager you can imagine how much a teenager loved to spend his afternoon picking vegetables, followed by a green bean snapping session.  The majority of teenage summertime bliss was spent pulling weeds, tilling, watering, and fertilizing the garden.  More than half of these vegetables were then canned and put away for whenever we needed them.  Over the years we accumulated quite a bit of surplus canned items and frozen beef and pork.  I also learned the extremely valuable art of canning.

During that ice storm we were able to put that woodstove to work and not only survived on our stored food, but we thrived.  Due to not having electricity we turned our wood box into our new freezer, keeping all of our frozen food frozen.  Turns out that all of those summers chopping wood and keeping up the garden paid off and being prepared saved us.  Also we saw the writing on the walls for the electricity going out and used our water containers to store more than enough water before the power went out.  The living room where the woodstove was located became everyone’s bedroom.  Since we were prepared, even though at the time we didn’t really see ourselves as “preppers”, it wasn’t a horrible experience.  Cooking on the woodstove and spending a lot of time reading and listening to my parents stories of their life experiences and the experiences of my grandparents living through the dust bowl, it was actually kind of fun, living like our ancestors without electricity for a week. 
In those real life experiences I learned very valuable lessons, which are always be prepared for whatever may come your way and learn everything you can to prepare yourself.  Luckily I always listened and learned from my parents. 

No one knows what will happen or when, take for example of the current wildfires in Texas (Summer of 2011) or the all too often hurricanes or tornados that devastate towns or entire states.  You never know when a natural or manmade disaster might displace you from your home, take out your utilities until god knows when, or strand you from the rest of the world.  Also it is possible that you might need to utilize your preparations for smaller emergencies.  In a time in which our nation’s unemployment rate seems to grow by the minute having the knowledge to grow your own food and having your previously stored home grown food can get you out of a hopefully temporary loss of wages. 

Nothing says that you have to go out and spend a small fortune on freeze dried foods or MREs.  I am sure that there are some people that say that they don’t want to prepare because of the price of the food, but canning is a good alternative.  You also don’t need a garden to can food.  Some grocery stores and a lot of farmers markets sell un-snapped green beans for a reasonable price, which cuts out the growing and picking aspect.  Although your canned food will not last as long as freeze dried food you will just have to rotate it more often meaning you will need to eat it and nothing tastes better than food you produced with your own two hands.  Keeping a garden not only reduces your grocery bill but if a disaster occurs in which the food supply is disrupted or non-existent you will already have the knowledge on growing your own food and the experience of knowing what grows best in your region.  Also using heirloom seeds you can learn to harvest seeds from your current crop to use the next year.  Another option is the use of five or six gallon buckets in conjunction with heat-sealed mylar bags and oxygen absorbers can enable you to store grains and beans for an extended amount of time (over 20 years for white rice, dried beans, and wheat).  Pinto beans may not sound great to some to eat for an extended amount of time but they are high in protein and will keep you alive in an extended time line emergency.  Keeping long term storage food in buckets also gives you the ability to be mobile if the need arises.  There may come a time in which your home may become compromised and you have to leave, or bug out to a safer location.  If you have your items in buckets they will be easier to transport to your secondary location.

Keeping drinking water grade containers around the house also helps a lot.  Most people that don’t prepare just flock to the store when a massive storm is heading their way and clean out the shelves of bottled water and canned goods.  Due to the current stocking practices at major retailers (what is on the shelves is what they have, they only order more when that particular item is bought), if you wait little or no supplies will be left.  But if you have containers handy you only have to go as far as your kitchen sink to fill your containers.

The preparations I have talked about should only be your first stepping stones to a well rounded plan.  The need for medical supplies, self-defense equipment, communications equipment, etc. and the know how to use all the items is still needed. 

I make frequent trips to our local Atwood's Farm and Home Store, where they carry everything you will need for canning at great prices.  The last time I went I was able to obtain a case of quart jars with lids and rings for approximately $8. (One of their frequent sales).  Canning requires a canning pot, a jar rack, a jar funnel, and a jar lifter all of which Lehman's carries for a decent price and they even have a starter kit including a canning book. There are multiple books available to learn how to garden and can food but unless you get out and do it and use trial and error when there is not an emergency you will not know what works the way you want it to and what just simply doesn’t work at all. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

This experience was thought-provoking, and many of D.M.L.’s ideas were interesting.  But there were two ideas that have not been tested or proven, so at this point they are only ideas.  First, J-B Weldwill not repair a cracked Briggs & Stratton two piece fuel tank.  They are made of black HDPE, and there is no proper glue for that.  I have personal experience with this.  HDPE is heat welded when two pieces must be joined.  You have to determine your Briggs & Stratton model number and order a replacement gas tank from Amazon.com.  I got mine for my Briggs & Stratton 6.0 hp Quantum engine for about $31 and it came in only three days. [JWR Adds: This underscores the importance of regular maintenance and starting up you backup generator under load, monthly. That is the only sure way to be 99% sure that your genset will start on the first pull and run smoothly, when disaster strikes.]

Second, the pump on an old Coleman white gas stove usually has a leather gasket in it that dries out so it won’t seal.  Use a pliers to pry off the C-ring and disassemble the pump.  Massage some vegetable oil into the leather gasket to fluff up the leather and put it back together.  Be careful and don’t put the leather gasket in up side down.  Usually the pump will work unless it was so bad it was cracked.  Don’t use motor oil on leather; it will deteriorate.  Like D.M.L., I used to rely on my Coleman stove and lanterns for emergencies, but I got tired of rehabilitating those leather gaskets.  I found a [Chinese] propane canister stove at 99 Ranch Market for $15 with 8 oz propane canisters for $1. I picked up ten of the canisters.  Your local Asian market should carry them.  This setup is very highly reviewed on Amazon.com, which also stocks them. 

I love your blog.  I’d like to contribute when I can. - R.E.R. in San Diego

Saturday, September 3, 2011

So, you think you're prepared? So did I. Until Hurricane Irene destroyed the infrastructure around here. The roads were blocked to all the local towns, all three routes out of here. If it wasn't trees down, it was flooded, or power lines and poles leaned over the road in the 'maybe' zone (maybe you would hit them and maybe not, but why take a chance on thousands of volts? If not those, it was pieces of somebody's house across the road. And this was only a Cat 1 storm? Sigh.
Before she hit, I, being confident that we were 'prepped up', started rummaging around to get out the generator and put it in the 'ready' position in the carport. It had been started LAST YEAR, and had fuel stabilizer in the gas, with the gas valve cut off and I had ran it 'bowl dry', so it should be no problem eh? Yeah right. We had an extra 6 gallon can that we had filled up that morning, no problem, we can run the generator an hour or so every 4 hours, to keep the freezer and fridge 'charged up', or so I thought. We had lots of canned food on top of the long term stuff, hadn't paid it any mind for a year or more and had been using it here and there, but as the economy gets worse, and our money got tighter, rotating the stuff became a battle, so it just sat there on the shelf in the pantry...going bad in the heat over the last couple years, since, we quit running the central air to save money. No problem, we have a thousand dollars worth of food in the chest type deep freezer. Uh huh.
We had a camp stove, and lots of fuel, but it hadn't been used in years, no problem right? I mean, what could go wrong with a camp stove, right? Uh huh.
We had kerosene lamps and lots of lamp oil, no problemo, Kimosabe? Uh huh.
We had batteries, for flashlights, had just bought 'em, didn't really matter that much.

Now, the S[chumer] as they say, hit the fan, literally, and civilization all went poof about 6 a.m. on Saturday morning amidst all the snap crackle pop of trees and power lines coming down all around us. But never fear; Prep Man is here!  So I went out to crank up the genny in a driving hurricane. That's when the fun began.
The day before Irene hit, I asked did you remember to get some extra chicken food, and goat food? No? Oops, have to let the chickens out to forage on their own, the goats can eat grass. (Note; there are good reasons farm animals are kept in pens and behind electric fences.)
As well as the generator, we had a solar operated battery system with inverter; did you check the batteries lately? No? Good luck with that, especially if the batteries are a few years old. Did you happen to have any distilled water on hand? No? Uh huh. (Even though there was plenty of 'distilled' water pouring off the roof, there was no Sun, and it takes 8 hours at least to get it up to charge. In my opinion solar sucks, even before the hurricane. If you don't have lots of money for a full blown large scale system, with a wind generator for those sunless days, don't waste your money. Being an ex-engineer type, I think I have come up with a good solution, a system I call H.O.E.M. gas. We shall see. The point is, power available 24/7 or bust.
The first thing I noticed besides the sideways rain, was that the goats and chickens had taken up in the carport. Goats and chickens love to climb, and goats jump up and down on things. One of the things they decided was a fun toy was the generator sitting under the carport, ready to go. It was sitting next to the deep freezer, a tempting target for fun and games. It was also the only semi dry, out of the wind place around, also, the chickens thought it was a wonderful roost off the flooded ground...
As I chased the chickens off, the goats and chickens became a mini tornado of fur and feathers in a small space, that was fun all on its own, and I didn't notice the smell of gas in the air. So I dragged the generator out and started to plug it up to the various necessaries...and went to crank it...pull, no crank, pull, no crank. Switch on? Choke set?, fuel valve open? Yup, pull, no crank. Arrgh!, now what? This thing was always running by the second pull. (One pull; switch off to prime it, then switch on.) I had maintained it well I thought, changed the oil, cleaned the carb just the year before. I looked, no gas in the tank. Huh?  Ok, I poured the gas into it from the new can and as I reached down to pull, gas was pouring out the bottom of the tank soaking everything, including my already soaked shoe. Whaaaat? The plastic tank, had been cracked around the middle...goats playing...then I noticed, the carport was soaked in water and gas. You know, those little colored rainbows that you can see when oil products mix with water? This was not good, why is it always the little things?
Seeing no way to fix the tank with the immediate supplies at hand, I duct taped it and tried tipping the gen on an angle. This stopped the flow, and allowed it to retain what was left, less than half a tank, good for about 4 hours, maybe, if I prayed real hard. That wasn't going to work if the power stayed off for any length of time, especially since there was no gas to be had...(We found out, from texting sister in town, no power no gas. Texting was encouraged to save power.) The power company said they would try to have everything back on before 'the end of the week'. But by then, all the food in the deep freeze would be thawed out, and either grilled or thrown out. But the immediate problem was eating. The generator problem I had to get back to later. The smell hadn't sunk into my animal addled mind to start with, so it was a good thing that it didn't start, there are Angels, believe it. Still having water pressure, I added to the runoff by hosing it all down, didn't want that catching fire in the middle of a hurricane. Little things can add up to big things.
The kerosene lamps, had rusted, the little wheel that raises the wicks, broke off, didn't work anymore...made in china?, bust.
Time to eat, so I went to crank up the camp stove. But, wonder of wonders, the little pump on the white gas tank, wouldn't pump up anymore; it had sat out in the barn, and rusted and dried into an unusable state. Bust. Then I announced to anybody around... that the electric operated can opener wouldn't work without electricity, another of those 'compromises' with the lifestyle queen. Rummaging around for the old manual can opener, revealed a forgotten rusted piece of crap I wouldn't use. So another one of those 'little things' you tend to forget when you live under a 'Normalcy Bias'. I got out my trusty Swiss army knife, with can opener. No problemo...and grabbed a can of ravioli off the shelf. Hmm…Expiration date 2006? Wow, maybe it would be okay, I mean, those expiration dates are just to get you to buy constantly, right? I had thought canned food would last almost forever? Right? No. Not if kept in a house at room temperature, that is pretty high, because you're saving money on air conditioning, and the can's sit there in the heat and bake...the red ravioli looked brown, and smelled awful...but, what the heck, it didn't smell bad...so I tried some...eeeyech...I fed it to the dogs, they wouldn't even eat it all. So much for all that canned food.  
Getting dark, no electricity, no hot food, with flashlights and afraid to open the refrigerator or deep freeze, we were stuck because as long as they were shut, they would stay frozen longer. We were really starting to suffer the consequences of non preppers, and I was really beside myself, for being so lax, always too busy making money to pay bills. I mean the preps had been purchased in better times, so we would be okay? Right? Uh huh. It was a choice between breaking into the long-term storage, rice and beans or peanut butter sandwiches or get some power going so we could break into the freezers. I pulled out some jerky sticks, and that was supper. The wife was starting to get ... upset at me, and I blamed her. Round and round it goes, and with supper in hand...wind and rain dying out, I decided to go outside away from the heat inside.
So I went back to work on the generator. Three hours later, not being a pro mechanic type, I figured out we had gas to the carb, but no arky sparky...gas and spark, all you need to know about small engines. Since my problem before, when I bought the generator, was the carb, the previous owner had sold it to me cheap, saying it wouldn't run. I go to work thinking the same problem; something had gotten trash in the carb. Nope. Fuel filter wasn't plugged, plenty of gas in the bowl, no restrictions in the venturi tube.  So the air filter and carb went back together, with great distress that the magneto had failed. Wrong, its always the little things.

After tearing the pull cover off the old Briggs and Stratton, I got out my new checker kit. You know, the little screwdriver looking things that check continuity, low voltage and spark voltage, for a car? Just little light bulbs in a screwdriver really. So I go to hook it up to the spark cable, and sprong!, the whole thing flies apart, pieces everywhere. "CHEAP CHINESE C**P!", I yell. Wow, now what? So I get lucky, and a chicken feather fell out of the start switch. It’s always the little things; remember Occam’s razor, the simplest thing, is usually the cause of the problem. Thank you Lord. Note to self, no more tools; 'Made in China'.
So Plan A initially went down the toilet, but the generator finally started. "Yeah! We're back from the 18th century!" And the freezers and fridge and microwave works, and the TV, but we still can't get to town to replace the gas... So, during the reassembly process, which I was doing 'hot' because it was running....the exhaust pipe came into contact with my left arm, yup, a very bad burn, and, I snatched my arm back which contacted the one ragged edge of metal of the gen cover standing to the side. When was the last time I had a tetanus shot? 1999? The first aid kit was a shambles, but we still had water and some silver solution, so at least that hasn't gotten infected. Its always the little things. Murphy lives, thank God for the Angels. We just went to bed when it got dark, I was exhausted from stress and frustration.
The next morning, the generator wouldn't crank, had to drop it down off the angle, duh, and after all this blood sweat and tears, pain, anguish and strife, there goes the power company truck, and an hour later, the power came back on.... just wonderfully anticlimactic. But, you never know when the Big Things will come back to life, since you're so caught up with the Little Things. If I hadn't gotten the generator started, the power would still be off, I'm convinced the Universe just KNOWS.  Thank God and the utility company; we still have people who care about doing their jobs. But by this time, I was almost out of my mind with frustration, and I was screaming at the wife. I told her, she and her lifestyle could take a hike, I wasn't doing it anymore, and she was cowed into finally, listening instead of talking. Like I had told friends before, macro economics is composed of millions of micro economic stories, this is but one. I sympathize with those who just give up. What's the old saying? Life’s hard, then you die.
I now have to throw out a bunch of old food, not going to take the chance. If dogs won't eat it, it’s bad enough to throw away. The real positive outcome to all of this was the Conversion of the wife and attached family, to a real prepper/survivalist mindset and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Prior to this, my main problem was fighting the age-old battle between current lifestyle and future survival lifestyle. The wife is always the other half of the equation; those who are married know what I mean. When you have someone who thinks you are 'full of c**p', and fights you at every turn, for every extra dollar available, you are going to lose in the end. When I wanted to buy a package of JB-Weld epoxy to put in my tools, she objected, she wanted to go to the new Harry Potter movie that she just couldn't live without seeing. That would have fixed the gas tank, or at least better than duct tape. When I wanted to buy the nice new battery operated lamp and radio, she wanted to go out for a pizza. When I wanted, whatever, it was a current lifestyle vs. future survival decision, where the cycling of preps was a battle over a dollar for an extra can of soup. She wouldn't even buy the things she liked, because she disagreed with my whole 'survival nonsense'. She, and her whole family, was a classic case of DGI, Don't Get It. (Don't care, don't want to, don't talk about it 'cause "this is America, everything will be alright".)
Now, she understands, and asked just yesterday when she could finally get to town, "They have some left over battery lanterns and batteries on sale, do we need to stock up for the next hurricane?" "Yup" says I. Smile. Which brings me to the Plan, all the gold in the safe, did us no good. I couldn't eat a single coin. Trust me, even with hot sauce; it would still not do anything but cause pain at the other end of the digestion process. Buying it in the beginning of this journey in 2005, at a whopping $425/oz, was a battle royal. I was called every kind of idiot in the book, and even had the rest of her family beating up on me for being 'so dumb'. It didn't matter that is was the only retirement money I was likely to ever see since my old company was bought out and looted.  I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I needed to plop it down into some 'safe' mutual fund. My protests that a 'Financial Hurricane' was coming, was met with the classic sound of crickets...and then a changed subject. My admonitions that they needed to keep the pantry full, and get a gun, were met with laughter, and the classic sound of progressives who "didn't like guns in the house, that's why we pay police". They all, to a person, suffered the slings and arrows of Mother Nature this Hurricane, with the grocery store emptied out. Peanut butter became the meal du jour, as they all, all, had to throw out good food. (Being too stupid & selfish to just have a neighborhood barbeque, and eat it all.) One, tried to get to my house, knowing where 'the goods' were, but was turned back by the sheriff. (Flooded roads, laugh out loud funny. It would have been even funnier if they had gotten here...)

What we have, now and in the future, my wife assures me, will be kept a secret, like I tried to tell her all along. OPSEC is now a word that has meaning to her. Since even she, didn't want her whiny niece and her whiny kids here eating our food. I told her to tell them all, that we threw it all out because it had gone bad because of the generator. Almost true, forgive me Lord. Gone are the old days, I hope, of her telling them everything, and it being a family joke, now, I'm her hero again, and her family is suspect. Hard times bring out the worst in everybody, trust me. I told her, this is only a small sampling of what a true SHTF situation would be like, since she knows our primary option is to just hide in the woods out back and pretend to be an empty house (after getting everything worth anything out.) She had joked about it, now she asks if I still think that would be necessary. "I hope not, but that's why you plan for the worst, and hope for the best..." 

I quit talking to anybody about anything prepwise in 2008, one can only take so much abuse. At $1,000 gold, they were saying it was just a bubble, I just smiled and told them the dollar was being destroyed by the politicians. They would just laugh and say the dollar was "as good as gold". My only response to them was "that is illogical, since nothing else is gold."  Now, I'm told, some of them have cashed out their 'safe' investments, losing their collective tail ends, since they never learn, that when it comes to investing, you can't act on emotions because by then its usually too late, and they sold at the bottoms. Good move guys. Now they are seeing $1,800-1,900/oz gold and my greater than 300% gains, the news is now catching up to where I told them we would be, and they are now asking me where I bought my coins. I told them: "You might need to invest in food and a good gun first, and the waiting lists for coins are in months." Their eyebrows went up, but amazingly, they are now all listening, and they are all scared, I see it in their eyes. They have all lost faith in the Hope and Change mantra, and the S&P downgrade affected them badly. I told them, "Outside of investing, fear is a good thing, it is natures way of keeping you alive. Listen to your fear, but learn to shoot, before you need it, and get your food pantry first, then gold and silver, and then pay attention to the little things".  I still have my 'coin collection', and hope to keep it, but I might just sacrifice a little, to get a little bit better prepared. (Previously mentioned homemade hybrid gas I'm working on, requires money. Everything requires money.)

The primary purpose of this article, is to impress on your readers the necessity of families pulling together in common purpose and singular mindset, cooperation and harmony, the maintenance of preps, and lists. Do you have the little things to repair the big things? The little thing to open the big things you need to eat out of? Do you have the discipline to write down the little things you need, when you need them, or think about them? Do you have a list hanging somewhere handy, like on a refrigerator magnet? Do you have a hurricane check list? Do you have a standard prep list of 'top off's, when, if, you hear that dollar crashing sound because China and the rest of the world has decided, enough madness, and to dump us into the 18th Century? Do you eat your preps, as they come due or before, and replace at least one can at a time? Do you buy the things you like, so it will be easy? Sure, buying a lot of peanut butter, rice and beans will keep you alive, but you won't be living. You will survive bodily, but will your marriage survive? Will your relationships suffer if family members are pulling in different directions? Have you learned to shut up yet? Have you learned who to cut loose and who to bring in? Have you got your group together? Have you paid attention to the Little Things?

Which reminds me, note to fridge, toilet paper and vitamins, lots of toilet paper and vitamins, also check on the ammo in storage. What is that latest government threat? Oh yeah, Codex Alimentarious, that will make vitamins illegal or hard to get. Ever heard of Scurvy? Rice and beans don't have Vitamin C. Do I need a root cellar? Something to check on. Hurricane Katia? A Russian name? That sounds wonderful.  Here we go again, but this time, we'll be in a lot better shape, trust me.  Some of her family are coming out next week for shooting and zeroing lessons. "You mean you can't just pick up a gun and shoot it?" "Nope, without training you might shoot yourself or your daughter." "By the way, what happened to your arm?" says Sister in Law, "The little things, its always the little things that get you". - D.M.L. in the boonies of Eastern North Carolina

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My home energy backup system was originally conceived to make a little bit of power for a very long time.  Rather than backing up the whole house with a generator for a relatively short power outage of just a few hours or days, I wanted a system that would function in an extended power “grid down” scenario.  I was working from the self declared principle that when the grid is down at night, a single light bulb makes a huge difference in how you feel.  In addition, I wanted to preserve critical refrigeration and freezer functions indefinitely.

So why I am I doing this?  Two words come to mind: Resilience and Instability.  Without turning this into a political manifesto, it doesn’t take a genius to see how dependent we all are on certain “systems”.  Those systems make food appear on the grocery store shelves and plastic junk at Wal-Mart but for the most part, we don’t really know how it gets there.    What happens to grocery store deliveries if diesel prices triple?  Will the dollar always be worth something?  How many more jobs will ship overseas?   Was the President of the United States really serious when he declared that coal-fired electrical plants should be taxed out of existence because of their “carbon footprint?”  So in my mind, resiliency means thinking about how you would accomplish something if the primary or customary way of doing that something were suddenly unavailable.  Instability implies that interruptions to these systems are now so much more likely that they are not insignificant as most people have assumed all their lives, and warrant a second look by everyone.  Why is instability higher than ever?  Our economic system depends on exponential growth of debt to continue that system.  All engineers know that anything that grows exponentially is ultimately unstable and to top it all off, our system is now showing signs of great distress.  Think of it this way, our economic system is like a balloon.  When you start inflating it, you don’t worry about popping it.  However, we have been inflating our “balloon” for such a long time and with so much hot air that it can’t take much more.  Since economic systems are quite complex, no one knows what or when something bad will happen – something to warrant the planning I talk about in this article and the expense it entails – but it seems past the time to be preparing for that something.

Now on with the rest of our program… I had heard of people in Florida who had whole house backup generators fed by 1,000 gallon propane tanks buried under their driveways.  After hurricanes hit the area, these systems were exhausted in a few days – mostly running mammoth central air conditioners.  (Keep in mind that at $3 per gallon, it takes $3,000 just to fill up one of those tanks.) Many of these people were then without power for weeks.  Their systems failed them because their expectations for the length of the disaster were low.

I came to believe that making a small amount of power was my goal and I sized everything around the 2,000-2,500 Watt (W) range.  By that I mean that after spending thousands of dollars, I can only generate between 2,000 and 2,500 watts of continuous power and at 120 VAC that equates to a generated current of roughly 20 Amps (A).  You can walk into a home improvement store and buy a 6,500 watt generator for around $1,000 that delivers about 50A.  Given that most households are supplied by their electric utility with 200A service, have I lost my mind? 

Yes and no.  There are certainly a lot of things that a 2,500 W power system can’t do – like run your central AC (240 VAC), make hot water with your electric water heater, run an electric stove, and you might even be hard pressed to run some powerful hair dryers while operating other electrical devices – so what gives?  Ah, but you can do a lot of other very important things with 2,500 Watts of power, such as, running LED lighting.  At 6 Watts per light, I can light my whole house and not even make a dent in my 2,500 W power budget.  I considered all kinds of fancy refrigerators including those that run on propane, kerosene, and others marketed to off grid folks as super energy efficient.  In the end, I realized that a new model year 2011 nineteen cubic foot upright refrigerator/freezer with the freezer on top is about the most efficient appliance you can buy.  Realizing this tidbit only cost me $700 – delivered- from Lowe's, and I used the money I saved over some multi thousand dollar device to add some extra photovoltaic (PV) panels to my roof.   I’ve watched this refrigerator run and after the compressor starts up, it consumes 1A AC @ 120V.  That’s 120 watts  or 2,880 Watt Hours (WHr) per day.  However, I would say that being very efficient and well insulated, that this refrigerator is only running its compressor at most half of the time.  Therefore I use about 1,440 WHr max per day for this appliance. 

So lighting and refrigeration/freezing are very much within the 2,500 W limit.  What about air conditioning?  I live in the south and it gets hot and humid here.  I don’t like to sleep in that kind of weather so I have a very generously-sized 3 ton central AC system (15 SEER) to keep me nice and cool 24/7.  However, in a grid down situation, that system will be useless to me unless I want to cover my ¾-acre lot with solar panels – probably not going to happen.  Maybe someday I’ll further investigate a geothermal heat pump.  I see claims that they can run on the equivalent of a refrigerator compressor and actually be viable on solar but with a $20,000 - $50,000 equipment and installation price tag that’s a long shot.  So I decided to try to run a window AC unit off of my alternative energy system so that means first complying with my 2,500 W self-imposed limit.  Let’s see… a ,6500 BTU window air conditioner to cool one good sized bedroom draws about 6A @ 120V when the compressor is running, so that’s 720W – check – still within the limit but there’s another problem...


Starting Appliances
Many appliances have electrical motors.  This includes power tools like circular saws and refrigeration compressors like you find in air conditioners, refrigerators/freezers.  Electrical motors have two power requirements:

  1. The amount of current to start the motor and
  2. The amount of current required to keep the motor running

Items one and two are very different.  Item one can best be described for compressors as the locked rotor amps (LRA).  If you are nosy enough when you go window air conditioner shopping you might be able to view the label on the compressor through the slotted venting on the side of the air conditioner (take a flashlight).  If you can see the LRA number, you may be discouraged – I was.  On my 6,500 BTU window air conditioner that runs on no more than 6A, the LRA is 24.  That means that my system has to provide 24A AC of instantaneous current (2,880 W) for a couple of seconds to start that compressor.  If your power system can’t provide that then you just bought yourself a very expensive fan – the compressor won’t start - ever.

A generator like mine, that surges to 2,500W can produce just over 20A – not enough.  By the way, the LRA on my Trane 3-ton central AC compressor is 83A.
Obviously, you need to buy a bigger generator – one with higher running watts and surging (starting) watts – right?  But bigger, reliable generators cost a lot more money and here’s the kicker – they use more fuel and fuel is something you’re trying to make last a very long time in a grid-down scenario.  And if you’ve seen those “economical” generators at the home improvement stores, just walk away.  I’ve heard them described as disposable as well as fuel hogs.   So, if a generator is on your list of got to have backup items for long term usage, you want one that sips fuel, is quiet, built to last, and that can run your essential stuff.

A note on fuel:  The generators at home improvement stores run on gasoline.  So if you plan to run one of these for weeks on end, you’re going to need a lot of gas – more than 5 gallons per day depending on the generator’s power generation capacity.  Gasoline also has a relatively short shelf life before it goes “stale” and we all know it’s volatile - as in "ka-boom".  However, almost all gasoline generators can be converted to run on propane.  Propane stores in those nice, cute barbeque cylinders and it lasts for a very, very, long time.  A 20 pound barbeque propane cylinder stores about 5 gallons of propane. 

Moving on… Why don’t we convert that pesky window AC unit to start on less AC current – yes you just might be able to do that.  It turns out that the generator that I have is very popular with RVers because it’s fuel efficient and extremely quiet – 59dBA at load.  It’s so quiet that I can sit next to it while it’s running and talk on my cell phone.  In a grid down situation, that’s a good thing because a running generator says, “I have stuff and you don’t”, “come on over and steal that stuff” as well as irritating you as it drones on for hour after hour.   Continuing, these RVers were having trouble starting their 13,500 BTU roof-mounted AC units with my Yamaha inverter generator.  2,500W of surge just wasn’t enough to do the job so on a web forum discussing the problem, I was introduced to the supplemental hard start capacitor.  You connect this new capacitor in parallel to the compressor start capacitor that your air conditioner already has inside and voila – your AC unit starts on less current.  (I purchased the hard start cap on Amazon for $10 + shipping)  Using a clamp on ammeter capable of reading AC surge current, I measured my window air conditioner drop from 24A to 13A of starting current.  The first of many problems solved but I’m not interested in just long term generator operation because of the fuel issue.  (I should note that when you open your window air conditioner, you could electrocute yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing so if you aren’t used to working with electrical wiring, don’t do this yourself.  I’m a college educated electrical engineer with a master’s degree from a top 10 school, which is another way of saying I’m book smart but prone to electrocuting myself when I work on stuff in the real world – but at least I know the danger.)
 We need to move on to solar.

Building a System
To run indefinitely I would need a fuel source that never runs out – the sun seems like a good choice and while the sun will eventually burn out, scientists still expect the sun to outlast me.  So I decided to invest in some solar panels.  Not so coincidentally, I sized my solar array system in the 2,000 watt range and bought a 2,500 watt inverter.  Inverters have a distinct advantage over generators in that all of the ones that I considered can supply nearly double the rated wattage for surge requirements.  My 2,500W inverter actually surges to 4,000W which is 33A AC at 120V.
I decided to build a system fed by all three energy sources available to me:

  1. Solar
  2. Dual Fuel Generator (Gasoline or propane – propane as a better long term fuel choice)
  3. Utility or Grid Power

The system would have a battery storage component so that I could save the solar energy generated during the day for use at night.  The battery component of the system is also nice because even without solar, you can charge the batteries when the grid is operating and then use the power later when you need it.  This is a scenario that might play out if the grid were being switched off - as in rolling or scheduled blackouts.
Also, I didn’t intend to install enough panels to make tying back into the utility grid to sell my excess power worthwhile.   By my calculations, If I wanted to sell my 6kWHr of power generated each day back to the electric company through a grid tied inverter, I could expect about $0.11/kWHr in my area.  That’s $0.66 per day or around a $20 per month reduction in my utility bill.  Saving $240 per year wasn’t enough in my mind to warrant the additional expense and complexity of the grid tie inverter.  This also made me realize just how much power a modern home consumes since my monthly bill in winter is around $240 and in the summer about $400.

[JWR Adds: Also, keep in mind that grid-tied PV systems are much more vulnerable to EMP than stand-alone systems! This is because of EMP coupling through long utility power lines which act as antennas for EMP. They can carry EMP far beyond line of sight from a nuclear detonation.]

Mode 1 – Solar

In solar mode I have eight 230 watt solar panels feeding a maximum power point tracking (MPPT) charge controller.  I’m using an Outback FlexMax charge controller and its job is to take the DC voltage and current from my solar array (~70Vdc @ 25Adc the way I have them strung) and convert it into the voltage that my battery bank and inverter need – namely 24V.  When the system is running on just solar, the refrigerators and lights draw power form the battery bank during the night and during the day, that usage is replenished by the solar panels and the current needed by the appliances is also provided by the panels.  As long as the batteries can run the appliances all night and with some margin to spare and then fully recharge during the day, you never run out of electricity.  My battery bank uses more expensive gel cells because I didn’t want to fool with adding water to standard lead acid batteries.  Yes, I’m easily distracted and maintenance isn’t my first love.

I don’t want to discharge my batteries more than about 25 - 30% during the night because the deeper you discharge the batteries in between charges, the fewer charging cycles you will get out of your batteries before they have to be replaced.  I have about 14,400 watt hours of battery capacity so the 50% rule would allow me to use 7200 wHr before recharging.  Restricting my usage to only a 25% discharge allows for 3,600 WHr.  That 3600 WHr will run my two refrigerator/freezers and one upright freezer and a number of lights all night long.  My 1920 W of solar panels will realistically produce about 6,000 WHr of power per sunny day given their angle to the sun, our latitude, etc.  As you can see, I have a sizeable margin built in for cloudy days and generally bad weather.  So my panels should be more than adequate to recharge my batteries during the day.

In solar mode, the generator connections and grid power supply connections are shut off.  If I have calculated everything properly, and nothing breaks, the system should run for a long time.
What happens if I want to run that window air conditioner?  It consumes 720 Watts per hour if the compressor is running 100% of the time.  If it is the only AC unit running in my home during a grid down situation, I’ll assume the compressor is running about 80% of the time.  This equates to 576 Whr.  Over a 24 hour period I will need 24 * 576 = 13,824 WHr.  Either I’m not going to run this window AC 24/7 or I need another operational mode because my solar panels are only going to make about 6,000 WHr/day.  Enter the small, reliable and quiet generator.

Mode 2: Generator Power – working with small generators
Let’s say I really want to run that window AC unit – and believe me, I really want to.  This is where the 250 gallon propane tank – professionally installed and plumbed - in my yard comes in.   (Or the other various small sized tanks I have stored outside as well – 20 to 40 gallon tanks that make my generator portable and don’t require me to store a lot of gasoline).   Always store and use propane tanks outside in a well ventilated area. 
My Mastervolt MassCombi inverter is actually an inverter/charger/transfer switch all-in-one unit.  The inverter is intended for marine applications where shore power can be iffy.  It can be set to current limit its AC input to match the shore power (generator) output of roughly 15 amps or any other low capacity AC source.  If the appliances connected to the inverter are consuming less than 15Aac, then the balance of the AC power is converted to dc and used to charge the batteries but here comes the best part.  If an AC motor attempts to start and more surge current capacity is required, the inverter will automatically pull the extra surge current from the battery bank and add it to the power coming from the generator – pretty cool.

During the peak daylight hours, the solar panels will produce enough power to run the window air conditioner, the refrigerators, and a number of other small appliances.  When the sun goes down, I can switch into generator mode and continue to run the window air conditioner, if my fuel situation permits.  This situation lasts for about three months every year when it is so hot and humid that air conditioning feels like a necessity – although a grid down scenario will redefine “necessity” for all of us.

I don’t run the solar charge controller and the inverter/AC-charger at the same time so as to not cause a conflict between the two chargers.  When the sun is out and shining, I run the solar charge controller.  If I need additional power, I run the generator at night and shut off the charge controller.

I could add more batteries and more solar panels and essentially eliminate the need for the overflow generator but to produce 13,824 WHr of electricity per day (just for that window ac unit) and to have some margin for rainy days, I would need about twenty 230W panels and twelve 12V 200 AHr batteries.  The panels cost about $650 apiece and the batteries are about $500.  This doesn’t include additional infrastructure like a bigger battery box, additional charge controller, wiring, fuses, mounting hardware, etc.  The cost works out to an additional $10,000 – more than I want to spend to run a $149 window air conditioner.  And not to mention, I don’t have a good place to put twenty solar panels as I don’t want them visible from the street and the front of my home faces south.

By the way, that little 2000W generator of mine makes up to 48,000 WHr of power each 24 hour period that it runs which is another reason that if you have a small battery bank and solar already, it doesn’t take much of a generator to back it up.  A little Yamaha or Honda 1,000 Watt inverting generator sips fuel (runs 3.8 hours on 0.6 gal of fuel), is very quiet (53-59 dBA), and with a continuous power rating of 900W will produce up to 21,600 WHr of power in a 24 hour period - all for less than $1,000 plus fuel.  Have that generator converted to run on propane by a reputable company and add some solar panels, batteries, and an inverter and you have a small system that can run a lot of stuff for a long time.  Stash a few of those 20 lb barbeque propane cylinders outside to run your little generator and you are now in better shape than probably everyone else in your neighborhood when the lights go out.

Remember, I spent $650 * 8 = $5,200 on solar panels and I only make roughly 6,000 WHr with them on a sunny day.  By the time I add in a battery bank, fuses, inverter, copper wiring, etc., I figure I’m paying about $2 for every watt hour of solar generation and storage capacity.  Of course in a grid down situation, I might make a little more power as I would have more incentive to adjust the tilt angle of the panels monthly to track the sun through the sky.  I might also cut down that pesky tree that is partially shading my panels in the morning.  So in the end, solar is expensive and makes a fraction of the power that a generator can for the same dollar investment – but solar will do it quietly and almost forever – even when the fuel supplies run out.

Mode 3: Utility Mode – Creating an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)
As I mentioned in the last section, my inverter is also an AC to DC charger and transfer switch all in one.  By that, I mean when incoming AC power is detected – and that can be from a generator or your main utility – the inverter runs in charging mode.  This means that it supplies the connected loads with the incoming AC power as a simple pass-thru and converts any remaining AC power to DC to charge the battery bank if the batteries are not already fully charged.  If the AC load of the appliances increases, the battery charging current is automatically decreased.

When my MassCombi detects that AC power has gone away, it automatically switches from AC charger mode to inverter mode in a fraction of a second and starts using DC power from the battery bank to invert into AC power.  In this manner, the system acts like an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for the devices plugged into the system.  It also is a pure sine wave inverter which means it makes electricity which is just a clean as that coming from the utility.

Even if I didn’t have PV charging capability, this system would buffer the effect of rolling blackouts.  When grid power was present, the system would charge the batteries.  When grid power was absent, the batteries would supply the connected equipment.  As long as the power was on more than it was off and my battery capacity was sufficient for the appliances I am trying to run, this should work.  As the hours of “grid down” increase, the demands on the batteries will increase until the point is reached where some type of supplemental power is required – either a generator or solar or both.

Mode 4:  Bypass
When I wired my system I installed new dedicated electrical outlets to various rooms in my home to deliver the electrical power from this new system.  The lamp in my living room is plugged into one of these new outlets.  When the grid goes down, my lamp stays on.

However, if I am doing maintenance and want to keep the connected appliances running, I can turn off all the solar breakers, shut off the inverter/charger, disconnect the batteries and still route grid power through my system to the new electrical outlets.  This is a handy but non-essential feature.

I enjoy your site and have learned a lot from you and others of a similar mindset.  I enjoy the fact that the info you present is from the perspective  of  a Christian. 

I have been looking at land in Wyoming and while there is some very affordable land I have to wonder how anyone is going to heat their abode when "cheap oil" is gone.  I cannot find land that is in my budget that has any trees.
I have spent most of my life in the southern US and some time in Central America and I cannot imagine a winter in Montana or Wyoming with out a lot of firewood (or a big tank of propane).  Just wondered if I was missing something that was obvious to you mountain state people. Thanks, - Alan W.

JWR Replies:  One of the greatest self-sufficiency advantages of living inside the American Redoubt is that the majority of the populace cuts their own firewood. This means that unlike some other northern regions (such as the northern Plains) when the Schumer hits the fan, fuel for home heating will not be a critical resource, at least as long as a small quantity of gas for chain saws holds out. If someone doesn't have a sufficient number or a suitable species of trees on their own property, then they will usually cut their firewood on nearby National Forest land. Home firewood cutting permits are very inexpensive. (Typically, $5 per cord, sold in a four cord increment, with a $20 permit.)

In the vicinity of the Rawles Ranch, most families heat their homes with Red Fir or Western Larch. Both of these trees make excellent firewood. The National Forests have long term renewable supplies of both--essentially unlimited, given the low population density in this region.

One other possibility for you in Wyoming is buying a property that has a surface coal seam. Such properties are surprisingly common, and they don't sell at a huge premium over otherwise comparable properties that lack them. Just be sure that your purchase contract explicitly includes mineral rights! While it is not as hard as eastern anthracite coal, western coal burns fairly well. After quarrying, it should be stored in a shed to protect it from the rain.

Monday, August 29, 2011

While researching briquette presses for fuel production, I stumbled on an article about using similar presses for extracting oils from seeds and nuts. In this case, the focus was on bio-diesel production, but I felt it was helpful for other uses as well. We preppers often hear of the importance of fats and oils in the diet, along with the difficulties in storing these items, so having the means to produce your own is a benefit. 

For the Do-It-Yourselfers in the audience, you can check out a Journey To Forever article which details how to build the equipment needed to process sunflower seeds for sunflower oil, including grading screens, de-hulling, winnowing and then pressing itself. Sunflowers appear to be very robust and can be grown from Canada to the tropics. You can find a great deal about sunflowers at this Purdue University web page

If you'd prefer a commercial solution for the equipment to do this, there are plenty out there. Most are made for larger-scale production, however. A web search for "oil expeller" will provide lots of hits if that's the way you want to go. 

For the individual prepper interested in an off-the-shelf oil extraction solution, a source to consider is the hand-cranked expeller. I don't know anything about these small units other than what I've seen on their Web site and in reviews on the Web, but they appear to be well-made and users seem to love them. The Web site shows a wide variety of seeds the unit can handle, including sunflower, walnut, pumpkin and more. They also have instructions on how to attach the unit to a bicycle frame. 

In addition to the food value of oils, such oils can be used to produce bio-diesel for use in engines and can be used as fuel in lamps (as a recent article on SurvivalBlog indicated). The "waste" products of oil production can be used in cooking or as an additive to animal feed.  Blessings,  - Jason R.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In my prepping, one of the hardest things for me currently was the bug out vehicle (BOV), so as with any prepping activity I made my list. I first made my list for a “normal” BOV; 4x4, diesel, four doors, trailer hitch front and back, winch front and back, spare rims and tires, and enough storage for our stuff. Since we currently do not have a retreat location, we would have to be able to carry a large amount of supplies and equipment to the location we will be hunkering down at. Continuing the thought process I decided we would need an enclosed trailer. We have a small gas SUV, so we could use it as well. The reality of the situation grew, and without a retreat we would really have to plan on what we would and would not bring. Just my family would be three vehicles, two trailers, 7 people, and a years’ worth of supplies. The logistics did not add up. Talking to my wife, whom I am blessed with as she is a prepper as well, we began to look into motor homes. So again I made a list; 4x4, diesel, front and back door, trailer hitch front and back, winch front and back, spare rims and tires, and enough storage for our stuff. On a hot Saturday we set out on a tour of the used recreational vehicle (RV) lots. I was quiet unimpressed by the offerings. First motor homes are cheap in their construction with thin walls, cheap running gear and many have poor engine choices. At one of the location in the back they had an old school bus; someone had “converted” to a motor home. It was very poor workmanship, but it really got my mind clicking, and home I went to scour the internet. I was amazed at the expected services life of a school bus, 15 to 20 years before any major servicing; look at the average 20 year old RV and then a bus which would you rather have? They are made of steel, built on a truck frame, and the safety regulations are through the roof as opposed to a motor home. I thought about when tornados strike and they show the school yards; buses maybe thrown all over the place but they still look like buses. My mind was made up; I set out on the adventure of a life time I expect only to be exceeded by the craziness of bugging out.

There are a lot of forums out there that were very helpful, but none geared towards the BOV. So I had to blend the great information out there with the reality of the vehicles use, and my wife always reminding me that until its ultimate goal we can use it for fun. After tons of questions on the forums, reading, and research I decided on a mid-1990s, flat nose, Bluebird TC2000 front engine, with 90,000 miles. It was an ex-school bus, with awesome service records, and was sold only because of budget cuts! With a front engine flat nosed bus I can work on the engine from the inside of the bus, giving me some protection in a heated event. The bus was a 13-window bus, about 43 foot long bumper to bumper with a usable interior space of 39.5 x7.5 feet and roof height of 6.25 feet. The only thing it lacked was four wheel drive. I found several companies that can convert the "Big Bird", even though the cost would be as much as I paid for the bus and extra engine and transmission. I decided this would be the last thing I did to her; I figured since she has 20” of ground clearance, and tons of torque, we would be okay without it. It has a 5.9 Cummins diesel in it with an automatic Allison Transmission. A lot of people had issues with this engine claiming that it is under- powered. But after doing some research most of these claims were unfounded. This engine also is so common that I can go to the local auto parts store to get anything for it. And a used engine can be picked up for under $1,000--which I did within a month of the purchase of the bus. The transmission was the same, although finding a used one in good shape was little harder and took three months. I did a little research and found a mechanic that contracted to a large freight line. I spoke with him over a few weeks and worked a deal from him to rebuild the engine with my help, he also recommended a transmission guy who was a retired vet that worked on tanks in the army. The deal was to rebuild the second hand ones, install them and rebuild the pulled ones for storage. I know if I had to bug out I probably could bring them, but if the TEOTWAWKI holds off for a few years, and our gold and silver continues to increase in value we should have a retreat in two to three years.

Let the fun begin. I luckily did not have to strip the seats out, since I bought from a used school bus lot, they knocked $1,000 off if they got to keep the seats; however I did have to strip the rubber floor, this was a 30+ hours of labor endeavor. Once all the floors were stripped I was lucky to find no major rust, just some minor surface rust that a wire brush took care of. I sealed and primed the floor with a RustOleum industrial product. The walls were insulated with 2 inches of fire-resistant foam board giving me an R value of 15. I sheeted over some of the windows, and left the stock windows intact in the rest. The floor was covered ½ inch fire resistant foam and ¼ inch water resistant subfloor. At this point I had a blank slate. I had already worked through all of the designs in Google sketch-up, and was ready to go. I first did some rough framing in both wood and metal, being sure to mount everything securely and with some kind of adhesive between everything for both added bonding purposes and to help eliminate as many buzzes as I can. The framing went pretty fast. In the back of the bus I built a master suite, that included a murphy bed electrical panels, plenty of storage and floor access to both the 60 gallon stock diesel tank and the 100 gallon aftermarket tank. Next was a set of bunk beds; I installed ¼ inch hardened steel around the bunks giving us a small “safe room” when the bunk doors are closed. Following the bunk is the head which included a macerating toilet has an electric pump as well as a manual handle, and small 30x24 inch bath tube. Then the galley, were I installed a tankless hot water heater a diesel marine stove, and a 12v/120v refrigerator. Finally the salon which had two couches on either side of the bus and 60 gallon water tanks under each. I also installed three seat belts on each side.

With every system on the bus I tried to ensure there was a backup. On each side of the salon behind each water tank I installed a water pump and accumulator, which helps with water pressure. Both of these are wired and plumbed independent of each other only joining and the electrical box and the main water line. Both water tanks can be filled from access ports on either side of the bus. Hot water is supplied by either a tank-less hot water heater, or through water coils in the diesel stove. A simple valve and flip of a breaker chooses which heating source I use. The 12 volt system is anchored by 3,000 amp hours of batteries setup in three banks throughout the bus to distribute the weight. The batteries are absorbed glass mat (AGM) and again after doing the research I felt these would be the best for my application. They are managed and maintained by a charge control unit, of which I have two in place with a manual switch gear in between to choose which one is used, and two spare ones in the stock. On the roof I have 1,500 watts of flexible PV-panels. I have a dual pole high output alternator, running one pole to the engine battery bank, and one pole to the charge controller. The running battery bank also has a battery isolator installed with another line to the charge controller. Finally I have another switch gear in place allowing the engine to be cranked off of the salon battery bank if needed. All 12v equipment runs through a breaker box instead of fuses allowing me to stock less. Each wire run has a spare pair of wires in case one melts or breaks I only have to re-terminate to the spare pair. All lights are LED, both inside and out. I removed the old flashing lights and installed 3 million candle watt spot lights both front and back for a total of 12 million candle watts pointing each way. I figure worst case I could cook with these bad boys! The 120 volt system was kept to a minimum. It powers the two AC units I installed on the roof between the PVs, the tankless hot water heater, optionally the fridge, a few outlets throughout the bus and the 32 inch LED television at the front… I know but I had to do it. Under the back of the bus I mounted a 3,000 watt diesel generator/welder and a 7,500 watt quiet Onan diesel generator on opposite sides. They are both wired to a Tripp Lite 3,000 watt inverter that with burst to 6,500 watt if needed. The inverter has two inputs allowing me to connect both generators without a relay or switch. I purchased a spare inverter since this is one of the few single points of failures. I do plan on wiring it in with another switch gear in place; I just haven’t got to it yet. The inverter also acts as battery charger and a UPS for the whole system 120v system when you are running on it. The fuel lines for both generators and the diesel stove are plumbed off of the 100 gallon auxiliary tank. There is no hard connection between the stock 60 gallon road tank and the 100 gallon auxiliary tank so I can run non-road diesel in the auxiliary tank, saving a little money; and if the SHTF pumping from the auxiliary into the running tank won’t really be a big issue. Finally I have outside hookups on both sides of the bus. With these I can pull or push power. We lost power at our house when a pole was knocked down by a car. I used the box I installed on the house to hook the BOV up, flipped the main off, and powered our deep freeze, a fridge, a small air conditioning unit, and our television for 14 hours with no problem!

I also installed a motor home style security camera system. While driving it eliminates any blind spots, and when parked, it gives me a 360 degree view around the bus day or night.
Under the bus I have a 60 gallon black water tank and a 60 gallon gray water tank. I can dump either tank from either side of the bus. I have installed macerator pumps as well to help clear out the tanks a little easier. Down both sides, in-between front and back tires, I installed under the cab tool boxes like the ones big rigs put under their cabs. These are for both storage and access to needed equipment. I have installed a 100 foot reel 120v extension cord, I taped off of the air system and installed a 50 foot air hose reel, and finally I have installed a small shop-vac and a small air compressor also tied into the air system as backup in case the air brake system’s compressor goes out. The rest of storage is for tools and equipment use outside of the bus.

On the roof I had a rack made at a local welding fabrication shop to store two spare tires mounted on rims. This installs on the back of the roof, and allows me to “easily” get them off and on. A pulley system you utilize the buses winches is in the future for the roof of the bus. I did it once to test without the winches, and it took me and a come-a-long a little too long. A small collapsible ladder is attached to back as well; it is pad locked on, but can be extended from its mount to get to the roof if need be. The same fab shopped built me a front and back bumper with winch mounts and two inch receivers. They both have 12 inches of walking space as well as louvers over the radiator up front. The winches mounted are 15,000 lb winches front and back for a total of four and 100 feet of cable each. I should be able to get myself out of most anything with this setup, from pushing a few cars out of the way to pulling myself out of the mud, if I have something to tie on to.
We prepped the outside of the body and used a roll on truck bed liner product in desert tan. I left the roof white to try and keep the temperature down some.

Building the inside partitions and trim myself allowed me to create multiple hiding places for "just in case" items. These include a 12 gauge over the door, a Glock on either side of the bed, and Taurus Judge by the driver's seat. Unless you knew where they were you would never find them.

While we were installing the rebuilt engine and transmission we also completely re-did the brake system, this is when I installed the small pancake compress as a backup. We also went through the suspension replacing the springs and a few other worn out items. I thought about installing air bags, but was warned against it through multiple sources; I also figured it was one more thing to go wrong.

One of the biggest pains was getting the title converted from a private bus to a motor home, so that I would not need a special license. I had to get a weight certificate proving it weighs less than 26,000 lbs., pictures of the inside to prove it seats less than 14, I had to have insurance, which meant I had to get a temporary commercial insurance account (ouch), take all this to the DPS office along with the regulations printed out from the [state] DPS web site, and argue with them for hours until they did what the laws of the state say. Then I canceled the commercial insurance, and they “allowed” me to credit the extra to a new motor home policy.

The completed BOV, as we now call her, gets 10-12 miles to the gallon, weighs just shy of 25,000 lbs. (dry), and tows a fully loaded 9,500 lbs. trailer with no problems. The goal was to create a vehicle that would be self-sufficient for at least 30 days, be able to carry my family and supplies, and get us out of Dodge! It is just an added bonus that it is a blast for us almost every weekend to head out and go somewhere new and fun! We have taken 17 day adventures, never having to hook up to shore power or refuel. With our stored jerry cans, and some rationing we have no doubt we could make it 30+ days. Since the build started I have also purchased an older dodge pickup with the same engine and have started to work on a conversion to the same transmission. We have the truck setup to tow behind the bus, and a camper on the back for storage. If we were bugging out we would hook up our 16 foot enclosed trailer to the bus for a total length with tongue of 62 feet (keeping us under the legal limit of 65 ft.), and tow our small gas SUV with the truck.

I know this conversion is not for everyone, and as I said earlier this was the biggest adventure I have ever undertaken. It was a lot of work, and a lot of learning. Now that it is done, my wife was joking that there is half of the cost of our retreat. Even though she is right, I would still not want to be without her.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I began work in Toronto on August 1, 2003.  The lights went out three weeks later.  The entire Northeast was dark for several days.

The company had provided us with three months of free housing.  By my standards it was quite posh ¾ pool privileges, chandeliers, weekly maid service. 

But we knew nobody, had little food in the cupboard, and no local currency.  (Then again the cash registers didn’t work anyway.)  When the sun went down it got dark and stayed dark.  We had no light of any kind.  Granted, the two huge candlesticks on the mantle were a blessing, though some candles for them would have been nice.

Afterwards, my wife confessed how close she had been to begging:  “Let’s go home.  I’m scared.  I don’t care about the job.  I don’t care about the money.  Let’s get the hell out of here.” 

Fear of the dark is both primitive and powerful.

I later retired and began work on a book entitled:  No Lights?  No Batteries?  No Problem.  A Handbook of Non-Electric Lighting.  After three years of research and hundreds of “science experiments,” I submitted a book proposal to a publisher.

They kept my chapters three months and sent me a very nice rejection letter.  It began to dawn on me (at age 71) that there were not enough months left in my life to locate a publisher.  No doubt I’ll self-publish electronically at some point but in the meantime I’d like to share some of my findings.  I wish I’d known this stuff myself in 2003.

Everything that burns consumes oxygen.  So be sure to crack a window and provide ventilation. 

Also, everything that burns gives off carbon monoxide: your gas range, your KeroSun heater with catalytic converter, your gas clothes dryer, your boudoir incense, your wood stove, your kerosene lamp, your fireplace, the candles on your birthday cake.

As a check to see that it’s working, the directions for my carbon monoxide detector suggest bringing a stick of burning incense close to the detector.  Wow!  The detector screams!  A very impressive demo!

Vegetable oil lamps are less expensive than candles to burn.  One tablespoon of vegetable oil will produce a candle-sized flame for two hours.  Cooking oil has been burned in lamps since Biblical times.       

You can use a tuna fish can to hold the oil but a clear glass container allows more light to escape.  It should be Pyrex; a wine glass is the perfect shape but will probably break (trust me on this).  You can buy small Pyrex custard dishes at the Salvation Army store for 50¢ each.  They have brand names like Glasbake and Fire-King.

Soak a length of cotton string in the oil and let it dangle over the edge of the bowl.  That’s your wick.  Light the wick with a match.  The flame burns right at the lip of the bowl.

Do not use synthetic material for a wick (polyester, nylon, etc.).  Oil is drawn to the flame by capillary action.  Synthetics melt in the heat of the flame and seal off the capillary action.

The best wick material I’ve found (for heavy, viscous vegetable oil) is a strand from a cotton-string floor mop.  Actually, a whole strand is too much.  Just one of the four plies within the strand will do the job.

String mop-heads can be purchased at the Dollar Store.  For a buck you’ll have a lifetime supply of wicks.  An edge seam from your handkerchief will also work.  Ditto for a strip of your flannel pajamas or flannel shirt or denim from your jeans.  Just nothing synthetic.

You can dangle several wicks over the side of the bowl and light all of them at the same time.  That’s a nice arrangement because, when one of the wicks builds up a big carbon goober on the end, it can be cleaned off by the light of the still-burning wicks.

The string lamp is very safe because vegetable oil is fiendishly difficult to ignite.  If you spill vegetable oil, you’ll create a mess but no fire hazard.  In fact, a string lamp is best extinguished by pushing the burning wick right into the oil.  The flame will go out instantly.  (If you merely blow out the flame, the wick will glow and smolder and stink.)   

TIP:  Put a saucer under your string lamp.  It will drip. 

TIP:  Use the least expensive vegetable oil available.  You’re not going to eat it; you’re going to burn it. So don't buy olive oil for this purpose.  

TIP:  The generous use of mirrors will enhance your light output.   

The terms “lamp” and “lantern” are almost interchangeable although a lamp is generally used inside whereas a lantern is used outside.  A lantern shields the flame from wind and rain.

A crude but serviceable lantern can be made by pouring a quarter-inch of vegetable oil in the bottom of Pyrex measuring cup or a pot from your Mr. Coffee.  (A cup or jar made from ordinary glass will break for sure using this design, no “maybe” about it.) 

Wad up a 2" x 2" square of paper, light the paper with a match, and drop the burning clump into the oil.  Voila!  A lantern.  The flame is down inside the container, shielded from the wind.  The paper serves as a wick.  And a wide range of paper can be used ¾ paper toweling, newspaper, bond paper, paper bag.

The bottom becomes very hot.  You’ll need a trivet under it.  In the case of a measuring cup, the handle becomes very hot.  You will need a potholder or gloves to carry it.  You cannot regulate the flame size so the lantern will smoke, making it suitable for outdoors use only.  After half an hour the glass will become smoked up. 

On the plus side, it will light your way to the privy and back at midnight. And, like the string lamp, should you spill this lantern, the vegetable oil will create a mess but the fire hazard is very small.

This idea came from a booklet entitled Light by Dawn Russell. 

You’ll need:
(1) A candle (i.e. a taper, not a tea candle).
(2) A 3-pound coffee can (well . . . today it’s 2½ lbs.)  And make it a metal can, if you please.  Not plastic and not paper sprayed with an aluminum coating.
(3) A wire coat hanger (for a handle).

We’ll operate the flashlight with the can on its side, not eye-to-the-sky.   What served as the can’s bottom when it held coffee becomes the back wall of the flashlight.     

In use, the candle is vertical while the can is horizontal.  The top of the candle sticks up through (what has become) the floor of the flashlight.  The flame is at the top of the candle and inside the can.  The candle’s bottom end protrudes down through the floor and hangs under the flashlight.  Hence you can’t set the flashlight down; it must be carried or hung on a peg. 

NOTE:  In case you can’t visualize it from my description, the following link shows a picture of the candle flashlight as well as the string lamp and the vegetable oil lantern:  http://mumblingsfromthechimneycorner.blogspot.com/

To build the flashlight, first remove the top of the coffee can (and the coffee, too, may I add).  Then cut an X in the can wall, midway between the two ends.  Each arm of the X should be an inch long.  Push a candle partway through the X and into the can.  The points of the X become spurs holding the candle in place. 

To cut the X, first punch a hole through the can wall with a nail and hammer.  Then cut the metal with a utility knife.  (Cans aren’t very thick these days.)  Use a sawing motion.  Some strength is required.

A piece of wire coat hanger forms a handle.  Punch two holes in the top of the flashlight (the “top” being the roof over the flame).  One of the holes is at the rear of the flashlight; the other in the front. 

Push the wire into one of the holes (from the outside) and, with pliers, crimp the end of the wire inside the flashlight to form a foot that will not pull back through the hole.  Bend the wire as necessary and repeat the process on the second hole.

A 2½ lb. coffee can is 6" in diameter.  I allow 4" of headspace between the top of the candle and the flashlight’s ceiling.  It works well.

There is not much to be said about [traditional wick] kerosene lamps (the $6 variety from Dollar General).  They are simple, reliable, and reasonably safe.  And smelly.  They give light equivalent to a 7½-watt nightlight.  Ditto for Dietz-type barn lanterns.  If you want more light than that (ignoring antiques such as Rayos), you’ll have to enter the world of pressure lanterns.

There’s one exception, the Kosmos.  It’s made in Europe, burns kerosene, and outputs light in the 15-watt range.  But it costs $100.  Before you buy, may I suggest a cost-benefit comparison to a propane pressure lamp...

Lamps that run on small cylinders of propane represent one type of pressure lantern.  The cylinders are pre-filled with fuel in contrast to liquid-fuel lanterns that are messy to fill. 

A single-mantle propane lamp (Century brand) is $20 at Wal-Mart.  It will produce light equivalent to a 40-watt light bulb.  One cylinder of fuel ($4) will last 12 hours.  That’s a run rate of 33¢ an hour which is a fairly steep.  But because no filling is required (and thus no spills) and because there is no smell while burning, propane lamps have largely replaced liquid-fuel lanterns within the camping community. 

Note that the cylinders used in camping lanterns, and the skinnier cylinders used for Bernz-O-Matic soldering torches, and the 20 lb. cylinders used on barbeque grills, and the 200 lb. cylinder behind the house for the kitchen stove, all contain propane.  And it’s all the same stuff, C3H8.  You can buy adaptors to hook up your little camping lantern to a bigger tank.

Liquid-fuel lanterns are less expensive to operate than propane.  Unfortunately, pressure lamps that run on white gas belong to granddad’s era and not many people today understand the technology.  A little bit of homework, though, will help ensure your family’s safety.  So let’s have at it.

Oil refining is a two-stage affair.  First, distillation breaks crude oil into five major fractions:  refinery gases, gasoline, kerosene, diesel oil, and residues.

After fractional distillation comes cracking.  The world’s thirst for gasoline is bigger than fractional distillation can satisfy.  Cracking breaks down heavy oil into lighter products.

White gas is (and was) pure gasoline with no additives.  It is clear as water and 50 octane.  The Model “T” Ford, with its 4.5:1 compression ratio, ran fine on white gas.  So did Coleman lanterns.

Better auto performance required higher compression engines.  Higher compression required higher-octane gas.  Tetra-ethyl lead was added to white gas to increase its octane rating.  A bit of red dye was also added so that consumers didn’t accidentally pump the old-fashioned 50-octane stuff, now called white, into their cars. 

White gas at the pump became hard to find but Coleman lanterns still needed it.  Coleman began selling white gas branded as “Coleman fuel.”

Leaded gas is no more.  It poisoned people and was phased out 1975-1995.  But “unleaded” does not mean “no additives.”  Unleaded means different additives.  No additives would put you back to 50 octane.

Today, Coleman sells “Dual Fuel” lanterns that are billed as running on either Coleman fuel or unleaded automobile gas. 

I was surprised to discover that my new Coleman Dual Fuel 285 produced light equivalent to a 150-watt light bulb on Coleman fuel but only equivalent to 100 watts on automobile gas. 

Would auto gas plug the lantern’s generator (as some claimed)?  I decided to find out.

Day 1.  The 285 started out (on auto gas) at 100 watts.  I kept it pumped up hard.  Eight hours later it had faded to 40 watts.  At nine hours it was almost empty.

Day 2.  It started out at 100 watts.  Six hours later it was 40 watts.  I shut it down at nine hours.

Day 3.  It started out at 100 watts.  Three hours later it was 40 watts.  I shut it down at nine hours.

Day 4.  It started out at 40 watts.  Total hours at 100 watts (actually, 40 watts or more) were seventeen.

Day 5.  I switched back to white gas.  Light output was 75 watts, half of what it had been prior to running automobile gas.  Auto gas had clogged the lantern’s generator.  A new generator was $11.49 plus postage:  www.coleman.com/coleman/parts/parts_lantern.asp

Aside.  The term generator might sound complicated but a “steam jenny” was a generator.  Jenny was slang for generator.  A steam jenny generated steam.  A teakettle is a steam jenny.

And the generator for a Coleman lantern is little more than a length of brass tubing.  Liquid fuel enters one end.  A check valve stops it from reversing direction.  Heat is applied to the outside of the tube.  The liquid inside the tube turns to a gas.  Gas (in the “solid-liquid-gas” sense of things) has been generated from a liquid.

Question.  Will older Coleman lanterns, engineered for white gas, run on unleaded automobile gas?  Yes.  Safely?  Yes.  Will automobile gas slowly clog the lantern’s generator?  Yes.  Did I personally test it?  Yes.  Why didn’t they advertise the old lanterns as “dual-fuel”? 

Why?  Because the auto gas of that era contained lead.  Not good for baby’s little brain.

An “orphan” is a lamp for which you cannot find spare parts.  An otherwise perfect lamp without the necessary wick or mantle or pump leather is effectively junk.  And when, exactly, is that critical part going to fail?  When the water’s five feet high and risin’.  It’s a law of nature.

[With the exception of Diesel fuel,] kerosene is the least expensive liquid fuel ($3.75 a gallon versus $10.50 for Coleman fuel).  If you want a pressure lantern that runs on kero, your choices are a used Coleman 237, a used Coleman 639, a new Coleman 214, or a new Coleman 639C.  You can find these lanterns on eBay and spare parts at Coleman.  Everything else in the Coleman kerosene lineup is an orphan.

(Petromax is a non-Coleman lantern that burns kerosene and for which spare parts are available.)

Older Colemans that run on white gas and for which spare parts are readily available include the 220, the 228, and the 200A.  Other older Colemans are orphans.

Other older brands (J.C. Higgins and Ted Williams from Sears; Hawthorne and Western Field from Wards; Thermos; KampLite; Diamond; etc., etc., etc.) are orphans. 

Even new lanterns can be orphans.  Today, NorthStar is Coleman’s top-of-the-line lantern but requires a unique pleated, tubular mantle.  No other lantern has it or can use it ¾ domestic or foreign, new, used, or antique.  I own several lanterns but, because of its unique orphan mantle, not a NorthStar.

This is a hot-button topic.

Pressure lanterns require mantles.  Mantles are made of cloth coated with a rare earth that glows in the heat of the flame and produces more light than the flame itself.

Thorium was the rare earth used in lamp mantles from the 1890s to the 1990s.  Thorium, however, is slightly radioactive.  Thorium has been largely replaced with yttrium, another rare earth that is not radioactive.  The new yttrium mantles are not as bright as the old thorium mantles. 

So how radioactive is radioactive?

A “Roentgen equivalent man” (abbreviated rem) is a measure of radiation.  A millirem (abbreviated mrem) = 1/1000 rem.  Background radiation is about one mrem per day in most parts of the world.

One dental X-ray is equivalent to 0.5 mrem.  One mammogram is equivalent to 300 mrem.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that “avid campers” (making 26 two-day camping trips per year, using Coleman-type lanterns with thorium mantles) receive 0.05 to 6 mrem per year.

Let’s express the foregoing in more familiar units, Dollars: Background radiation is $1 per day.  A dental X-ray is 50¢.  A mammogram is $300.  An “avid camper” would receive between 5¢ and $6 per year from thorium mantles.

Today’s Coleman mantles are the #21 and the #11.  They replaced the 21A Silk-Lite and the #1111 respectively (which were the old thorium mantles). 

The #21 mantle is used on Coleman’s new Dual Fuel lanterns as well as Coleman’s older gas models (220, 228, 200A) as well the Coleman 214 (kerosene).  The #11 mantles are used on Coleman’s larger kerosene lanterns (237, 639, 639C).

Personally, I use the #21 mantle on my Petromax 150CP (i.e. 150 candlepower) and the #11 mantle on my 500CP Petromax.  Petromax is a brand of lantern to be discussed next. 

I’ve given up on Petromax-brand mantles because they are too fragile.  With all the finesse I can muster, I usually break them when starting the lantern.  At $2 apiece, it’s an expensive game.  Fortunately, however, Coleman mantles work fine on a Petromax lantern.  As a consequence, I use only Coleman mantles on my Petromaxes.

I used to have a friend at work who pulled into the parking lot each day in his clanking Volkswagen diesel.  He would get out, shaking his head.  “When you go to the dealer, they brag about German engineering.  They neglect to mention that it’s built in Mexico.”

Petromax lanterns are like that. 

The Petromax was a German, WWI-era lantern.  Its patents have long since expired so it is freely copied by everyone.  The Petromax trademark is another story.  The original trademark lapsed and was reregistered by other sellers.  In the USA, BriteLyt in Florida currently owns it.  Other countries, other owners.

In the USA, Coleman is the big name.  But worldwide, many more Petromax lanterns exist than Coleman.  Petromax’ brothers, sisters, cousins, and clones include BriteLyt, Butterfly, Anchor, Sea Anchor, Tower, Santrax, Egret, Solex (Italy), Aida, Geniol, Hipolito (Portugal), Primus, Optimus (Sweden), Radius (Sweden), Hasag (Switzerland), Buflam-Petroflam (England), Big Wheel, Light, Red Heart, Silverray, Crown (Iraq), Kohinoor (India), Wenzel (Sam’s Club), Prabhat (India), and Col-Max (USA).  Col-Max?  Yes, just before WWII Coleman made a Petromax clone for export, intended to compete directly with Petromax itself.  

All of which testifies to the excellence of the original Petromax design.

Many of these brands are no longer manufactured (although most appear on eBay from time to time).  All of the new ones (of whatever trademark including Petromax itself) are made in the Far East and any given factory produces several different brands.  Unfortunately, it’s nearly universal that the tooling is worn, threads are rounded and don’t hold, holes don’t line up, pumps don’t pump, and prickers don’t prick.  I feel certain that few if any would meet the old-time Petromax specs.

Advertising hype notwithstanding, if you Google for BriteLyt or Butterfly or Sea Anchor you will discover a whole new world of bitching.  The best advice I can give is to buy a Petromax only where you can return it!  You may have to go through several lanterns before you find a good one.

Why bother?  Because Petromax lanterns will burn diesel fuel with today’s yttrium mantles.  Coleman lanterns won’t. 

In 2006, a contributor to The International Guild of Lamp Researchers said, “the Petromax can be used with diesel - at least for five or six hours (or so, depending on the quality of the fuel). After that time you will most probably find the generator clogged with a coal-like substance . . .:  (ref. question #3644)

Sorry, but that statement is an example of armchair science.  I ran my 500CP Petromax for 50 consecutive hours on diesel.  The generator (Preston loop) was clear before, during, and after the test, ready for another 50 hours. 

The Petromax is a kerosene lantern.  There’s a running war between The International Guild of Lamp Researchers and BriteLyt on the safety of burning gasoline in a BriteLyt.  BriteLyt says you can.  The Guild says you can’t.

There are reported cases of Petromax lanterns “exploding” when run on gasoline.  Neal McRae best covers the design issues.

I have to side with The Guild on this one because, in addition to design issues, there’s the poor workmanship so widespread in today’s Petromax lanterns. 

For example, I own a BriteLyt that will not turn off when run on gasoline.  I returned this lantern when it was brand new to BriteLyt in Florida because of the incredible quantity of gunk in the fuel tank.  They sent it back to me a month later, all better.  

Now, with the control valve in the OFF position, the lantern continues to burn.  It will not shut completely off.  (To my mind, this is a factory workmanship issue more than a Petromax design issue.)

The only way to turn the lantern off is to crack the thumb screw on the filler cap and release pressure . . . thereby releasing flammable gasoline vapor mere inches away from a burning mantle.  Not safe!  (That practice may be acceptable with kerosene ¾ the Coleman 241, for example, a kerosene lantern, was designed that way ¾ but it is decidedly unsafe with gasoline.)

So . . .  Can you burn gasoline in a Petromax and get away with it?  Sure.  Can you pump gasoline while smoking a cigarette and get away with it?  Sure.  Now riddle me this:  Is it a smart thing to do? 

This article is only the tip of the iceberg.  We haven’t touched on mineral spirits or burning fluid or animal fat as fuel.  Or Rayos or Duplexes or Aladdins.  Or carbide miner’s lamps or candle-making or lantern repairs or a host of other topics.  But I hope it gives you some light and I hope it helps keep you safe.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not own any stock in any company mentioned in this article.  Nor do I own stock in any competitor of any company mentioned in this article. JWR Adds: Here is my own disclaimer (per FTC File No. P034520): I accept cash-paid advertising. To the best of my knowledge, as of the date of this posting, none of my advertisers that sell the products mentioned in this article have solicited me or paid me to write any reviews or endorsements, nor have they provided me any free or reduced-price gear in exchange for any reviews or endorsements. I am not a stock holder in any company. I do, however, benefit from sales through the SurvivalBlog Amazon Store. If you click on one of our Amazon links and then "click through" to order ANY product from Amazon.com (not just the ones listed in our catalog), then we will earn a modest sales commission.

Now is the time for those in the Southeastern United States to check their preparations for hurricanes.  Below is a list of steps I go through anytime there is a hint of a potential storm.  These steps were derived from past experiences and lessons I have learned from other Survivalblog.com posts.  I do this prep so as not to get caught up in panicked crowds on the days immediately preceding the storm.  Should the storm not hit me directly I consider this prepping chance to practice and shore up my supplies.

7 Days Out

1)    Water (1 or 5 gallon jugs) is purchased and any filter systems, storage systems and well pumps are checked. 
2)    Storage food is checked and additional food is purchased if necessary.  During his phase any non-perishable food needed, including comfort food should is purchased. 
3)    Fuel Stores such as gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas, Coleman White fuel, kerosene are checked and topped off as needed. 
4)    Cooking fuels are checked and purchased as needed.
5)    Battery stores are checked and additional batteries are purchased as needed.
6)    Flashlights, lanterns and other alternative light sources are tested and batteries are replaced, fuel is added to each device as needed.
7)    Alternative cooking devices are tested.
8)    Radio communications are tested and made ready.
9)    Storm shutters and fasteners are made ready for deployment.
10) Blackout curtains are located and made ready for use.
11) Generators - run on a load for 30 minutes, tanks are topped off and any maintenance need is completed.
12) First aid supplies - are checked and additional supplies are purchased as needed.
13) Double check prescriptions and fill if necessary.
14) Firearms (If you have them) are checked and cleaned and lubricated if necessary.  Ammunition is checked and the amount needed for a possible event is moved from storage to an easily accessible, but secure location.
15) Daily used household items such as cleaners, soaps, tooth care; toilet paper etc. should be checked and purchased as necessary.
16) Start making Ice and have bags ready for when the container for the ice maker gets full.
17) G.O.O.D. packs are checked and replenished as needed.
18) Fuel tanks for vehicles from this point on are not allowed to go below ¾ths filled and as a normal procedure should not be allowed to go under ½ full. 
19) Check vehicles for tire pressure, fluid levels, belt tensions, and any pending maintenance critical to the operation of the vehicle should be done at this time. 
20) Communicate with your preparedness group, family and like-minded friends; discuss the possibility of implementing your preparedness plan assuming you have one.

4-to-5-Days Out
1)    Grocery store – last minute items and surprisingly perishable items such as fruits and vegetables that do not need refrigeration are purchased.   The event may be short term and this will allow for one to two weeks of fresh fruits and vegetables before the need to move to dry and canned food.
2)    Mail all bills due in the next 30 days if possible.
3)    Start freezing water in 2 liter soda bottles. This will help freezers and refrigerators stay cool longer when the power goes out.
4)    Have family or group meeting and discuss preparedness plans to include responsibilities for final preparations and survival responsibilities immediately after the event and contingency plans for when things go wrong.  
5)    Start consuming primarily refrigerated perishable food.
6)    Assuming the garbage trucks are still running; make sure all trash is removed. 
7)    Any member of your family or group who has to work will need to place a survival pack in their vehicle, that should include 3 to 7 days of food and water and one or two Jerry can(s) of fuel if possible.  If possible, preposition short term emergency supplies at the place of employment. 

Experience has demonstrated the hordes of panicked people are beginning to start at this phase, but depending on the event and how the event is covered in the media, the hordes could potentially start earlier than expected; making some of the preparations at this stage more difficult to accomplish.  

48 Hours Out
1)     Impact shutters are installed, leaving one or two off on the back side of the house to allow natural light in.    When shutters go up it gets dark and gloomy fast.  The last few shutters can be installed right before the storm hits.
2)    Loose objects outside of the home are secured or moved inside.
3)    Rain gutters and downspouts are cleaned out.  
4)    Charge any remaining batteries and radios.
5)    Data from computers is backed up and securely stored. 
6)    Paper records are secured.
7)    Important personal items, such as family photos are secured.    
8)    Persons doing prep work in the immediate vicinity of the home should have a two way radio with them at all times, with someone in the home monitoring the radio.  This is especially important for those living in rural areas with large amounts of property and when working a fair distance from the home.  
9)     One person at all times should be monitoring Radio, Internet and television news. Continue to monitoring these sources while available.

10 to 24 Hours Out
1)    Any items still outside the home are secured.
2)    Remaining storm shutters are installed.
3)    Vehicles are moved to the garage or a secure location. Depending on the situation and location this step may be done sooner in the process.
4)    Internal alternative light sources are made ready and strategically placed. 
5)    Food stores and water for the next 24-72 hours are made ready.  Some perishable food for immediate use can be moved to coolers, which if properly packed and insulated will stay cool for two days. A layer of dry ice on the bottom of a cooler separated by a dish towel can keep items frozen for up to 4 days in the proper cooler)
6)    Turn freezer refrigerator temps down).  Get them as cold as possible without freezing the coils.
7)    Turn air-conditioning down and get the house cool before the power goes out.
8)    Entertainment such as games, books are located and made ready.
9)    Charge laptops and cell phones.
10)  Wash all dishes by hand.
11) Any remaining laundry is done (earlier in the 24-hours before landfall and well before the likelihood of power failures).
12) Depending on the water situation, sinks, bath tubs and containers should be filled with water and treated appropriately.  
13)  Move some frozen bottles to the refrigerator.
14) Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed (once the power goes out, It may be 12 hours or more before the generator can fired up). 


3 Hours Out – (Power is Out )
1)    Alternative lighting sources are activated.
2)    All AC Powered lights and appliances, televisions, computers (except one lamp) are unplugged.  The breaker for the HVAC unit and water heater is shut off.   Leaving one light connected to the AC [utility power] and in the on mode will provide an indication when the power returns.  Once power returns, lamps and appliances can be powered up gradually to avert the effects of a power surge.  Those with standby generators will handle this step differently depending on how their backup system is designed.    
3)    If possible, use the remaining hot water; take a shower(s) assuming conditions warrant.
4)    Once hot water is used, and if using a hot water tank, close the incoming water valve; a fresh supply of water is now available.  
5)    Activate the battery operated television or radio and monitor events.
6)    Sleep when and if possible in rotating shifts.
7)    If the situation warrants, move to a storm shelter or the most secure part of the house.  
When prepping for a storm, I print the list and the items are checked off as they are completed.  Doing so allows for a fast and efficient approach to prepping for a storm and helps to ensure nothing is forgotten.   The list is tweaked as needed and steps are added and /or removed based on the perceived severity of the storm in my general area.  Regards, - Florida Dave

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Most of us do not have the funds to purchase and maintain a survival retreat, however there are effective things the ordinary citizen can do to help themselves and their families get through the troubled times ahead. I could write reams on this subject, but for the purposes of this article I will concentrate on a few basics to help your family get started on the path to survival.
I have been watching in horror for months as the U.S. government races towards the abyss. The British press truly nailed it when, after the debt ceiling vote was announced, the BBC referred to the vote as increasing the United States’ “overdraft authority”. Hurricane Katrina showed everyone with a brain that the government cannot and will not help you in the event of a disaster! Nuff’ said here.

Shelter Where You Are
In my opinion, people who live in rural areas are going to be generally better off. You are still going to need to stock up for long term difficulties and the sooner the better! The American people have become far too dependent upon outside systems and people, and when and if our infrastructure collapses, you going to be in a world of hurt if you don’t act now!

Here are some examples of things my family is doing. I am buying several extra cans of food a week. I buy at several different stores in nearby communities. I do this because any sudden large purchase gets the attention of our local paranoid Sheriff’s department. I’ve been given several 2½ and 5 gallon plastic buckets by the manager of a local mini-mart after they’ve finished with them. I clean them out, and then put the extra canned goods in them. We live in a humid area, and storing the cans in the buckets prevents the outside of the cans from rusting.

One other thing I plan do very soon is to purchase three large plastic totes in which I can place 4 weeks worth of canned foods to throw in our car if we do need to evacuate. In a 4th tote, I’ll have 3 changes of clothing for my wife and myself along with some cooking implements, a one burner butane stove and 6 cans of fuel. I can also carry 14 gallons of drinking water as well as food for our dog for a month. Do not forget to assemble a complete emergency medical kit for this evacuation pack! In our case, I have packed 60 days worth of our prescription medications.
Back to the homestead, however. Here is what I’m planning to do at our place.

50 gallons of drinking water and two 200-gallon [service life] filters. In my case I’m lucky enough to be about two miles from a large creek which runs all year. I can take a few dozen containers in the car and fill them from this stream. I do not, however drink this water without treating it first! I boil it for 20 to 30 minutes, and after it has cooled, I filter it. I use the Katadyn Hiker which is rated to filter up to 200 gallons. After it has been filtered, I add a teaspoon of unscented bleach to each 7 gallon storage container. These containers are kept in a dark and cool storage shed, and will keep for a very long time. Purchase as many of the 5-7 gallon containers as you can. If this is not possible or practical, save your two liter soda bottles as these are an excellent alternative. Be sure to treat the water before storing it. As for your tap water, depending on where you live, you might want to treat that as well, before storing it.

One-Burner Butane stove: These can be had at Wal-Mart and most other big box stores. The one I use has a Piezo-electric spark which ignites the fuel. We also have 40 extra fuel canisters for it. I estimate this will provide 2 hot meals each day for two people for up to six months.

Kerosene: We heat our home with it. We usually store 60 to 100 gallons, depending on the severity of the Winter. We have an indoor use Kerosene heater which does not require electricity to operate. We also have a large stock of candles for lighting as well as a few hand crank rechargeable LED lights.
Solar Shower for indoor use: Don’t laugh! This does work! We simply heat some water in a pot on the butane stove, pour the heated water into the Solar Shower, and hang it on the shower head in the bathroom. Hot shower off the grid! If it works on the trail it will work in your home!
Not enough can be said on this subject. I mentioned the 2-½ gallon buckets earlier. The reason I prefer these over the 5-gallon size is very simple. Older folks and children will have a much easier time moving the smaller buckets around. There is nothing wrong with the larger containers and I certainly have a few of them as well. As with the larger totes, I put the extra canned goods in there to prevent them from rusting, and this allows us to move the most food possible with the least amount of effort.

Important Note: Most people don’t do these things because they are daunted by the size and expense of a project like this. There is a way to deal with this. Whenever you go to the store, buy two or three extra cans and put them away for lean times. Your wallet will hardly notice the extra few dollars and in a year’s time you will be amazed at how much emergency food is in your pantry or your shed.

At my house, my wife is annoyed that I’m buying extra canned food to put away whenever I can. She tells me that she will take care of the matter and won’t let me starve. I know she loves me and takes excellent care of me: However, if the world around us takes a nose dive there will not be any food available for her to take care of me with! So, with no disrespect towards her, I am ignoring her protests and buying the food anyway!

As a side note, I highly recommend purchasing a subscription to Backwoods Home Magazine. The editors and staff there have developed self-reliant living and emergency preparedness into an art form! I have not seen a more in-depth and comprehensive source for these matters anywhere else!!

Learn First Aid and CPR. While I have good reason to have no love for the American Red Cross, they do offer the best basic training available in this area. Build the biggest medical kit you possibly can! Whether you can evacuate or not, having as much first aid gear as possible could well be the difference between life and death for you and your family. Do not forget to include prescription meds for every family member. Visit your doctor and explain what you are doing. Be tactful! Explain that you are simply trying to build up a small extra supply for emergencies such as a natural disaster, long-term power outages, etc. Do not say anything about your political concerns! Most of the medical personnel that I work with are very liberal. My two concerns here are first, they may view you as a nut-case and deny your request for extra meds. Second, though not likely, they may report you to the local authorities as a “Rambo” type or a “dangerous survivalist”. All you are attempting to do at this point is to have some extra medications on hand in the event of an emergency and you can’t get to medical care or they can’t get to you. Make sure they understand this and keep it simple!

Which brings me to the final point of this article, personal protection.

Personal Protection
I am a strong supporter of our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Some people suggest you have a reliable handgun for personal and home defense. I suggest getting two! Ideally, one of them should be unregistered. If at all possible buy one or more guns privately so there is no ’paper trail’ to tip off Big Brother.

For home protection my first choice is a 20 gauge shotgun. They are lighter and easier to handle than a 12 gauge, so women and teenage children can handle them. They are also usually a bit shorter which makes them more maneuverable in a high stress situation. They will do less damage to your walls and furniture and at the ranges being discussed here, and will drop an intruder just as effectively as a 12 gauge. Another advantage here is that if you have to shoot outside, a 20 gauge is less likely to damage a neighbor’s property. [JWR Adds: Some ammunition makers might disagree with some of the foregoing, given the relatively comparable penetration of buckshot and slugs from 12 gauge versus 20 gauge shells at less than 20 yards.]

I also highly recommend a reliable handgun for each adult. There are pros and cons to revolvers and semi-autos, and the debate will not be settled here. Generally speaking, revolvers are less likely to jam at a critical moment. For people with less experience with guns, I suggest you start with a revolver, and there are some very good ones out there. I personally own a .357 Magnum which I can get to very quickly if I need to.

I despise 9mm! If someone trying to get into your home is high on Methamphetamines or PCP, he won’t even feel a 9mm and a .40 Smith will only enrage him. The bare minimum I would have is a .38 +P or a .357 Magnum. Jacketed Hollow Points are the order of the day here! A .357 SIG in my opinion is also inadequate in these circumstances. Bottom line: Buy either a .357 Magnum for anyone or a .45 ACP such as a 1911 type semi-auto.

Why do I advocate personal ownership of firearms? Well, taking the Second Amendment out of the equation for a moment, it is quite simple… At best the local cops are 6 to 30 minutes away. Where we live, it can be up to an hour, depending on how many donuts they have yet to consume. Another reason is that most dispatchers will tell you to do nothing and wait for officers to get to you. Yeah, right! Meanwhile, the burglars are in your garage, your shed, or your bedroom and you have been shot or your wife raped or your children abducted! No thank you! If an intruder comes into my home and he, she, or they are armed, it is the intruder who is going to be lying dead on the floor, not me or a member of my family, thank you very much! As the old saying goes, I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6. To keep things in balance however, let me say this: While I will act to protect myself and my family, I pray to God that I never have to put this to the test !

In closing let me also stress that it is best to keep as low a profile as you possibly can. You do not want nosey neighbors knowing you have extra food and supplies. You might want to suggest to them that they start doing things for themselves, but keep your own activities secret from them. You may think they are your friends and that they can be trusted. Do not fool yourself! If push comes to shove and they know you have provisions and they don’t. And some of them are liberals.

My last thought is this: I am very irritated by the mainstream media’s treatment of freedom loving, conservative Americans. I am constantly hearing talk from the media that it is the conservatives who are going to rise up and riot in the street. I submit that the exact opposite is going to be the case. It is my considered opinion that it is the liberal element of the population who will be the problem. It will be the welfare recipients, the illegal aliens, and the social engineers who will be the ones to riot and cause destruction. Why? Because they are the people who have lived off the system for nearly two generations, who have no work ethic, no sense of self worth, and expect everything to be handed to them, who, when the system does fail and America goes into default, will demand that the gravy train continue. When they see that their meal ticket no longer exists, their veneer of civilization will come off and it is they who will rise up against the government, not us! It will be far worse for our country than the Civil War ever was!

Prepare now. Prepare quietly. Do have a plan of escape if at all possible. If you cannot evacuate, or even if you can, lay in your supplies now. Because once it hits the fan it will be too late.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hi Jim;
I stumbled across the idea of fuel briquetting while on an appropriate technology web site and have found the idea is very popular in the developing world, particularly in areas where wood for fuel is scarce.

Most of us are familiar with the formed charcoal briquettes used in barbecues, and you can use charcoal in this type of press, but practically anything burnable can be used to create briquettes: straw, grass clippings, rice hulls, paper, sawdust, leaves, animal dung… use your imagination! The end result will look different depending on your source material, but all will get the job done (see sample briquettes from around the world, here). The briquettes are closer to the formed Pres-to-Logs you can find in grocery stores in the U.S., which are made of sawdust, though most handmade briquettes are smaller than the commercial logs.

For those who live in the grasslands, a high desert area or a lightly-wooded place, the means to make fuel can be invaluable. Knowing how to make briquettes can also be a valuable trade skill (using your equipment to produce briquettes from the agri-waste of others) or the means to create a valuable trade good (finished briquettes for sale). It would be a great business to pair with a sawmill.

Here's a PDF of plans for a hand-operated press frame.

YouTube is a fantastic resource for homemade briquette press ideas. There seem to be a lot of folks who have put a lot of thought into different designs. Some use bottle jacks for the needed pressure, but there are many human powered designs.

Here is a very small sampling of ideas in use:

Although my retreat location is wooded, it would not produce enough fuel for an extended period. Having a means to create fuel from what the trees drop naturally could be a helpful thing.

Blessings, - Jason R.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wood heat: Is it really the best source, and why? This seems to be a popular question. I’m sure you have heard about the many benefits of an alternative energy source, but how much do you really know about wood heat? Maybe you remember that you grandmother used to cook on a wood cookstove back in the day, but you probably assume that wood cooking is old fashioned and outdated -- think again!  How much do you spend a year to heat your home? Not to mention the additional cost of cooking your food, and heating your water. We just filled up our propane tank the other day, and the cost was over $1,200! For that price, you can almost buy an alternative heat source, water source, and cooking source. If your interested in switching your home to a simpler, cheaper, more self-sufficient abode, you’ve come to the right place. In the following paragraphs I plan to answer common questions about heating with wood; I will share with you what I’ve learned about using wood heat, and how beneficial it has been for my family.

I have been living in Montana since age six. For many of my younger years, my parents chose to live a very simple lifestyle; one that happened to be off grid.  Having lived off grid, I am now able to understand the benefits of solar energy and biofuel.  My dad became interested in solar energy and pursued building a house completely disconnected from all electricity. We powered our home from sources such as the sun, wind, and wood. My family lived off the land. We had a wood cookstove called the “Kitchen Queen” to heat our home. Before moving to Montana, my parents started an e-commerce business called Obadiah’s Woodstoves which sells products used for a more self-sufficient lifestyle. We sell many different products such as wood furnaces, free standing stoves, fireplace inserts, zero clearances fireplaces and other fuel burning products such as gas and pellet burning appliances. After working the business for nearly 10 years, I have learned much about using alternate sources as a way of life.

For the first few years living in Montana, we didn’t have “instant” hot water. We had a ten gallon water tank that had a wood firebox underneath the tank to heat the water. Every time we wanted to take a shower, we had to go outside and chop kindling to build a fire for hot water. After a few years, this became a major hassle; it took nearly an hour to get a tank of hot water large enough for two very quick showers. My dad came to the realization we needed a more efficient source to heat our hot water. He began to research how we could possibly heat our water through our Kitchen Queen cookstove and found an invention called the “thermo-front” hot water heater.  Not only did the Kitchen Queen heat our home, it was plumbed into our domestic hot water as well. The thermo-front is a steel box, lined with Teflon; this box fits inside your firebox on the right-hand side. You then plumb from the thermo-front directly into your domestic hot water system. You also have the option of plumbing this into radiant heating; which is another option to heat your home. The only thing better than hot water, is free hot water!

Domestic hot water is not the only water source the Kitchen Queen has to offer; it also has an optional stainless reservoir that sits on the rear of the stove. The reservoir can be plumbed through your firebox with a stainless water coil. However, it is not a pressurized system; since the tank is not pressurized, it cannot be plumbed through your domestic hot water. You have the option to install a water spigot on the side of the reservoir for easy access to the water, otherwise the water is accessed through the lids on the top of the reservoir.  Many folks without access to electricity or plumbing such as the Amish, will use the water reservoir for their main hot water needs. You can use the water for bathing, doing dishes, cleaning up around the house, or taking care of children. When installing the water coil with the reservoir, you have to be sure not to let the water boil in the reservoir; if this happens, it can cause mold and mildew to grow in your home. However if the reservoir is used properly, it works great as a humidifier. Although the reservoir is made of stainless steel, the water is not safe to drink.  Standing water in the tank creates a breeding ground for bacteria and other airborne contaminants.

 A wood cookstove has many options and benefits to suffice your domestic needs. One of my favorite features of a wood cookstove is that it offers the luxury of a wood heat oven; it is much like one on an electric stove -- minus the fixed temperature. This oven serves two purposes; it gives your home that cozy warm to the bone feeling and it also has potential to make the best apple pie you’ve ever tasted. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! Many cookstoves offer a large firebox, which is great for overnight burn times; no hassle, no worries. If you burn properly seasoned firewood, and have knowledge of how to pack a full firebox; you can sometimes get a 20 hour burn time!

Because I work in sales for alternative energy products, I come across many people who have no expertise in wood heat. Most people don’t realize how simple it is to use wood as your main energy source. Most wood cookstoves are non-catalytic, which implies they aren’t as efficient. Although cookstoves may not be as efficient as a catalytic wood stove; cookstoves are a care free stove; you can easily burn paper and bark in your firebox with no problems. Catalytic wood stoves have a type of a filter that re-burns the smoke, thereby reducing emissions and making the stove more efficient.  With a catalytic converter, you cannot burn any green wood, wet wood, bark, paper, or any trash without clogging the catalyst.   Currently, there is a national exemption by the E.P.A. for wood cookstoves.  This means that a wood burning cook stove does not have to be E.P.A.-compliant for emissions.  Emissions measures the amount of particulate that is being put into the air when the stove is burning.  Studies indicate that more pollution is created in the environment from fallen dead trees that are left in the forest to rot.  These trees out-gas more pollution than a wood stove!  We can thank our environmentally friendly “green” organizations for closing the woods off to the public.  The roads are literally gated to prevent the harvesting of firewood, hunting, or other recreational use of the vast National Forest lands here in Montana.  Well, that is another subject for discussion at a later time.

The average household will use between 8-to-12 cords of wood a year [in northern climates]. According to the Consumer Energy Center: “The dimensions of a “standard cord" is a stack of wood piled 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet high. You won't get a full 128 cubic feet of firewood with a standard cord because of the airspace between the pieces of the wood; the amount of wood in such a stack will depend upon the size and straightness of the pieces, how they are split and how the wood is stacked. Because of this, the total cubic feet in a cord can vary from 70 to 90 or more cubic feet.” Depending on your location, a cord of wood cost around $100, or you always cut your own wood for free -- it doesn’t get any better than free. Its comforting to know that no matter what happens with the economy, you can always chop down a tree to provide heat, water, and food for your family.

Not only was our heat and water sourced from alternative energy, we also had solar panels that produced on sunny days; if the sun wasn’t shining, we also had a back up generator that would keep our battery bank charged. It is reassuring to know that no matter what happens you can always be warm, cook your food, make hot water, and light your home! By using alternative energy sources you are able to do all things listed above. It’s amazing how simple, economical and self-sufficient a person can survive when having the correct tools.


"Kitchen Queen 380 Wood Burning Cookstove." Obadiah's Woodstoves.

"Firewood." Consumer Energy Center.

"Kitchen Queen Cookstove." Obadiah's Woodstoves.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hello James:

This letter is an attempt to throw some stakes into the ground that might serve as  a realistic basis for "expectation management".

People's ability to soldier onward under adverse conditions is very closely tied to the alignment (or gap) between expectations and the reality of the moment.   People who have had every advantage have given up and committed suicide because their expectation was that they were destined to become the Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company before their 45th birthday.  Others greet every morning with relentless cheerfulness even though their day meant 10 hours of mopping floors, because mopping floors was better than what they expected....at least they were not on their knees scrubbing.

So what might a post-whatever lifestyle look like from a work standpoint?  That is pretty easy to describe if we use a 1880-1920 life style as a basis.  There are ample ergonomic studies from the period and, more recently, sports fitness studies of Old Order Amish.

In a very, very condensed form, expect an amount of physical effort that is the equivalent of walking between 10 and 18 miles, 6 days out of the week.  Younger men will be closer to  18 miles a day (6 hours of walking).  Older men (over 55) and women will be closer to the 10 miles a day (3 hours of walking). 

If you are lucky enough to have tools that are appropriately designed for post-whatever, and if you have draft animals, you can cut those estimates by 50%.

If you are cutting firewood with a hand-saw you might be able to cut wood 3 hours a day if you do no other work.  That is why you will configure your work space (yard) so you can squeeze in 30 minutes of wood cutting every cool evening.  You cannot afford to only do 3 hours of productive work in a day because there will be so many other demands on your time.  You will likely be lamed up by the second day due to the unusual muscle groups you over-stress in 3 hours of hand sawing.  You will move your woodshed close to the house because you will not be able to afford a long walk time (wasted time) if you are only going to make 30 minutes of sawdust.

You will fantasize about wood stoves that can use longer pieces of wood.

The math of physical work is that most of the energy burn is in moving your own body-weight.  A 160 pound man carrying a 40 pound pack is burning 80% of his Calories moving his body and 25% moving wheat, or wood, or fertilizer.  You will find yourself becoming  very inventive at packing-and-strapping to get the optimum load per trip.  You will fantasize about carts, wagons, wheelbarrows and burros.

You will never find yourself walking anywhere without carrying something...and at best carrying something in each direction.  It is not unheard of to put the woodshed between the outhouse and the dwelling.  Putting the woodshed on skids means that you can move the woodshed when you move the outhouse.

"Modern" ergonomics is now heart-rate based because there are factors that stress the body that do not produce productive work.  You have to shake your head because two of the prime examples of these stresses is heat stress and water stress.  When you are working for yourself you get smart about matching the big calorie-burn jobs to the thermometer.  You also get good at dressing in layers so you can tune your clothing to reject enough heat.  Amish are not stupid.  I found that the most suitable top for really rough work is a pull-over with the top half closed with laces.  Zippers and buttons are the Achilles' heal of most tops when your are cutting brush and doing other rough work.

I apologize for the abruptness and jerkiness of the writing, but it is a case of banging it out and hitting send or not getting it written.

God's blessing upon you and your family

Dear JWR:
In his Letter Re: Unleaded Spout Solution for NATO Gas Cans  in the July 14th edition of SurvivalBlog, writer Lee H. wrote that "Like many others that bought military surplus steel NATO fuel cans, I was frustrated by the fact that only large diameter leaded fuel spouts were available for these cans." Happily, this is not the case.

HQ Company ("Surplus and Survival headquarters") in Colorado Springs, Colorado offers both screw-on type nozzles for the old U.S. military Jerry cans as well as the clamp-on NATO-type fuel can spout, both of which have their tips reduced for use with U.S. vehicles with restrictors at the filler cap to allow the use only of pump nozzles meant for unleaded fuel.  They also offer other fuel-can related bits and pieces, including replacement gaskets, can carriers for motor vehicle [and generator trailer] mounting,  and retaining straps.

I have no connection to the company other than being a satisfied customer, very pleased with the reasonable pricing, acceptable quality and prompt shipping I've encountered in past dealings with the firm. I would also note, however, that their Colorado location is advantageous for those of us in the Redoubt States area, as that reduces shipping costs. - George S.

Since I discovered the Safety Siphon [hose] I haven't cared whether cans have CARB compliant spouts or improper size hoses or whatever.  I don't pour gas any longer. I get them at my local Bass Pro Shop, but they are available lots of places. Regards, - Del

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mr. Rawles,

Like many others that bought military surplus steel NATO fuel cans, I was frustrated by the fact that only large diameter leaded fuel spouts were available for these cans. This meant that I had to either use a funnel or transfer the fuel to another can before putting it into the tank of a car with an unleaded (small diameter) fuel receptacle. A friendly employee at my local Lowe's found me an inexpensive solution.  I brought my spigot to the store so I can test fit items (always a good idea for any home improvement project), and he gave me the following two items:

1.) A Genova 1" x 3/4" Polypropylene Coupling


2.) A Murray #12 Adjustable [Aero-Seal style] Hose Clamp

I stuck the reducer in the hose that was attached to my pour spout, slipped the clamp over it, and tightened it.  I used it tonight with great success!

It cost me $2.74 for two reducers and two clamps, so it was a $1.37 solution for each of my nozzles.  - Lee H.

Friday, May 13, 2011

We are preppers. I love reading the prep/survival books. There’s so much information out there and so many people involved in prepping now, there’s just no reason to not do it! We learned from experience that you can never be over prepared. Since 2004 I’ve learned how to store food for the long term, how to filter water (okay, I’ll give credit to my Berkey on that one), I’ve learned about bug out bags and how to build a fire with a flint, but what I learned the most from was living for more than two weeks without electricity after hurricanes Frances, Jeanne and Wilma. Even though we were only thinking hurricane preparedness then, we were still leaps and bounds beyond most of our neighbors.

The obvious things that one can’t miss are non perishable food and water. You’d be surprised how many people wait until a hurricane warning to stock up on these basics. Once a hurricane is within 3 days of hitting, the stores get crazy and empty out. Shopping during that time is no longer an option for us, we’re prepared far in advance. The only food I can see getting right before a storm is bread (although we stock up and freeze bread when it’s on sale) and fresh fruits and veggies. When a warning is issued water is the first to go, then canned soups, tuna, Spam, etc. Let me tell you folks, eating soup when its 98 degrees with 98 percent humidity is not appetizing. We have to think about what we’d normally eat and work with that. I stock up on canned meats and fruits and veggies.  We have an extra freezer stocked with meat. Unfortunately, during Hurricane Frances the storm lingered for 3 days over our area. We could not run the generator during the storm. The power went out immediately and all of our meat was lost by the time the storm passed. So stocking up the fridge and freezer’s a great idea but in the end you could lose it all. We regularly eat tortillas of all kinds, so I have a stock of masa and a tortilla press. Tortillas can be cooked on a skillet over a grill in no time at all. Speaking of the grill, we have at least four ways of cooking outside and only two of those require gas. We have many propane tanks (I’m not even going to tell you how many, it’s almost embarrassing!).  But we also have a charcoal grill and a fire pit, with wood stocked up for fuel if needed. The wood needs to be covered or brought in during a storm so it doesn’t get soaked or blown away.

So food and water, obvious, but how to live without electricity? Well folks, that’s where the rubber meets the road. The everyday little things soon become a chore. Take brushing your teeth for instance. When no water comes out of the faucet it’s a little more complicated. Not only is there no running water, but because we are on city sewer (and remember, no electricity) only minimal waste can go down the drain. Basically because whatever you put down the drain could potentially come back into the home once the power goes back on. This happened to several neighbors, but not us.  The water that we store is not just for drinking. After a storm we take a 5 gallon bucket and fill it, halfway or so, cover it and put it on the back porch. This is where we get water to brush our teeth and wash ourselves. All the dirty water is poured into a corner of the yard.

We did allow for toileting inside but only flushing when necessary. Again water is needed for flushing and you can see our supply dwindling as I type. Washing not only ourselves but dishes also needed to be done outside. We set up a table and again a 5 gallon bucket of water for our outdoor wash area. We used a lot of paper and plastic but some things still needed to be cleaned (pans, pots, etc). Whenever possible I used just cold water, soap and bleach, but with very grimy stuff we’d boil water on the grill and wash dishes in that. I added bleach to every wash load just to keep the germs minimal. That’s just breakfast folks. Now, I’m going to admit, after a few days my husband hooked the generator up to the water pump and we were able to bathe and have water from the outside faucet but it’s very hard water, normally used for irrigation only. It’s not potable but can be used for bathing and washing. Again, it had to be done outside which was fine because we actually have an outside shower.  Only cold water though. We were able to have a little warm water by hooking up a hose to the faucet and laying it on the roof. The heat from the sun warmed what was in the hose. It was good for a quick shower and I do mean quick.

A normal day was extremely hot and humid, we were inundated with biting flies and mosquitoes and we were typically dirty and very tired. Having decent screens on the windows was crucial as they were open all of the time.  Bug spray helped but it made us feel dirty and grimy.  I was not up on hand washing clothes at that time and the laundry pile was a nightmare. If I have to go through it again I would do things differently. I’d have two 5-gallon buckets, one for washing, one for rinsing and a hand washer. They look something like a plunger and are sufficient for hand washing shorts, underwear and tank tops. I’d also re-wear whatever possible so not to create so many dirty clothes. Now you may be wondering why we didn’t just hook up the generator to help take the edge off of the misery. We actually had the generator hooked up most of the time. It ran the fridge/freezer and a window air conditioner at night. Generators are great but they’re expensive to run and it’s important to be of the mindset that you may be entirely without electricity. Even the gas stations took several weeks to get up and running.

Being that the inside of the house was miserable, we spent a lot of time on our porch. It’s actually more of a deck, with privacy fencing surrounding us but no roof. My genius husband rigged a shade screen from material we had stored. That worked for giving us a shady area in which to clean and eat but it didn’t help with the bugs. I now have two mosquito nets stored away. If we have to do this again my husband can surely hang those to give us a protected area.

In the end we made it. My neighbors made fun of me when I washed our dishes outside but when the power came back on sewage didn’t back up into our house. We both missed a lot of work but managed to feed our family of four (my husband, myself, young teen daughter and a handicapped adult) and keep us clean and entertained. We played games at night before it got too dark. Bedtime came early. I put cute bandanas in our hair to keep it back and my daughter loved that. We put stickers on ourselves so as we tanned up (in the sun much more than usual) we had silly designs all over. We had a stash of special snack foods and kept our spirits up by joking around and not taking everything so seriously. When the power came back on after the first storm we had been over two weeks living primitively. I have to admit, I cried.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Just wanted to thank you for your blog and all the good information available through it.  Several times in the section on selecting the midwest for a retreat, you mention the lack of available fuel sources.  Corn burning stoves are fairly common in this part of the country.  They tend to be in the hands of those who don't pay retail for corn at this time, and certainly given modern means of agriculture the Midwest (Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska) can produce enough corn for its people and corn stoves.  Who knows if this would hold true in a disruption that moved agricultural production back a century;  on the plus side, the appetite of the ethanol refiners for the stuff would be quenched. - M.L. in Iowa

JWR Replies: Pellet and corn stoves require electricity. They are also more complicated to maintain than a traditional wood or coal stove. If either motor in the stove fails, then you have no heat. As I've mentioned before in SurvivalBlog, I do not recommend them.

Further, you have to consider the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) for burning dry harvested corn kernels, including the costs of the initial seed corn, fertilizer, pesticides, milling, transportation fuel, and finally the elctricity to run the pellet stove's motors. Even if you have a plentiful supply of corn and a reliable off-grid power system (to provide power for your stove's fan and auger), will all of your neighbors be comparably self-sufficient? If not, then you may be surrounded by folks that are both hungry and freezing.

I recommend that you move to a region where you can find a property with plenty of trees, or with a natural gas well, or with a surface coal seam in your back yard. Another consideration is the variety of crops where you live. If you live in a monoculture farming region, then chances are that it is a poor choice for self-sufficiency, post TEOTWAWKI. Truck farming regions make more sense.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Some localities have tank certification ordinances that virtually prohibit private ownership and therefore supplier shopping. Suppliers certify their own tanks and refuse to fill "un-certified" tanks. Depending on the locality obtaining a certificate can be a hair ball. Those who are considering private purchase of a tank should first inquire among the local suppliers to ascertain if any bureaucratic roadblocks are lurking in the way of obtaining propane fill-ups. - Dollardog

Sunday, April 24, 2011

James Wesley:
Our local propane dealer had a bunch of return rental tanks and was offering them for sale at a reduced price if we fill it as least the first time with them.  I opted for a 1,000 gallon tank and I am thinking of getting a second 1,000 gallon tank. It's a big chunk of cash up front but propane dose not go bad and the price is only going to increase.   I also had them install a "wet valve" and hose so I can fill smaller portable tanks like the ones on my travel trailer, barbeque, ice fishing house heater, and weed burner.   At present we only use propane for the cooking range, refrigerator, on demand water heater, a small back-up space heater in the basement and multi fuel generator.  

I am thinking if times get rough I'll be able to help some of the neighbors keep warm by filling their portable tanks if roads are closed or they can't get propane delivery for any other reason.  Be sure to have the propane delivery person show you how to fill your tanks safely and wear safety gear including eye protection at all times. Thanks for the great blog site. - B.P., at the end of the gravel road in North Dakota

Friday, April 22, 2011

I read R.E.'s article on Small Campstove Cooking with interest. Thank you. I've tried a few as well varieties of stoves as well and to date my favorite is the Littlbug. It's sturdy, stainless steel, comes in two sizes, folds up, it has some adjustments, and can burn solid fuels or twigs very efficiently. Twigs removing the need to carry fuel. Blessings, - Steve B.

Just a quick note about a comment R.E. made in his article: "Whether a stove unsafe for a small tent would be safe in a home is uncertain. Just remember that carbon monoxide (CO) is lighter than air."  Carbon monoxide is only very slightly less dense than air (1.145 g/l^-1 for CO versus 1.184g/l^-1 for air - a smaller difference than there is between oxygen and nitrogen).  It is not light enough that you can expect it to rise to and collect at the ceiling or in upper levels of a structure and in a home CO will mix homogeneously with air.  My intention isn't to ding R.E. but to make sure that folks don't get the idea that sleeping on the floor would make them safer while using an inefficient heater or other CO source.   - Matt R.


I thought I would pass this along-Last night I received a call from my propane provider. They call every year about this time asking if you want to fill your tank. The person was saying that prices were low this time of year .I have a 250 gallon tank and only use around a 100 gallons a year. I said yes and inquired about getting a 500 gallon tank. They said there  was only a $79 tank change fee. I know that each tank only holds 80 percent of tanks stated capacity, so a 250 gallon tank holds around 200 gallons. This is a two-year supply for me. I have a 6-burner cooktop and fireplace logs and am lucky to live in a mild winter area. It got me thinking this may be a good time to change to a bigger tank and increase my propane capacity to 400 gallons (four years).We don't know what the future holds, what the price or availability of fuels will be,or what our finances may be in the future. This will enable me to breath a little easier and sleep a little better. Just a heads up to the people like me who are preparing. - Rob M.

JWR Replies: My general preference is to purchase rather than lease a propane tank. The total cost is lower in the long run (assuming you own a house for 12+ years). The other advantage is that if you own your own tank you can buy propane from any local vendor. That way you can "shop by phone" for the lowest delivered price. If you plan to have a propane cooking range, a propane hot water heater, a propane chest freezer, and a few propane lights, I recommend getting at least a 500 gallon tank. Underground tanks provide better OPSEC, as well as better protection from brushfires and small arms fire.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

There are situations where the difference between a hot meal and a cold one is literally life and death. A hot meal can stave off hypothermia, and bringing food to boiling can prevent disease. Fire is good, and using fire to cook is better.

I used to do a lot of camping and hiking, and have vague ambitions of returning to those pursuits. Because of that, and because I like having alternate means for important resources, over the past year I have been doing a lot of research into methods of heating food and drinks when away from utilities... or when utilities fail.

This was brought home to me, personally, during a recent five hour blackout which hit my county and two adjacent. Adding to the problems the situation caused, this was late on a very cold Winter night.

My neighborhood has long had problems with the electrical supply. Things are much better now, since the utility company came through and upgraded much of the equipment a few years ago. However, we still have brief blackouts - usually only a few minutes - a couple of times a year, with occasional longer outages. This, though, was a record, in both duration and geographic extent.

Because of the recurring outages in my neighborhood, many people around here were well equipped with candles and kerosene heaters during the big blackout. However, I had candles, a pair of Aladdin kerosene mantle lamps, a natural gas mantle lamp rated for indoor use - mounted to a wall in the basement - a Kerosun kerosene heater (which doubles as a stove), and a neat little folding camp stove. I fueled the kerosene heater, put it on the basement floor and lit it. I also lit the natural gas mantle lamp. Upstairs, I had both kerosene lamps and four large candles going. Briefly, I also used the folding stove. When the power came back my upstairs temperature was still quite comfortable, having dropped only a few degrees in five hours on a very cold night.

Better, during that long outage, I was able to make a large mug of steaming hot tea. I put that camp stove on my kitchen range and used it to heat the water.

The folding stove - meant for camping and hiking - is made by Sterno. It's steel, so it's heavier than many folding stoves for the same use. However, it is sturdy, folds almost flat, and can be used with a wide variety of fuels. Using Sterno cans - there are some specifically intended for cooking, with a higher output than the tray warmers - it would still take quite a while to boil enough water for a bowl of soup or a mug of tea. However, the can holder in the bottom will also hold many other types of fuel containers. They can be found in many places, but the best prices I have located are on eBay. The stove usually comes with a couple of the Sterno camping fuel cans.

That cold, dark night I didn't use the Sterno cans. Instead, I used the fuel can for a very clever little stove made for the Swiss Army, the M71. It burns hotter, for longer, with a cleaner flame, than any other canned heat I've tried. It has a re-closeable lid, and when you first open it there's a thick aluminum seal you need to cut out. After use, simply put the cover back on. It comes with a springy steel sheet metal pot support which stores around the stove, and which in use fits in the groove inside the can's top lip.

The M71 when used as intended is quite secure, very light and compact, and it produces a lot of heat at a high rate from its gel fuel. Prices vary widely for these, so shop around. These stoves come plastic wrapped with fuel canister, spring steel stove and a book of matches. The only caveat I know of is that if the thick gel fuel has bubbles those will pop from the heat. The fuel is so thick I've never seen it spatter when this happens, but it might. Oh, and the instructions are in Swedish.

Why didn't I just use that little stove, instead of the the Sterno folding stove? Two reasons. First, the Sterno stove is much studier and more stable. Second, the folding stove holds the pot or pan higher above the flames, which allows more complete combustion. This reduces carbon monoxide production, and also fumes from unburned fuel.

Though the odor from the Swiss stuff is pretty mild, that doesn't hold true for all canned fuels. Some have noticeable odor, as do some solid fuels. Whether the odor will be objectionable to a particular individual depends on the person and how enclosed the space. (Speaking of odor, that was one reason I didn't heat the water for my tea on the Kerosun stove, with another being because it was too large to go easily on my kitchen range, and I didn't feel like squatting over it on the basement floor.)

Speaking of fuel, alcohol - either liquid or gelled - is very popular for hiking and camping stoves. (Many canned heating units used gelled alcohol, but what I mean here is the separate alcohol gel fuel.) The gelled alcohol fuel I've seen is military surplus, in little olive-drab packets with instructions on one side and pithy bits of advice regarding military life and operations on the other. The gel is so thick it takes a bit of effort to squeeze out, but it also stays where you put it, even when burning. You can use it in any stove designed for fuel tabs, and some designed for fuel cans. Note that many alcohol fuels produce very little visible flame, which can be a problem with liquid fuels. A bit of spilled liquid fuel from filling a stove which ignites might not be noticed until it sets fire to something, or burns the user.

There are two types of solid fuel tabs I have experience with, both developed for military use but today having civilian versions. One of these is the US military's trioxane. The other is the Esbit-type fuel tab. These - as well as the gel - burn vigorously, quickly bringing - as an example - a canteen cup of water to a boil. Both types have little odor (again, this will very by person and situation) leave little ash, and some formulations produce very little visible flame.

Other common fuels are Coleman/white gas (naphtha) and kerosene (for kerosene I am include a wide range of fuels, such as diesel and heater fuel, as well as dedicated lamp oil). Gasoline is rarely used, even though unleaded is no more dangerous than naphtha.

Kerosene, gasoline and naphtha have a bit higher energy density per unit mass and volume than the alcohols, but the difference is small. Surprisingly, the solid fuels have less energy than even alcohol per gram, though more per milliliter. Paraffin, beeswax and mixes are about the same as the more potent liquid fuels per gram, and more compact, but don't really burn vigorously enough for practical cooking.

There are many camping stoves out there, of a wide variety of designs and using a number of different fuels. There are even flameless heaters, which depend on adding water to make them rust very, very fast. I live alone, so a small, single-burner stove is enough for emergencies. If you have a large family you may need something like a Coleman two-burner pressure fed stove using naphtha (white gas). These cook quickly, and are adjustable so you can simmer or warm with good control. You do have to pump them, though, and pay attention to the pressure.

Gas canister stoves use low-density fuels such as butane and propane, or a mix, in pressurized cans. They are often lighter than pressurized liquid fuel stoves. They - like the pressure stoves - produce intense heat and are also adjustable, making cooking easier and more flexible. Many canister stoves are specifically rated for use inside tents. (Keep in mind that the carbon monoxide ratings for camping stoves are for very enclosed spaces, such as tents. Whether a stove unsafe for a small tent would be safe in a home is uncertain. Just remember that CO is lighter than air.)

The Zip Stove has the disadvantage that it uses batteries, to drive a forced air fan. However, it has a major advantage over most camping stoves in that it uses available materials - such as twigs and pine needles - for fuel. While wood has too low an energy density to be worth carrying with you, dry wood is readily available most places people hike and camp, and you could easily stockpile some at your home. The forced draft of the Zip Stove makes fires easy to start and hotter burning, speeding cooking. Once it gets going good, it will even burn damp materials.

There is a compromise in stove design between adequate ventilation and keeping wind from blowing the heat away. Some stoves handle this better than others. Another reason I like the Sterno folding stove is that it includes a moveable front flap which can be used to adjust the airflow. Normally it would be fully closed to direct the convective flow of air upwards and help reflect heat, but if things are cooking a bit to fast you can open this to adjust the heat. Note that this is not a very large adjustment without a some wind to defend against.

In the very small category there are things such as the Vargo Outdoors Triad titanium stove, which only burns alcohol, and the Triad xe, which burns alcohol or fuel tabs or gel. Both are available for under $30. The Triad is about the size and shape of a can of shoe polish, and very, very light. Unfold the three legs and the identical (except for being on the top instead of the bottom) pot supports, add fuel, light and cook. Note that while the stoves are very small and extremely light, you still need to carry the fuel for them.

I have one of the multi-fuel Triad xe units, and it's very interesting. There's a center puck - normally held in the tray by the folded pot holder stems - which is used with alcohol. For solid fuel tabs or gel alcohol, simply remove the puck, put the fuel in the tray, light and cook. Using alcohol requires a bit more work. You twist the puck apart, producing a small pan and a vented cover. Fill the pan with alcohol, put the cover back on, put the puck in the tray, pour a little alcohol onto the puck to prime it and light. If you've done it right, by the time the outside alcohol has burned away the inside alcohol is hot enough to produce vapor.

Some folks actually make their own stoves similar to the Triad from aluminum soda or beer cans. I'm not that eager to save a few dollars in exchange for aluminum cuts. (Ouch.)

The folding WetFire stove is even smaller. It comes in steel and titanium versions, with the latter being the lighter (and more expensive). It has three flanges riveted to the bottom of a small tray. The tray is just slightly bigger than a fuel tab. The flanges unfold, pivoting around the central rivet, to form both legs for the stove and a stand for a pot or cup.

Several armies have military canteen cup stoves. These serve as both stove and cooking stand, take fuel tabs or gel, and when not in use fit around the base of the issue canteen cup, which in turn fits around the bottom of the canteen. There are both military surplus and civilian versions available. The limitation of these is that they are generally shaped to securely fit the canteen cup and nothing else.

A more generally useful military-originated stove is the Esbit. There are many versions besides the original, with different mixes of good and bad points. For example, Coghlan's makes a version which isn't quite as sturdy as the Esbit, but comes with more fuel. The Esbit was originally a WWII German Army stove, and is still in use by several militaries. Again there are both military surplus and civilian models. When folded closed it will store enough fuel tabs to heat over half a liter of water, depending on starting temperature. Somewhat larger than a deck of cards closed, it unfolds to hold the burner pan off the ground and support a pot or pan high enough for generally good combustion with fuel tabs or gel. There are even disposable Esbit stoves, which come flat in a package with some fuel tabs. Just fold the heavy foil into shape, add tabs and light.

Coghlan's makes a folding stove which seems to be popular. It is cheaper than the Sterno folding stove, but is heavier, doesn't block the wind as well and is shorter, allowing less distance between flame source and flame target. It also comes painted, which baffles me. When you first use one of the Coghlan's stoves you smell the burned paint. Substantial use is required before enough of this burns off that you don't get the odor. The Sterno stove is scent-free. However, the Coghlan's stove has a burning tray which will hold canned heat, fuel tabs or gelled alcohol.

This short article barely scratches the surface of the topic. There's a huge variety of portable stoves out there, of many different brands, for any sort of cooking. Whether for hiking, cooking at a campground or preparing meals during an emergency; for yourself, your immediate family or your entire block; whether fancy or simple; there's something for everyone. Tailgate party-goers bring entire kitchens, including portable barbecue rigs. There are even portable electric stoves and ovens, if you have a generator or are at a campground with utilities. Prices range from literally $2.50 to hundreds of dollars. Everyone should have at least something for emergencies. As noted here, this doesn't have to be expensive or difficult.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Preparing for an uncertain future when living in an apartment or a condominium ("condo") can be a struggle.  When the Lord has not chosen to give you land to work with, you work with what he has given you, knowing first and foremost that he is your first retreat, and no matter what happens, "All things work together for the Glory of the Lord...".  There are many limiting factors when you do not have the smallest amount of land.  And if you are reading this, you probably agree that our future has many uncertainties from economic, to natural, to spiritual.  I would like to share a bit of my families walk in this world that the Lord has chosen for us.

Our Situation     
As a starter, I have been married for 12 years, and have two wonderful children who are not in school yet, although when the time comes, we will likely do home-school.  Our finances are poor, weighted down by circumstances beyond our control, and poor spending habits from our youth, so living on a budget is a new thing for us.  We have lived in our condo, that is for all intents and purposes, an apartment on the top floor, with neighbors beside and below, for five years.  Our condo is in a cold climate, with a very abbreviated growing season, but with much hunting and wilderness close by.  Still, as you might expect, the condo is in a small city, about 80,000 population, and not in the best neighbor hood.  During our time here, we have learned many lessons, and would like to share those with you.  

Setting Goals     
Before you start anything, it is wise to have a plan, and a destination.  Our goal over this time has been to prepare for any situation that may arise, so that we will be self sufficient for 30 days minimum in our condo, and then have resources to contribute should we be forced to relocate.

The first concern of any prepping situation should always be water.  It is the most vital component of any survival situation, second only perhaps to shelter.  You can understand the difficulties of storing watering an apartment, but there are some things that can be done.  The 5 gallon office jugs that are used in office are great for storing gallons of water, and can easily be stored in a closet.  For 30 days and 4 people, it was decided that 30 gallons would have to do.  Worthy of note, is that you should still add a cap full of water purifier to this, since it will be stored for a long period of time, and should be rotated about once a year.  This provides a gallon a day, and could be supplemented by a nearby creek.  This is the next step in our water prep plan, to have a water filter capable of handling raw water to supplement what is on hand.  Also an option I have considered, is installing a large water tank in the condo (in a closet or under a cabinet)  and have all the water run through it, so if the water goes out, there will still be a large tank of water we could draw from, and it will constantly be rotated and fresh.  This will take some investment though, and handyman work, so for now, the 30 gallons and filter plan will have to do. 

Food storage is also an issue that has special considerations.  Space being the most obvious.  For living in an apartment, all the same food rules apply, but I would say that storage is a bit different.  Here again, a converted closet fills in as a Larder.  When an item is used up in the pantry, it moves in from the Larder, and you go shopping for the larder.  But there is a catch for the apartment dweller, so everything is made mobile.  Placing everything in 5 gallon buckets, that may or may not be sealed, but this makes them portable in case the need to relocate comes up.  Also, there are no 'root cellars' or basements in apartments, and not in our condo.  So keeping things cool dry and dark becomes an issue, and the 5 gallon bucks with gamma lids seems to work will, especially with mildew issues, that seem to happen.     

Expanding food stores to a year or more is something else that is a important, but as the space is an issue, has to be handle carefully.  We decide to diversify our food and store it within our community of friends, so if a retreat is necessary, we will have already been contributing to them, and relocating should be a little easier.     

A surprise is that a garden is not out of the question.  Although it is small, the association or manager may allow you to put up a small garden were flowers or anything else may grow.  We setup a square foot garden behind our unit.  Its not private, and pretty open to the neighborhood kids, but it is better then nothing, and also teaches us need to know stuff information for when the Lord decides we may have a home.

Fuel is a large concern for apartment dwellers.  It is dangerous to store, and very needed when temperatures can reach 20 below zero (Fahrenheit) all winter, and even colder, at times.  Not to mention the need to cook, and power for other living needs.  Our solution at this time is to make sure we can last for 30 days, and with this in mind, we have gotten a Big Buddy heater.  This has the low O2 sensor on it, and in addition, we have a CO2 detector.  In our apartment, we have ventilation vents, about 6 inches in diameter that allow fresh air into the house, but I don't think I would rely on these.  When push comes to shove, there are also the dryer vent, stove vent and bathroom vent that will allow rotation with outside air.  At this time we haven't tested our heating, and possibly cooking means, but with a little piping, a heating system should be available.  As for storage, Some of the small enclosed fuel for camp stoves are kept in the house, but the large propane tanks that would be required for the heating are stored outside, at a friends house within walking distance.

Security for some people is large concern.  I personally believe it is taken out of proportion to other needs that may exits, that is why I mention it only after 4 other points.  That being said, it is a priority, and I do believe that in a worse case scenario, we would be more like New Orleans then Japan.  To that end, I do have arms in the form of:

  • A semi-automatic rifle with full capacity magazines,
  • A hunting rifle,
  • A .22 rimfire rifle
  • A 12 gauge shotgun

I hope to add a large caliber revolver, later.  

Of more import though is the operational security (OPSEC) of keeping what you are doing out of direct light of your neighbors eyes.  With an apartment dweller, this is all the more important because of the close proximity of potential threats, especially, if like me, you do not live in the greatest neighborhood.  This is best handled in the obvious ways.  Keeping things low key, and moving equipment and food in small amounts.  [JWR Adds: I advise apartment dwellers to use musical instrument cases when they transport their guns. Used cases can often be found for very modest prices at thrifts stores or via Craigslist. ] As a follower of Christ, it is still important to reach out to your neighbors, and form bonds with them that the gospel may be spread through love, but at the same time, there is no need to broadcast your preparation plans.  Here the saying is best applied, loose lips sink ships.

Medical and G.O.O.D. bag     
These two I will mention as they are important to any prepper, but only in passing as these do not differ greatly for an apartment dweller then with a home owner.  But there are some points that I will bring up that I think should be made.     

G.O.O.D. bags are easy enough to put together, and should include a mini set of everything you would normally make for prepping.  I include at the end of this a simple list of our bob bags, a starting point that we used.  We put these together for less then $150 over the course of two weeks.  Special attention was placed on the weight, and should be a special note to an apartment dweller, as if it comes to bugging out, you will have to hike your bag out.     

The First Aid kit or Medical Cabinet as I am coming to call it is also a priority, but does not differ greatly for the apartment dweller.  There was recently a fantastic post about your first aid kit (What is a Well-Stocked First Aid Kit?, by K.M.), and I will simply reference it here and say that is what we are aiming for.  For preparing, there will be a medical cabinet that is currently under construction, a first aide kit for the BOB bags, and a car kit, for any camping or out of the house needs. 

Retreat and Community     
It is apparent to me, as a condo or apartment dweller, making plans beyond 30 days would be unreasonable, as the logistics and OPSEC become more and more complicated and dangerous with each passing day.  The time to move out to a retreat would be highly dependent on the situation.  Should there be an event were a break down in society takes place, waiting 30 days may be suicide.  But this is very situational, and should be handle as such.  I would add to this only that you should not push it, if you wait until the last minute when the decision is obvious, it may be to late.     

Now a retreat is not like it sounds to to most, and perhaps I should not call it so, but for the lack of a better word.  Here it means going someplace for the long term, a year or more.  This could be a friends house, or perhaps a relative, but someplace planed far ahead of time, as dropping in on anyone only adds to your problems, and theirs.  This will likely get you turned away, even by the best intentioned people, when it comes to choosing your family or theirs.  So Planning ahead is important, probably the most important, and this leads into community.     

By connecting with like minded people in your area, you can begin to plan ahead.  Finding out what they need, and building relationships that will endure.  You can learn skills that will add to the group, buy things to supplement what they have or add to needs that they may have already.  This will provide you some place to retreat to.  It is highly advisable that you pre-stage food and other things there ahead of time.  This proves your commitment to them, and at the same time diversifies your assets, in case of fire or other eventuality, all your resources are not lost with your apartment.     

Something else that can be considered in conjunction with the retreat portion is a trailer.  Getting a trailer, or a pop-up camper, is a great way to expand your flexibility.  You may not be able to keep it in your apartment parking lot, but by setting one up, you add to you storage space, add space to store volatile things best stored outdoors, and also provide a living space in case you are forced out at the apartment.

Don't get down yet, there are some positives for being an Apartment Dweller!

This deserves its own special section.  Lets face it, if the SHTF, then apartment dwellers are going to need someplace to go.  But this doesn't have to be a bad thing.  Everyone can't know everything, and as an apartment dweller, you can make yourself much more valuable to your group by learning and expanding skills that will be needed.  In addition to two strong arms and like minded faithful Christian loyalty that any apartment dweller can bring they should also be able to bring other skills, like Sewing, woodworking, cooking with raw ingredients, baking, engine repair, and many others.  Personally, I am focusing on butchering, as that is what is needed in my community.  So I am gathering those skills, as well as some of the specialized equipment that demands.  This coincides with planning ahead for your retreat, so people are not doubling up on skills, and invests you in the group, even if you don't have your own dirt.

Communication is a point that is often overlooked in prepping.  If a community wants to be effective in coming together and working together, then they will have to be able to communicate in a grid down situation.  This is actually an asset for the apartment dweller.  Communications gear, and ham radio training is relatively cheap, and with little creativity, is easy enough to keep out of sight.  For the community, which is likely not in the middle of town, information will become more important then gold.  This is were the apartment dweller can and should shine.  Just like a scout that feeds information back, the apartment dweller can do the same, and holds a highly valued place in the system in which they support.  Countless people have died for lack of good intelligence, and an apartment dweller can give this back to the group like no other.

I often wonder why the Lord keeps me where I am, I have tried to move into a house 5-6 times, and it just was not to be.  But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't do your best to prepare.  When "you see the red sky in the morning"  you should prepare for the storm.  And to those who may think that an apartment dweller has nothing to offer, think again, the Lord has placed us all exactly where he wants us. All things work together for the Glory of the Lord and those who serve Him!

As a final point, I have found very little for apartment preppers, so I have started my own little blog.  Please drop by. If I get enough interest, I will keep up with daily posts and tips on prepping while on a budget and living in an apartment.

Appendix--My G.O.O.D. Bags Contents:

Bag X2 Waterproofing Clothes Base layers Fleece pants Fleece shirts Wool socks Hats Gloves Undies Diapers Covers for Diapers Re-usable wipes for diapers Ring Sling Packable rain coats/ pants x4 Gun and ammo Water Food 6-8 Mountain House meals Chocolate Blanket--wool or emergency blanket Fire Matches Magnesium or fire key Fuel, steel wool, fire sticks Propane cook top Camp cooking set Knifes Sharpening stone Leatherman Saw Hand axe Machete Tarp Compass Magnifying glass Mirror whistle Duct tape String & rope & hooks & Carabiners Documents - copies Cash Optics--binoculars Traps--rat traps Emergency radio Batteries Water filter Pencils, paper, books Waterproof cards Survival books Portable med kit Insect repellant Fishing box Sewing box LED Flashlights and headlamps Children's bags - Blanket, bottle of water, food, book, and stuffed animal

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Just a brief note in relation to the recent post regarding gasification. In researching the issue further, I found on Wikipedia's wood gas generator article that producer gas should not be compressed beyond 15 psi due to liquefaction of some of the compounds and the possibility of severe carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in the event of a leak. I like the idea of storing the gas for future use, but care and caution should be used. My suggestion would be to store the gas in an outdoor location far removed from people and animals to prevent health issues if the storage container were to leak. After further research I found that large canvas balloons or bags were a low-pressure, high-volume method of storing producer gas when it was used as an automobile fuel, [during World War II]. - Gregory R.

Carbon monoxide exposure is a major risk with Wood gassifiers. Positive ventilation and redundant battery operated CO detectors should be employed if there is any closed space or near closed space usage (Garages, Barns, living spaces etc)

A caution is required on the idea of storing Wood gas under pressure. Wood gas is composed of typically CO 22%; H2 18%; CH4 3%, CO2 6% and N2 51% Gasholder (Water displacement) vessels are the only recommended form storage due to the risk of precipitating volatile elements in an ordinary pressure vessel. PSI above 15 lbs should likewise be avoided. I would be very cautious about using an ordinary compressor as the piston could generate momentary pressures well in excess of the outlet reading. Further heat and cylinder lubrication introduce further potentially combustible uncertainties.

Readers will find much useful info and links available WoodGas.com. - Dollardog


JWR Adds: Also keep in mind that creosote, coal tar, and some related concentrates from wood combustion have been identified as possible carcinogens. Therefore, take the appropriate precautions. Whether you are cleaning your own chimney or working on gasifier equipment, always wear a dust mask and rubber gloves.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What will you do when your fuel runs out, or your energy system fails? How about burning wood? I used to dismiss burning things for energy off-hand as a dirty and wasteful heating tool, nothing more - not a source of actual power or energy.  However, learning what I have in the past few months has given me a new appreciation for this readily-available resource.  My perspective was changed somewhat, and it was kind of a shock to me, because i'm pretty open-minded to alternative solutions.  My mindset is this: until I have a wealth of  food and supplies in storage, I can’t afford to ignore a resource – especially cheap and renewable ones.  Can you?   Even if you’re prepared for the long haul, it pays to have a couple contingency plans, and this could be one of them.  

"Gasification" is the use of heat to transform solid biomass or other carbonaceous solids into a synthetic “natural gas like” flammable fuel.  "woodgas" is the term usually applied to the fuel itself.  The basic idea isn’t a new idea as much as it is an improvement on the basic principle of burning biomass for heat and light (like a fireplace); in fact, this has been around for more than 100 years.  A “gasifier” is typically a multi-tank design that burns wood to create gas, cleans it, and cools it before it is used.  And here's the clincher: when done properly, and routed to an engine or a storage container, the gasses can be used to power machinery and (drum roll please) your off-grid home power system.    

The use of woodgas really became popular with the proliferation of the automobile, when inventors modified internal combustion engines to run off everything imaginable, including peanut oil, steam, and compressed air (a subject for another article).  Gasification came into widespread use during the fuel crisis of WWII as well as during the OPEC fuel problems of a few decades ago, and the ever-increasing fuel prices make it just as relevant right now.   There are a couple industrial power plants in places like Svenljunga, Sweden and Gussing, Austria, but this is a version that can be made small enough for personal use.   

Building your own:
I’m going to stick to the details of my own experience, since that's more beneficial for you than simply sharing the research; you can find pictures and details online yourself, and you're welcome to email me for suggestions.  Anyway, since my new goal is to convert everything of mine to run on woodgas(or a mixture of fuels), I decided to start small and work with a simple woodgas stove.  The stove idea works like this, to give you an example:  

Start with a small enclosed container, which could be cubed or round.  I picked a barbecue propane tank, since they are easy to acquire and had the right size.  The next major element is the flue and/or fuel inlet.  (I picked 4'' steel stainless pipe).  This I cut into 2 sections and welded into an "L" shape.  The bottom emerges from the side, and the top emerges from the center of the tank.  The third step would be to add a fuel tray, like in a fireplace.  (I stuck with the barbeque theme and used part of a barbecue grill, cut to fit)  This I inserted through the side (where you'll put your wood fuel) and tack welded in the center (little lower) of the pipe.

And that's pretty much all there was to it.  I welded up the edges, where the pipe meet the container, and it worked like a charm.(Though in the absence of a welder you can get by just fine with a tube of high-temperature automotive caulk, like Gasket Goo)  This is something that can be made in your garage or metal shop with a welder and a saw, although you don't have to follow my design - test models can be built out of soup cans or soda cans, with little or no fabrication.

You can imagine how it works, in principle; it’s quite similar to your chimney at home.  This air flow is the same reason that campers will build a fire in a ‘tent’ shape.  Once the fire is lit, hot air rises, drawing cold air into the vacuum.  I made mine so that I could take it camping; the propane tank perfectly fits a small pan or pot on top, has a base for stability, and works almost as well as a gas-powered camp stove that you would buy at a retail camping supply outlet.  In comparison to my simple stove, most gasifiers will utilize some kind of fan, in line, for two reasons: to help kick-start the process by improving air flow, and then to propel gasses thru the device and to the engine/container.  At this scale, pressure and volume become an issue, and to standardize the process things like this become necessary; some users even use computerized controls to regulate burn and flow.  

Storing Woodgas:
Most woodgas users produce it on-demand, which is preferable if you can afford to build a large (or efficient) enough system.  Personally, I wanted to be sure I could save it, in some way, before I dumped any more time or money into this technology.  With this in mind, I picked up a small air compressor and modified it to work with my camp stove.  I routed a tube (flexible rubber automotive/compressor hose) from the top of the woodgas stove to the air intake on the compressor, so that as my compressor operates, it fills the tank with gas, instead of air.   Using a regular tire style air fitting, I was able to fill an external compressor tank, from my compressor.  I will use this method to fill similar tanks with a basic woodgas mixture, which I can use to run gas lanterns, a gas stove, or a basic propane-style camp stove.  In the long run, I will store fuel in a much larger on-site container, but I chose these elements to fit my circumstances.  

Fuel sources:
The woodgas stove or gasifier is not limited to wood.  I have run my camp stove on the chaff from coffee husks, for example.  I don’t have first hand experience with these, but here’s a list anyway, of other fuels, to get you thinking: walnut or peanut shells, charcoal, coal, sawdust, wood pellets, buffalo chips....  I think I'll continue to stick with cordwood as my main resource, though, even if it has to be chipped up to fit in a camp stove.  I can find it for free all week long and in fairly large quantities.  I have started scouting my local online classified ads for free woodpiles around town, and I've already filled one section of fence with cordwood.  Of course, it needs to be relatively dry to work well, so it helps to live in a dry climate and have an out-of-the-way place to store materials.  You may have access to other kinds of fuel in your area, so keep your eyes and ears peeled. 

Camp stoves are easy; building actual gasifiers is a little more complex and actually requires some precision design work, so I'm going to need some expert assistance when I scale this system upward, to power a truck or a home generator.  This doesn't require a huge systems change for me, since I had already started collecting the electrical supplies I would need to start going off-grid - just a change in the fuel supply.  Rest assured that I will write again with the results of the next woodgas project, in greater detail.  For those of you with construction experience (or if you’re just motivated, like me), there are schematics and drawings available online for a few different gasifier versions, one of which you can find by searching for “gasifier” on Wikipedia.  If anyone's interested, I have found plans (complete with images) and instructions from a 1950s design, that was used to run a farm tractor.  I don't have the original link to where this manual came from, but I'd be glad to forward on the information

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Being without electricity in the middle winter is cold. We didn’t have any heat during an ice storm. With that winter in mind, we finally purchased a wood stove for heat and cooking opportunities.

As the wife and mother, I had this horrible image of an old black pot bellied stove belching smoke and catching the roof on fire. I could hear the neighbors complaining about the smell and my kids going to school smelling like they had just burned down the house. Images of black walls and ceilings and truck loads of firewood haunted me with every winter wind. I finally relented after four years of planning and saving.

The first thing in purchasing and planning our wood stove was to check with our local city government to make sure there were no permits or codes that had to be met.
The second thing was many years of research on the internet and attending trade shows.
The third step was saving what money we could spare and finding a stove that would fit into our allotted room space and budget.
We finally purchased a stand alone Lopi cast ir