Note From JWR:

Round 6 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest ends today! The writer of the best non-fiction article will win a valuable four day "gray" transferable Front Sight course certificate. (Worth up to $1,600.) Second prize is a copy of my "Rawles Gets You Ready" preparedness course, generously donated by Jake Stafford of Arbogast Publishing. If you want a chance to win Round 6, e-mail us your article, ASAP. Round 6 will end on September 30th. Remember that the articles that relate practical "how to" skills for survival will have an advantage in the judging. The following article is the final entry in Round 6.

Letter Re: 12VDC LED Christmas Lights for Emergency Lighting

Jim:
On a lark, I order two strings of these 12 VDC LED sort-of Christmas lights. I ordered one string of blue for the porch (really easy on Night Adapted Eyes and one string of white.
Wow! Really neat. Low current (i.e.: extremely low power consumption) and just plain handy. I’m just guessing but I figure two strings would run for 6 weeks on a fully charged car battery.
Nice for those "loss of electricity days/nights" and a lot cheaper than the camping/emergency lighting systems. I think it is a reasonable purchase.Best Regards, – The Army Aviator

Odds ‘n Sods:

Cathy Buckle’s latest "African Tears" letter from Zimbabwe is a compelling read. (The letter dated Saturday 23rd September 2006). I am surprised that the the economy in Zimbabwe has not fallen into total collapse. For now, it is somehow managing to stagger along on inertia. Please pray for a change of government there.

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SurvivalBlog reader"Felix" mentioned this story: The Italian parliament has passed legislation allowing people to shoot robbers in self-defense.

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Reader S.H. mentioned another cool project at the MAKEzine blog: Geiger Counter Modification (a V-700 upgraded with digital readouts, etc.)

Three Letters Re: Questions on the Pickup Truck as a Multi-Purpose Retreat Vehicle

Dear Jim and Survival Blog:
I’m sure the question of the best truck for a survival retreat will generate a large response. By trade, I am an engineer; however, I currently am working as a maintenance person for a large camping facility in upstate New York. In my experience with equipment and vehicles, I would have to say anything with a Cummins 6B or 4B diesel power plant will earn the owners respect for the amount of work it will do and the long life you can expect from the unit. I live next to a medium size farm operation and they have several tractors powered by a Cummins engine and they regularly get 15,000 hours before any major work needs to be done to the motor. In my estimates, this is the same as driving 1,500,000 miles (yes, that’s 1.5 million) on the highways and by-ways. Anything built to last that long should be looked into. Most people know that Dodge is the main supplier of Cummins powered vehicles to the masses; however, the Cummins engine can also be found in Ford medium and heavy duty trucks and buses. If you are mechanically inclined, buy an early Cummins powered Dodge with less than 300,000 miles, replace the transmission with a later NV5500 or NV6500, or even an Eaton-Fuller 5-speed. Four-wheel drive is a personal choice. A lot of people get good performance from a differential locker on a two wheel drive truck, and there is less rolling weight to boot. Even a two-wheel drive truck can be set up to plow with the right equipment and weight over the rear axle. I do not have the experience with plow vehicles, so I will bow out for now. Thanks to you Jim for al the work you do. – AJR

 

James,
I’ve also been researching diesel pickups, though my objective is to convert one of them to Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO). With that in mind, I contacted the good folks at goldenfuelsystems.com for recommendations. They have a page with comments about the reliability and strengths/weaknesses of different engines and fuel systems. IMHO, the best bang for the buck is going to be the Ford diesel pickups made before 1994 (pre-Powerstroke). There is no computer (as best I can determine), they have dual fuel tanks (better for WVO conversions), and they have reliable fuel pumps that are not expensive to rebuild if the need arises. Dodge trucks equipped with Cummins engines appear to have a stellar reputation, but the used truck prices are commensurate with that reputation; and the fuel pumps are far more costly to rebuild. Both Ford and Dodge only put diesels in the 250 & 350 series trucks, not in the half-ton 150s. Judging by the trucks I see advertised for sale, longevity on these units runs well over 200K miles, with several of them over 300K and still commanding a healthy price. – Dave S. in Missouri

 

Hi James,
In response to David J.’s questions I offer the following:
1) I would suggest attempting to find a truck that is already equipped with a plow, perhaps a used municipal truck. This makes for a better “package deal”. Equipping an older truck sans plow equipment with plow equipment could prove to be a challenge, not to mention expensive. While some older aftermarket equipment exists, it is harder to get from a stocking dealer because the demand has waned – most of their stock is for the latest vehicles. If you buy the equipment used, how do you know you have every part you need and that some components aren’t missing? Mind you, the equipment for older trucks can be found, but it will take some effort. While a municipal vehicle likely has high mileage, having the engine/transmission components rebuilt will give the vehicle a known date/mileage of the start of a new service life and most likely some form of brief warranty. Since the engines are used in a number of different truck/van models and not just snow plows, rebuilding the original diesel engine and transmission will likely be more economical than finding new or used plow equipment for an older truck as the engine and transmission service parts will be commonly available than model specific snow plow components.

2) My own preference is Ford, but I prefer to avoid the 1995 model year and later Powerstroke diesel models for a endurance/survival application, leaning toward the 1994 and older normally aspirated 7.3L diesels. The Powerstroke engines are indeed more powerful but do have engine management systems – computers (EMP vulnerable) – one failed sensor can cause some problems. The older 7.3L Ford diesel is mechanical except for the starter, glow plug circuit and injection pump solenoid – as memory serves. The injection pump solenoid is used to turn the engine fuel supply off when you turn off the key – thus the engine stops. Another strike against Powerstrokes is while Powerstrokes are more powerful than standard 7.3L diesels since they are equipped with a turbocharger (and in theory more efficient), that same turbocharger can be a hindrance if its seals fail at an inopportune time. A friend who’s a mechanic that specializes in Ford Powerstrokes drove his 1996 F350 supercab from SE Texas to Colorado on an Elk hunting trip. The seals on the turbo failed along the way and the engine ended up pumping its lubricating oil (the turbo is lubricated by an engine oil line) into the engines intake tract because of the failed turbo seal. At least my friend knew what to do – purchase a sizable quantity of engine oil and continue adding it until he could get to area where he could order/replace the turbo! He was not happy with the experience. In a non-turbo diesel this won’t happen, thus it is one less concern. The older Ford diesels often have Ford C6 automatic transmissions, which are excellent and have no electronic controls on them other than perhaps a neutral safety switch. The drawback with the C6 is it doesn’t have overdrive. You can add a very tough Gear Vendors overdrive unit ($3,000 but you get what you pay for) to the C6 if you want overdrive on an older model. I would trust a C6/Gear Vendors overdrive equipped diesel over one of the later Powerstrokes that has a computer controlling the transmission shift points. With a manual transmission the only significant concern is clutch wear and lubricant level. I would go with either an F250 or F350 model. F350 will carry the most at the sacrifice of ride quality.

3) I won’t claim to know what the "best" diesel made is or was, rather, I think it is more of an issue what one’s preferences/intended uses are. I am admittedly Ford biased as that’s where my experience is. GM and Dodge have very fine engines as well. All of them have their benefits and their quirks like any man-made creation (kind of like discussing the best .308 battle rifle). This to me is what’s more important. If a diesel is properly maintained it should have a service life that can approach/surpass 300,000 miles. Change the fuel filter more frequently than the manufacturer recommends. Clean fuel is life to an injector pump and injectors. When changing fuel filters I fill the fuel filter with automatic transmission fluid (ATF). ATF can be safely burned as a fuel in diesel engines and has the added benefit of being a detergent that will clean the injection pump and injectors. I like to add STP Diesel fuel treatment and also one quart of ATF to the fuel tank every third fill up. Change the oil and filter regularly, preferably every 3,000 miles. I prefer Shell Rotella diesel oil as it has a very high zinc content. Zinc is an anti-wear additive that is being reduced/removed from engine oil specified for automobile engines (can you say EPA?). In fact, I recommend Shell Rotella diesel oil (note to self – stock up on Rotella) for older gasoline engines with flat tappet camshafts, as do many aftermarket camshaft manufacturers. The flat tappets benefit from the zinc additive. I prefer to change the coolant and thermostat annually, as I’m convinced this makes the water pump and other cooling system parts last longer.

4) When looking at a used diesel vehicle, if possible, start the engine from a cold start. When the rings and or valve seals begin to wear, visible exhaust smoke manifest when the engine is cold and lessens/subsides as the engine warms up. A seller who wishes to hide the fact that the vehicle smokes excessively may try to warm it up before you arrive. (He may also do this innocently). Also check for fuel leaks. Diesel fuel will turn coolant hoses into useless goo. The diesel fuel contaminated hoses will “swell up like a toady-frog”, then burst. Resist the urge to drive a diesel with a fuel leak – have the leak repaired. The first thing I do to a diesel with an unverifiable service history is replace the fuel filter, then coolant and coolant hoses. Once you acquire the vehicle of your choice, keep a spare starter, glow plug relay and alternator in “the recently mentioned on the blog” homemade Faraday cage – a used/discarded microwave oven(!) – and keep it in the back of the truck in a Rubbermaid Action Packer.

Hope this helps. When writing this I had a BFO about another diesel vehicle that might be ideal – an ’89 Ford E350 diesel 17" box (moving) van I saw for sale recently. Perfect for that trip to the big box store (or that ultimate trip out of Dodge)! Kind Regards, – M. Artixerxes

Odds ‘n Sods:

From Lew Rockwell’s site: Why Bush Will Nuke Iran, by Paul Craig Roberts

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Reader C.M. sent a link to a news story about a power failure in Bangladesh. C.M.’s comment: "Less than two days without electricity and a mob has formed to burn institutions. Fascinating how quickly
it can all come apart."

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As I predicted, silver and gold are starting to recover from their dips earlier in the month. Buy on the dips!

The Real Estate Bubble Bust — Where and When is the Bottom?

Here is your daily dose of Doom und Gloom (DUG)TM: I was recently asked by a consulting client where and when the U.S. real estate market will likely bottom. Clearly, the market has until recently been frothy, with all the signs of a speculative bubble. Lots of people that had no business doing so bought "spec" houses. Many of these buyers were under-qualified, often stretching the truth on their mortgage applications when they described their assets and incomes. Many houses were bought with interest only loans. They purchased second, third, or even fourth homes with the goal of flipping them for a quick profits. Now the klaxons have sounded and the spec buyers are crowding the exit doors. Its a Hollywood epic in the making. Recent news reports have confirmed that we are well beyond the to. Bloomberg reports that U.S. home resales are falling. This is the first clear drop in a decade. Meanwhile, the inventory of unsold homes in the U.S.–both new and existing–is climbing. This unsold inventory has grown enormously. In fact the inventory has more than quadrupled in some markets. This has all the makings of a spectacularly declining market in near future. When hardly anyone is buying, the law of supply and demand dictates that prices must fall. I am still pointing to the Spring of Aught Seven for the outright panic and housing market collapse

Based upon the currently overvalued prices (since prices have galloped far ahead of the currency inflation rate), my educated guess is a bottom in 2008 or 2009, with overall declines of around 35% from the recent market highs.(To be more specific: Down 10% in the the least inflated rural inland regions, and down perhaps as much as 60% in the most over-valued metropolitan markets such as Phoenix, San Diego, and Miami. The biggest declines will surely be on the coasts. The old investing axiom "a rising tide raises all ships" also works in reverse. Let’s face it. The tide has been rising for 10 years in most markets, and to mix a metaphor, the pendulum needs to swing the other way for a while.

My advice: If you own a "spec" house, then you should have been watching the market more closely and already sold it. If you can presently sell it for "break even" or even something close to that, then do so, as soon as possible. Ditto if you have a vacation property that you do not intend to keep for your lifetime or that you don’t intend to employ as a survival retreat. If you own rental properties, you should sit down and dispassionately do the math. Consider the potential market decline, and what that will do to rent rates in your area. If house prices drop 30% then rents will drop 30%, or at least close to that. Count on it. If rents do indeed drop and you anticipate a negative cash flow, and you can’t afford to ride out a negative cash flow for 18 to 36 months, then it it is better to cut your losses and sell your rental houses(s) now, while you still can.

If you have a variable rate mortgage on any property, convert it to a fixed rate loan, muy pronto, even if that means that your monthly payment is slightly higher. When the rates rise–and trust me, they will–folks with ARMs are going to get hurt badly when their rates are reset. I call this "ARM twisting" syndrome. I foresee that an interest rate jump of 2 or 3 percent will be a very painful ARM twisting exercise.

If you are comfortable where you are, then stay where you are. Hold on to your cash. Watch and wait for the bottom, and then perhaps do some bargain hunting. Who knows? You might be able to find a nice self-sufficient rural retreat property at the bottom of the market, for roughly 60 cents on the dollar. Don’t buy real estate now unless it is in a relatively safe (read: non-coastal) market and you can buy it at a bargain price from a "motivated" seller. Build an anticipated 35% drop in the market into your purchase calculations. That should limit you to buying only genuinely under-valued bargains.

What if you aren’t comfortable where you are?. What if you presently own a house that is in a vulnerable market and you know that for family, health, or employment reasons that you will be moving within the next three years? (I’m talking to you, Fred.) Then my advice is to take advantage of the market gains and sell you your house. Sell now, and move into a rental house. Yes, I know this is a hassle, but someday you’ll thank yourself for doing so. As previously mentioned in this blog, you might even be able to sell your house to a property management company, and rent it back.

The old saying goes, "buy low and sell high." In the near future I believe that you will see a lot of your neighbors trapped by their debt burdens and forced into doing just the opposite. It won’t be pretty.

Letter Re: Deciphering MRE Date Codes

My thanks to R.E.M. for his hard-earned experience on rotating food stocks. Perhaps I can ease his frustration a bit about not reading the packing date of USGI MREs – there is indeed a numbered code packing date on every MRE case, the outside of the newer USGI MRE retort packages and best of all, every individual item in each MRE package. You can go to the www.mreinfo.com web site for the whole story, but to condense the code for you, say you have a four-digit or longer number on the outside of the package – take the first number to mean the last number of the year the item was packed and the next three numbers to mean the day of the 365 or 366 day calendar year. For instance a date code of 6097 means that the item was packed on the 97th day of the year 2006, or April 7th, 2006. Knowing this code can be very handy and expedient when you are browsing cases of MREs at a gun show or individual items at a surplus store. You can refer to the web site above for more detailed information and shortened or extended storage times of MREs dependent on the temperature. The web site also has a sub-page for foreign GI MREs, and info on them, for overseas readers. regards, – Redclay