Letter Re: Mobile Fuel Storage System

Let me introduce your readers to propane and the many possibilities it offers your planning and TEOTWAWKI preps, that you will likely never have thought of before. Over the last number of years I have carefully thought out and planned a “system” if you will of key pieces of equipment which all operate on a single, inexpensive and highly efficient and large mobile fuel storage system. Naturally, I have the standard wood stove and gasoline operated family vehicle(s), but what is most interesting is some of the items I have been working on and extensively testing/ using on the side.    

1986 Chevrolet 3/4-Ton Pickup on Dual Fuel    

I have recently finished building my ideal Bug out vehicle (BOV) and a number of other very interesting and related items of interest which all fit in with a “one fuel system” for my preps.    I own a customized flat tan-painted 1986 Chevrolet/GMC pre-CPU or fuel injected 3/4-ton 4×4 pickup truck with a long bed on 33 inch high performance tires. It has the very tough NP 205 transfer case. This truck has a manual transmission without the hydraulic clutch (easier to repair), 4 inch suspension lift, custom built heavy duty roll bars and light bar, custom built heavy duty Front bush guard, bumper/ grill guard made from oil field drill stem. My spare tire mounts directly in the center of this heavy duty grill guard. All of this is great and the many features and modifications are too many to mention. But what is interesting about this truck are the most recent modifications which have the greatest impact on this trucks ability to be a high performance BOV. I have recently had this truck;s fuel system modified to a “dual fuel” system. The truck now runs on propane and gasoline.

Directly in the front of the truck bed, I have a 230 liter propane tank mounted between the roll bar mounts. It sits just out of sight below the top of my truck box. With the pull of a manual cable  just above my left knee while driving, I can switch between gasoline and propane in a moment’s notice, moving from my 150 liter reserve of gasoline between my two twin gas tanks, to my 230 liters of propane and back again.

I specified manual “IMPCO” brand propane controls installed as opposed to easier to use electronic controls which are slightly more convenient to use but that are less reliable and have the potential to “fry” during an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) event. The system is old school and has been used and tested in many thousands of vehicles for about 30 years. My mechanic tells me that the fuel efficiency difference between gas and propane in a Chevrolet/GM 350 engine with a manual transmission is hardly noticeable and not a concern. The difference in power is also barely noticeable from my findings as well. However, the savings in cost for me are substantial which I will explain near the end of my posting. 

As a side note, my truck starts and runs much better on propane than it ever did on gasoline even in the coldest months. The last thing I’ve done is to ensure an adequate level of EMP protection is that I decided to purchase a GMC 3/4 ton pre-1987 vehicle. You see, 1987 was the first year Chevrolet and GM introduced electronic fuel injection. Although more fuel efficient than a standard carbureted engine, they are vulnerable to EMP as they are CPU/ Microprocessor controlled.

Even though it was a pre-1987 model it came standard with a high energy ignition (HEI) system which is prone to vulnerabilities and issues during an EMP event. I’ve recently had my mechanic swap the HEI ignition system out for the older style points, rotor and coil ignition system which can be easily fixed or replaced with spare parts stowed away in a Faraday box under the seat of the truck. The total cost for all of these brand new ignition parts and complete system was less than $150. A spare set of replacement condenser, points and coil will run me less than $90. In the event of an EMP, I have the ability to quickly replace these parts within minutes while on the road and I’m back up and running. My fuel capacity would take me well over 1,500 kilometers with a single fill up.  

Propane Heaters      
I did a fair bit of research into propane heaters for use in a home, cabin, tent, etc. The two models of heaters which I settled on were infrared radiant propane heaters made by “Mr. Heater” brand. The first one I bought was a “Big Buddy” portable heater which I can run off 1 pound propane “camping” bottles or a 20 lb barbeque tank or larger if I really wanted to. Currently I use a 20 lb propane tank with this heater in my home office which happens to be an atrium which tends to get a little cold in the winter otherwise with this heater. This unit is an 18,000 BTU per hour unit and can easily heat my un-insulated atrium/office from -20 degrees to + 20 degrees Celsius in under an hour.   The second heater I purchased was a 30,000 BTU per hour wall mounted/free standing with included legs heater. Currently I have this heater mounted to wall on the main floor of my three-storey 8 bedroom home and it heats my entire home even on the coldest night thus far. I am presently running this heater from a 20 lb. barbeque tank and find that I have to refill or swap out tanks about every 48 hours.

My heating costs are approx $150 per month at this point give or take a few dollars. In the event I need to bug out, I can simply grab the heater off the wall and go. Both of these Propane heaters have all the stamps and badges of approval from both the Canadian Government and the US safety agencies. They both use a catalytic conversion process which vaporizes or burns all the dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) from the burning process. I run three separate CO detectors in my home and none of them have ever registered a single reading thus far except one day early on when I had a very small propane leak from a poorly threaded propane hose line to which my alarm promptly let me know that it was “Sniffing” propane. The main advantage to these units is that they don;t require an exterior vent. Unlike your furnace which sends a plume of wasted hot exhaust into the atmosphere, these units send that clean, moist and very hot air into your home as opposed to wasting it. When the heater claims 30,000 BTU per hour as its output rating, its likely much higher when compared to the output rating of your furnace or wood stove simply due to the fact that its a vent free system and not wasting significant amounts of hot air by pumping it out the chimney stack as a byproduct.

In deciding on the generators to own and use, I did a lot of research. I wanted to have a mid-sized generator (5,000 to 7,000 watts) that could run nearly all of my home systems at the same time if need be.( Well pump, sump pumps, furnace, a few lights, fridges, deep freezes, washer and dryer et cetera.) This unit also had to be easy to start, use and move around in the event my wife or children had to use it for whatever reason. In preparation for this I had a generator backup electrical panel installed next to and in conjunction with my current grid power panel. Basically, the power goes out, you flip a big switch on your power panel disconnecting you from Utility power, and fire up the generator. Using this type of panel eliminates the risk of a “back feed.”

The generator I settled on was a dual fuel (Gasoline and Propane) 5,000 watt unit from Northern Tool for around the $700 price. It came standard with wheels and handles to move it around, an electric start battery system with a backup pull cord system and all the propane lines and fittings a guy needs to hook up to a standard 20 lb barbeque tank. I’ve tested it out numerous times with 100 lb propane bottles and 20 lb tanks. Everything seems to run very well thus far and my 10 year old son has no problem wheeling it around, hooking it up and operating it with ease after a little safety instruction.  

The second genset I have on hand is a Honda 2,000 watt inverted super quiet model. I purchased a propane conversion kit online for about $150 and within an hour had it converted easily to run off propane. Works like a charm off my 20 lb tanks.   The last thing I’m hoping to do and I have not had any success in finding any reliable information is to convert an ATV to burn propane as there doesn’t seem to be much information out there. If there is anyone that knows a reliable method or where to obtain information it would be much appreciated if they e-mail JWR a reply.  

I mentioned that I would get into the cost factor of the propane I use. I live in the country and there are many farmers who use mobile propane tanks mounted on trailers for irrigation and construction. I contacted my local propane dealer for more information. After a little discussion, here is what I found out:   My dealer leased me a brand new 1,000 gallon (3,600 + liter) propane tank mounted on a brand new 16 foot dual axle trailer for $260 per year. The trailer has a standard 2-5/16 ” ball hitch and trailer brakes. When asked by my dealer what I was going to use the propane for, I told him I would be using it for a number of uses but mostly filling propane bottles and tanks. Because I didn’t mention it would be used to fill up my vehicle the rate was significantly less. He charged me only 40 cents per liter to fill the entire tank up ($1,400). Currently this is 60 percent less expensive than filling up my vehicle with gasoline at the pump and I get about the same mileage.

The benefits of using propane in these ways are substantial just to name a few:

  • Low profile purchasing. Unlike home gasoline tanks, propane tanks create no suspicion
  • Virtually unlimited shelf life
  • Large volume fuel storage on hand (1,000 gallons / 3,600 liters per tank) in most jurisdiction with no restrictions.

Propane offers mobility and bug out possibilities in a grid down situation where transportation legalities won’t matter. A number of key pieces of equipment are available which operate using propane.   The possibilities with propane are endless and in my opinion its a far superior option for fuel and flexibility than gasoline or diesel fuels. The cost savings alone would make a person do a double take and reconsider all options.  – M.B. writing from the Frozen North