Sitting here in the living room with a hot fire in the wood stove and arctic winds blowing the snow across our property, I smile at just how lucky we are. The power has been out for a couple of days, and the snow and ice make driving into town not worth the risk. Just over twenty years ago, we decided life in the city was no longer for us. Now, reflecting on how good we have it, I would like to write my first post and share with those of you considering a move into rural life.
The first thing we did right is move years before we planned. It was a nice summer day and we decided to take a drive into the country to look at a piece of land that had been for sale for over a year and kept coming down in price. We planned for a move in the future when we were closer to retirement. Both of us worked in an office building in downtown Portland, and we lived only eight miles away from work.
The drive into the countryside was nice, as we worked our way out of suburbia and deeper into the rural farmland. We saw a guy standing on the side of the road pounding in a For Sale sign. He was at the start of a gravel drive that disappeared into the tall fir trees on both sides. After a brief conversation, we drove up the driveway to see a small ranch style house. The place was magical, on the top of a little knoll out of view from the road, a panoramic view, with open fields of fire and defendable terrain, tall fir trees, and a large field with good southern exposure covering one third of the acreage for growing crops. We made the owner an offer on the spot and sealed it with a handshake. All of our friends said it was like a Green Acres episode. That was over 20 years ago, and we have never looked back. Here are a few tips that I wish someone would have told us back then.
You can’t live more than a couple of days without water. When you are out as far as we are, the power company can take days to get your power back on. The first winter the power was out for just short of two weeks, and we did not have a supply of water stored for emergencies. We had no way of getting the water out without the electric pump. The generator was the first real step into being self-sufficient. Our first generator was a nice portable one that I could hook into a couple of circuits, including the pump, and get by without loosing the food in the freezer or refrigerator. The first year I had to go out ever couple of hours and pour gasoline into the tank on the top of the hot generator. I could see a Darwin award in my future, if the wind ever let the gas vapor ignite. It was not smart!
We added a nice, small wood stove. This allowed us to have a nice, dry heat in the wet Oregon weather and have heat when the power was out. My wife wanted a gas range, so I had the local propane company install a propane tank and change out our old electric water heater for new gas/propane ones. Now we could cook, take hot showers, and power the generator without pouring gas into it every couple of hours. I ran the gas line to the new portable generator and converted it to propane. One thing to keep in mind about propane companies is that they are in business to make money, and the larger ones have to show increased profit year over year to keep their stockholders happy. They leased the tank and water heaters to us for well under a hundred dollars a year combined. The downside is you can only buy your propane from that company. No other company will fill your tank no matter how much you’re paying the leasing company for gas. My advice is to buy your own tank from day one; don’t wait like we did. That way you can shop for the lowest rate for propane. We paid for our tank the first year with the money we saved. The second part of buying your own tank is get the largest one you can afford, even if you have to take out a small loan, so you can buy a year’s worth of propane when the rates are at the lowest. This will put lots of money in your pocket, since propane increases substantially every winter when you need it the most.
With the money we were saving on overpriced propane, I was able to install a much larger automatic standby generator to power more circuits in the house and our whole shop building. We built a nice large wood shed and put up over ten cords of wood to dry and season for future use. This is one reason to make our move into the country while I was still young enough to deal with firewood and building a shop/kennel building, barn, and wood shed. I added a large pond in our back yard and stocked it with Rainbow trout. The downspouts on the house all feed into the pond to keep the water level up, and the trout can be eaten in a pinch. The pond is also large and deep enough to serve as an emergency water source for drinking and fire suppression. We now have animals that serve double duty of helping keep up the property and serving as a renewable food source should long-term social disruption occur in the future. You will have to fence off your large garden area to keep your critters out, but you need to do that anyway unless you’re just growing to feed the deer.
A couple of other improvements I made are a manual pump for the well and secure long-term food storage in my shop building. The shop has power, septic service, and water and is set up to serve as living quarters for family, if needed. We lived there for almost a year when we remodeled, so there is a bathroom, washer/dryer hookup, wood stove for heating, and a land line phone just in case. While you have a backhoe installing the septic tank, consider adding a large buried poly tank with a man hole cover to be used as a cache location. (There are examples on the Internet.) We also added a large gate to our fenced property with a push button call box that connects to our cell phones, so we can answer from anywhere and the person outside the gate will think we are up at the house.
The latest addition is an Internet camera system. Almost anyone can install one if you by a plug and play kind like the ones Costco sells. The system we installed is wireless, has infrared lights to see at night, and records every camera on one DVR located in a secure hidden location to provide video if anything were to ever happen, such as a burglary. We can see all of our cameras from our cell phones from anywhere in the world that we have cell service. I also have the cameras showing on an iPad next to where I sit in the evening so I can keep an eye out for predators.
The last thing I would like to mention about moving out to the country is that we now have neighbors with a wide range of skill sets we can depend on to be there in a pinch. One neighbor even has a large nursery plant business and has a number of large green houses that would come in real handy in a long-term crisis. The real sense of community is one of the most important benefits that come from living in a more rural setting.
If you plan on country life at some point in your life, take my advice and don’t wait. There is no better time than the present. Growing up in rural America will give your kids a whole new world to explore and instill a work ethic that is proven to help them the rest of their lives. On a final note, it pays to choose a location that is not on the way to anywhere. This ensures that your commute times to work and shopping are not bogged down in rush hour. You are also much safer from the city and the predators that will come in search of what you have when there is nothing left in the city.