From The Mountains of New York, by M.D.L.


In this, the third installment of the chronicles of my preparedness journey (#1 The Secret Prepper and #2 Selecting a Retreat), I hope to share with you the improvements I have made in my retreat home.

I have found in the last couple of months that owning a second home is a monstrous headache.  If you only own one home just imagine everything that can go wrong and multiply it by a factor of two to the exponent of Murphy’s Law.  Or worse… my liquid asset value has fallen victim to the inverse square law: The amount of money I now have is inversely proportional to the square of the amount I remember spending.
Current $ Amount  = Original $ Amount x   Funds I remember spending2
                                                                       Funds I actually spent

Head hurting yet?  Me too.  Good thing I have a background in mathematics and some education in basic engineering.  I strongly recommend that if you plan on being self-sufficient, you learn the basic principles of engineering.  That and pick up some additional skills like carpentry, masonry or welding.  A great way to do this is to volunteer with charitable organizations that build or remodel homes.  If you play your cards right you’ll make a friend who’s in a trade and he’ll teach you.  But I digress…

With some hard work and good fortune, my retreat home will be my primary place of residence as well as my work location.  I can make any changes to the house that I feel will improve its safety and functionality, but if they are completely visible or unappealing the power of veto will be exercised by the C.F.O. (my wife).  That, and OPSEC will be compromised by said visibility.  With that in mind I started looking for what needed improving so that I could fit it into the renovations that had to be done.  I decided on tackling emergency power and security.

Emergency Power:

One of the things I have quickly learned is that power goes out somewhat regularly in the middle of nowhere.  There simply is no modern infrastructure and what power lines run to my home need to traverse dozens of yards of old trees to get from the road to my abode.  The result: Wind blows hard, lights flicker.  Wind gusts heavily, lights go out.  It’s rather annoying but at present only an inconvenience.  Come TEOTWAWKI it will be much worse since there may be no return to power for some time.  At this point I can’t afford to buy a PV power system so I thought about alternatives.

I had decided early on that I wanted to make an effort to utilize every form of alternative power I could.  Having a stream running through my property affords me the opportunity to build my own miniature hydroelectric power plant.  My biggest problem is that the stream on my property is located too far away to make a direct feed work.  That turned out to be an easy fix: a wheel barrel, elbow grease and some car batteries suit just fine.

Building my micro hydro-power plant:

I tried several variations on my generator, using materials like wood, plastic and metal.  I started with metal for the frame and quickly learned that I have no business whatsoever using welding equipment.  Know thyself, and know him well… lesson learned (ouch!).

Then, I tried to use PVC since it’s fairly inexpensive and easy to work with.  I worked up a great model, until I put it in the water and it floated away.  The frame and paddles were too light, and so I mixed in some wood and plexiglas.  The combination of PVC framing, wood paddles and plexiglas wheels seems to work well.  I also added some gravel into the bottom of the PVC framing for additional weight to counter the streams current. It’s only a few inches deep at the point where I’ve decided to place this but because it’s at the base of a drop the water really moves.

The design itself was fairly simple:

First I made two 18” high triangles with 3 inch PVC pipe.  At the bottom corners I used 60 degree elbows, at the top I used the same but modified it with a 1½” hole and inserted the plastic ring from a roll of scotch tape.  It was a tight fit, which I additionally secured with a thin coat of epoxy so it wouldn’t wear loose after I added the axle: A 1” wooden dowel.

I then built my water wheel, thinking of an old steamboat’s wheel.  I cut 2, 24” diameter circles out of ¼” Plexiglas and cut a hole in the center for the 1” dowel.  After, I cut a total of 19, 2’ long 1×4’s for the paddles and coated them liberally with water seal.  (One situation where being liberal is a good thing.)  The circumference of a 24” diameter circle being 75.4” [C=D (pi)], I added 19 paddles at 4” intervals, which works out to 76”, so one of the paddles is slightly off.  I screwed the paddles straight out protruding 1” past the circle, for only one side.

The circle with the paddles was laid flat with the open side up and the opposing circle was placed on top allowing me to fasten it to the paddles.  At this point I added the water wheel to the triangle frame by lying one half on a table and lining up the wheel to the hole at the top of the triangle.  I inserted the dowel allowing it to extend past the frame by several inches.  I then placed the opposing half of the frame on top and stood it upright.  It bears note that the dowel was a tight fit, and I needed remove it and sand it down a bit.  Then I added graphite lube (it’s just what I had handy, no other reason for the choice) to get it to turn.  I hand turned it several dozen times and all was well.

The dowel was secured on the outside (water facing) half of the frame by drilling a hole through it to allow me to add a locking cotter pin.  The opposite end of the dowel was similarly secured with a cotter pin, but additionally I afforded this side an extra 6 inches onto which I secured a bicycle wheels rim, also secured with a cotter pin on the outside.

I placed the waterwheel in my chosen area and above it fabricated a wooden platform (treated with water seal) that spanned the narrow section, securing it with heavy stones at the base of the legs.  I mounted the alternator atop that, with the wheel of the alternator exposed over the side directly above the bicycle wheel.  Then I used an alternator belt to connect the alternator to the waterwheel.  (I had previously used sandbags to redirect the water to make this easier)

From that point, I wired the positive and negative ends of the battery using wire I salvaged from an old car at a junkyard. The wire needed to be spliced with another set so that I could lay the battery on a platform on the side of the stream.  After testing the system I built a housing for the alternator and the battery.

What I found is that, while not optimal, this set-up works fairly well and generates enough power to re-charge the car battery in just a couple of hours in relation to how fast the stream is moving (depending on the rain).  I plan to build a new one as time permits with an extended dowel that will allow me to mount the alternator on the bank of the stream.

[JWR Adds: For any reasonably durability, I recommend a commercially-made microhydro Pelton Wheel.]

I am currently using this to power my CB radio and as a power source for an emergency water pump.  I have only 3 batteries at the time I write this and plan to buy more to build a battery array, once I find the “perfect” design.  I also intend to apply this to an old stationary bike for use indoors.


My future home/retreat location, though on a dead-end tertiary road, is far from un-assailable.  I imagine that if a refugee group managed to get as far north as I am, they’d be somewhat knowledgeable of wood lore.  They could stumble upon my location while hunting, or simply by trying random roads to see where they lead.

A road approach seems to me to be the most likely so I decided to address that first.  I have a paved driveway that extends to the road, but runs over a pipe that funnels water run-off from higher up the mountain.  That pipe needed replacing, and so I dug it out and left the ditch.  Across it I placed a large steel plate, the kind you would see a road construction crew using to cover a large hole in the road.  I bartered some manual labor for this.

The plate came complete with a ring attached to one end.  I plan to hook a steel cable to this and use my truck or quad to pull this plate into my driveway and off of the ditch when security seems like it may become an issue.  Then in the recently evacuated soil I will, when the time seems right, dig holes and transplant bushes from further back on my property.  I will also spread grass seed there and back it up with smaller transplanted trees.  This way I can close off my driveway with a barrier while simultaneously camouflaging it.

As for the possibility of approach from other directions, well…  there’s only so much I can do to prevent that beyond regular patrols.  I’ve also looked for locations where I might maximize the use of various boobytraps [for an absolute worst-case situation.]  I realized that if a person were to get close enough to my home to fire upon it, my “contact” security would need a measure of home hardening. 

In my first submission to SurvivalBlog I wrote about “The Portcullis”; a method of closing off and hardening large glass doors on the deck of my primary residence.  I have decided to utilize this method in the walls of my retreat home, which is a ranch.  I needed to re-sheet rock the interior walls, so after the demo was completed I added sub-flooring from floor to ceiling around the windows, and floor to a height of four feet everywhere else.  Before adding the subflooring I insulated the exterior walls and added a layer of construction grade plastic sheeting to compress the fiberglass roll just a bit.

Then, as I added the subflooring I filled the spaces between the studs behind it with gravel.  The sheet rock I used to finish the job was 1” thick.  The overall thickness of gravel was a scant 2” after somewhat compressing the insulation. Between the wood siding, the exterior insulation, the subflooring, the gravel and the 1” sheet rock I have more protection then I was previously afforded.  That and it’s invisible as well.  If signs point to imminent danger, my family and I can always fill our sandbags and stack them strategically around the windows, doors and other firing ports if needed.

That is all I have had the finances and time to handle as of now.  I hope that when cash becomes available I can make additional modifications.  For now, it’s just paint and Spackle.  Hopefully this can give those of you out there without brick homes some ideas on how to secure/harden your home.

A quick note on booby-trapping…

I feel that this is an integral part of any TEOTWAWKI security plan.  However, the use of such devices should be weighed against the risks posed by having them in place.  I have made the decision to pre-manufacture a variety of “gifts” for unwrapping should any aggressors come seeking to force my generosity.  These devices will be placed in pre-determined locations should that level of security become necessary.  Before placing any form of traps walk your perimeter and determine places where there are holes in your security that you may not have the ability or manpower to fill. 

Also consider how you would approach your retreat if you were ill intended.  What would you use for cover?  Well that’s a great spot for a trap.  Have a blind spot?  Well put one there too.  Just be sure you have these spots marked on a map before you put your added security measures physically in place.  It wouldn’t do to have to try to remember where they go when they suddenly become necessary.

My final note on security is related to walking the perimeter and mapping traps.  While you’re out there, you should also measure out the various distances of landmarks relative to your retreat.  Fill out a range cards for each window, door or gun-port and place it at the associated position you will be using.  It will save you the guesswork later on, and the time saving could also be life saving.

Until next time, keep in mind that a physical structure is not our only shelter:
2Samuel 22:3-4
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence.  I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
Be ready My Friends, the clock is ticking.

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