For 45 years I was all about the Great American Dream. A 100 mile per day [round-trip] commute to a six figure pressure cooker job supported an upper middle class lifestyle. All that changed in 2001 when I was squeezed out of that job during a company transition to second generation children. Overnight, the new CEO and COO determined I was too traditional and old school for the vision they had for the company going forward even though I had served their father profitably for a decade. In quick succession I lost the house, the cars and a wife of 20 years because I could no longer ‘support her in the manner to which she had become accustomed.’ Yes, said those very words in the divorce papers which were incidentally served on the date of our 20th anniversary. Thank God and Greyhound she’s gone.
What followed was what my teenage daughter who opted to live with me dubbed the Baloney Years. It was an apt description as I re-invented myself from a shiny shoe wearing cubicle slave to a self-employed man. Things got progressively better as the years passed. I never re-married or bought another big house during that time period. I had an expanding Internet business which was very lucrative and required just a few hours per day on my part. I diversified my holdings with rental property and a car shop where I bought fixer uppers and flipped them. I was carrying a substantial amount of commercial debt but little to no personal debt. The cars, motorhome and personal items were paid for and I had no credit card debt. In 2008, the recession wrecked my business plan. The rental properties were vacant and were sold for no profit or returned to the bank. The Internet business fell off 80% in the space of two months and the car fixer upper business became unprofitable as well. At 53 years old I was left with a motorhome, an SUV, some tools, firearms and an empty nest as my daughter had joined the military. Luckily, this go round, I had a little money saved up and a small income each month from what was left of the Internet business. It gave me time to assess the situation and choose my next plan of action.
Folks who live year around in recreational vehicles are called fulltimers in RV parlance. Most, but not all, have given up their traditional sticks and bricks home. Fulltimers are not to be confused with snowbirds that flee in their motorhomes, fifth wheels and travel trailers southward each fall to escape the cold weather. However, some fulltimers are snowbirds who use their RV as a means to seek out the best climate year round. Traditionally fulltimers have been retired folks who chose to travel and enjoy their twilight years. After 2008 this traditional definition began to change. I still meet many retired fulltimers who travel from RV park to RV park getting by on retirement income. More and more these days I see younger folks who are still working but have chosen a recreational vehicle as their home. Some of these working RVers had a defined plan and chose the lifestyle as a way to escape the 9 to 5 suburban hustle. Others did it as a last resort. Many lost houses and jobs and took the last few remaining dollars they had and purchased an RV. It is better than being homeless and living in a refrigerator box under the overpass.
I truly enjoy living in my recreational vehicle. It is compact and mostly self-contained. With the addition of a generator, a battery bank and solar panels I can sleep in my own bed just about anywhere I chose. I love the freedom, I love the lifestyle with no defined boundaries, I love that I pay no property taxes and don’t have to mow the lawn. I follow the work from place to place. Sometimes I stay a few days; sometimes a few months. I am a 21st century nomad.
Nomads are as old as history itself. Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde, Bedouins of the Saharan Desert and Romani Gypsies are nomads. When the Spanish Conquistadors came to North America they brought horses. The American Plains Indians acquired some of those horses and their entire lifestyle changed with the mobility the horses afforded. Much like the Plains Indians, my lifestyle has completely changed with the mobility afforded by an RV but it did not happen overnight. Since I was the victim of two harsh economic calamities this third chapter in my life was initiated only after long consideration and considerable research.
The Third Chapter
You don’t have to be a smart man to realize we live in unsettled times. I have read Thomas More, John Locke, The Federalist Papers and Thomas Jefferson. I read the current offerings of Mark R. Levin, James Howard Kunstler, Mac Slavo and Captain Rawles. At a point in my research I realized the ‘American Dream’ had been little more than carefully prepared and artfully packaged slavery. Brainwashed by the American School System from kindergarten onward, we were told that if you work hard and obey the rules that you will be a success. Success meant debt for most of us. Bigger houses in nicer neighborhoods, new cars every few years, swimming pools, country club memberships — that was success as we Baby Boomers were taught. Behind the scenes, in the offices of powerful people, we were counted among the good minions. Our task was to fill the coffers of Big Business and Big Government and we did an admirable job. People in debt have to go to work every day to service their debt. 30 year mortgages and cars that cost $50 grand just about insure that you will be in debt until the day that you die. Our economy is based on ever expanding spending and if we don’t spend more money each successive year the economy falters. Well, I worked hard and obeyed the rules and had the rug brutally jerked out from under me – twice. I resolved I would never again be a wage slave. After all, nobody came to my rescue and bailed me out!
Near the top of every preparedness list I see is a requirement for a bug out location. Some acreage in a rural location with everything available that you will need when the SHTF seems to be de rigueur. I commend the folks that appear to have attained the optimal bug out homestead and I wish I was one of them. I just don’t see it happening for most of the rank and file people like me.
- Buying property usually means assuming more debt. Most of the people I know do not have the financial ability to lay out considerable quantities of cash to purchase a property outright. Even during the Great Depression, banks foreclosed and the repo man came to get your vehicles.
- I grew up on a rural farm. You just don’t go to Tractor Supply, the John Deere House and the local library and become a farmer or a rancher. It takes years to acquire the equipment and the knowledge to use it.
One of my paying jobs during this Third Chapter was working for an excavation company that specialized in rural retreats for rich folks. These city fellas had worked most of their lives with the dream of retiring to a country estate where they could ‘get back to the land’. I saw the pattern repeat itself many times over during my tenure with this company. A 50 something executive from the city buys a few hundred acres of unimproved land. We roll in with bulldozers and backhoes and excavators and clear the brush, build roads, dig fishing lakes and clear a spot for their ranch house. The executive buys a Ford King Ranch truck, a John Deere tractor, a Polaris UTV and a chain saw. Seems like reality sets in about the second year. The executive realizes he does not have the skill set required to pull this off and he also does not have the time left to learn it all. He also is forced to acknowledge the hard reality of physical limitations that advancing age brings you. I know it was frustrating for the executive. It was heartbreaking to watch it unfold time after time.
I watched the television show Doomsday Preppers with interest. Each and every one of those folks was convinced they knew the future and each were preparing for a specific calamity. EMP, economic collapse, nuclear war and earthquakes –each and every one of them had it pegged unequivocally. I just wish I was that prescient. This Third Chapter of my life embraces the Nomadic lifestyle and my best efforts to prepare for an uncertain future. I honestly believe we will see rising inflation and reduced services from the public sector. Do the math and its’ a pretty simple conclusion. Our elected officials are going to do nothing to stem the rising tide of debt and at some point the bills are going to come due. You can only kick the can down the road so far. Things we take for granted like police services, fire protection, mail, utilities and road maintenance are likely to be less evident the farther you get from major Metro areas in my future scenario. I have no intention of ever being in close proximity to a major Metro area ever again so my plans address a lifestyle that does not include these elements available at current levels. I cannot depend on Social Security income in five years when I become eligible which is another consideration.
The RV is not a really, really small apartment—not even close. It took me over a year to understand all the systems and to become reasonably proficient at repairing or replacing systems that failed. The same elements that make an RV livable in an off the grid environment make it complicated. RVs have dual power systems which are 12 volt DC and 120 volt AC. They also utilize propane for heating, cooking and refrigeration. Some appliances like the hot water heater and refrigerator may have both electricity and propane as dual power sources. A converter/charger applies the power to the on board 12 volt batteries and the 120 volt accessories. My wife and I recently upgraded from our 20 year old diesel coach to a large travel trailer that is towable behind one of the SUVs. Maintaining an increasingly problematic older RV and another power train simply did not make sense. The 2010 model we bought (for cash) was immediately upgraded with the following components:
- Addition of second 12 volt deep cycle battery
- 200 watt solar panel, controller and charger to charge the batteries
- 4,000 watt inverter
- Progressive Industries Energy Management System (EMS) to monitor and protect onboard appliances from erratic power sources
- Double canister water filter with ultra violet light sterilization for drinking water
- Honda EU3000i portable generator
- Additional 120 volt AC small refrigerator to supplement the RV fridge
- Wilson SOHO wireless cell signal amplifier boosts a weak Internet air card signal AND our cell phone signal in rural areas
- Flojet macerator pump which allows me to pump raw sewage via a ¾” garden hose up to 200’ to a septic cleanout, residential toilet, porta-john or external portable septic tank
These additions to the existing travel trailer components have allowed us to be independent of the grid if we choose to do so. The cool thing is we still have all the comforts of home including Internet and HD satellite television.
Our Environment and Prepping go hand in hand. There are myriad ways to make a dollar while living in an RV. Some RVers work for an Amazon Distribution Center during the Christmas rush. Amazon pays them well and provides free spots to park the RV. Other folks go to the Dakotas and harvest sugar beets. Some follow the State Fair circuit or NASCAR. Others work virtually over the Internet. The opportunities are endless.
For the last three years my wife and I have been Level II Security Guards in the North and South Texas oil fields. We have been on site at construction sites, pipeline construction, electrical transmission line construction and active drilling sites. The work has been 100% off grid. The company we work for supplies water, septic system and a large diesel generator. We have no lot rent to pay or utility bills and it is a great environment to polish our prepping skills. Why? We are self-sufficient in many respects. We are off grid, we have a limited water supply that must be rationed and treated to be potable. We are miles from the closest grocery store and infrequent trips to town are carefully planned for maximum benefit. We are in a fringe area for communications and rely on additional equipment to provide communication access to the outside world. Police presence here is rare and we rely on our own resources to settle disputes and minor altercations. We live in a harsh, remote environment for weeks on end and both my wife and I have adopted a survivalist mindset to get by day to day. The difference in the way we deal with everyday life is especially noticeable when we retreat back into normal civilization for some time off with friends and family.
Water is a major consideration in any survival plan. Our water, as delivered, originates at a potable source but the handling between origin and destination is questionable and I do not trust it. Our water source is a 300 gallon translucent plastic tote. I have installed a three-canister water filter system on the outside of the tote with a bypass valve on the third canister and a 12 volt pump. I check every water delivery with a dissolved solids meter. If the meter reads high, I place a 5 micron sediment filter into the first canister and a 1 micron sediment filter in the second canister. I bypass the third canister for this operation. I place the outlet hose into the top of the tank and recirculate the water through the canister filters for several hours until the dissolved solids meter shows an acceptable reading. The outside tote is treated with chlorine on a routine basis to prevent algae growth and I monitor the chlorine levels with a pool test kit. I wish we had a black potable water tank as we had at previous locations. Algae growth in a black tank is negligible.
I pump the water from the tote into our on board 50 gallon water tank with the 12 volt pump. This water is reasonably pure because I filter it through the three-filter outside system as it is pumped aboard. In this operation, the first canister contains a 1 micron sediment filter, the second canister contains a granular carbon resin 1 micron filter and the third filter is a 1 micron carbon block filter. I only use NSF certified filters and keep a one year supply of spare filters on hand. I also have several spare 12 volt pumps that I picked up used on eBay. The water from the onboard tank is used for washing, showers and flushing the toilet. Potable water for cooking, drinking and coffee making is delivered via a separate spigot at the kitchen sink. This spigot is connected to a 2 canister system under the sink. The first canister has a 0.5 micron spun polyester sediment filter and the second canister contains a 1 micron carbon block filter and the ultra violet light. The company that manufactured this system supplies the same system to our US Military for use overseas.
Electricity in some form is necessary for our survival especially during the heat of a South Texas summer. Air conditioning is not a luxury; it is a necessity if you are living inside a tin can. Our prime source of electricity is a 4 cylinder diesel generator with an output of 20 kW. It provides ample electricity for our needs. Secondary electrical backup is our small Honda EU3000i gasoline generator. It is quiet and extremely fuel efficient. At 3 kW it will power every appliance on the travel trailer including one air conditioner unit. Some judicious power management is called for with this power source. For example, it will not power the AC and the coffee pot simultaneously. Our third power source is the 12 volt battery bank, solar panels and inverter. RVs use 12 volt power for lighting, water pumps, water heater, furnace and refrigerator circuit boards. The inverter will run the microwave, coffee pot, television and DISH receiver and the various laptop and cell phone chargers. The inverter will not run the air conditioning unit because it quickly depletes the battery bank.
Food Preparation may not sound like a big concern for most but it is for us. The RV has a microwave, propane cook top and propane oven that my wife uses to full advantage. However, when the summer heat is 100+ for days on end, using the cook top or oven heats up the inside of the RV for hours afterward. We enjoy cooking outside during the summer months. We have a small propane grill, a propane smoker that will also serve as an outside oven and a Volcano stove that is tri-fuel. It has a removable propane burner and it will also burn charcoal briquettes or wood. We have a small selection of Lodge cast iron cookware for use outside and we are gradually learning to use them as time goes by.
Even with two refrigerators, we do not have the refrigeration capacity you would find in a residential refrigerator. My wife manages the refrigerated space admirably with her infrequent stocking trips to the grocery store. A large cooler is a standard item in her SUV because of the length of the trip. She will fill it at the store and then ice it down thoroughly. What doesn’t fit in the two refrigerators is left in the ice filled cooler as long as possible. Through practice, she has learned how many items she can purchase with no resulting spoilage.
I wish we could have a normal garden. In years past both of us raised a garden on a regular basis. Being mobile as we are a garden is out of the question currently. We have laid in a good supply of seeds and we are bucket gardening. 2.5 and 5 gallon buckets are transportable and work well as garden containers. I am glad we started this project because our gardening skills are much rustier than I thought after a decade or more of inactivity. Our current project is a winter salsa garden which consists of tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro. One of the blessings of South Texas is you can garden for almost eleven months out of the year.
Storage space is a huge limiting factor in an RV. RV manufacturers utilize every square inch available in most cases but it is never enough. My large SUV only has the front row of seats available. The second and third row have been folded down or removed to make room for cargo and storage. An air compressor, tool boxes and footlockers full of maintenance items fill the SUV, and it is still not enough space . As you have read my description above you can tell we are dependent for the most part on fossil fuel. Diesel, gasoline and propane figure prominently in our plan. We purchased a small enclosed trailer that we use as our ‘nurse trailer’ and my wife pulls it behind her SUV when we move. It stores several items that are rarely used and our supply of fuel. I like propane because it is very portable and has an unlimited shelf life. At one point in the past we had a 6.6 kW propane generator that has since been replaced. I found it to be very noisy and fuel hungry. Filling a propane tank will never be as easy as filling up a 5 gallon can of diesel or gas. I DO like the propane for heating and cooking as it is very efficient when applied in that manner. When it comes to diesel and gasoline storage I had a hard time deciding exactly how to store it. I considered 50 gallon fuel drums or auxiliary fuel tanks which would be stored in the nurse trailer. Ultimately, I decided the price of the tanks or barrels and the need for an additional 12 volt pump and nozzle to transfer the fuel was unwarranted, pricey and cumbersome. A 55 gallon of fuel weighs around 400 lbs! We decided instead to use 5 gallon NATO surplus jerry cans. They store in an economical fashion, they are tough and they do not leak. Current reserves of fuel are five 30lb propane tanks, two 40lb propane tanks, 50 gallons of diesel and 75 gallons of gasoline. The diesel and gasoline are treated with PRI preservatives. Both SUVs are also kept full of fuel at all times.
The nurse trailer is also the home for 20 gallons of potable water in 5 gallon Reliance Aquatainers and a 65 gallon water tank that is only filled in emergencies.
I store a spare set of 12 volt vehicle and trailer batteries in the nurse trailer. They are maintained with a Battery Tender trickle charger that also has temperature compensation. The 2 SUVs are used infrequently and sometimes 3 weeks will pass without them being driven. They are kept on a Battery Tender as well.
I have an aversion to being broken down on the side of the road. Neither of our SUVs are new; both of them are on the other side of 150k miles. They are maintained meticulously as far as service, maintenance, tires and brakes. For the main SUV I also have spare radiator hoses, serpentine belt, alternator and starter motor. All of these items are easily replaceable in the field.
Stockpiling supplies in a recreational vehicle is near impossible due to space limitations. We try to keep a ready reserve [of staple foods] onboard which loosely equals about a one month supply. While I see or future economy going through a severe long term decline I do not think we will see a true SHTF situation. Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. We do have a bug out location in North Texas which is a still active family farm. I have attempted to tailor our strategic reserve supplies to include this scenario. We move around South Texas quite a bit so storing supplies in an offsite location would be hit or miss at best. With my luck, I would rent a storage room close by and then the next week we would take an assignment 300 miles away. Texas is a big place you know!
My wife is required to go to a doctor for a checkup every two months and for years she has used the same doctor north of San Antonio. Two years ago, we rented a small climate controlled storage in that small town. We collect a variety of supplies in the two months prior to her appointment and she deposits them in the climate controlled storage. In two years we have accumulated quite an inventory of food and other items.
I entered our marriage 3+ years ago with a dry storage unit in South Dallas. Since it is not climate controlled, we are limited on what can be stored at that location. Currently it holds tools, tires, a small cargo trailer and a 7.5kw diesel generator. We also store a small supply of potable water and food there. It is an all day trip to go up there and back. The North Texas bug out location is over 400 miles from our present location. As the storage units fill, we leapfrog the excess to the bug out location.
Our plan is to draw on the supplies in each storage unit should the need arise. If we come down to a true SHTF scenario and anarchy across the land is on the horizon, both storage units are on our direct route to the North Texas location. Even if we had to get out of Dodge in one of the SUVs with nothing more than the SUV contained and the clothes on our backs we could easily resupply and continue our trip north with a stop at either or both storage units.
Fortress RV we ain’t. Most likely you could shoot through one of our walls with a pellet gun. I would like nothing better than to have 500 acres of impenetrable castle somewhere up in the hinterlands of the Texas Hill Country. Maybe if I win the Powerball [lottery] and have another ten years to build the castle complex… Like most everyone else my wife and I have a set of circumstances called our life that we have to work with. Our situation is far from optimal but we have to work within the framework we have to get by and prepare for the tough times ahead.
JWR’s Comments: Nomadism is a fairly tenable during a “grid-up” depression, where law enforcement would still functional. But in a grid-down world, frequent travel will simply be an invitation encountering ambush after ambush, and your life expectancy will plummet. Don’t plan on taking those sorts of risks. My advice for The Crunch: Have a planned destination, get there pronto, and hunker down!