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Hard Times Thoughts – Vehicles

This is a discussion about a prepping situation that falls somewhere between a short-term disruption, such as bad weather or earthquake, and the end of the world as we know it.  One of the more likely scenarios that I prep for is the loss of one or both of the income-generating jobs in the house.  With a few exceptions, it’s a tough job market out there, and it probably isn’t a bad idea to plan on being out of work, or at least out of work that makes the same money you’re making right now, for quite a while.  One of the key items in the average household that’s instrumental in keeping things moving, so to speak, is the vehicle.

Since I’m a pessimist, I base my plans on one or both of us being at a reduced income for two years.  I’m talking about reduced income, not no income, and I’m assuming that things like gasoline will be available, so we won’t be stockpiling two years worth of unleaded.

First and foremost, we need to take a look at the car itself.  It doesn’t need to be brand spanking new, but it does need to be reliable.  It’s better if it’s a car you can do normal maintenance on yourself without special tools and if you can get parts and supplies from places other than the dealership.  That last one can surprise you, even if you don’t own an exotic or rare car.  For the first two years I owned my minivan, I couldn’t get oil or air filters for it from the parts store or on-line.  It required a trip to the dealer, and it cost an arm and a leg.  Having a car that uses common parts and supplies is essential.  I know people who swear by 1911’s or Glocks because any gunsmith can work on them, but drive an uncommon car that requires parts shipped in from Outer Mongolia and is lubricated with extra virgin linseed oil that must be purchased from the monks of Sao Paulo.

Basically, for me, it comes down to doing the calculus of time, trouble, and cost it takes or will take in the next two years to keep my car running consistently and safe.  If I’m working two or three part time jobs to keep food on the table, will I be able to afford spending time every week or so to fix something on the car?  If we are having to follow an extremely strict budget to make sure that everything’s covered, will we want to be budgeting for quarts of oil, brake fluid, or transmission fluid because of a leaking seal?  I’m not advising anyone to go deep into debt to get a new car, but you do have to decide how much not having a reliable car is costing you now and how much it will cost you later.

One thing you need when you’re working on your car is knowledge.  Unless you’re a mechanic by trade or hobby, taking care of your own car, when you can’t afford to pay someone else to do it, will not be a familiar exercise.  I have had really good luck with the auto care manuals from Haynes, although others swear by brands such as Chilton.  What I like about the Haynes line is that they tend to be illustrated (black and white, but at least it’s a picture), are written at a very basic level that doesn’t assume too much about my mechanical abilities, and they are organized in a pretty logical manner.  I supplement those with videos and articles on the Internet, but you have to put on your logic filters with these sometimes.  Car care forums are as useful as gun forums, complete with holy wars over methods, materials, and manufacturers.

Next, we talk about the supplies.  On average, I will change my oil and filters three to four times in two years.  That means, in addition to beans, bullets, and bandages, I have started stocking up on motor oil, oil filters, and air filters.  These aren’t very expensive for most cars, so picking up an extra filter or quart of oil every so often isn’t hard.  The same goes for things like oil and fuel additives.

The same should go for windshield wipers.  I tend to go through two sets a year, one in the winter and one  over the summer.  For some reason, I’m always surprised at how much they degrade in just a few months of use.  Again, these aren’t that expensive for most cars, so picking them up won’t break the bank if you do it over a couple of paychecks, and having a couple extra sets in the house now will save money in a tight budget later.

I try to keep a set of spark plugs, ignition wires, and other general tune-up items like PCV valves for each car.  These don’t need to be replaced too often, but when the car needs a tune-up, it needs the tune-up.  Again, spending a bit of money now when you have it may save your bacon in the future when things are tight. You should also find out what bulbs, lamps, and fuses your cars use, and keep a supply of them on-hand.  You could also purchase brake pads and calipers to save for bad times.

After that, you get down to things that will hang in your garage or stay in your trunk in case of an ‘aw shit’ moment, but aren’t going to be used as part of normal maintenance.  Most modern cars, if they even have a spare tire, have a temporary spare that will work at moderate speed for a few miles, but needs immediate replacement.  If you have the money, springing for the full-sized spare now will turn an “aw crap, we have to come up with $150 to replace the tire right now” experience into an “aw crap, we’ll have to run without a spare for a few weeks while we scrape together $150 for a new tire” experience.  You can also look at things like serpentine and timing belts, oxygen sensors, and possibly even an inexpensive rebuilt alternator or water pump.    Those are those “low risk, high impact” kind of things that I’m on the bubble about stocking in your emergency supplies.   They’re, for the most part, on the expensive side to spend money on now, but in the event that you need one when things are tight, they will be a godsend in saving money and time later.

Some of these things are what you need to do your own maintenance (You do know how to change your own oil and do a tune-up, don’t you?), but some of them are to have on-hand in the event that something requires a mechanic.  Most mechanics have no problem with you bringing your own parts, and it may save money and time on their fees.

Finally, take a look at your tool kit.  A good metric and standard ratchet and wrench set is a good start.  So is an oil filter wrench, something that I seem to lose around here with a bit of regularity.  Having a hanging light might seem like an anachronism in this day of tactical lights and such, but having a bright light source that you can maneuver into the tight confines of an engine compartment or under a dash without blinding yourself can make jobs easier.

What you stock and what you don’t stock will depend on your situation.  What you want to stock and what you want to buy in the event of need is up to you.  Just remember, there’s a fine line between having what you need and a reality show coming to your house to talk about your problem.  Take a look at your vehicles, research what the normal maintenance and expected problems are, and plan accordingly.

Does anyone have any suggestions for hard-time prepping for your vehicles?

Thoughts on Winter Outages

Carteach0 recently went through a few days of weather-induced inconvenience, and seemed to come through it pretty well.  We went through a couple of days of touch-and-go with electricity, but thankfully nothing more than a few hours in a stretch.

Here’s some of the things we did to adapt on our end:

Lighting

We made sure to have a couple of inexpensive LED flashlights with magnets stuck to the refrigerator.  They go for about $3 apiece or less at the hardware store and are basically disposable when the batteries finally give out.  Ours have been getting regular use this winter, but I have a few extras squirreled away in case these start to give up the ghost at the same time we need them.

For illuminating a room, we did a few things.  In the main living area, we had the fireplace and candles ready to go.  Three or four jar candles on top of the china hutch provides enough light to see clearly in most of the room, and the fireplace adds to it.

A couple of new things have been added recently, and they came in very handy.  First, we bought a rechargeable Coleman LED lantern.  It’s the same form factor as the classic lantern, but the bottom is taken up with a battery pack and a storage bay for chargers.  Our model comes with a 110v charger for home use and a 12V charger for vehicles.  It’s kept in my room in the basement, and I plug it in for a few hours every week or so to keep the batteries topped off.  It gave enough light to read by for about 6 hours without needing a charge, and we could have gotten more out of it by using the “low” setting.  It also has a weak, yellow light for use as a night-light if you need it.

Next, we stumbled across LED electrical outlet plates.  Basically, you sacrifice one of the 110v plugs on a wall socket to charge a battery and power several small LED lights that make up the socket cover.  A light sensor on the cover turns the LED’s on when the light level drops, and they were bright enough to light up the bathroom, hallway, and Boo’s room for several hours after the lights went out.  The model we bought has a selector switch that has high, low, and power out settings.  If you use the power out setting, the lights don’t come on as long as there is power to the outlet.  If it’s interrupted and the light levels are low, the LED’s come on.  I’m going to get more of these and put them in strategic places in our basement, like near the circuit breaker and sump pump.

Heating

For the most part, we relied on our centrally located fireplace.  It gave off enough heat to keep the living room and our bedroom warm.  That meant that we had a sleep-out in the living room for the kids, but they didn’t complain.  To keep pipes from freezing, we opened up the faucets in the kitchen and bathroom to let them drip.  To keep the kitchen warm, Irish Woman put something on the gas range to cook all day long, which seemed to work pretty well.  I need to put a box of matches or a lighter in the cabinet above the stove, though.  Unfortunately, our gas oven has a cut-off which precludes its use during a power failure.  That kept me from using a trick I learned as a kid:  Bake when the power is out to heat up the kitchen.  Do they even make ovens with pilot lights anymore?

If the outage had gone on for a long time, I may have had to shut off and drain some of the water lines in the basement to keep them from freezing.  I just don’t have a solution for keeping them warm for more than a few hours.

Entertainment

Luckily, we had kept our devices charged, so we were able to let Boo watch a movie or two on my tablet, and we had Internet via our phones.  Girlie Bear continued her reading of Frankenstein for school, and she thought it was neat to read it by candlelight.  Crayons, paper, scissors, LEGO’s, and games were also used to keep Boo occupied.  It was also warm enough that on the second day of blips that he could go outside.  That was the day I took him sledding after work.

Food

I expressly forbid the opening of the freezers unless it was absolutely necessary.  For the rest of the stuff, the refrigerator kept things cool enough, long enough, that we didn’t have to put things out on the porch in coolers, but we were getting ready to do it.  Irish Woman kept things bubbling and sizzling on the gas range, and we ate well.

Things for next time

I’m beginning to consider installing a static transfer switch that would allow us to run a few of the circuits in the house with the generator.  That would keep a couple of lights, the oven, the freezers and refrigerator, and the furnace running in the event of a power outage.

We are definitely going to get a few more of those LED outlet covers and stash the LED flashlights in different places around the house.  Having lights handy was one of the things that worked out well here, and I want to make sure that we improve there.

One place where our preparations failed was the sump pump.  It’s been a wet winter, and the ground around our house is saturated.  Every time it warms up, our sump pump fills up.  Normally, that’s not a problem, and Irish Woman put in a battery-powered backup a few years ago.  Unfortunately, the marine battery that powers it is as dead as disco, so that’s getting replaced and tested.

On the cooking front, I’m considering adding a new stove to our budget for the kitchen remodel that’s looming in our future.  The current one is gas, and we’re going to stay with that.  I’m going to have to research stoves and find out if they still make them with pilot lights instead of electric ignition.  Yes, pilot lights aren’t as efficient, but an oven with a pilot light could have been used to bake or even just be kept at about 200 degrees to warm the kitchen.  This one is going to be expensive, but it will pay off the next time we lose power in January or February.

How did you all make out?

Look Around You

Imagine this scene –

It’s the middle of the night.  You’re asleep at home with your family.   The house is as quiet as it can get.  You all sleep under a nice, quiet sky, and the only thing on your mind when you go to bed is wondering which kind of coffee you’ll make in the morning.

Suddenly, the civil-defense alarms outside start going off, and police start banging on your door to wake people up and get them out of their houses and out of the area immediately.  You barely have time to put on clothes, grab a couple of things, and get out.  In a matter of hours, your well-developed city is a ghost town, never to be inhabited again.  Your belongings, pets, and life remain behind, never to be retrieved.

Sounds far-fetched, like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie, doesn’t it?

Except that this happened, to a small city in the Ukraine, on this date in 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, showering the countryside around it with radioactive material, harming thousands in a wide swath of Europe.

So what will you grab if you have to run?  Not in a “The hurricane will be here in three days, so pack up and get out at your earliest convenience” kind of run, but rather the “If you’re not out of here in five minutes, you and your children are dead” kind of run?   There are no nuclear power plants in Louisville, but we have our own set of things that could cause thousands of people to have to evacuate on little to no notice.  How far is your home from the nearest interstate or railway?  Are there any light industrial areas near your home?  Any pipelines?  I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that there is probably something near any of our homes or businesses that could cause us to have to run for safety at a moment’s notice if the worst case scenario happens.

So, look around you.  Learn about what lies near where your children sleep.  Having a go-bag isn’t just in case the Golden Horde sweeps through your neighborhood and you have to E&E to the Walmart to fend them off with an impromptu squad of misfits.  It’s also there so that if you only have 5 minutes to get out you don’t have to dither on how many diapers you will need for a few days or try to figure out where you put that spare set of batteries for your tacticool flashlight.

Have a plan, have a go-kit, and have a better outcome.

Musing

As I was canning the broth that Irish Woman and I made from the Thanksgiving turkeys, something occurred to me.  All of this ‘prepping’ that we’re doing is not much more than how my grandmothers conducted their lives.

  • Homemade is almost always better than store-bought.
  • A few essential ingredients will make 90% of what you need.
  • It is always a good idea to know the farmer who grows your food.
  • Waste is a sin.
  • It is better to repair a good tool than to buy a new one.
  • Take care of essentials before you even think about luxuries.
  • Coffee is an essential.
  • It is better to work hard than to spend large.
  • Always put away excess for lean times.
  • Charity should rarely be asked, but should never be refused.
  • Always provide for yourself so that you are not a burden on others.

40 or 50 years ago, the stuff we do to be prepared for emergencies, which a lot of people seem to look at as abnormal, was just considered good sense.

I consider myself fortunate that I have the example of two extraordinary, hard-working women to follow.  I hope that my grandchildren look back at me the same way.

 

 

Curious

Hurricane Sandy and her aftermath have been a test of preparedness at all levels.  I’m curious to hear from those of you who went through the storm about what you expected versus what happened.  I’d also like to know what preparations you made that turned out to be useful, versus what you did that turned out to not have been a factor.  I’d also like to hear any lessons y’all learned, especially things that you wish you’d done to get ready for the storm.

I’d like to use what you can tell us to appraise my own prepping, and as a resource for someone who is beginning their work to do, buy, and learn things that will help them in an emergency.  Please leave your thoughts in comments.  Feel free to link to your own posts that deal with the subject if you’re doing your own write-up.  Thanks!

Alex, I’ll take Inflation for $100, please

USA Today is reporting that the cost of a typical American Thanksgiving dinner is going up by about 13% this year.  They blame the cost of the commodities to make the meal.  Apparently inflation isn’t just the name of the Armenian guy down the street anymore

But you can’t ask the Fed about it, because they don’t include food or energy in the inflation numbers.  Why would we need to track how much more expensive it is to put food on the table and gas in the car when we’re talking about the economic health of the nation?  It looks better if we know that the cost of things like automobiles and such hasn’t gone up that much.

Kids, if you’re not making sure you’ve got enough groceries in your larder to get you through a few months of tough times, I suggest you start doing it now.  I’m not sure there will be shortages of food, but I’m pretty sure the price for the necessities is going to keep going up for the foreseeable future, and I’d rather give up some shelf space in the basement for food now than to have to ration out what I can buy later.

I don’t prep for TEOTWAWKI, not really anyway.  I can’t afford to put back several years worth of flour, sugar, canned food, and rice without going into debt to do it, and I don’t have much hope of moving much further away from a large city than I am now.*  I see a total inability for the nation to feed itself as a “low risk, high impact” kind of event.  If it happens, we’re in deep kimchi, but I see other scenarios as being more likely:

  • Natural disasters that shut down food distribution for days or weeks
  • Loss of a job by either Irish Woman, me, or both
  • Civil disturbance followed by the inevitable clampdown 
  • Inflation that makes it difficult or impossible to afford the basics of life

Of all of these, I worry most about loss of jobs/income and inflation.  My guess is that those two would come together, which can only make a bad situation worse.  My strategy is to stock up as much of the basics as I can, and be prepared to hunker down with wife, kids, family, and neighbors until things get better.

The basics of life as I see it are clean water, adequate calories and nutrition, warmth, shelter, and security. 

Clean water we take care of by having a water source (two streams) within easy walking distance from the house, a way to transport and store the water without using fuel that will carry enough for a day or two, a water filter, and several gallons of plain old chlorine bleach.  Plus, we have the old cistern system on the house, and it would take about a day to hook it back up to the gutters and such, clean out the cistern, and then all we have to do is pump or dip it out, then purify it.

As for food, we shop sales, buy in bulk, and store enough good, solid food to keep us going for a few months without needing too many inputs.  We can stretch that for quite a while by having inputs from gardens, hunting, fishing, and bartering if necessary.

Shelter is pretty good for us too.  It’ll take a lot to get us to abandon Casa de Oso and become refugees, and we have agreements and plans with family and friends for that event. 

For warmth, I’ve got one heck of a good wood burning fireplace, and a house that can be effectively heated by it.  I need to lay on some more firewood, but I can make a cord or two of firewood keep us warm and cook food for a couple of months if I have to, which is enough time to go get more.

Security I’ve got taken care of, both in the family and in my little community.  One good thing about living in the semi-country:  lots of veterans, lots of guns, and a lot of people who don’t put up with nonsense when it comes to crime.  For health security, we have plenty of preventive measures (soap, sanitizer, cleaners, vitamins) and we keep several good first aid kits and medicine kits in the house at all times.  I can’t do surgery, and I pity the fool that needs me to stitch up a cut, but I’m above the bandaid stage.

Of course, I can always improve my efforts, and I do so every chance I get.  Maybe it’s another box of .22 put back for shooting rabbits and trading, or another case of food or big bag of flour set back against lean times, or it’s more bridge building with my neighbors so that we have a support network, but we’re doing everything we can to not get swamped by the wave that I truly believe is about to break across our nation.

I hope that all of these preparations are like the fallout shelter we had in our backyard in North Dakota, and it just becomes my collection of junk for the kids to go over once I’m gone.  But I’d rather be remembered as the old coot who prepared for something that didn’t happen than be the guy whose kids went hungry because the Kroger wanted $150 for a pound of flour.

*Not to say that I’m not working towards that goal.  I just can’t afford to drop a few thousand dollars on buckets of food and a new farmstead right now.  Slow and steady will get me there eventually, and the worst that happens is that I have a nice place to move to once the kids are out of the house and enough food to stay off the dole once I’m too old to work.

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