Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Who dat, say "who dat" when I say "who dat."!!! Thoughts on building a survival retreat or homestead.

We went to town today and picked up a paper.  On the front page was this guy who looked like he stepped out of a "slasher" movie.  Turned out there was a reason for that. He cut somebody up, then vanished. Our Sheriff thinks this  unsavory character is still in the county somewhere. It's a big county, lots of places to hide.

You never know when it will come in handy.

My wife is not happy about this. I told her that this fellow couldn't find us out here with a map. I told her if she heard anything tonight, not to wake me up, just to go out on the porch and say "who dat!". She did not find my sense of humor very amusing, but we really are safe. We are forted up all the time. This place was designed to be defensible. Too bad the camera system went down, but I doubt an escaped crazy would fare too well if he found his way to the top of the mountain anyway. The dogs would get him before I did.

I know several people are about to move from cities to the country, so I thought I would list some books that are useful in this endeavor. Those by Ragnar Benson, in my opinion, are the best.  I decided not to post a couple of titles on the subject, because  I haven't read them.  If anyone knows of other books that would be useful, let me know and I'll include them, with your thoughts.

Haven't read this one, but I was told by someone who had that it was useful. He knows his stuff,  so I'm listing it , unlike two other books I haven't read.

I have read virtually all of Ragnar Benson's books, and this one was useful to me in improving my own situation up here. You can hardly go wrong with this guy.  I know Ragnar Benson was his nom de plume, and I know he's dead, but it's still as viable as it was the day he published it.

This one would have saved me some time and money had I read it before moving to the property I bought. It's the best of the books I know of in terms of dealing with the nitty gritty of actually finding and buying a specific property for your retreat.

This guy was all the rage some years ago, but I haven't heard much about him recently.  He was running a popular survival blog when I first came across him.  The book wasn't bad but it was oriented towards living a bit more of a bare bones existence than I had in mind.

Rawles was, and may still be, the ultimate survival guru in America. He's a former U.S. Army officer, mostly known for his series of fictional accounts of collapse. He's also got some excellent non-fiction books, very useful.  I don't think this is still in print, but someone may prove me wrong on that. If not, there's always the used books listings at on line book sellers.

These are all generic in terms of locations, so whether you are headed for Colorado, Idaho, or some other site they will still be useful to you.

Let me just mention a couple of  Rawle's books that are not expensive and pretty useful. When the first one came out, I bought a bunch of copies and handed them out to family.  Don't know how much good it did, especially with the nieces and nephews, but I did try.

Everybody starts out with a plan.  What these books are good for, is honing the plan.  The survivalist lifestyle is about constantly improving your overall situation.  Before the internet,  people primarily did this through reading pertinent books and magazines.  Now, with so many survivalists and preppers out there, I think most ideas cross from person to person over the internet. But, if some calamity does befall us, the net will go away.  Print copies of information will be on the shelf for you to refer to when you need it.

If I were doing this all over again, what would I do differently.

I wouldn't build a multi-level house.  My land is really steep, and building what amounted to a three story house back into the mountainside was the cheapest, most practical way to do it.  But now, I'd stay with a single story home, even if I had to pay more to have more building sites carved out of the mountain.

I would not have blown off a small fortune on installing a complete solar power/generator system up here for Y2K.  Not enough sun here , especially in winter, but the guys from Spartanburg, South Carolina who sold me the system and installed it did not mention the fact.  I could have, and should have, done my own homework, and not relied on "duty experts" who had a vested interest in selling me something.

I would have spent the money to put in actual buildings to park in, instead of concrete parking pads. Starting a vehicle here when it's been sitting outside in sub zero weather a few days is more of a challenge than I need.

I should have had them bulldoze out a meadow all the way around the house. Instead, to save money, I just had 180 degrees cleared around the buildings. That means the forest comes right up to the house on the other 180 degrees. Not good for security, and damnably dangerous in terms of forest fires.

I should not have put a shake roof on my buildings. Looks nice, and metal wasn't really an option back then unless you wanted a  "tin" roof that was aluminum colored. But shakes have cost me a fortune in increased insurance premiums, and in repairs.

I should have put a lot fewer windows in the main house. Yes, the view is nice. But from the standpoint of security they are a bad idea, and keeping the house cool or warm is harder because of the windows, even if they are double paned.

I should have taken the wrap around porch all the way around the house. Instead, I built a front porch, and back porch, and connected them on one side with a walk way.  That means the side of the house with no walk way is not accessible to me at night unless I go along at ground level in the woods.

One of my biggest mistakes was to use railroad ties in retaining walls. Railroad ties were the be all and the end all in 1986, and they did look good. Unfortunately, 31 years later they have largely rotted out and I am having to replace them with other materials, slowly and painfully.

Here are some things I did right.
All of my buildings are cedar log, on a heavy field stone foundation.  You couldn't do it today, the ocst of cedar wood is beyond belief. But in 1986 we could still get Canadian cedar.  Cedar log will last forever. You just have to spray the outside every few years to keep the wood in shape, and to keep bugs out of the wood.  Oak is good too,  there is a cabin in my part of the county that was built in 1847, and it's in good shape. But I went with cedar and have no regrets about that.

I chose property that was difficult to access. When I then built a way up to the building site, I put a gate up that couldn't be bypassed. Big ravine with a creek in it on one side, steep cliff face on the other. Since I had national forest behind me, I didn't have to worry about easements. NEVER buy a property with easements, and never  give anyone an easement through your property.

I built special purpose buildings. I have storage rooms in the main building, big ones.

 I have a shop , and a barn.

 I also built an apartment over the shop, fully equipped with kitchen, bath, etc. It's proven handy when something failed in the main house, and we used the apartment as a back up til I could effect repairs.

I chose land with National Forest on three sides, and I bought the land down slope. Nobody can encroach on me.

I have been careful over the years to try to maintain operational security in terms of my location. I have not always been successful, but I have to the extent that in 31 years I've only had a handful of problems related to that issue.  It's my opinion that it's very unwise to broadcast your location to all and sundry. Not everybody on the internet is sane and not everyone is pleasant.

I have three water sources here, two of which are natural.

I did have a good sized meadow bulldozed out of the forest. I've used it for animals, for gardening, and just because I like to see something besides trees all the time.

I did have concrete parking pads poured for three vehicles. Parking on red Georgia clay, on a steep hillside, in winter or during summer rains, is unwise.

I did have a big Tennessee field stone fireplace built, and I put a fully functional Victorian era wood burning kitchen stove in our kitchen. I also have a wood burning stove in the lowest level of the house.

I set the buildings up for propane heat. None of the controls are electric. If the power goes out, and the generator fails, I can still heat the house. Our kitchen stove is a Kenmore propane model, and has worked flawlessly all these years. We can cook while we have propane.

My propane tanks and diesel tanks are adequate to keep me in propane and diesel for a long time in the event of a disruption.

So, I've done some things right, and some things I could have done much better. Hind sight, as they say, is always 100%. Overall, I'm satisfied with the place and how it's worked out.

Thought for the Day.

They're out there.


  1. Sounds to me like you got most of it right with your place. --Troy

  2. Mostly so. But I should have asked myself how my plan would suit me 30 plus years down the road. The three level house and the shake roof are the biggest problems. It's very hard for a young man to think like an old one, though.

  3. You did well my friend. Beside Rawles and Southern Prepper 1 you have the best set up of anyone I know. It's a set up a guy could definitely envy.

    1. It's been good up here in the mountains. I used to wander around the forest a good bit years ago. Sometimes, I'd come up on a place way out there, that was forest service land now. There'd be just a chimney sticking up, sometimes a few foundation stones. Nothing lasts forever, especially in these woods. I always wondered who'd lived there. Hope my place doesn't go that way some day.

  4. This piece pretty much nails it as far as I am concerned.

    You are not going to be able to plug-and-play into a "survival retreat" because the locals will see you as just one more a-hole from Big City.

    The last few paragraphs have a few hints about how to settle into a community.

    "Because the best protection isn't owning 30 guns; it's having 30 people who care about you. Since those 30 have other people who care about them, you actually have 300 people who are looking out for each other, including you." It remains unsaid that most of those 300 people have quick access to their own gun.

    1. Joe Mama, I'll sure take a look at that. Your comment raises an interesting (and eternal) question about survivalism. There are those who want to fully integrate into the local community when they relocate. Then there are those (like me) who don't want to have much to do with people on a daily basis.

      All of the really good survival post apocalyptic fiction goes with option A. The consensus is that you can't maintain a self sustaining environment in a collapse situation without a fairly substantial number of individuals in the group. What that number is varies but it's not one man and his wife and his kids.

      My problem is that I'm not a "joiner." I do have commitments with a number of people that in a collapse, they'll come here. My problem is, over the years, people have died off, lost interest, joined groups that do "rendezvous" and go to the range, or married somebody who thought they were crazy so they just quietly stopped worrying about what might happen in the future.

      I did know of one group, down in Florida, that had it completely wired. They had a retreat property they could reach, they would deploy to it frequently, with all their families, they had good planning, and they were good, solid men and women, no flakes allowed. But even that eventually fell apart. One husband and wife team from that set up their own outstanding homestead and have done wonders with it. I'd say who they are so people could read their blogs, but that' a breach of etiquette unless they say it is ok. If they read this and don't mind I'll link the blogs because they are a great example of people who actually "did it" and relocated.

      The county here does have a structure for self governance and protection. Any rural Sheriff in Georgia can basically do what the English called "calling out the fyrd."

      "The Anglo-Saxon army was known as the Fyrd. The Fyrd was made up of all fit free men between the ages of 15 and 60."

      We call it the Sheriff's posse but it's the same thing. You live here, the Sheriff can call on you, and you have to pitch in for the common good. He may just want you and your vehicle, or he may want you and your gun. Usually this happens when an airplane crashes in the woods up here and they are looking for it. There are always way more volunteers than they can use, so I have never heard of anyone refusing to participate. If anyone did, the social ramifications would be drastic and unpleasant. Peer pressure is strong. That's why, when some authority figure says "anyone who doesn't want to volunteer take one step forward" or "anyone who wants to leave the Alamo can go" nobody ever does.

      I did go to a meeting of a local group here some ways back, with a mind to joining if they would have me. But it was all younger men, in their 30's, and they were run by an Alpha Male. I wasn't anxious to take orders from anybody, so we parted friends. Incidentally, as a result of attending that, I had some guy walk up to me in town and say "hey, I hear you're a survivalist!" Clearly those fellows, decent folk though they were, are not very concerned about a person's privacy.

  5. Hey Harry,


    cool description on your house.

    One story houses are a must! Back to the previous post. I really wish we had 'Boa Constrictor' sized rattlesnakes, but we don't.
    Now we have 'Jackalopes' out in West Texas. A Jackolope is a cross between an Antelope and Jack Rabbit. We have Armadillo's the size of those 'British WW2, 'tracked' machine gun carriers that looked like a mini-tank without the top.

    1. CC, sometimes I think I would trade it all for a decent RV parked on the beach somewhere, with no people except my wife around for 100 miles.

      I have seen Jackalopes. Even back in the 70's, when you drove through the desert in New Mexico and Arizona, they had those gasoline station/ tourist traps and they sold those things. I haven't seen one in years or thought of it until you mentioned it. I always felt bad for the rabbits...

  6. Cedar shakes on roofs are only good for about 25 years around here. Usually the south side that cycles more is the one that goes first. If yours is older than that you are living on borrowed time. I'd be inclined to strip it and replace it with metal. It is a chunk of money, but it solves a lot of problems in one fell swoop.

    1. It needs to be replaced. I am spending too much money on replacement shakes. Even more important, one of these days I'm going to fall off the roof and that will be that.

      I had two local outfits come out and give me estimates last summer on doing all the roofs at once. But when I checked their references, both of them had some quirks that left their previous clients unhappy. The biggest problem I am going to have here is that most of these roofing outfits are made up of Dad, dad's two sons, Uncle Cletus, and Uncle cletus's nephew. No more Mexicans these days, but the problem is, they want to be paid in cash, and they don't have insurance. I am ok with paying in cash if it is in installments, as things are finished. I am not ok with "I've been doing this for twenty years and I have never sued anybody yet." I'm old, but I'm not stupid.

      As soon as summer rolls around, I will start looking again. I figure it's going to cost me about $10,000 for all the buildings, but that's the cost of doing business.

  7. harry, get some sprinklers for up on the roof. fire comes anywhere near, soak the roof down good. i went metal, house and shop too. research on wildfires disclosed roof number one risk, followed by uncovered eaves and vents. the heat sets up a suction stream and sucks the embers into your house unless those things are covered. third was just poor maintenance of the yard/wood line that allowed the fire right up to the structure. i have vinyl siding but will replace it soon with hardyboard, a concrete fire resistant board that looks like lap siding. got sprinklers for my wood decks. but i love my trees and they are danger-close to the house. ala fire doesn't get into the canopy we'll be okay, that seldom occurs here.

    1. RR, if a fire reaches here, I'm out of luck. The very dense, thick forest comes right up to the house. Everything is wood.

      If it looks like a fire is going to reach us, we will have to throw a couple of suitcases and a bunch of animal carriers in the Jeep and flee. My access road is a tunnel through the forest, and there's only one way out. If the trail gets breached by fire I couldn't get out, so I can't hang around here.

      I think I will leave the task of having a dozer come up here and clear the forest from the two sides of the building area to my son. I've been here 32 years and haven't been burned out yet, though I've come close twice.

      You clearly are better prepared for fire than I am. I'll take some pictures of the woods around the house, it's not a good set up but it's what I've got.

  8. Your place is beautiful. I guess there are always things that we would like to change about our place. Like you, I wish we would have cleared more around the house, but I wanted the privacy that the woods would give us. We also put in lots of windows, but I was thinking that if the power was out and no a/c, we would at least be able to have air coming into our home. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Still, we are probably better off than 90% of the people in this country. Jana

    1. Jana, when I cleared out the meadow, I felt badly because there were giant oaks that had been there for hundreds of years. I hate it when people go into a pristine area and destroy it. Now, in our county, they get up on top of the montains and build their abominations of chrome and glass, and destroy the skyline for everybody else. So I didn't cut down more trees than I had to, and I really like being able to sit on my front porch and watch the birds and squirrels in the trees right up next to me.

      But from a fire standpoint, it was bad headwork not to clear the whole 360 degrees around the buildings. Like you say, hindsight is 20/20.

      If I get burned out, I can replace the buildings and furniture and such, I carry massive insurance. But all of our possessions , a lifetimes worth of "things" would be lost. My wife would't care one iota, but I would care a whole lot.

  9. Howdy!

    Thanks for the reading ideas, I've been meaning to comment about your input lately but we've been recovering from the flu here...can't believe how that bug knocked me on my a@@!

    We're working on making our place more sustainable if the worst should happen but the years are passing and nothing is as easy to do as it used to be, sigh.


    1. Diane, sorry the flu has gotten your family. I had it this past winter and it was miserable.

      All you can really do is just plug away at it. I've been working hard at the lifestyle since 1986 ,when I left the Marine Corps, and I'm still not finished. There is always something left to do, something that needs attention. But there's always a shortage of time, energy, and disposable income too.

      You have a lot of company.

  10. Harry,

    ...Starting a vehicle here when it's been sitting outside in sub zero weather a few days is more of a challenge than I need.

    Ever gave a consideration to block heaters. for those vehicles?

    I used them in my work vehicles for North Dakota winters. As a bonus the vehicle heater starts putting warm air almost immediately.

    Really enjoyed the pictures of your place.


    1. My F250 has a block heater, my other vehicles don't though. I have looked at some you can buy that fit down the oil dip stick channel, but never bought one.

      Good to hear from you again, Moe. Thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the pictures, they helped me get my thoughts organized.

    2. I never found the dipstick heaters much use. They never last all that long. The magnetic sort you stick to your oil pan always did the job around here.
      A trickle charger for the battery also does the magic so you have a battery that cranks hard in any temperature no mater how cold.

    3. Never heard of the kind that sticks to the oil pan. That's probably what I need. Let me check the link you sent. Thanks.

  11. I've read several of the books you mentioned but found them all but useless for setting up my retreat. Either they spent chapters just talking common sense or they used such generalized statements, as you might expect, that nothing useful came as a result.
    The worst was one of the above books, can't remember which, where the author proudly showed his retreat with it's 12" thick concrete lower level. Surprisingly, his upper level was a wood structure, like yours and up against a hillside chock full of pine trees. He's have wound up in a dutch oven if anybody wanted him out of there.
    Personally, I went with 50% meadow/hardwood forest country that's more or less fire proof.

    1. I'm surprised. I thought they were a good source of "things to think about." I know I wish I'd read both of Benson's books before I actually launched out into looking at property. Based on his suggestions, I could have saved myself a number of useless trips to look at property. It's not cheap to travel a long distance by car, pay for meals and motel rooms.

      I'm afraid unless you actually live in a bunker, it's going to be tough to build house walls that somebody can't put a rifle round through, be it 8mm mauser or 30-06. Living as I do in a log house, I'm vulnerable to a hit where the logs come together, and there isn't much at that contact surface to keep a bullet out.

      Sorry they weren't useful to you, but I found them interesting and useful reading.

    2. You're absolutely correct about house walls. Mine are cement board and have zero resistance to bullets, but at least getting burned out isn't an issue. I'm not too worried about the bullets either as living alone, I'd probably help out a neighbor and get plugged out there anyways.
      I'm glad I found your site. I'm betting your old posts are chock full of useful stuff.

    3. Ioran, cement board sounds like it would be virtually fireproof, and I envy you that. When we leave our property, I shut down everything electric in all the buildings. No air conditioning, no dehumidifiers, no lights. I've always felt that my biggest threat here was really an electrical fire. The closest I've come to burning down a building , though, was just before December in 2012 when the wood burning stove in the lowest level developed a chimney fire. I had to call the fire department on that one, even though I had a "smoke bomb" specifically marketed for wood burning stove chimney fires. The firemen later told me that the best thing I could do for that stove in the event of a fire was to have a big of ice in the freezer and throw that in there.

      Living alone is very, very hard. At least, for me. My daughter has a medical condition that causes her to have difficulty from time to time. My wife will go up and stay with her for a month or so at a time when that happens. Then I'm on my own. I can do it but I don't like it.

      I'm always glad when someone stops by and comments. Good to have you aboard.

  12. Thank you for this post, I read your blog regularly but am not a commenter usually...I especially like the what you did right and wrong, very illuminating. Thanks sign for the thoughtful post.

    1. Hilogene, thanks for the kind thoughts, and you are welcome here any time of course.

  13. I have a friend that is using some very well stocked bookshelves as added interior protection...Maybe not perfect, but way better than nothing.

    1. I think that would work. I do have book shelves on all levels and I'll take what I can get if somebody ever does shoot at the house. My biggest concern is not intentional shooters. In deer season ,we are flooded with hunters. You can hunt on the national forest, and it's easy to cross over onto my property without knowing it. Some of these guys are not very savvy about not just blasting away and of the need to be sure what's behind your line of fire.

      Years ago, I caught some guys on my land cutting down my silver maple trees. They were stealing them to take to Murphy, to the sawmill, where the wood is processed for furniture. Most of it goes to Hickoy, NC where there are lots of furniture makers. When I caught them, they apologized profusely and said they thought they were in the national forest. Taking timber from the national forest is illegal, of course, but a lot of the people here really detest the Forest Service and look at it as a Robin Hood type thing.

  14. Thanks for the look around your place including some of the things you wish you'd done differently.
    Nice cozy place you have there.

    1. It's been a good place to live over the years. Don't know if I'll stay here til I croak though.

  15. Thanks for the overview; it is good to hear from someone who has lived in their retreat long term. I have a couple of questions about your situation:
    - Do you ever wish you were not quite so remote, i.e. that it was easier to get into town and back?
    - With such a remote place, how did you make a living there? Did you have a work at home job or a long commute?

    1. Jonathan,

      No, if anything I wish I were further out. The whole county was remote and difficult to access in '86. The roads over the mountains were so bad, most people got car sick and never wanted to come back. Now, with new roads and a deluge of older residents, the further out you are the less people. In 1986 the entire population of the county was just under 15,000. Today, it's closer to 34,000. There are far fewer "local" people than retired people who have relocated here.

      It's about 32 miles from my property, to town, and back. I'm used to it. The only issue is when I need emergency help. In all the years I've been here, that has happened twice. Once when a ladder broke under me and dropped me onto some rocks. I broke 3 ribs and had to hauled out by ambulance. It took them about 40 minutes to get out here, then more time to get up the mountain, then they had to haul my inert body out on a stretcher back down the mountain to where they had to leave the ambulance.

      The other was a chimney fire in a wood stove in December of 2012. Again, by the time they got the volunteer fire fighters to the fire station, got up here, cut the lock on my gate, and got about 3/4 of the way to the property, they had to leave their fire truck and haul all their paraphernalia up here by hand. That could have ended badly but didn't.
      Most of the "half way backs" have medical conditions, or are afraid they will have, so they don't want land way out here. They want on a good road, close to town. The lake is their first choice, it's right by town and has good roads.

      I usually only go to town maybe once or twice a week, max. If my wife is up with the kids in the North, I don't even do that.

      When I first got here, I took a lot of jobs. I worked in a bank running a burroughs tape based computer. I worked in a sewing plant, running an AS-400. (One of the first in all of North Georgia). I worked in a gas station for awhile. Then I went back to college in the next county, and afterwards got a job with an oil and gas company as an accountant. I did that for the next twenty years.

      I never had a job with a round trip commute of less than 72 miles, except the gas station job. I never had a job that took me under an hour and a half one way, other than the gas station job that was in town.

      The long commute over the mountains every day was worth it because by North Georgia standards I made a lot of money. It had good perks, bonuses, and if I had been in any other business it would probably have been a good job. But oil and gas , especially in my line, is not too hot. I did it to support us, so my kids could have things, so we could do nice things together as a family. And when I retired some years back, it was all worth while .Then my wife retired, and we have been having the best years of our lives since then. This is a great place to live, we have no bosses, we don't worry about money, our kids are doing well. It's worked out pretty well for us.

  16. Harry,

    You've prepared really well Harry. Lot's of thought behind everything you've accomplished.