We live in an area known for food storage. I’m a real estate broker and am in and out of people’s homes all over happy valley. I have firsthand knowledge of who’s prepared and who’s not. Although many have buckets of grains and a few shelves of canned goods, the vast majority are not really prepared for a true disaster lending itself to long-term survival and recovery. Believe it or not, most couldn’t survive a prolonged power outage in the middle of winter. As the readers of this blog know, there is a lot more to it than a wheat grinder, a box of matches, and a flashlight. I feel that I am one of the lucky few who really gets it, or maybe I am one who thinks that the sky is falling.
A died in the wool prepper, I’ve prepped at varying levels since I was a Boy Scout. Our older kids are now 43 and 44 years old, with the youngest now 23, and I’m still prepping. The kids have left home, and our needs have changed, again. As I’m getting older, we don’t need the big house in the suburbs, but don’t want to leave the kids and grandkids, so the odds of me moving to the Redoubt are becoming less and less as time goes on. Thinking about downsizing is what brought this solution to mind.
We’ve occupied our existing home for the last 24 years, and it is extremely well set up for a bug in event. The problems of water, food, power, and heating for a extended period have all been well addressed– from large garden, chickens, and food storage to three-way generator, wood burning stove, and fuels for over a year. The only thing I would add is a solar panel array and controller to my battery bank, but OPSEC has kept me from doing this. It’s just advertising to the world that in a power down situation you have power and probably much of the stuff that goes with it.
If our home, as is, were located in northern Idaho, I would not be thinking about any of this, but it’s not. We’re in another state, in a city of about 1.5 million, and in an area way too populated for what I believe is coming.
Over the years we’ve owned just about every vehicle that could be used for bugging out, from AWD’s, 4×4’s, trailers, and motor homes. Each had its dual purpose, and each had its shortcomings. A few years ago, I was thinking about alternate power sources, and I put an inverter in a SUV with a suicide cord to a exterior outlet on the house. I wrote about it and submitted it to Survival Blog. Many thought it was a good idea, but it required some care and thought to avoid a bad outcome. It’s still in the Tahoe, however.
The single issue that I’ve never addressed is a perpetual power source that is available for use almost anywhere. The motor homes and some of the trailers that we have owned have been set up with solar panels, inverters, large water tanks, large fuel tanks, et cetera, but in order to have all of those things requires large vehicles that are not conducive to anything other than a freeway or a paved parking lot. (Not where you want to be if TSHTF.)
With the pros and cons of each in mind, I’ve fabricated a more flexible power source that can be used in almost any circumstance. It can power most of your house, or someone else’s, and it can go with you almost anywhere, and bring along a years’ worth of freeze-dried or dehydrated food plus water, fuel, and equipment. If you have to leave it and drive away, you can, or with a quick click to a hitch ball follow your 4×4 to a mountain top.
I started with a 7 x 10 enclosed single axle trailer with a 5000 pound axle, electric brakes (controlled by a wireless hand-held controller, so it will work with any tow vehicle), a flat roof, side door, and rear ramp. Mine is an American Hauler, picked because of its relatively light weight and load capacity, yet still easily maneuverable by hand (with its single axle). Because of the completed tongue weight, I also bought a equalizer hitch. It can be towed with many small SUVs or easily with a ½ ton pickup, when fully loaded. I also bought a trailer dolly at Harbor Freight for under $50 to move it around.
Two solar panels have been mounted on the roof, hinged from the front with tilt brackets on the sides to allow angle change depending on the location of the sun. These generate 235watts each @ 24vdc, and together weigh about 100 pounds with associated hardware. Inside the trailer and mounted on the left wall and close to the ceiling is a mppt 40Amp controller that automatically senses either 12 or 24 volt inputs from the panels (whichever panel type you select) and automatically senses the output voltage depending on whether you use 12 or 24 volt batteries (12’s in series). There is a monitor for the controller that displays voltage, amps, and wattage output of the panels. All of these items are connected through a small breaker panel so that all items connected are protected and can easily be isolated for trouble shooting or repair. The controller output (12vdc in my case) is then routed down to the battery bank mounted in the v-nose of the trailer. I have eight 225Ah 6v Trojan deep cycle batteries, four on each side of the v. These are connected in two banks of four batteries to a marine rotary battery switch that allows individual selection of either bank, coupling both banks together or removal of both banks from the circuit (turning them off). The output of the switch goes to a 250 Amp fuse that is in line between the batteries/switch and a Xantrex 2500 watt true sine wave inverter. The inverter output is wired through the side of the trailer to multiple 120VAC outlets and one 240VAC outlet. There is a 12vdc 100 Amp automatic marine battery charger that is mounted above the battery banks with the output tied to one of the battery banks. This allows use of one bank while charging the other or charging of both simultaneously. It can be used at the same time as the solar panels when charging the batteries. The battery charger is powered with 120vac from a socket also running through a wall and can be powered by an external source, or the on board generator.
The generator is a 4.5KW diesel generator mounted on the left side of the trailer above the axle. The 120vac output is wired to two more connectors running to the outside of the trailer, a 240vac receptacle, and also to the battery charger. The generator can be used to charge the batteries or for anything else that needs to be powered outside of the trailer. The generator exhaust has been extended out the bottom of the trailer and a muffler has been added. It’s almost as quiet as the Quiet Diesels I’ve had in past motor homes.
Opposite the generator and behind the side door access is a plastic diesel fuel tank with a filler through the outside wall. It holds about 90 gallons and weighs about 700 pounds when full.
In front of the generator and mounted on the wall is a 12vdc water pump to double water filters– one charcoal and one ceramic in series. The fittings for input and output are hose bibs that run to the outside of the trailer. There is a 60 gallon tank between the generator and diesel fuel tank that is plumbed into the output of the pump system. There is a 6-gallon motor home hot water heater (120vac powered) between the water tank and another “hot” hose bib. A hose may be dropped into any water source (river or mud puddle) for sucking water through the filters and into the tank or out the hose bib.
All of this equipment fits into the front four feet of the trailer (heavy tongue weight requiring the equalizer hitch). The rear six feet is available for additional storage of foods or equipment and is accessible from the ramp door. In my case, it is filled with cooking equipment, freeze-dried foodstuffs, and other equipment. It has a screen room, (like a tent) about 6’x10’ that attaches to the trailer on either side. All of the space above the electrical equipment is still open. I’m thinking about putting shelving in, accessible from the side door, but that would make access to the generator and battery bank more difficult. The shelves would make a great space for soft goods that don’t weigh much (sleeping bags). If I had it to do over, I’d put the generator on the right side and fuel tank on the left. This would give easier access to the generator. That may be a future modification reserved for a time when I don’t have anything else to do.
Completely loaded, it weighs in at about 4800 pounds. With a ball hitch dolly, it can be easily moved around by hand on a flat surface, and behind my Tahoe it’s like it isn’t even there.
The benefits to this rig are probably obvious for an old guy that isn’t likely to try hiking out in any case. I can connect it to my house, a camp trailer, a motor home, or just use the screen room and have all the power I may need when the need arises. It’s quiet when need be and solves most of the problems for a short-term event and some of them for a longer term scenario. Since I bought everything new, my cost was a little over $5000, but it could be duplicated with a used trailer and some other items used for about $3000, if you have the time and desire to shop Craigslist on others.
I’ve found that there is no perfect solution for all circumstances, unless you have a unlimited budget and the right place to keep it all. This is just another solution for for some of the problems we may encounter in the future. It doesn’t really matter which solution for the problems you pick, just pick one that works for you and get working on it. The sky is falling.