As I sit here typing I wonder again what has taken me so long to write down these thoughts. I think this website is one of the most important places on the Internet for people who are actually concerned for the future of their family and this country. I cannot begin to write down all of the things I have learned and used from reading the articles on SurvivalBlog. My reason for typing this article is not to win a prize but to try to pass some important information along to others who are in similar circumstances. As an upper-middle class, suburban parent to six who lives in the Midwest, most of this article may be irrelevant to other hardcore preppers. This article is not intended for them but for the inexperienced family that’s just starting to learn about prepping.
Less than 100 years ago, my family consisted of poor hillbillies on one side and first generation immigrant farmers on the other. They didn’t know what prepping was. They lived that way all of the time. After WWII, everyone moved to the “city” and the “kids” (my parents) were the first ones to go off to college. Many skills and tools were lost during this time, but some things remained. As in many families, fishing, sewing, gardening, hunting, canning, and the frugality that can only come from living through The Depression were still practiced by my grandparents. However, neither my wife’s nor my parents had any interest in these things, so there was little support or knowledge to lean on as my generation became young adults. Many prepping skills had been completely lost.
First Steps As a Prepper
I would say my first action as a prepper was buying my first firearms during the Clinton years. During one of the gun restriction scares, I decided to “bite the bullet” and buy a pistol and rifle that had the potential of being banned. My life-long passion for “fire sticks” had started.
I didn’t even realize I was taking a giant step towards prepping when my wife and I made the biggest (most expensive) decision of our life. We moved from our small town/yard/house to a rural house with acreage, stocked pond, outbuilding, and windmill. Although we moved less than 10 miles, our phone company, electric company, area code, school district, and zip code all changed. We also became propane users, which was absolutely terrifying to my wife. This was worrisome to me also, due to concerns of running the tank dry. We now had well water and a lagoon. The thought of drinking water straight out of the ground with no filters or chemicals was a little disconcerting to this city boy. I was also quite concerned when I realized that the basement bathroom was below the lagoon level. (After having to work on the sewage lift pump several times now, I realize my original impression was accurate!)
One of the first decisions I had to make was how I was going to mow the yard. Zero turn mowers were all the rage, but I decided I wanted to be able to do many things with my tractor, so I ended up purchasing the smallest 4WD, diesel tractor with a CAT 1 three-point hitch that was made. I’m able to use a front loader, 60-inch mowing deck, and numerous three-point implements. A second concern I had was that there was no other heat sources except for propane. (It was actually a cost concern and not a multiple source concern, at the time). After a little bit of research I found something that I had never heard of before. It is similar to a wood pellet stove, except that it burns whole, shelled corn. In our area we have grain elevators full of the stuff, and in the Fall you can buy a pickup truck load for $100; however, there are drawbacks, described below under “Lessons Learned”. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I now had control of three heat sources (electricity/propane/corn), two safe water sources (electric well pump and windmill), and a stocked pond to get fish from.
Later Prepping Changes
My prepping activities took a back seat for several years as our first children were born but went into high gear after several like-minded individuals joined my group at work. One individual was a serious precious metals guy who started getting others interested in buying silver and gold (just as they started to run up to historic highs!). Another guy was a serious gun guy who started me shooting sporting clays, which is a serious addiction that can get very expensive! For food security, I started stocking up on freeze-dried and other emergency foods, planting fruit trees, and raising chickens. (I’ve now built two different chicken coops myself, and I’m becoming an expert on figuring out why the electric fence isn’t working.)
Facilities wise, I found a used PTO-powered generator for my tractor that can run all the vital items in my house, and I now keep extra diesel fuel to provide for extended power outages. (Our local farmer’s Co-Op carries offroad or “dyed” diesel, which does not have the Fed highway tax included.)
Financially, I got rid of the safety deposit box and started putting an occasional new coin or two into our new gun safe. I made it a habit to start keeping more cash at the house and more funds in the “savings account”. (This has paid dividends several times, as I was able to raid the cash fund to make a quick garage or estate sale deal.)
Family/spirituality wise, we ended up moving our children into private (Christian) schools, keeping active in God-fearing and Bible-believing churches, and making sure our kids were raised to be responsible adults. Then last year, our whole world changed. There is more on that later.
Lessons Learned and Important Experiences
Energy/security. Physical security is a weak spot with our current house and location, and there’s not much I can do about it. Several large dogs, an alarm system, and two experienced shooters with CCLs is all we have for now. Energy availability (due to storms, solar issues, or EMPs) is one of my biggest concerns and where we have spent the biggest portion of our prepping dollars. I’ve had our house electrical system modified so that it has an external plug for the PTO generator with an internal disconnect switch and dedicated circuits for the important items. If power goes out, I hook up the PTO generator to the tractor, pull the tractor to the house plug, and flip the disconnect switch. A concern is that if the power is off for a long time, guarding the tractor/generator becomes a major concern.
I’ve also learned that although I love my corn stove, it is still a lot of work to transport, sift, clean, and move the corn. (The good thing is that I rarely operate it unless it’s forecast to be in the mid 20’s or below, because I use it mainly as a supplemental heater in the walkout basement.) To properly and quickly clean the corn (to prevent clogging your stove auger and heat vents) you need screens to remove large debris and a large Shopvac to suck away all the small debris. You can make a cleaner yourself or buy a small one on Ebay. The alternative is to pay 50% more and buy “cleaned” corn or “deer” corn. My corn stove will burn a minimum of 20-30 lbs of corn over the course of a 10-hour workday, so if you work all day you need to fill it before you leave and refill it when you get home. If you don’t want to clean corn every night (think 10 deg F with a foot of snow and 30 mph winds blowing), you need to plan ahead and clean several days worth at a time. (This is a hard, dirty job that can create a LOT of dust.) I usually clean three large storage totes worth at a time and use the front loader to help transport from my outbuilding to the backdoor (this is approx 3 X 100 lbs of corn). This will usually last me four or five days when running at low setting. My 1980 Toyota pickup will hold 600-800 lbs of corn per trip, but since in my area the cold snaps are usually less than a week long I can make a trip to the elevator about once a month. Don’t forget, any pellet stove (including corn) requires a considerable amount of electricity to power the auger, fans, and circuit boards, and if the power suddenly goes out, the smoke may start escaping into your house. I have a large computer APC connected to my corn stove, and it will only last 10-15 minutes during power outages.
Another thing I have done is to purchase my own used propane tank and ditch the rented one that made me dependent on one company. Although I have to be more alert to the propane level, I can now shop from many different sources and order more propane when I want to (before the price goes up in the winter).
Finances. Wow, where to begin! Nobody ever has enough money, do they? We were doing very well last year with two good paying jobs. Our main expenses were housing, cars, insurance, private High School for two, and church tithing. I was able to start purchasing a few silver coins on a regular basis. and even pay off the wife’s credit card! Then we learned that things change, and sometimes multiple things change very quickly, so it is very important to be financially nimble. No large consumer debts, and don’t have all your money tied up in cars and house payments; leave yourself a cushion. There is more on that later.