I am hardly an expert compared to so many who’ve had articles published here in SurvivalBlog, on so many aspects of survival. I have to make apologies in advance that my concerns may be misstated. Yet I hold them and would like to share some suggestions for how the prepper community might advance.
I served 30+ years as a physician, still serve in charity work, and I’m also an electrical engineer, and I’ve written simple techniques to mitigate the impact of EMP. (The DHS has well-written levels of protection that are worthy of studying.) Now in my retirement, I’m a ham radio operator and I teach high school at a classical Christian school, and I have led a ham radio emergency communications group for half a decade or more, with thriving results. I teach high school chemistry, physics, AP Physics, and AP Calculus. (I wanted to teach the latter, since it had been years since I was proficient. Hooray, now I can differentiate and integrate with the best of them!) In all of that, I have pursued trying to get people to recognize the mission and put their efforts toward the mission, reducing as many superfluous activities and accessories as possible. (Hams love “trinkets.”)
While my wife and I have a successful garden, a 30-horsepower tractor / tiller / front-end-loader, one of my sons has succeeded at raising laying hens, meat chickens, and cows. I am basically a beginner, and yet I know how to pressure can and dry can and grow the best string beans that I’ve ever tasted, in the worst soil you could imagine. Water just runs through it, taking all the nutrients with it to the aquifer. Yet we can produce corn, potatoes, and squash as well.
But if there were a real calamity (and the possibility of that is right in front of us) we would find a way to survive. With that tractor, our garden would increase to many acres, and most of our neighbors would also have tilled and productive land. My next-door neighbor has the equivalent of acres of irrigation!
Many of our volunteer ham radio friends are closet preppers and I have the advantage of good friends with SWAT skills, legal skills, medical skills….and on and on. I reload seven calibers and I can hit a target at 800 yards with more than 600 grains of metal. You meet the most interesting people in ham radio volunteer emergency groups, and a few key words are all you need to pick who is worth getting to know better.
There are no perpetual motion machines
We have to have goals that are worthwhile. In AP Physics, I teach the laws of thermodynamics, the constant grind of growing entropy (disorder), the relentless cooling of the universe, and the impossibility of making a machine that will provide all its own power, forever. It is best to discard pipe dreams. And I think this applies to those of us in the prepper groups as well. Pursuing only things that can never get you past the starting point, is a plan to fail. It is like believing and investing your life into a scheme to build a perpetual motion machine. All of these skills have their place, but must be viewed in the context of the mission: growing and thriving, not just subsisting.
Subsistence production is just that: subsistence production. If all one can produce is what is needed to just survive, then there is no surplus capital created. Without surplus capital of some sort (whether food, or medical capabilities, or industrial production), the well-being of the community has a huge problem advancing. Surplus production is a requirement for a thriving and growing community. And this is all obtainable.
As a means of illustrating that point, here is a summary list of inventions of just the 18th Century (1700-1799):
1701 Jethro Tull, seed drill
1709 Bartolomeo Cristofori, the piano
1711 John Sore, the tuning fork
1712 Thomas Newcomen patents a steam engine
1717 Edmond Halley, the diving bell
1722 C. Hopffer the fire extinguisher
1724 Gabriel Fahrenheit the fist mercury thermometer
1733 John Kay, the flying shuttle
1745 E. G. von Kleist invents the first capacitor, the Leyden jar
1752 Benjamin Franklin the lightning rod
1755 Samuel Johnson, the first English language dictionary
1757 John Campbell the sextant
1758 Dolland the chromatic lens
1761 John Harrison, the marine chronometer (indispensable for determining position)
1764 James Hargreaves the spinning jenny
1769 James Watt an improved steam engine
1774 Georges Lessage patents the telegraph
1775 Alexander Cummings, the flush toilet
Jacques Perrier the steamship
1776 David Bushnell, the submarine
1779 Samuel Crompton the spinning mule
1780 Franklin, the bifocal eyeglasses
Gervinus, the circular saw
1783 Sebastien, the parachute
Hanks, the self-winding clock
The Montgolfiers invent the hot-air balloon
Henry Cort invents the steel roller for steel production
1784 Melkle, the threshing machine
1785 Cartwright, the power loom
Coulomb the torsion balance
1786 Fitch, steamboat
1790 First patent for a machine that “roves and spins cotton”
1791 John Barger invents the gas turbine!
1792 Murdock, gas lighting
1794 Eli Whitney the cotton gin
Philip Vaughan the ball bearing
1795 Appert the preserving jar for food canning!
1796 Jenner creates the smallpox vaccination
1797 Wittemore, the carding machine
M Maudslay the first precision lathe
1798 Senefelder invents lithography
1799 Volta invents the battery
Louis Robert invents the Fourdrinier Machine for producing sheet paper
All of that happened in just the 1700s! The tools that I have just in my own personal shop are incredibly more advanced than what they had with which to work. Also, I have enormous numbers of electronics components, radios, a digital oscilloscope, and a spectrum analyzer for communications equipment design, repair, and production. I have reloading measurement equipment. With my machine tools, I could recreate another milling machine. I also have a table drill press, a 5-foot rotary tiller, a nearly new tractor, and even welding gear. Further, I have the ability to make more electricity than I need, and years worth of stored propane. (If you worshiped that stuff instead of seeing it as ministry equipment to preserve life and serve others, then you’d be like the famous farmer with overflowing barns, right?)
Beyond Subsistence Production
In the event of a true calamity, after attending to basic survival, protection, care of the immediately wounded, and burial of the dead, the community should quickly begin to plan to move beyond mere subsistence. That means that immediately we want food production to flourish. If we need fertilizer to do that, then we need to produce urea or other sources of nitrogen, and find P and K as well. In large quantity! If we need pest control, then we need to produce it. If we need insulin…. well, the original process for purifying it still works! Of course beef- or pig-sourced insulin it isn’t optimal, but you can do it. There are chemists and textbooks in our lands, and it simply has to be done, or your community’s mortality rate will go up. And your success will not only save many lives, but make you wealthy as well!
Smokeless Powder & Primers
The original discovery of gun cotton (the forerunner of smokeless powder) was the simple mopping up of a nitric acid spill (HNO3) by a kitchen apron (cellulose). When it subsequently burst into flame at an incredible rate near the stove, the chemist recognized he had made something new: nitrocellulose. Nothing stops us from producing in abundance these same capital goods that our forefathers produced. Likewise, chemists can produce unstable products to act as the primers. Most of us know how to take it from there, right?
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)