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Letter from Matt Bracken Re: Sailboat Retreating, LP and Natural Gas Powered Vehicles, Diesel Engine Invulnerability to EMP

Dear Jim,
Excellent blog, it has really taken off, and I recommend it constantly. I have it on my desktop to read first thing every morning. Currently I’m living in coastal southern California, but plan to relocate in 2006. Much like New Orleans, Southern California is also “under water,” or in our case, dependent on distant water supplies for over 90% of our fresh water needs. In the event of a terrorist attack or major earthquake which disrupts the water supply, SoCal will “go New Orleans” in a matter of days. On the plus side, I have a 48 foot home-built steel sailboat which is a proven ocean crosser. I spent 65 nonstop days at sea sailing from Guam to California, and I could easily stretch that to over 100 days in the “bug out” mode if I’m stuck in SoCal when things fall apart.

Now, onto a question about vehicle conversion for post-collapse use. Many of the states you recommend are now major natural gas producers. If these assets come under “local control” in some future scenarios, it may make a lot of sense to have a vehicle which can run on natural gas. Is there any reference material on what is involved with this conversion? Also, I understand propane can be used as a vehicle fuel, and propane has a very long or indefinite usable shelf life. Could propane or NG be used in the same vehicle, with minor adjustments?

Also, what about making a diesel-engine vehicle EMP [1]-proof? Would this be a difficult matter, in these days of universal availability of conversion parts? I think a simple diesel truck (either an older model or one converted for EMP resistance) would be relatively cheap to buy today, and worth it’s weight in silver during hard times. Of course, that assumes the prudent survivor has laid away an ample supply of diesel fuel.

Regards, – Matt Bracken (Author of the novel “Enemies Foreign and Domestic [2]“)

JWR Replies: Liquid propane (LP) conversions for trucks [3] are fairly commonplace, especially with utility company trucks. (Not surprisingly, many propane companies have their entire fleet of vehicles powered by propane.) Sometimes companies auction off their older vehicles. This is an inexpensive way to acquire a propane-powered pickup. (Buying a truck for $2,500 at auction, versus paying $2,000 for a conversion.) The rule of thumb is that the energy in a gallon of LP is equates to 9/10ths of a gallon of gas.

Up until recently, running a vehicle on propane cost about the same per mile as gasoline. But the recent spike in gasoline prices illustrated one nice thing about propane–it doesn’t usually have the same seasonal price fluctuations and news-driven price swings that gasoline does. And, of course it has a much longer storage life than gasoline. LP/NG-powered electric generators [4] are also widely available.

Do keep in mind that propane and natural gas have differing chemistry, so they require different jet geometry [5]. Ignoring that could cause a big fireball! The ultimate survival set-up is something like Dr. Gary North [6]‘s home/retreat where he has his own natural gas wells. Talk about sitting pretty! Several vendors [7] offer propane and natural gas conversions. OBTW, some states offer tax incentives for propane use. See this incentives and laws page [8] for details.

I have briefly discussed diesel engines in EMP environments in a few previous posts. In essence, all early (pre-1990) diesels are EMP-proof. However, many that have been built since the early 1990s have used electronic fuel controls and/or electronic glow plug controllers, which could be fried by EMP. Most diesels can be retrofitted to eliminate these vulnerabilities. Any local diesel mechanic with experience with diesel powered pickups can tell you exactly what you need to know.