Letter Re: Advice on Avoiding Retreat Gear Entropy

Mr. Rawles:
My question to you is: How can I plan ahead for everything eventually wearing out at my farm/retreat, assuming we could expect a decades-long “Deep Schumer” situation? Everything I own seems sure-as-anything to fall victim to entropy. Tools eventually wear out, things rust, things break, nuts and bolts come loose and get lost in the weeds. Those lousy blue tarps only seem to only last about a year. Last weekend I went to go sit in my yard chair and I fell right through the [expletive deleted] plastic webbing, which had sun rotted. My kids laughed at me, seeing me stuck in the chair. “Har, har, har, very funny.” How do I plan in advance for all this entropy, without having a big “I won the lottery” budget? Thanks, – LTP in Missouri

JWR Replies: There is no panacea, since entropy is inevitable. But at least it can be forestalled. My advice is pretty commonsense: First and foremost, buy the best quality tools and equipment that you can afford. Concentrate on classic, proven designs that are user serviceable. Buy plenty of spare parts for high-wear items. (Belts, bearings, leathers, seals, cotter pins, and so forth.)Buy plenty of spare hardware–especially for “high loss” fasteners. Retrofit all of your farm, shop, and kitchen machinery with lock washers or Nylock nuts that won’t back off, where appropriate. Take good care of what you have. Keep your gear well lubricated and out of the elements. Avoid ever buying “high entropy” items like those ubiquitous blue tarps, by instead building permanent structures with metal roofs. (Such as wood sheds and hay barns.) If you use tarps for some reason, make sure that they are long lasting extra heavy duty type, like you see used on flatbed trucks. (Truckers know what lasts!) One maker of this type that I recommend is Tarps Plus. We’ve used one of their reinforced truck type rubberized tarps on our utility trailer here at the Rawles Ranch for seven years and it is still in great shape. Unless weight is critical, over-engineer everything that you build. Protect soft items from mice and rats by storing them in steel cabinets. (Often available at surplus auctions or even free from auto parts stores if you ask–since they often get them as freebies from their parts vendors.) If you live in a damp climate, buy a Goldenrod dehumidifier for all of your gun vaults and tool chests/carts. (These are available from Boater’s World.) Learn to do your own service and repair on every piece of machinery that you own. Buy the requisite tools for all of that work. Don’t overlook buying service manuals for each of your vehicles, farm machines, and major appliances. Avoid buying shoddy merchandise. In essence, you can either “buy quality” once, or buy cheap Chinese junk over and over again, with a higher cumulative price tag and the risk of being caught without, when re-supply is impossible.(Post-TEOTWAWKI.) For example, I recommend buying the more expensive heavy duty rubber garden hoses instead of cheap plastic hoses. You’ll find that you buy just one “15 year” hose instead of five or six “bargain” hoses that last just two or three years each. Although the initial purchase price per unit is higher, your long term cost will turn out to be lower. And as for replacing the falling-apart yard furniture that you mention: Buy heavy duty cedar replacements. Those will last for decades. (See my friend Keith Cutter’s Huckleberry Ridge web site for some of the best American made cedar outdoor furniture on the market.)