Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I'll be gone tomorrow.

Thursday  I have to get up at 5:00 in the morning, do the chores, then come back in and get cleaned up. After that  I leave for a town about an hour and a half from here. It has all the specialist doctors and I have a routine medical appointment for some tests. I'll be back Thursday evening, then repeat the whole sequence on Friday. Normally I would just stay over there in a motel and save myself some driving, but with the wife still up North I have to come back to take care of all the animals.

 When you get old you spend a whole lot more time waiting in doctor's offices than you'd like to.

In lieu of a regular posting I thought I would put this cartoon up.  It resonates with someone from the mountains.

Long Term Food Storage Cook Books

I'm not a big one on cooking. My wife is good at it, but I'm more the "open the can and put the pork and beans in the pot" kind of chef.

We try to use things from our long term food storage as much as we can, because there is the eternal routine of rotating everything that has to be adhered to. I don't always get it right.  A year or so ago, I moved some crates and found a whole case of Navy Beans that I bought in 1999.  They were about 13 years old by my calculations.  None of the cans were rusted, or swollen up.  So first I opened a can and gave it to the chickens. They ate it with no ill effects. Then I gave a can to the dogs.  I once saw them eat a DAK ham that had gone bad in the can and it didn't seem to do them any harm, so I figured they could eat the beans and they did with great pleasure.

So I ate some.  The beans themselves tasted fine, but the fluid in the can was a little bland. Didn't do me any harm though.  Still, you don't want to let things fall through the crack and the long term food storage supplies need to be used and replaced like anything else.

It's not hard to use dried onions, cheese powder, egg powder, corn meal, rice , beans,  flour and similar everyday foods. You just open a pail, take out what you need, use it with your regular cooking and all is well. It's a little more difficult to work in things like dried fruit slices, rolled oats, dried broccoli and the like.

There are cook books to help you do just that.  Here's one that has been very useful to us.

Vicki Tate has a number of good books out on using your long term food storage supplies to make wholesame and delicious meals.  This is a book on the topic in general.  It's the first one of hers I would buy if I were starting out.  After reading it, I'm sure you'd want the more detailed books.

 Beans and rice are what they used to store on slave ships. The reason is simple. They keep well, they are cheap, and they will keep people alive . Everybody I know well enough to discuss the subject of what they have stored, keeps large quantities of different kinds of beans. They usually also have white or brown rice.

A cautionary tale here.  When we first began to pursue storing large amounts of beans, I had no idea how long to soak them before cooking them.  My mother told me that my grandmother soaked dry beans before cooking them but she couldn't remember how long. There was no internet to speak of back in 1986,  so I didn't really have access to other self sufficient life style adherents.  I put the beans in a pot and soaked them for 24 hours. When bubbles started coming up out of the beans, I figured they were ready and I boiled them.  When I ate them they tasted good, especially since I had no idea what dried beans were supposed to taste like when you cooked them.  Unfortunately, they made me really , really sick.  The only time I have felt worse was when I joined my reserve unit at the University of New Mexico and drank a bottle of bourbon. I had never had hard liquor before then and to this day I still want to be sick when I smell bourbon.  At any rate, I learned the hard way that soaking beans for 24 hours was not the right time.  If  I'd had a copy of this book that never would have happened.

This is a book about what and how to store in terms of food. It also touches on what kinds of foods you can raise yourself. If you are already storing for the long term, you might want to read it just for the ideas it gives you.

I never turn my nose up at books designed for beginners. Yes, I've been doing the long term food storage thing for a long time. The Mormons helped me a lot over the years, and I feel pretty comfortable that between what they taught me, my own experience, and what I've read I'm doing it right. But there is always room for improvement. Not the most hard core, savy survivalist knows everything there is to know.  So if you read this and you don't learn anything, you can pass it on to someone less well versed in the topic.  You may pick up something useful you hadn't thought of before, though.

This may seem an odd selection for a post on food storage and cooking with it.  But it contains the best description of feeding a family with virtually nothing that I've ever read. Steinbeck knew his subjects, and you could think of the people in this book as the first Americans to live through TEOTWAWKI.

Anybody who hasn't read the book already is doing themselves a grave disservice. If you are a survivalist or a prepper, this is the book you need to read concerning the psychology of a family under apocalyptic conditions. You won't just enjoy the book, you'll learn from it.

The sections on how the women fed the family, with no money and virtually no supplies but lard, flour, and perhaps some dried bacon are very worthwhile.  We all hope we never get down to that , and we are putting away food to see it never happens to us. Nobody can see the future though. If  you get down to brass tacks and the kids are hungry you may be glad you read The Grapes of Wrath.

Marlene's Magic with Food Storage  is out of print, I think.  But even if it is, you can usually find out of print books on Amazon.  This one is excellent.  We've used recipes from the book and they have been right on target.  One thing you get out of reading recipe books is learning what you don't have in your supplies that you ought to.  So as you go through Marlene's book,  you need a note book to jot down the supplies you never thought of storing on your own.  I need to use a notebook for this so I don't lose the little scraps of paper I would ordinarily make notes on. If you are better organized, you might want to use index cards or whatever works.

To finish up, here are some more Peggy Layton books you might want to consider adding to your self sufficiency library.

  Just a word about powdered milk.  It keeps as long as you have it sealed in a mylar bag, in a nitrogen flushed pail. After you open it and start using it, I've found that even with the lid down hard on the pail it starts going bad in about six months.

People say that dried eggs are no good.  I can remember being served dried eggs in the mess hall when we were in the field, and I never thought they were that bad. Marine Corps cooks tended to be pretty good, especially the older non-commissioned officers who had been around awhile.  If you cooked up the powdered eggs so they weren't runny, they were pretty tasty. If you added dried onions, dried peppers, and some butter powder as the cooks often did they were really good.

I make omelets out of dried eggs, copying the ingredients the field mess hall cooks used, and I enjoy them with some hot sauce. This book will help you get the most out of powdered eggs. I've got a big flock of chickens but I still store the powdered eggs. Backups to backups.....

There are some more good books on long term food storage and on cooking with it.  I think I've probably overloaded everybody by now though, so I'll finish this post up.  Remember, you can get a program on line from the Mormons to help you determine what you need.  You just plug in the age and gender of each family member, and how long you want to live off your stored supplies. Then it cranks out a very exacting list, by item and amount.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Commander Zero hits the big time!

Commander Zero has a good blog at Notes from the Bunker.  He's been writing it for years.

Notes from the Bunker

Today he is quoted on John Wesley Rawles' blog:

Survival Blog

For people old enough to remember, this is the equivalent of being a guest on the Ed Sullivan show.

Rawles' is the guru of many survivalists and preppers. His blog reaches thousands all around the world. He's been on a vast number of television shows and radio programs. Perhaps even more indicative of his worth is the fact that he is roundly hated by Morris Dee of the self styled Southern Poverty Law Center. If you know anything about that crew, you can understand that being attacked by them means you are doing something right.

Congratulations, Commander Zero.  That's impressive.

Thanks, J.F.

Some time back I did a posting about my barn cats having eye infections, and how I was having trouble treating them.  J.F. left a comment advising me to find NFZ Puffer.  I was able to locate some, and it has worked wonders. It cleared up the cats eyes almost immediately.  This is the solution to a problem that comes around every summer when the female cats have their babies.  I sure do appreciate the help!

"I don't know what the hell this ‘logistics’ is that Marshall is always talking about, but I want some of it." -- Fleet Admiral E. J. King: To a staff officer. (1942)

Logistics: the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving  people, facilities, supplies, services, transportation, maintenance and equipment.


When you are considering a move to the country,  this is one critical aspect of the evolution that people sometimes pay too little attention to.  If you are coming from a city or suburbia, there are logistical aspects of rural living that you simply haven't had to deal with before. That being so, these particular issues don't surface until you have moved and run into them head first.

Roughly speaking, the availability of services, supplies, emergency services, police protection and everything else in this category is inversely proportional to your distance from the nearest town that has what you need. The further out you are, the more difficult and more expensive it is to obtain the object or service you find yourself requiring in a timely manner. The smaller the town, the less chance they will have the infrastructure to meet your needs.

So if you are looking for a secure, safe location and want to minimize possible negative interaction with people,  the very fact that you need low population density will make it more difficult to get what you need to maintain  the quality of life you are used to.

For example, my elderly mother came to visit me. She lives in a retirement community in Sacramento, California. Her every whim is catered to there, and she only has to walk from her little house to the community center to get whatever she may want in the way of supplies, entertainment or refreshments. She can get in her Prius and be at any kind of store or shop she could ever desire or imagine in under five minutes.  When she came here, it was quite a shock to her. It takes about 40 minutes to drive to town. When you get there, you have two grocery stores to choose from, and a couple of fast food joints. No Starbucks, no Olive Garden. She made a huge fuss in a little cafe I took her to because she couldn't get a a "frappacino."  She's a nice lady but she was frustrated that our town didn't offer "the most basic comforts and amenities." She was serious, too. It's a matter of expectations.

If you have any medical issues, then some rural county in the far away is probably not the place for you. There are no specialists, and there may not even be a hospital. Rural America is losing it's county hospitals at an accelerating pace as the rural population declines. If you don't mind driving two hours one way over twisting , narrow mountain roads to visit your doctor , then you'll be ok. Unless you have an emergency.

My county has two ambulances.  If one of them is out picking up Uncle Willy who had a stroke, and the other is hauling someone from the jail to the hospital, then you've got some wait time before they get to you. When it's your turn, it might take 50 minutes or more to reach the more distant areas of the county.  A ladder broke on me once and dropped me a long way to the ground. It took the ambulance about 35 minutes to get out to the trail going up the mountain to my house even though they were not busy when the call came in, and then they had a tough time getting up to the house. It goes with the territory. If you have heart problems, that's an aspect of logistics you had better give some thought to.

I am frequently consumed with envy when I read posts where people have gone to Costco or Sam's and bought case lots of tuna, or rice, or any of the other things you need for long term storage. For them, it's a ten minute trip and they think nothing of it.  For me, it would have to be a two day affair. One day to drive down to the city and buy the supplies I needed,  then an overnight stay there, then another day to drive all the way back.  There's no Barnes and Noble for me to go potter around in, so I buy my books and magazines largely from Amazon. It's not the same though,  so you just have to give up the pleasure of browsing in your favorite stores. A trip to a mall is an overnight affair and a big event.  It really boils down to this, you can't escape the negative aspects of population density without losing most or all of the positive aspects of the same environment. I have known people who came up here for the country life, who didn't last even a year because they couldn't make that adjustment.

If you are not a good handy man, and an all around fix it yourself type of  person, then don't move to the country.  The costs of getting someone to drive out to your place , fix a bad valve on a washing machine, and drive back are going to be very high. Not least because the guy who comes to do the work may be the only washing machine repair man in your county.  Low population density means a low concentration of people working in any one area.  If you do have a job that requires a professional,  what you are likely to run into is somebody who works from home and wants to be paid in cash.  Suppose you need work done on the roof. The roofer will be a local fellow who has five or six illegals working for him. He doesn't have insurance, they sure don't have insurance, and your homeowners insurance isn't going to cover it when one of them takes a fall off the roof.  But they know Juan Alvarado Grijalva Gomez, the attorney in the town 45 miles away who handles personal injury law cases for all the Hispanics in the area.  Someone in the family had better be able to fix or repair just about everything that comes down the pike. If there isn't someone in your crew that has those skills, you are going to have a very, very tough time in the mountains.

Have you ever seen those bumper stickers that say " I don't dial 911."   My brother T was in law enforcement at just about every level during his career. He used to tell me that usually, the police just get there in time to write a report and call the people who clean up the mess.  If you live way out in the country, there aren't going to be a lot of law enforcement officers to call on. Most likely, you will have a Sheriff, and five or six deputies. That means that when your moment of need arises, there may be only one or two deputies actually on duty.  If the guy on duty is at the far end of the county because somebody did a 911 hangup and he now has to go do a physical check, you are SOL.  (Surely Out of Luck.)

Don't think for a moment that there are no crazies, no druggies, crack heads, and assorted other sociopaths out in the county. There are. Subscribe to the local paper of the county you are considering moving to and I will guarantee you that you'll be shocked at the amount of crime. Most of it is drug related.   If some of these guys show up on your doorstep, you are going to have to deal with it yourself.  If you are not sure you can, then stay in suburbia or an urban environment.  Because we've been at war continually for 10 years there are a lot of veterans who know full well what to do, and that they will do it, if they have to protect their families. But if you have never been in that position, then you don't know for sure how you'll react. If you think you can do what's necessary, then you probably will be able to. But if you are like some people I've met, who say "I could never take a human life, no matter what the circumstances" then you honestly don't need to be living out in the country.  Remember, the world is full of mentally ill people, and just plain old monsters. We have had some appalling things happen here over the years, as bad as anything that happens in cities. Some aspects of modern life you can't escape by moving to a rural area.

If it snows here, and it does every winter, then you'd best be prepared to sit at home for a good long while. We have two dump trucks from the 1950's. That's our snow removal and road clearance capability. These two trucks try to keep the main road into the county clear. Everybody else is on their own. If you live up a "possum trail" like I do,  you are going to be at home until it gets warm enough for the snow to start melting off.  Four wheel drive helps, but it absolutely is not a panacea for snow, and after an ice storm it doesn't help at all. 

When I was working, I used to park my Jeep down by the side of the paved county road. Then I'd walk the mile and a half from the Jeep, through the woods, up the mountain, to the house.  The next morning, I'd walk back down through the snow, in the dark forest, to the Jeep. If there was just snow I could usually make it to the main road and on to work. If there was ice, I didn't even bother trying to walk down there. These days I just stay home when it's that bad. Of course, if I pick one of those days to have a heart attack I'm gone, because they won't be able to get to me and I can't get out to get to town. Some things you just can't control so there's no point in worrying about them.

 If you have trees come down, you and anybody else that lives on those roads will have to clear them. The county road crew will be busy on the main road, so it's up to you and others that need the road to clear it.  Don't expect to stay inside by the fire and let the other people around you do the work. It's an all hands evolution and to maintain your reputation you need to do your share.  If the power goes out county wide after some big storm, it can take as long as two weeks to get power back. First they do the town, then they do the lake where the rich people live, then they start on the rest of the county. The fewer the people that live in your area, the lower the priority. Rural electric membership cooperatives have limited manpower and limited equipment. They can't afford to keep large quantities of consumables in warehouses. So once again, you might have to deal with an outage a lot longer than your suburban or city dwelling counterpart.

Logistics tends to be neglected because it's boring. Nobody wants to be a logistics officer. In the Marine Corps, just about every logistics type I met was a fallen angel, who washed out of flight school. You don't make it through flight school , you fill a slot at a school for the "bad occupational specialties."  On a personal level, it's easy to get carried away by the beauty of an area, and just say that you'll work things out as they come along.  As the British Army says " Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance."   Make sure you have it all laid out before you make the move. There are a lot of homes up here that have been on the market for years because the people who built them folded their tent after the first blizzard, or ice storm, or medical emergency, or other logistical issue that they hadn't planned on.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The constant struggle to protect your privacy.

Everyone who watches the news at all, or reads any news blogs, knows the U.S. government is watching everybody.  Their computers read your emails and postings on the net. They monitor all our phone calls. They know what you read on the web and what your search terms are.  That's just the way it is, and it'll never go back to "the old days" when they weren't allowed to do all that. I strongly suspect they did anyway, but it's a moot point.

I have a friend who doesn't blog anymore because his blog started getting lots of hits from government agencies. Now, maybe it was just bored bureaucrats surfing the web. Or maybe it was not very nice people looking for someone they could turn in and score some points on their evaluation. For reasons I mentioned on a previous post, I don't really worry about the government anymore. I'm a prolific letter writer about political issues that I feel are important. Even if I didn't use the  internet at all, I'd still be on the "list".

What I am more concerned about is individuals.  There are some really strange people out on the internet. I mean strange as in mentally ill.  If you aren't careful, you can wind up with one of those who has dedicated himself or herself to causing you all the trouble they can. Some of them have the skills to cause a lot of trouble.

My first blog, which I had many years ago,  got me into a conflict with a group of  Neo-Nazi "youths." My crime in their eyes was that I was supportive of Israel (my experiences in Lebanon, let alone events since then, make me less than sympathetic to militant Islam.)  These nice people were able to get my phone number and my mailing address. I won't go into the sordid details, but just imagine what  you could do to annoy or embarrass someone if you know those two things. Among other things, they made  threats against my family. Who do you report that to when the people doing it are out of this country? I never did find out.
So I shut down that blog, changed my phone number, deleted the gmail account the blog was registered to. I assume they found someone else to annoy. There was no denying, however, that they shut me down and since that was their declared intent I guess I lost that round.

The next blog I had didn't end unhappily, but I did have some issues with operational security. Not everyone who nails you between the running lights means to do it.  I was careless with some comments I made, and with some photos I posted. One day a fellow figured out exactly where I lived, and as a joke he posted it on the net. Now, he didn't mean any harm.  But there were some unintended consequences of that act that were irksome. I had been warned by several friends on the old blog that I was saying more than I should, and it turned out they were right.  It's just better to be discrete. You can always use point to point email to pass sensitive information to friends who ask.

The people you wouldn't want to know where you live are out there, though.  Some good advice I was given years ago was to remember when I write a post that you never know who will be reading it.

I just got an email from a long time friend who warned me that I was doing it again. So, I've got to try to be better about Operational Security.  I never do things like posting a picture of someone without their approval, or compromising other people's privacy. But I do have a tendency to be careless and I need to watch that. I don't want to wind up listening to the Horst Wessel Leid on the phone at three in the morning again.

Elizabeth to the rescue and more ferret refugees

My daughter is a great animal lover.  She was at the stables where she rides , and she heard this story. I wouldn't have believed it, but it turned out to be true.  Some people in Kentucky who raise race horses spent a huge sum on putting together a thoroughbred stallion with a mare whose bloodlines apparently go back to Incitatus (Caligula's horse, whom the Emperor made a Senator and had furnished with a marble stall.) Well, maybe not that far but you get my drift.  Anyway, the foal was born, and it had some kind of physical deformity in it's throat. Not anything big,  not disfiguring or disabling. Just enough so that it would never be a race horse. So they decided to kill the foal.

Elizabeth immediately launched into the fray. I think she knows every animal rescue outfit in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.  After two days of phone calling, she found someone who would take the foal and raise it on their farm.  The people (company?) that had the animal don't care about giving it away, they just want rid of  the horse. So some other people are going to take it down to it's new home in Kentucky.  Seems odd to me, I've had horses and I know lots of people who have horses here. They don't treat them like commodities, and they don't sell them to the "killers" for dog food when they are old. But I've worked for people who were like these race horse people. All they care about is the all mighty dollar and they don't see either people or animals as living things with feelings. It's a cruel world, as the saying goes, and I believe it's true.

I also learned that someone has dumped off three young ferrets at a pound outside the city.  None of the local ferret rescues are able to take them.  I told Elizabeth to tell the pound that I will take them if it gets down to where they are going to be killed, sort of as a last resort. I love ferrets, but nine might be a bit much. However, I talked to my wife and we have decided to turn the old sewing room, which no one uses anymore, into a ferret room.  It's plenty big enough, and with their snuggy bags, old sweat pants, ferret hammocks,  pipes to run through, and all their other paraphernalia they should be fine. That would also preclude any more chewed up gun butts.  I could set them up in the glass arboretum, but it's impossible to air condition or heat because it's made of glass. They need temperature and humidity levels akin to what people need, so the ferret room is probably the best bet.  

I can handle ferrets in large numbers, no problem.  The one thing that strikes fear into my heart is that one day Elizabeth will call and say   "Dad, there's an aquarium going broke in the city, and they have this baby whale that needs a home....."
Just a word of warning in closing.  Ferrets require a lot of hands on care. They need a controlled, stable environment. They are not an animal to keep around young children.  They have big vet bills because they get the same ailments people do and require attention when that happens. Ferrets wind up in the pound or dumped off in the woods because ignorant people buy them from greedy pet store owners who shouldn't be selling them in the first place. They are the best pets I've ever had, but you have to know what you are getting into.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Little Power Backup System That Couldn't.

I used to have another blog, a couple of years ago.  I gave blogging a hiatus and basically quit using the internet for that time period.  Blogging can be a lot of fun, but believe it or not it can get stressful and become very time consuming as well.  When I came back, I was really amazed to see how many people that I used to read were still at it.

A fellow left a comment on a posting not long ago about something that was on the old blog.  The subject was the power system I built out here to back up the very tenuous grid power.  That power system was based on magazine articles and what the people I bought the equipment from told me, so maybe it is no surprise that things didn't quite go as planned.

The pictures all date to the late 1990's, which is when we installed the system and were using it. Today, I just have a generator and a transfer switch. But for what it's worth here's the cautionary tale.

In the mountains where I live, we are probably 40 years behind what most Americans are used to. Our land line telephone system works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn't.  Usually it doesn't when you need it the most, when there is a massive snow or ice storm or a big rain storm. The power grid was put in during the 1930's, as part of FDR's Rural Electrification Program. It is, for the most part, above ground. Much of the equipment is outdated.  When it gets close to zero here our transformers explode on the poles, and the power goes out.  When it snows, we have two 1957 dump trucks the road crew puts plows on, and that's our snow clearance equipment for the whole county. Most of the roads here are just big enough for two cars to pass each other going in opposite directions, and the majority of the roads are still gravel. It's a place where you soon learn how to work around problems.

Back in the 90's my whole family lived up here on the mountain top.  Especially for the kids, long power outages were hard. The biggest problem was that without power, we couldn't run the water pump or the air conditioning.  No water pump meant no showers, no washing clothes,  no hot water, and having to haul water to flush the toilets. Finally my wife had reached the point where she wanted something done about it, and I felt like it was something we needed to deal with.

I looked at books and magazines, and I designed my system.  I planned on a generator, a bank of solar cells, and a big deep cycle battery bank all being hooked into a Trane Inverter.  If things worked the way they were supposed to, the solar panel would trickle charge the battery bank.  If the battery bank got low, the inverter would automatically switch on the generator, and run the house and outbuildings off the generator until the battery bank was recharged. It seemed pretty straight forward.

The inverter was a heavy piece of gear that had to be bolted to the wall in the shop.  Basically, it was a computer that sensed whether or not the grid power was on. You could use it to isolate yourself from the grid, and it tied all the basic components of the system together. On the one hand, it gave you wonderful flexibility.  On the other, it had an Achilles heel.  It had to be programmed to handle the electrical load, charge the batteries if you were using the generator, stop charging the batteries when they were full,  handle housekeeping chores like "equalizing the batteries" and myriad other functions.  Have you ever walked away from your laptop and forgotten to go back? When it runs out of power, it shuts down.  So did the inverter. If you were running off grid, and the generator went down, once the batteries failed the inverter shut off. It would go dead, and all that programming would be lost. The operators manuals (there were three different manuals) were not written with the average mortal in mind.  So if this happened,  a tech had to come from the outfit that installed the system to reprogram it.  The one way distance from their business place to my mountain top was 65 miles. It wasn't cheap.  If you are wondering how this could happen, picture a rainy night, with us running off the generator.  It's the third night of a big storm, and dad has refueled the generator and fallen asleep in his easy chair down at the main house.  The generator runs out of fuel, and the inverter starts running on the batteries. Everyone is asleep.  When the batteries run down, the inverter shuts itself off. Darkness and despair ensue.

Then there was the "bank" of deep cycle batteries.  These things cost $350 each even back in the 90's. They were so heavy and cumbersome that it took two men to lift them unless you wanted to risk rupturing yourself.  They were not like car batteries.  You had to check the water level in the batteries constantly, and they had to be equalized. That means telling the inverter to overcharge them intentionally on a periodic basis, to burn off the scale that would otherwise grow on the plates in the batteries. When you equalized the battery bank, the batteries got hot and gave off fumes from the little vents on the caps over the water wells. The fumes stank, and burned your eyes which made the process a lot of fun because the shop is well insulated and pretty air tight. 

The battery bank was installed inside a special box made of thick plastic.  I asked the guys installing the system why, since it seemed a needless piece of paraphernalia. They said sometimes inverters malfunctioned, and overcharged the batteries. The overcharge would cause massive heat build up, and the vents on the batteries would open up and start spraying water and acid all over the place. That never happened to me but it was a jolly thought that nobody had mentioned until we were almost through with the installation. As for the utility of the battery bank, it wasn't much.  As long as you just ran the lights and small appliances in the house, it would keep everything going for a few hours before the generator had to kick in and run awhile to recharge the batteries. But, that was assuming you ran around and unplugged the refrigerator and the deep freeze. If you didn't, and one of those kicked in, the batteries were drained almost immediately.  We had a Sunfrost low energy refrigerator that was shipped here all the way from Idaho. It used less electricity but not enough to make any difference to the all mighty batteries.  One final word on the batteries. They lasted 3 years, max. If you took the best care of them possible, and did everything right, they had to be replaced every three years. At $350 a pop this wasn't cheap, and trying to find someplace to get rid of the old ones was difficult.  I usually had to pay "la mordida"  out at the county dump for them to take them.  If you haven't spent time in Mexico, that means "the bite".  Or, as the Japanese call it, "the oil that lubricates society."  In those days there wasn't much you couldn't work out up here with a couple of twenty dollar bills.

Then there was the solar panel array.  I'm a firm believer in the old axiom that if you buy the best, you save money in the long run.  I bought German.   If the Germans sell you something, you can bet your life that it will perform as advertised. So I bought eight Siemens solar panels.  Now, this was before the nifty little cells that follow the sun were in general use, so my panels were bolted to a steel frame.  Unfortunately for me, even at the best times of the year, the panels were in the sunlight only about 6 hours a day.  I live on a mountain top, but the topographic crest runs above and around the meadow.  So it was only the middle of the day when the panels got power, and then really only in summer.  In winter the days are short and usually cloudy, so they never really got off the ground in terms of charging the batteries reliably. 

The generator was the most important part of the system.  I bought a 5 KW diesel.  At first, we installed it in the shop, mounted on a pallet. I cut a hole through the log wall for an exhaust pipe.  Unfortunately, even mounted on rubber rockers, this thing vibrates like a sail in a high wind.  That caused leakage in the exhaust set up. You can see the amount of smoke being generated in this photo of a test run. Now imagine being inside a building.  Eventually we wound up installing the generator outside under a little tin roof.  It runs for about 5 to 6 hours on a tank of fuel if you are running everything up here off of it.  I don't mean by that the dishwasher, or washing machine, etc but at least you don't have to unplug the deep freeze or refrigerator because it can handle that load for the short time those devices kick on.

Generators use fuel.   Lots of fuel, and the minute you run out you are in the dark.  So I put in two 500 gallon above ground tanks.  I got a discount for buying fuel in volume, and since my F250 is diesel I didn't have to worry about the fuel aging and going bad. I put additives in it and used it in the truck.  Back then diesel was very, very cheap. Gasoline cost more than diesel in those days, and diesel generators lasted a lot longer under prolonged use than a gasoline generator. So I went diesel and I've never regretted it. The diesel generator is still in use, while the rest of this equipment is long since silent and dead.

Today all the power backup I have is the generator hooked into a transfer switch. If the power goes out, I go throw the switch and start the generator.  That's it.  As for the rest of this system, it was all an expensive experiment that failed. I relied too heavily on cheery articles in country living magazines.  The people that wrote them either never used the systems they touted,  or they were writing "theoretically" , or maybe they just plain blew smoke to sell their articles.  Since then, I have read a lot of survival magazines and books, but I always read with a degree of skepticism.  If I were going to launch into some new project today, I'd read up on it but I'd find someone on line who had already done it and solicit their advice. There's no substitute for experience.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ammunition prices: Dec 2012 and July 2013

I keep catalogs of all sorts.  That enables me to follow trends on specific items I use a lot of,  more out of a sense of curiosity than anything practical.

I got the July Cheaper Than Dirt catalog recently, so I dug out the December 2012 edition and contrasted the prices for the exact same items.  Here are some that I thought were interesting.

Lake City XM855 5.56 ball.  840 rounds in a sealed can.  (Two cans per wooden case).
  • December 2012 price : $419.19  per can
  • July 2013 price           : $999.79  per can
price increase: $580.00

Federal 5.56 mm.  comes in stripper clips, in bandoleers.  840 round can.
  • December 2012 price : $369.10
  • July  2013 price          : $999.79
price increase: $630.69

Bulk packed federal .223:  1000 rounds.
  • December 2012 price:  $399.97
  • July 2013 price          :  $999.97
price change : $600.00

Armscor .45 ACP ball  50 rounds to the box.
  • December 2012 price : $17.59
  • July 2013  price          : $39.58
price change: $21.99

One thing I will say about this.  In times of turmoil, when prices are fluctuating, you can expect  the sellers to put very high prices on their products in the print catalogs, because if the item keeps going up they don't want to have a big seller in their catalog that is under priced.  Frequently, if you look the item up on their web pages, the current price will be more reasonable than the one in the catalog.

All dressed up and no place to go.

Saturday in the mountains.  Since I was out and about yesterday, I don't plan to go anywhere today.  It's a major evolution to go to town , let alone out of the county.  To get to the nearest place with a bookstore I have to drive two hours. Then when I get there, it's just a "Books a' Million" and they don't have a lot I'm interested in. The nearest Barnes and Noble is a day trip. loves me, I buy too many books from them on line. When I die their stock will plummet and they will probably put up a bronze statue in my memory.

I could walk down to the waterfall. It's about 40 minutes through the woods. I used to make that trip in under 30 when I was in my late thirties. Now I have to sit down along the way and rest ever so often because my hip starts to hurt. I rationalize that I am waiting for the dogs to catch their breath. They are not getting any younger either.  Used to be, I'd always carry a rifle with me. Not because I want to shoot anything, but because the trail passes through some pretty thick vegetation and you can walk up on hogs or a bear.  Now I just carry a pistol because a rifle gets too heavy.  Walking in our woods is not like walking in the woods out in the Great Plains or the West Coast.  The humidity is really high, which is why this place is called the Smokies. Often you get out there and you think low clouds are flowing down the mountain side, but it's just water condensing out of the air.

My wife is still up North with our kids.  She has been going to malls, going to nice fancy restaurants, and generally doing all the things you can't do here.  She's also been helping the kids with logistics issues. We put new tires on both their Jeeps,  got the Commander a brake job and the Liberty is going in next week for the same.  She got my son some decent furniture for his room.  He's always been a bohemian and is not much of a materialist, but he's old enough now at 24 to start acquiring some decent furniture , at least.  My wife has been going horseback riding with the kids up at the stables my daughter goes to.  She won't go trail riding with me here because she thinks I am going to fall off and get all busted up.  I don't think I would. When I say so,  she reminds me that when my son wanted a dirt bike, and she didn't want him to have one, I got him one anyway. I didn't think anything would happen there either but he had a terrific smash up and had to be carted off  to the emergency room. It was not pleasant having to call her from the hospital about that..  She never lets me forget it, women are like that. In the Marines we used to say "one ah sh*t! equals ten thousand atta boys." That's how my wife sees it.

I'm not much interested in just spending the day rocking on the porch.  It's Saturday, after all.  Of course, once you retire it doesn't matter what day of the week it is, because you don't have to be any place, any time. I try to keep Saturday and Sunday as "special" days.  It's easier when the wife is home, because we can drive up to the next county and go to a movie, or  go to the lake and rent a sailboat or pontoon boat. Even just driving up to the town north of us, across the state line, to do some grocery shopping at the wholesale grocery outlet is fun when she's home. But it isn't fun to do by yourself.

We like to go into town for supper too. There's a nice little country restaurant with a great view of the mountains. Lots of weekends we go to a movie up at the big lake, then go back to town and have a good meal there. Afterwards we pick up a few groceries and that makes for a good Saturday.

I wish I could have gone with her to visit the kids, although I would only have stayed about three days instead of the whole summer. But I have my place to take care of, and the animals have to be seen too. I don't like being gone very long, home is where I am most comfortable.   She'll be home in mid August and until then I will just have to get along on my own. I would never make it as a widower, though. If anything happens to her, I will do like my great, great Grandfather, Joseph.  He fought all the way through the War Between the States in Company B of the 54th Georgia Infantry. When the war was over he had lost an eye at Kennesaw to a Yankee shell burst, and a leg when the Yankee cavalry wrecked the rails outside Atlanta and the hospital train he was on derailed.  At 65 he married a 22 year old woman (there weren't many men left in the South after the war so the women couldn't be that choosey).   I might have a harder time finding a young woman for myself these days, so I hope my wife lasts out.

Friday, July 26, 2013

On the Road today.

Small lake near my house

First, I'm going to the small lake near my house. That only involves a twenty minute drive through the mountains on an old forest service road.  It's a dirt road, one lane that cuts through the mountains. Assuming no trees have come down across it since I was last on it, that particular road is the shortest way there. I'll take a chain saw along though, just in case since we've had some really bad weather in the last few weeks. There are two fords along the way, and if all this rain has the water level too high, I'll have to turn around and come back. That will mean a lot longer trip on a paved road.

one of the fords on the forest service road,  winter photo

After that, I'm off to a big flea market across the state line to look for some hand tools I want to add to my tool shed. I would like to pick up some augers of different sizes, another good axe, a pitchfork, and a few other manual tools.  I own a good collection of power tools, but the old timey tools are good backups. This is the best place to get them.

Whatever you need, the flea market has.

Then a stop by a grocery store there that has good case lot prices, and back home. Should be a busy day.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Roll your own.

“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”
  Napoleon Bonaparte

I make every effort to do as much as I can for myself.  If you need someone else to come do something , fix something, build something or repair something you have a big chink in your armor.  Sometimes you can't help it, but those times should be as few and far between as possible.

One of the things I do for myself is reload my own ammunition.  I started reloading because there was an old fellow who worked at a feed store, and he told me he'd teach me how.  I bought a cheap Lee reloading kit, he gave me an old set of 9mm dies, and I set up a place in my shop.  From there, I've never looked back as the saying goes.

Now I reload for:

  • 30-06
  • .30 carbine
  • 7.54 MAS
  • 7.5 Swiss
  • 7.7 Japanese
  • 8MM Mauser
  • 7.62X39
  • 7.62X54
  • 7.62X51
  • .44 Special
  • .44 Magnum
  • 6.5 X 55 Swedish Mauser
  • 8X56R Hungarian
  • .38 Special
  • .40 S&W
  • .357 Magnum
  • 9 MM Luger
  • .45 Auto
  • .45 Colt
  • .380 ACP
  • .223 Remington
Probably there are some I left out.  If you look at the list, you'll see a lot of chamberings that are either hard to find or not available at all.  I can keep my old military bolt guns  firing for a long time.  Brass is expensive ,and it's difficult for me to just fire a cartridge once and throw away the brass. I don't know if it's my Scotch Irish blood or if I was just born cheap, but I hate wasting anything. I have to do that with a lot of surplus ammo, which is Berdan primed, but there's no help for it.  I tried reloading Berdan once, but the decapping tool kept ripping off the cartridge rims and fortunately I quit before I spent too much money on that idea.

Right now, ammo is really hard to find as anybody who owns a firearm knows. People don't trust the government (wisely) and they are stocking up.  I have been stocking up for 30 years, but I still buy fresh commercial ammo at Walmart or the general store if I can find any.  I guess I don't need it, but old habits die hard.

I have "beau coup" powder, primers, and bullets.  You can store enough for thousands of rounds in a good sized wall locker or shelf unit. That's another thing I like, knowing I can keep myself in ammo for the indefinite future with what I have on hand.

It's not all just for me.  I have a large extended family in addition to my own kids, and I like to have enough on hand that if my nephews or nieces families need some additional ammunition  I can supply it. That picture above shows some of my nephews, appropriately disguised for the internet. I'm bad about operational security but I don't put peoples pictures on the net unless they are OK with it.

This picture is of two of my nieces.  They are both hunters, as you can see.  If they or  their families ever need any ammo, old Uncle Harry can come across.  This picture was on our family blog so I guess it is ok to post.

I know some folks who have a better ammo supply than I do, but they belong to a group which plans to displace from one of our cities to a retreat if things turn nasty.  With their pooled resources they can quickly acquire supplies and equipment that have taken me many, many years to add to my inventory. There's strength in numbers, and that's the truth. I'm not much of a group person but I recognize the advantages that a group has over the individual when times get tough.

As Mad Max said when he was trying to get into Barter Town, " I have skills."  If I need to fort up long term with a bigger group, maybe they'll need an itinerant ammo producer.


Today I have to go up on the roof, and fix some shakes that the last 17 days of wind and rain have dislodged.  I got up and had my coffee two hours ago and have been reading blogs since then.  I read the same blogs every day, but usually I do it later in the afternoon after everything that has to be done, is done.

The problem today is that the part of the roof  I'm going to be working on is at the side of the house where the distance from the roof to the ground is about 50 feet.  There's no nearby tree limb I can hook a safety harness to. When my son was home,  it wasn't such a serious matter because he is much more adapt at scurrying around on a steep roof than I am.  The other thing is that if I fall,  nobody will know til this evening when my wife calls to check on me and I don't answer the phone.  It would be tough to fall and not be able to get up, listening to the chickens edging closer and closer,  clucking in greedy anticipation as they considered the feast soon to be enjoyed. I'm not kidding there, chickens will eat anything they find, including  dead chickens.  They aren't as bad as hogs in that respect but I bet they are a close second. The sooner I get out there and get this done,  the better.

It amazes me how much food some people are able to grow.  PP has a huge garden, and I was reading postings from South Africa and Australia where the people had grown extensive gardens full of delectable vegetables, better than the ones I can buy in town. The Australian lady had a picture of kangaroo's going past her garden.  I am going to try to put links to those two posts in this , because the gardens were so impressive. Don't know if I can do it but here goes:

Australian garden

South African Garden

I can't get the color to change to blue, designating a link, but click on those two above and it will take you there.  They're both well written blogs in their own right,  so it will be worth your time.

Might as well get started on that roof.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A tragic tale.

Why do ferrets and rubber recoil pads on rifles not mix?



I have a number of ferrets that live with me up here.  They're great companions, clean and easy to take care of like cats.  They live on the main level of the house for the most part, although they do go down into the lower level when they feel like it.

They love to gnaw on soft rubber , so I give them rubber cat toys to play with.  

I don't let them in my bedroom because they are nocturnal for the most part.  You can't sleep with ferrets playing all over the room, so I keep my door shut.  But last night,  Ragnar the Ferret reached under the door and pulled it open, because I didn't engage the latch when I shut it.  I woke up to the sounds of contented gnawing coming from the bed post.  Attached to the bed post is one of my  MAK 90 rifles.  I bought them back when William the Bastard ruled the land, assisted by his henchwoman Janet the Hag.  So those two rifles have Choate stocks on them, it being illegal in the 1990's to restore them to regular AK47 condition.

The Choate stock has a rubber butt pad.  Alas, Ragnar chewed it all to pieces before I woke up.  I fixed it with some electricians tape a few minutes ago, but it looks like something out of Mad Max.  I guess I'll see if Choate is still around and if they'll sell me a new one. Not the ferrets fault, pure carelessness on my part.

A day off

I know the concept of taking a day off when you are retired seems strange, but that's what I'm doing. I often feel like I am busier now than I was when I worked. I may not know what day of the week it is, (I spent all day yesterday under the impression that it was Thursday) but the day of the week isn't significant anymore.

There are always things that need to be done when you live in a log house and have log outbuildings. Particularly when you are going through the wettest July that the state has experienced since they started keeping records in the 1880's.  Today, though,  I have nothing pressing that has to be done.

If I was really motivated, I'd go down to the store room and do some tidying up.  Eons ago, I was an embarkation officer, (it was a collateral duty) and my job was to load ships of the Gator Navy, out of Moorehead City, N.C.  I got to be pretty good at it.

Putting that experience to use, I'm not bad at cramming the maximum amount of supplies into storage space.  I still wind up down there rearranging things though, always trying  to get a little more material into a little less space. I have some new cases of canned food that I could do a better job of storing, but "the spirit isn't on me" today. It will just have to wait.

The humidity outside is already very high, even though it's just morning.  So sitting on the porch and reading a book isn't going to be something I'll be doing. That's a good thing to do in fall or early spring, but not the dead of summer.

I need to do a chamber casting on a Japanese Type 99 rifle I got some time ago.  A lot of those rifles were converted to different chamberings after the war. This one has a bent bolt, which shows that someone did some "customizing" on it.  I can get a new bolt and my intent is to restore it to original condition. However, until I cast the chamber I can't be sure if it is still 7.7 Japanese. If it isn't, it's not a good candidate for restoration.  I have everything I need,  I just have to get out to the shop and do it.   Incidentally,  before somebody emails me about it, the rifle on the left is a Czech VZ-24 and the rifle on the right is a Czech Model 1898/29.  That's an old picture that just seemed to fit the topic.

I think I'll go listen to the satellite radio for awhile and decide on what positive thing I can accomplish today without it being a "task."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Between Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea it might be nice to check your fallout patterns.

click on link above


Survival Shows

I read a lot of survival magazines and books, both because they are interesting and because I invariably learn something I didn't know from them. Sometimes the books or magazines raise issues I haven't considered, or give me new ideas on how to handle something in a different and better way.

I watch television survival shows for the same reason.  The first one I remember was Bear Grylls.

I watched it and while it was sometimes interesting, I always thought that his actions were pretty extreme. Some of the things he did, like eating rotten carrion and drinking his own urine at every opportunity, seemed to be more oriented towards his audience than reality.  He traveled with a massive camera and support crew to back him up and film the show.  I heard rumors that he was faking a lot of his production, but I didn't believe them.  Finally a fellow emailed me and gave me a specific incident that was supposed to be faked. I wrote the the Discovery Channel, and they sent me back a form letter saying ,in effect, that some of Bear's activities were in fact faked.  The famous "I spent the night in this tree" when he really stayed in hotel that night was the one I specifically remember.  The letter said the Discovery Channel was sorry that there had been "misunderstandings" about the issue and that next season all of Bear's programs would be "realistic and true to the presentation."  Maybe they were, but I don't know because I never watched his show again.

Then there was the Canadian, Les Stroud. His show first came on about the time Bear Gryllis did.  Stroud took a different tack, though. He filmed his own program, traveled alone, and didn't put on stunts to impress anyone.  His advice was good, and in his programs sometimes what he tried worked, and sometimes, it didn't.  That's how real life is and I appreciated his honesty.  The show went three seasons, then he announced he wouldn't do them anymore because it was in the too hard category.  At heart, he's a musician and he wanted to pursue that. Since then, he's done two programs of two hours each,  one in Norway and one in Mexico. He also had a short lived series where he lived with indigenous tribal people around the world. His heart was in the right place, but unless you were an anthropologist the episodes were pretty boring and it didn't last long. I recently read that he has agreed to do two more survival specials next year.

 A little later, Man, Woman, Wild came along. It starred a former special forces soldier, Mikhil Hawks, and his attractive wife.  They worked well together, and it was an interesting program. It went through one and a half seasons, as I recall, and then disappeared. I've never been sure why, but I suspect that his wife had gotten tired of it. She was a trooper and never complained, but she got pretty sick a couple of times and probably didn't appreciate being filmed barfing and laying face down. That's my own supposition, but the show had a good following and was well received by the survivalist community, so it seems logical.

Dual Survival has gone three seasons and I'm not sure if it will be back.  I like Cody Lundin. I've read his books, and read about him in other books written by survivalists who went to his school in Arizona. He's a straight forward person, with no pretensions. Lundin grew up on a farm way out in the plains, did time for drugs, got his act together and has prospered as a lecturer, author, and actor. He makes no claim that his Dual Survival Shows are entirely authentic. He famously responded to a question about the reality of the program in an interview where he said "hey, man. It's television."   The first two seasons were with Dave Canterbury, who fell from grace when it turned out that his military career had not been exactly what he had portrayed it to be. Rumor control had it that Canterbury's disappearance was more to do with not being able to get along with Lundin than any real discrepancies between his resume and his service record.  The third season featured another special forces type, whose name I don't remember now.  This was a good show, filmed in beautiful locations, and you could learn from it.  However, the producers felt that it would be more riveting if the two partners constantly disparaged each other and denigrated their partners skills. That practice got on my nerves and sometimes I almost turned the show off in exasperation.

Discovery Channel is currently running Naked and Afraid.   The basic premise, bizarre as it is, involves taking a man and a woman with survival skills, who do not know each other, and dumping them off in some of the worlds worst terrain. They are allowed one implement each, and no clothing.  Maybe the producers thought making the protagonists be naked would add to the prurient attraction and draw more viewers. If so, they didn't take into account how unattractive nudity is when people are filthy, sweaty, covered with bug bites, and sun burned all to the devil.  That adds little to the show other than to emphasize that these folks are well and truly ill equipped.  The camera crew follows them around by day.  At night they film themselves with hand held cameras. I'll say this for the program, the teams don't always survive their 21 day ordeal. People get hurt, or get sick,  and it's not drama scripted in for the viewers. 

Personally, I don't think I will learn much from this. I've been in the jungle, in the Philippines, and I hated it. I was out there with good people I knew, well equipped, with a massive support system behind me. I was with well trained, highly motivated individuals.  I knew what I was doing, what the point of the evolution was, and never doubted I'd make it through. These poor people in this show are just dumped off with nothing, with someone they don't know, and they don't even have a pair of shoes.  Now, at age 60, I wouldn't go back in the jungle for any amount of money even if I was equipped to the teeth.  I can't imagine doing it like these people on Naked and Afraid are.  Considering the episodes I've seen, I'd have to say the women have done better than the men.  The men, with one exception, have all been class A personalities. Aggressive, competitive, over achievers.  They seem to get mad easily when things don't go according to plan, and some of them have taken it out on their female partners when it wasn't anything to do with the women at all.  I can remember fussing at my wife sometimes when something I was doing or working on wasn't going right, and seeing these guys act this way brought back some guilty memories. Maybe it's just a masculine trait.  The women seem calmer and better able to cope with disappointment.  That's not to say they have an easy time out there, far from it. They just don't show it as much.

Well, some of these shows are better  than others.  I learned more from Les Stroud's shows than any of the rest of them.  But they are all useful, in their way.  I don't plan on being stranded in some hellish wilderness but you never know what's down the road.