Letter Re: CONEX Containers

I’ve recently been shopping around for used sea containers [Continental Express or “CONEX” transoceanic shipping containers], primarily to replace the weathered sheds that came with our property. While I haven’t sold my wife on the idea yet, we have been looking at metal sheds, which are more expensive and much less durable. You can purchase sea containers for a fairly reasonable price (approximately $1500 for a 20’ unit). Naturally, I started thinking about other possible uses for them (shelter, fallout shelter, etc.), and wanted to see if you, or any other bloggers, had any experience with using them in the survival context. They’re weather tight, can be purchased insulated, and are steel. Seems like there must be some pretty interesting possibilities there. – P.H.

JWR Replies:  I agree that despite the recent price increases, CONEXes are still a bargain. Many thousands of U.S. soldiers and Marines are billeted in converted CONEXes in Iraq.  These are called Containerized Housing Units (CHUs).  This consists of CONEX retrofitted with a door, window, top vent, power cabling, and an air conditioning unit.  These are pretty Spartan accommodations, but it sure beats living in a tent.

Just keep in mind that if you use a CONEX for above ground storage then a “spinner” vent should definitely be added to the roof . Why?  Because CONEXes tend to sweat inside.  (For the same reason, do not stack cardboard boxes directly against the interior walls.)

Don’t count on a CONEX being truly secure storage if your retreat property is not continuously occupied. Welding on a shroud to protect a padlock from attack by bolt cutters is a good idea. But given enough time, a determined thief will just come back with a cutting torch.

Perhaps some SurvivalBlog readers will have some detailed suggestions for the various uses of CONEXes, or if any of you are deployed troops that are billeted in a CHU, please e-mail me with your comments!

Letter Re: STANO Components

I am fairly new to the survival lifestyle and I’m still learning. I’ve been in the military and have been hunting and shooting since I was a small child, so I’m okay there. I’m interested in obtaining some night vision goggles for use after hurricanes (I live in southeast Louisiana) and for patrols if TEOTWAWKI occurs. One of my neighbors is way ahead of me and has actually done some business with you on Valmet parts, etc. He trusts you and I trust him, so I wanted to get your opinion on STANO Components. I assume that since they are a link on your website that you have personal experience with them and that they are a reputable company. However, in today’s world, I feel it is necessary to confirm this. Would you please share with me your feelings and opinions regarding STANO Components? Thank You, – R.V. in Louisiana

JWR Replies: I only know of Al Glanze (who operates STANO Components, Inc., in Silver City, Nevada) by reputation. But what a great reputation! One of the SurvivalBlog readers featured in the Profiles section (“Mr. Tango”–a night vision expert) told me that he has bought nearly all of his night vision gear from STANO Components. He tells me that Al Glanze is extremely reputable, sells only top quality gear, and has a fantastic reputation for customer service. He mentioned that on several occasions Al was willing to let “Mr. Tango” hand pick image intensifier tubes based on “in the field” side-by-side nighttime tests. (Checking for subtle differences such as minimum scintillation–commonly called “the sparklies.”) Virtually all of the U.S.-made scopes that STANO Components sells come with certified data sheets. (Stating the exact number of line pairs and other critical data.)

Beware that there is a lot of junk on the night vision market–especially Russian junk–with fake data sheets. Most of the rebuilt U.S.-made equipment one the market was put together on someone’s kitchen table, often using image intensifier tubes of dubious quality with an unknown number of hours of operating time. But, in contrast, you can buy from STANO Components with confidence.

Letter From Argentina Re: Post-Collapse Political Turmoil, Health Care, and Gambling

Mr. Rawles.
I read your book and I found it both entertaining and full of information as many others did. I live Argentina, South America where things have been hard after the 2001 economical collapse we suffered. We changed five presidents in one week, if you can believe that, and well… we are struggling to get back on our feet, though it sometimes it seems that it’s impossible. “When it finally seems as if we hit bottom, someone starts to shovel.”
I started reading your letters on Survivalblog.com and find them, again full of valuable insight. There are a couple of things that, in my most humble personal experience, might differ from what you estimate may happen after a crisis. Medical health companies, for example have made a lot of profit. This is because public health isn’t worth a penny, they are on strike most of the time and lack the most basic health implements like disposable needles, cotton, etc. People either have private health insurance or die like rats over here. As for the popularity of gambling and casinos, don’t ask me why please, I’m clueless, but it seems that the poorer the people, the more they gamble. Most poor neighborhoods, some that even lack tap water or gas service, places that don’t even have light, there you can find one big shiny Bingo in the middle of the place. Please excuse my English, its not as good as it should be. Just wanted to let you know how things developed over here, concerning those issues, thought you might find them interesting. I posted some general thoughts concerning urban survival at a place called frugalsquirrel.com under the name of FerFAL at the General Patriot Discussion forum: http://www.frugalsquirrels.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=044387;p=1

It’s just things I noticed, some stuff I do myself to get by, in this now-turned Third World country. Regards, – Fernando in Argentina

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

I try to keep my daily quotes short, so forgive me for subjecting you to four stanzas. But that article from Jeff in Afghanistan reminded me of Kipling…

If, by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting;
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating;
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Note from JWR:

Today we feature yet another entry for the SurvivalBlog writing contest. The prize is a transferable four day course certificate, good for any course at Front Sight. Be sure to enter your non-fiction articles via e-mail by the end of November to be considered for the contest.

The Micro-Farm Tractor, by “Fanderal”

My goal, like so many of us, is to be able to pre-bugout, to a retreat I can live on full time. I dream of having a few acres out in the country where I can mostly support myself on what can be produced on my own land. When I first started to think about it, and plan for it, the first question of course is “How much land?” After getting past the obvious answer, “As much as possible”, came the more reasonable answer of: “enough to do accomplish my primary goal of optimal self-sufficiency.” After more study I came to realize that five or so acres is about all I could really work. Five acres, when worked intensively, will produce far more than a family of four can consume. This five acres would contain everything, House, Barn, a one to two acre garden, chickens, Rabbits, Goats, et cetera.

So having settled on five to seven acres, I turned to the issue of what tools, equipment, and other assets would be needed to make my micro-farm work. Beyond the usual hand tools. And shop tools, my research led me to study power equipment appropriate for the Micro-Farm. What I found was the Two-Wheel, or “Walk-behind” Tractor. A good example of the class is the BCS 852 with a 10 horsepower diesel engine. It has a single cylinder engine mounted in front of a trans axle. The Trans axle drives a pair of wheels that are from 3.5 to 6.5 inches wide, and 8 to 12 inches in diameter. It is also equipped with front and rear Power Takeoffs (PTOs) used to transfer power to a variety of implements. For me this is the optimum retreat utility tractor. To justify that statement I need to go into a bit more detail as to why. As with all things, this selection is based on my plans and intentions, but I believe that they are generic enough to qualify as a general solution for most people, but as always Your Mileage may Vary (YMMV).

The factors I am taking into consideration are:

Size of Farm.
Number of people available to work it.
Fuel availability/economy
Life expectancy under the projected load

The truth is most of us have not, or will not be able to acquire more than five to 10 acres of land. If you can get more, fine, get it; you can’t have too much land, but you can leave yourself short on other things by buying more land than you really need, or can work.
In most cases the garden will be run by just one or two people, either because of off farm employment or the kids may be grown and gone before you make the move. People that are already doing this will tell you that one to two acres, if worked as intensively as is reasonably possible is all one person can handle. If you have more land, then you have the option of bartering produce, for labor to work more acres. But I would still keep it in two-acre units.
The core concept of survivalism/preparedness is independence; you can’t be independent if you can’t do most, if not all the maintenance yourself. While yes, most anyone with any mechanical aptitude at all can work on most regular tractors, however they have four times as many cylinders, fuel injectors, and fuel lines, twice as many tires, use much more fuel, and mostly are too much tool for two to five acres.
When the world ends there will be NO more fuel deliveries from anywhere, and if there are then they will be prohibitively expensive. So you need a fuel that you can produce yourself, to me this means biodiesel. It’s a fuel you can make yourself; it will substitute directly into the tank with NO modifications to the engine, and gives almost exactly the same performance, as regular diesel.
So with these concepts in mind I started thinking about what the ideal tool would be. I eliminated most regular four wheeled tractors like the Ford 9N and the International Harvester (IH) Farmalls because to buy one of their modern counterparts new is very expensive, and to find parts for older ones that you can buy on the cheap can also be expensive. While there has been a lot of development in compact and subcompact tractors in the last few years, they are mostly compact technical wonders that have all kinds of computerized fuel injection systems, high volume, high pressure hydraulics, and just lots and lots of things that need to be maintained or fixed. Simplicity is crucial.
My search for information about small farm tractors, as with most things today, started online. I started from the position that a Walk-behind Tractor would be the optimum choice because on the surface it met two of the most important criteria, Fuel requirements, and maintainability. The MOST important question remained, how much land could be worked with it and still expect it to last a lifetime.

Dean M., one of my online sources, who has actually been running a Market Garden since 1989, says that much of that time was spent downsizing his garden to it’s current 1.5 acres. According to Dean,one to two acres is about all one person can work, when trying to maximize the production of a garden. The general consensus is, that the limit on how large a garden you could work with one of these machines,is really set by how much labor was available, rather than the capacity of the machine.
To answer that question I needed input from an expert. In my web search I found many companies that make and sell this kind of equipment, but they are almost ALL overseas. Of the domestic companies most only sell Walk-behinds as a sideline. I found a company in Owenton KY, which specializes in small-scale commercial agriculture equipment. Joel Dufour founded Earth Tools in 1977, and all they sell is Walk-behind tractors. .

I asked Mr. Dufour about the capability, capacity, and requirements of walk behind tractors for a TEOTWAWKI scenario. He recommended not the largest one he sells, the 948 but rather the model 852, which comes with an optional 10 hp diesel engine. He says the 852s are far more versatile than the 948. Based on what his customers are actually doing with the units, and have been doing for nearly 30 years he gave me the following information about capabilities, and requirements of these units.
You can work up to two acres of Market garden per person, and/or about 15 acres of Haying for livestock. With proper preventative maintenance, used in a commercial agricultural operation, a tractor like he sells will last 20+ years. They can haul up to one ton on a two-wheel trailer. Depending on the specific task, running 8 hrs on a gallon of fuel is possible. He has several customers that make their own biodiesel and run their 852s on it, and have reported no problems.

When it comes to maintenance requirement the diesel engines are designed for 5000 hours TBO (Time Between Overhauls), and are meant to be rebuilt twice before replacing crankshafts or connecting rods. That means that the engines have a 15,000 hr life span minimum (with proper maintenance). For routine maintenance they only use 1.5 quarts of oil per change, which needs to be done every 75 ours or annually–whichever comes first. The oil filter is cleanable and the air filter is replaceable. The conical clutch lasts 1000 – 2000 hrs, and can be replaced in less than 2 hrs. All maintenance, including overhauls can be done with regular hand tools, the only exception being one $25 tool for working on the transmission if it’s ever needed.

One point that Mr. Dufour thinks is undersold is safety. He pointed out that one of the most common fatal accidents on a farm is a tractor rollover. When operating one of these units on a slope, even if you were on the downhill side of the machine, and you couldn’t get out of the way, they only weight about 300 lbs, so it is very unlikely you would suffer a life threatening injury. Where as with even the smallest of standard tractors if it rolls over on you, death is the very likely outcome.

So let’s look at how these machines match my original requirements:
Size of Farm:
A 10 HP machine will work as much land as most of us will be able to get, and work, without being too big for the job.
Number of people available to work the land:
The constraint is number of people vs. planting/harvesting schedule; again it is well matched to the 5 to 15 acres, with which most of us will wind up.
There is nothing that the owner can’t do on these machines, from routine maintenance to a complete overhaul, which would require more than basic mechanics hand tools, and one inexpensive specialty tool.
Safety: I don’t care how much the machine can do or how well it does it, the one thing that you absolutely cannot afford in the post-TEOTWAWKI world, is an injury. So the machine that is least likely to cause me harm is WAY up on my list
Fuel availability/economy:
These units can be had with Gas, or Diesel engines. Gas engines can be run on alcohol with modification. Diesel engines can be run on biodiesel without modification.
Life expectancy under the projected load:
You can work as much acreage as you have time and people to work without over working the tractor. They are truly an agricultural grade machines, not glorified Home duty units.
While I’m not trying to sell this particular tractor, however if we use its characteristics as a baseline then I think it is fare to say that a diesel Walk-behind Tractor would make an ideal vehicle for a Micro-farm. It is the core power unit for almost all farm tasks, can be adapted to do just about anything else that requires up to 10 HP; from electrical generation to pumping water, with the right connection to the PTO. It also meets or exceeds the core requirements that I laid out at the beginning. This is not to say that there might not be other machines that would also work, but if you are starting from scratch like most of us, then this is a good objective solution.
Related info:

JWR Adds: 
From the standpoint of a small acreage survival retreat, a walk-behind tiller/tractor makes a lot of sense. WTSHTF, fuel will be at a premium, so it is logical to get something that will give you maximum useful work with minimum fuel consumption. And as Fanderal mentioned, they will also minimize tractor rollover accidents. This is especially important at a retreat with a lot of newbies. (Just because you are accustomed to thinking “safety first” at all times doesn’t mean that your recently-transplanted Big City friends and cousins will be!) 

If you need to cultivate significantly larger acreage, then a full-size tractor makes sense, but only of course with significantly more training and more voluminous fuel storage.  BTW, the new “crawler” (rubber tracked) tractors have a lower center of gravity that traditional wheeled tractors and hence are much less prone to rollovers.

I used a gas engine Troy-Bilt Horse tiller for several years and found it very reliable. The BCS products are made in Milan, Italy. At a list price of $3,799, these are not cheap.  But if you go with the principle of “buying something sturdy and reliable once, versus buying something flimsy, multiple times”, then this sort of purchase makes sense. To get the most for your money, shop around for a slightly used, diesel-powered unit.

One other consideration: Tractors are noisy and can be heard from a long distance. Wear hearing protection whenever operator a tractor or tiller.  In a post-TEOTWAWKI survival situation, this may mean one individual wearing earmuffs operating the tractor, and another individual that is concealed 50 to 100 yards away, on dedicated security duty.  (Otherwise, operating noisy equipment like a tractor or chainsaw might be a noisy invitation to get bushwhacked.)

Here are some additional useful URLs:

Letter From “Dr. Buckaroo Banzai” Re: Pneumonia Risk–Time for Your Pneumovax?

Dear Mr. Rawles,
I think the pneumovax is a good idea. However, there are simply no data to support your statement that “pneumonia co-infections are the biggest killer associated with the Asian Avian flu.” Whether even a single victim of the current H5N1 avian flu in Asia has even developed pneumococcal pneumonia has not been reported. I doubt it. These people appear to be dying too quickly for that to be the problem. I think they are simply dying from viral pneumonia.

In 1918-1919 many flu victims died within 24-48 hours of becoming febrile. Those deaths certainly had nothing to do with pneumococcal pneumonia.

That being said, in ordinary flu epidemics, old and debilitated people do develop secondary bacterial pneumonia after their systems are further weakened by viral pneumonia with the flu. In many cases, these secondary pneumonias are caused by the pneumococcus.
So there is undoubtedly some utility in the pneumococcal vaccine. Remember, it only protects against 23 varieties of a single microorganism, the pneumococcus. As you can gather from its name, though, the pneumococcus is the poster child of bacterial pneumonia, and it certainly can and does kill.

Whether or not there will be a worldwide pandemic of H5N1 avian flu depends only on the virus — if it has become or will become easily transmissible from human to human, there will be a pandemic, because it is antigenically novel and nobody has much if any immunity to it.

In the final analysis, the scope of the pandemic also depends only on the virus — on its attack rate and case fatality rate. The attack rate means how many people in a population become infected –105 — 25% — 50% — and the case fatality rate means how many of those people die. An attack rate of about 25% appears likely for a true flu pandemic. Currently the case fatality rate in Asia appears to be about 50%, but I think that is wildly over-estimated, since only the dead and dying are being counted, and there may be many milder cases that are going undiagnosed and unreported. A case-fatality rate of 0.5% to 1% would be typical of a bad flu, and a case fatality rate of 2% or 3% was usual in most communities in 1918-1919. Anything more than that, even 5%, would be devastating. Remember that some isolated communities were more susceptible, and wiped out, in 1918-1919. All the best, – “Dr. Buckaroo Banzai”

JWR Replies: Your point is well taken, Buckaroo. When I saw references to “pneumonia co-infections” I mistakenly assumed that they were mostly pneumococcal pneumonia infections. So I went back and did some more reading. I was mistaken.  Most of the pneumonia deaths were indeed due to H5N1 viral pneumonia–which of course Pneumovax 23 won’t prevent.  But I’m glad to hear that you agree that it is a good thing to get a Pneumovax 23 inoculation, nonetheless.

Letter Re: Rokon Off-Road Motorcycles

Dear Mr. Rawles:
Look forward to your blog everyday – keep up the great work! A question and suggestion for an article, from the point of view of those who must have a good bug-out plan….1. Got a source for a mechanical (as opposed to electronic) power out alarm? Under many scenarios the first warning of a Schumer / fan interface will be the power out (or confirmation that TS is REALLY HTF). Electronics are vulnerable to EMP, but a mechanical alarm could give you hours head start of TSHTF….2. Bug out vehicle. The first thing I thought after seeing the jam on the freeways out of Houston was – gee, a motorcycle could sure come in handy – less fuel needed, weave around stranded cars, drive on the grass or cross-country around roadblocks, etc., etc. Seriously looking at the Rokon TWO- wheel drive all-terrain motorbike as a BOV.  See: www.rokon.com
1. A motorcycle can weave around stranded cars, drive on the grass or cross-country around roadblocks, etc., etc.
2. In a Rokon, BOTH FRONT & BACK wheels get power – can go rugged places no other ATV or motorcycle can
3. can carry 1,000 lbs. and tow a trailer up to 3,000 lbs.!
4. Multi-purpose – a mini-tractor in power and accessories – many agricultural implements such as:
* Disc Harrow
* Log Skidder
* Moldboard Plow
* Lawn Mower
* Broadcast Spreader
* Power Take-Off Kit
* Agri-Sprayer,
5. 5 to 6 hours on one tank, plus alternate fuel storage in the hollow wheels (if wheels not used for gas, can float the bike to ford a river!)
6. extremely rugged, high ground clearance, fat wheels for traction, etc., etc.
–Less cargo capacity vs. a car or truck
— Less protection for occupants versus a car or truck
— Max 40 mph.
–“Ignition Electronic Magneto” in the engine – potential EMP problem?
How vulnerable would you rate this vehicle to EMP?
http://www.kohlerengines.com/common/resources/tp_2503_a.pdf  – “N.” in Texas –

PS. I have no affiliation to Rokon, financial or otherwise, other than that I am a potential customer

JWR Replies: Your letter ties in nicely with today’s article about tiller/tractors. “Sturdy, slow and low tech” maybe the order of the day, come TEOTWAWKI.

RE:  …Got a source for a mechanical (as opposed to electronic) power out alarm?  That should be fairly easy to construct. These are probably already commercially made, but if there aren’t;  Imagine a relay, (powered from AC to DC adapter) that is in the normally open position when current is available. When the AC power goes out, the relay trips to the closed position and activates a battery powered alarm–something piercing like a Mallory Sonalert. Alternatively, it could even trip something low tech like an old fashioned spring-powered alarm clock bell.

Letter Re: Asian Avian Flu

Hi Jim,
Thanks for your excellent site. I read it every day but Sunday and enjoy most every article. However, while I believe it is important to be as prepared as possible for pandemics and every other kind of emergency, I’m convinced that the Avian “Bird” flu is contrived and a needless scare. Bill Sardi, on his excellent website, has numerous excellent articles, all well researched and documented, showing that this crisis is hysteria being fanned by government authorities (http://www.knowledgeofhealth.com/report.asp?story=Bird%20Flu%20Hysteria%20Fanned%20By%20Inaccurate%20News%20Reports.). I heartily recommend this site to all your readers. – G.M. in North Carolina

JWR Replies: There may be some exaggeration and hyperbole, but I do believe that the A.A. flu threat is real. Don’t count on on anyone in government saving the day.  Make plans to provide for yourself. Make plans to hunker down in self-quarantine for an extended period, preferably in a lightly populated farming region.

Pneumonia Risk–Time for Your Pneumovax?

With all of the recent conjecture about the possibility of an Asian Avian flu pandemic, the subject of pneumonia inoculations has come up. (Because pneumonia co-infections are the biggest killer associated with the Asian Avian flu. Most of those cases are viral, but some could be pneumococcal.)  Merck makes a widely used pneumonia vaccination called Pneumovax 23.  It is administered intramuscularly before exposure to pneumococci (streptococcus pneumoniae), and reportedly only rarely has adverse reactions. It will not prevent viral pneumonia, but at least it is effective at preventing 23 strains of pneumococcal pneumonias. The threat of Asian Avian flu mutating into a strain that easily transmissible by humans constitutes a novel threat. In this particular instance, I have come to the conclusion that it is worthwhile to have everyone in my family vaccinated with Pneumovax. [But Jim is always a worst case scenario kinda guy! – The Memsahib.]  I predict that if a readily transmissible strain does break out into a pandemic that there will be a huge rush for the relatively few available doses of Pneumovax. Give it some serious thought and prayer. If you feel convicted to get your family vaccinated, do not hesitate. Do so while Pneumovax is still readily available.

The Dreaded Pin Prick–Approaching a Housing Bubble Near You

There are starting to be some clear indicators that the U.S. housing market bubble has reached its apex, though there are some that disagree. The signs of irrational exuberance are all to apparent. Witness, for example, the mad bidding wars for Miami condominiums that are being pre-sold, long before the ground has been broken at the construction sites. 

The housing markets have already headed south in much of the rest of the English speaking world.(Prices are already dropping in Australia and England.) But not yet in the United States. Today’s housing market is the embodiment of “The Greater Fool Theory“, on steroids. One of my compadres said this is like watching the equivalent of the Dutch Tulip Mania, in modern times.

Will the bubble gradually and gently deflate, or will pop with a resounding bang?  I’m not certain, but I’m betting on the latter.  This will most likely happen in the Spring of Aught Six, when the expected annual home buying season fails to materialize. There will be a collective “Ah-hah”, as some home sellers begin to drop their prices. Buyers will sense a soft market, so they start putting in “low ball” bids.  The sellers will then get panicky and drop their prices even more, to “be certain of a quick sale.” This downward ratcheting may very well turn into a outright snowballing effect as everyone with a spec house realizes that the music has stopped and their are precious few chairs in the room. Economist Dr. Gary North sagely opines that it is currently a good time to be a renter. If you have a vacation home, a house that you rent out, or any houses that you’ve bought on speculation, I then I strongly recommend that you sell them, ASAP!  If the decline is as great as I anticipate–perhaps as much as 70% in the most overpriced regions–then it may take ten years for house prices to return to their 2005 levels.  If you are planning to move within the next four or five years, then you might consider selling your house to a property management and renting it back. This may sound crazy, but as early as next June you may be congratulating yourself for your foresight.

As I mentioned back in a post on August 20, 2005, the popular “Mr. Housing Bubble” T-shirt sums up the current situation nicely.

Letter Re: On Gold, Silver, and Barter

First of all, I want to say thank you for putting so much effort in to an active blog on this subject. I try to read daily, and I always play catch-up once a week. I know it takes a TON of work to keep something like this alive and post as much each day as you do, so again, thanks. I was moderately concerned for the first time reading your blog this past week in regards to the post on Gold and Silver Barter. In there you referred to the American public as having “been robbed”. My concern is that this is one of the few places where survivalists get the bad rap of being crazy. I want to point out something: whether it’s gold, a paper dollar, or a rock, the value of whatever item is determined by faith, not intrinsic value. Gold is only valuable to us because we decided that shiny stuff was so important that we were willing to trade long, hard days of work for a little bit of it. At one point in our nation’s past we limited the currency in the market to be equal to the value of the gold the US Treasury has on hand – but there was a problem. By the 1950s, during our rebuilding of the country post-WWII, there was so much growth going on that we actually were outpacing the availability of gold in the market. We were slowly stifling our own economy because we could not produce more goods and services that there was physical gold in the market. Finally, common sense prevailed when we realized something: The American public did not need gold, they needed dollars. They can not use gold in the grocery, the feed store, or the mall. Dollars they can use. People have more faith in the dollar than they do in the ounce of gold. Let the economy grow! To imply that we have been fooled is to imply conspiracy and breeds distrust. We may differ here, but I believe that is completely possible to work within the system until there is no system. When there is no system, I will be beside the other readers here making the best of the barter system. Until then, I will happily use my U.S. Dollars to purchase those items, never once believing I have been duped. To summarize, whether it is gold, paper currency, diamond, or potato – the value of any item is what we’re willing to trade in labor or tangibles to obtain it. The U.S. Dollar’s value is not, and should not be based on our perceived value of gold, since gold has no value of its own other than what we assign it. Gather your junk silver and gold for WTSHTF, but don’t believe in it more than the dollar. Oh, and don’t worry about the feds coming to take away your gold – since we’re not on the gold standard then they don’t need it. – L.C.

JWR Replies: I really appreciate you taking the time to articulate your opinion because I’m sure that there are many other people that feel the same way. But I do beg to differ. We have been robbed. When the Federal government decreed that our 90% silver coins in circulation be replaced with essentially worthless copper tokens (worth perhaps 2% of what a silver is worth, in terms of their metals content) it was both a violation of the public trust and a violation of the Constitution. (Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution states, “No State shall make any Thing but Gold and Silver Coin a tender in payment of debt.”) It is no wonder that the pre-1965 coinage vanished from circulation in less than two years after the switch. Gresham’s Law is inescapable: “Bad money drives out good.”

By law, a pre-1965 dollar was convertible into real silver coinage. In contrast, a post-1964 Federal Reserve Note (FRN) “dollar” is merely an non-convertible “I Owe You Nothing” certificate. Whenever I get handed handed FRNs, I convert most of them into tangibles as quickly as possible.  Someday, probably within the next ten years, there will be a dollar crisis.  At the far end of that crisis, I predict that the dollar will revert to close to its real value. (Essentially, nothing.)

And, re:  “…there was so much growth going on that we actually were outpacing the availability of gold in the market…”  That is hogwash invented by Keynesian economists. If the free market were allowed to exist, then we would have had a free-floating currency, still backed by gold and silver.  (The “bi-metallic” system.) A convertible, metals-backed currency acts as a natural check on the growth of government, not the economy. It is no coincidence that the Federal debt exploded after we went off the gold standard.  With an unbacked currency, there is no limit to a government spending like a drunken sailor.  (BTW: I mean no offense to drunken sailors. In my experience they act much more responsibly than governments.)

And, re: “…gold has no value of its own other than what we assign it.”  You make it sound as if gold is just a pretty rock (“shiny stuff”) that has arbitrarily been assigned a high value.  But gold’s high value is due in part because of its unique intrinsic properties. Gold is the most malleable and ductile metal known; (a single ounce can be beaten into a sheet that is 300 square feet). Heat, moisture, oxygen, and most corrosive agents have very little chemical effect on gold. (Gold coins recovered from 3,000 year old shipwrecks come up from the bottom of the ocean looking bright and shiny.) Because of its high electrical conductivity and resistance to corrosion and other desirable combinations of physical and chemical properties, gold is an essential industrial metal. Since it is a good reflector of both infrared and visible light, it is used for the protective coatings on many artificial satellites.Gold coating enables biological material to be viewed under a scanning electron microscope.Gold alloys are used as a catalyst in organic chemistry, as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, cancer treatments, and restorative dentistry.The resistance to oxidation of gold has led to its widespread use as thin layers electroplated on the surface of electrical connectors to ensure a good connection. Gold performs critical functions in computers, communications equipment, spacecraft, jet aircraft engines, and a host of other products.
(Source of information for the preceding paragraph: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold )

On MREs and Their Shelf Life

I’m often asked how long the U.S. Military “Meal Ready to Eat” (MRE) rations can be stored. SurvivalBlog reader “Mr. Tango” (BTW, don’t miss reading his fascinating profile) had a round of correspondence with the U.S. Army’s Natick Laboratories in Massachusetts, on the potential storage life of MREs. The data that they sent him was surprising! Here is the gist of it:

Degrees, Fahrenheit Months of Storage (Years)
120 1 month
110 5 months
100 22 months (1.8 years)
90 55 months  (4.6 years)
80 76 months  (6.3 years)
70 100 months  (8.3 years)
60 130 months  (10.8 years) — See Note 3, below

Note 1: Figures above are based on date of pack, rather than inspection date.

Note 2: MREs near the end of their shelf life are considered safe to eat if:
   A.) They are palatable to the taste.
   B.) They do not show any signs of spoilage (such as swelled pouches.)
   C.) They have been stored at moderate temperatures. (70 degrees F or below.)

Note 3: Not enough data has yet been collected on storage below 60 degrees F. However projections are that the 130 month figure will be extended.

Note 4: Time and temperature have a cumulative effect. For example: storage at 100 degrees F for 11 months and then moved to 70 degrees F, you would lose one half of the 70 F storage life.

Note 5: Avoid fluctuating temperatures in and out of freezing level.

Jim’s Comments: As with other storage foods, heat kills the shelf life of MREs in a hurry. So if you keep some “just in case” MREs in the trunk of your car, be sure to rotate them frequently. (Make sure that it is those MREs that you use for your hikes or hunting/camping/backpacking trips. For any large quantities of MREs that you intend to keep more than a year, be sure to store them in the coolest part of your house. The same applies to all of your other storage foods. The differential in temperature between the top shelf and the bottom shelf in your pantry room can be considerable. Reserve those upper shelves for heat-insensitive items like bottled water, salt, and paper products!)

The above cited figures are for palatability, not nutritive value. You should plan to supplement with a good quality double encapsulated multi-vitamin (such as VitaVim brand), good quality B-complex tablets, and 500 MG Vitamin C tablets. Vitamins should be stored in a cool, dark place for best shelf life. (Many tablets are light sensitive.) I recommend rotating your multi-vitamins and Vitamin C every 24 months, and the Vitamin B every 18 months. Remember that most of the fat, carbohydrates, and protein will still be available in MREs, even after many years of storage, but the vitamins won’t. Plan accordingly.

Because MREs and other emergency foods are relatively high in bulk and low in fiber, this could lead to digestive problems. Therefore, I also highly recommend storing a bulk fiber supplement such as Metamucil with each case of MREs. Don’t overlook this precaution!

In summary, I consider MREs a good short term/tactical food. For more info, including equivalents made for the armed forces of other nations, see: http://www.mreinfo.com. They are ideal to keep in your “Get Out of Dodge” (G.O.O.D.) packs.  However, they are very expensive, per meal.  The majority of your storage food dollars should be spent on bulk storage foods. Most of those should be purchased be in #10 cans and 5 gallon food grade storage buckets. Bulk storage foods are available from a number of vendors including:

Freeze Dry Guy
JRH Enterprises
Ready Made Resources
Safe Castle
Survival Enterprises
Walton Seed.
Live Oak Farms
AlpineAire Foods
Best Prices Inc. Storable Foods of Texas