On Growing Older – Part 2, by A.E.. The iron rations.
(Continued from Part 1.)
It hasn’t been until recently that I would have called myself a prepper, it was just something that our family always did. My family lived through the blizzard of 1948 in Wyoming because my mother always kept a months worth of food in the trailer house. Between that and harvesting deer, antelope and a couple of cows that froze to death standing up during the blizzard, the families associated with us, part of an oil drilling crew, fared reasonably well. (Yes, my dad did pay the rancher for the beef. The rancher lost over 200 head to the blizzard.)
The trailer families used blow torches on the home heating oil tanks used with the furnaces in the house trailers. It wasn’t that the fuel froze, but it did gel at really low temperatures and refuse to flow. The only running vehicle they had was a military surplus jeep.
It wasn’t until I got married that I started to plan ahead for lean times. At first, it was a 35-gallon drum with flour, sugar, salt, and rice in it and a freezer with a quarter of beef. The quarter of beef I bought from a small local grocery/meat market. The man that ran the grocery also educated me on groceries in general. After several conversations over coffee, I was able to buy case lots at a discount from him, learn what loss leaders were, when stores have special sales with cutthroat pricing, and in general how to effectively protect my family from going hungry and do it cheaply. Both the beef and the service were excellent.
As I grow older and hopefully wiser, it appears that the world is gradually either going crazy, or maybe just sliding sidewise toward the edge. This caused me to get much more serious about protecting the family. I view stocking food like building an inverted pyramid, or maybe a horn of plenty and it’s been a valuable insurance.
At the base, there are the iron rations: a variety of freeze-dried foods in Number 10 cans, heavy on the protein, that are the foods to use when everything else is gone. Back against the wall time. Test the tastes of the iron rations by eating the small backpackers version first. If you don’t like the small portions, then don’t stock it. I also include in these rations instant coffee that has been vacuum-sealed over the original container. Even poor coffee is better than no coffee.
The next layer are the canned goods: soups, meats, veggies, and good coffee. Above that layer are the bulk foods and supplies: rice, some beans, flour, sugar, salt, and yes, toilet paper and paper towels. Don’t forget the over-the-counter medications as well as the prescriptions. All these are subject to individual tastes, needs and situations. I plan carefully for my specific situation. If I add to the iron rations, then I add to the rest of my storage proportionately. If I add on to the canned goods, I add on to the bulk goods and the iron goods. Balance is what I strive for.
The iron rations are not stored with the rest of the foods. They are kept separate and out of the way…they are hidden but quickly accessible. Bug out is a very remote possibility, but…planning for just in case.
We usually buy and stock the freezers with food we plan on using first: hamburger and beef cuts we purchased in bulk and repack. Salmon patties, fresh frozen veggies. If there are heavy discounts we will buy more for later use. The overall costs of living for us are usually lower over time. We can’t avoid inflation, but we can delay and somewhat mitigate its effects.
I have invested in a multi-fuel generator to see to it that the freezers can stay frozen for a couple of weeks if needed. In addition to 20# propane bottles, I also purchased some Wavian-made NATO gas cans. Good product, but a word of caution. I filled these, in the fall, to within an inch of the bottom of the filler neck with premium ethanol-free gas and STA-BIL. When I opened a can a year later, about a cup or two of the light volatiles and gasoline sprayed out in a cloud that filled the garage. The tank had not been shaken and it was only about 70 degrees. Had there been a spark anywhere, there would have been a nasty explosion, probably fatal. I opened the other can very slowly, in the yard, after tipping it back to give more room away from the filler neck. There was outgassing but no spray of gasoline. These cans seal tightly. They are not vented.
Most of the funnels that came with the NATO cans have the crummy safety valve that make fuel transfers a nightmare. There are replacements out there that have no valve. For filling small cans and appliances from the NATO cans, use a siphon or small hand pump. That is much neater and safer. It also avoids lifting and manipulating a sloshing 40-pound fuel can.
Do I expect to need all these preps? I hope not, but the future is looking shaky. The saying is: “Plan for the worst and expect the best.” The preps have paid off day to day. In the past when I lost a job, started a business, sat out a blizzard, or just didn’t want to go to the store, we were in good shape.
Gardening: Oh my. The last garden I had was okay on root crops and so-so on other plants as long as we kept the water going. We have a gumbo clay soil that can turn into concrete. You can add amendments and the gumbo just soaks them up. There were two years when grasshoppers ate everything that came up. We had blizzards of the bugs. The water for the garden is almost as bad as the gumbo. I have tried square-foot gardening with some degree of success, but don’t want to have to depend on it if possible. The return on time invested was poor. (It’s my fault, I have the proverbial black thumb.) I still have seeds, but I’m feeling lazy and my back hurts, so I think I’ll experiment with smaller plots to better find what works. In the meantime, I’ll store more canned goods.
You try to adjust to your situation until you can adjust your situation to your needs. One size does not fit all, and things/people/places change. Changing location is not going to happen in this stage of my life. To quote an old saying: “I’ll root, hog, or die.” The pithy sayings I often drop are rooted in sometimes painful facts.
About our group: it wasn’t planned or expected.
Lessons From Our Elk Hunting Camp
Several years ago, two guys went Elk hunting and set up a camp in the mountains of Montana. They never planned on it becoming a regular thing or a group. Additional people were added to what became an annual hunting camp and it grew gradually over the years, but not by any overall plan. They were men that got along well together and had similar backgrounds and work ethic: See something that needs doing, and do it. See someone that needs a hand and give it. No prima donnas. They enjoyed each other’s company. The group continued their association outside of the camp and into town. We helped each other with fencing, engines and barbeques. There were people we interacted with that we did not invite into the group: The guy, that after a couple of beers, had a personality of a rabid weasel, the guy that wanted to organize us for more efficiency but couldn’t do any of the work, the guy that could get lost in a paper bag. We made it a point to never snub anyone, we just slowly moved away. Again, courtesy.
If we would have thought of ourselves as a group, it would have been a hunting, fishing and camping group. Because of the loose organization, not all members were involved all the time, but they were as close as a phone call. Effectively, we were a prepper group in function. We all had freezers and pantries of varying depth, so planning for a week or two in the mountains was easy. Food, water, heating and shelter plus emergencies was needed for the outing and that is prepping. If it was a week in the mountains, we planned for two.
Odd things about our group: There were multiple religions and political viewpoints and we rarely if ever bothered with any of it in camp. At the end of camp we’d have a cup of coffee and one or another would ask if he owed anything for food or supplies and that was the end of it. We’d settle up if needed, but rarely was there any need. Some of the other camps we visited over the years always seemed to have arguments over who spent the most money, did all the work or they just seemed to like arguing.
One winter in particular, it got cold enough to start freezing the beer in the tent, the wind was blowing and it was blizzard conditions. We left just before another storm moved in. The camp stayed up in case we couldn’t get out and had to return. The trucks were chained on all four corners, we left in a convoy, and it took four and a half hours to get to the state highway, normally a casual hour drive. Could we have stayed? Yes, we had provisions for another couple weeks, but you know, jobs! We returned a couple of weeks later and the camp was intact and there were no animal tracks within several miles.
No elk or deer on that trip, they were smarter than us. While we went to the mountains, they knew the storm was coming and went down and sheltered with the ranchers’ cows. Winter in the mountains is a food desert for humans, and no fun for the wildlife so they too, will avoid it. Something to keep in mind if you plan on bugging out to the mountains.
We started camping with a canvas wall tent and that grew to two. They seemed the most comfortable and useable in the fall and winter. As the years passed, we added indoor/outdoor carpeting and foam mattress pads. We added oversized plastic tarps as rain/snow flies to add to the comfort and usability. In the summer, modern tents with bug screening were the way to go. The women and children, mostly, didn’t appreciate drafty and cold tents with poor toilets, so summer fishing and camping trips were more their style.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.)