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All Machines Will Eventually Fail

June 1, 2016

We’ve all read those prepper novels where the protagonists escape to there well equipped retreats that have everything they need to survive.  They have tractors, garden tillers, chain saws, generators, solar panels, windmills, fuel dumps and lubricants, four-wheel drive vehicles, ham radios, propane tanks, etc., etc., and etc.  They are able to live, and thrive, and help out other poor unfortunates that were not prepared, and when society finally gets back on its feet they are able to re-enter it virtually unscathed.

Well, those are nice works of fiction, but here are some facts.  In the last six months on my farm I have had to replace one car battery, one tractor battery, an ignition switch and a diesel cut off solenoid on a tractor, a chainsaw bar, bearings on a belly mower, the supply line and regulator on a propane tank, a burned out well pump and holding tank, and I still need to replace oil seals on a garden tractor, and roto-tiller.  And that’s just the stuff I can remember.

The fact is that all machines eventually break down, and the parts to repair them and the power to run them are all dependent on a very fragile manufacturing and delivery system that will not exist after some cataclysmic event disrupts all of that.  You can certainly stockpile some obvious maintenance parts and you can even buy duplicates of some items like chainsaws; but who can afford to have a back-up tractor or a duplicate vehicle that just sits in the garage?  Maybe you, but certainly not poor old country-boy me.

A little ingenuity and a little scavenging may be able to keep things running for a while; but if a crisis lasts long enough, we will all be living on the frontier in the 18th century.  All farming will be done with hand tools unless you are fortunate enough to have a plow and some mules.   All wood work and wood cutting will be done with hand tools. All cooking will be done on wood.  Your house will be heated by wood and lighted by homemade candles.  Water will be drawn from a well with a bucket.  Soap will be homemade.  Shoes and clothing will be made from home tanned leather.  Think “Daniel Boone” and you will be pretty close to what life would be like if society broke down for ten or fifteen years.

So, what I’m trying to say here is that prepping is a multi-layered situation, and one of those layers is “what if it goes on for years?”  It certainly wouldn’t hurt you to start learning some of the daily living skills that were part of 18th century life.  Learn how to cook on a campfire.  Learn how to brain-tan leather and make moccasins and clothes.  Learn how to make candles.  Maybe even take up blacksmithing as a hobby.  There are re-enactment groups all over the United States that promote and teach these skills, and it may be worth your time to check one of them out.

Hopefully you will never have to actually live in the 18th century, but it can be kind of fun to learn how, and it will add another layer of depth to your preparations for a possible calamity in the future.

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  1. Risa Stephanie Bear permalink

    All true.

    In Starvation Ridge (if I may, it’s admittedly by me), we look at a three-year slice of post-crash life in which a group is pulling resources toward itself from the surroundings, but getting “poorer” over time. Firearms and such become rarer, bows and spears are on the increase. Food is an obsession, even though it’s all tainted by chemicals and isotopes. One character muses over her precious pair of binoculars that she’d never have bothered with it, a cheap model with one prism knocked out of alignment, back in the day, and now she might well kill to keep it. (._.)

  2. George Bailey permalink

    Hank –

    I fully agree about learning old skills (I have been an 1840s re-enactor for years and have developed some of the skills), but I wonder how much wood and game will remain after a few years of crisis. If you property backs onto a national forest you may have lots of resources, but if not …..
    Two advantages of the 18th and 19th centuries was an abundance of resources (at least on the frontier) and a smaller (relative) population. Luxuries we won’t necessarily have.

    Having said that, learning the old skills is an important way to prep. I really enjoy your articles !!!

    – George

    • George,
      Thanks for reading. I agree with you about the rapid disapearance of game. Just not that much game compared to the current population. That being said, anyone who can survive the first couple of years will probably have a lot less competition for resources. Sad to think, but probably true.
      Have a good one,

  3. Tassiebush permalink

    I often ponder the same thing. With machinery there are huge labour saving benefits but a complex supply and repair chain. One approach I have thought about (but not implemented) is to set up a bunch of helpful machinery around a fairly cheap engine type such as a 4stroke 6.5hp stationary motor or something similar as used for everything from generators to go carts, pumps, rotary hoes etc. You can even buy long tail outboard kits for them (mud motors). If certain models were used like LPG or propane ones wood gasifiers could be used. These would still all break down eventually and need to be conserved but I figure they are cheap enough to put a lot aside and common enough to scrounge parts and with a few gasifiers the storage efforts could be focused on parts and lubricants. It may even be possible to put a lifetimes worth aside?! But I guess this is still quite limited compared to what we have available now.
    One area of food gathering which being cut off from a modern economy would badly impact is fishing and particularly spearfishing equipment. I live close to the sea and foraging near home is a mix of land and sea resources. Being able to see underwater and the use of rubber to aid spearfishing are possibly impossible to improvise. Similarly being able to use artificial light greatly aids success. I suppose it would come down to homemade or repaired goggles and masks by day and burning torches at night. I wonder if any rechargeable batteries can last for decades?

    • All excellent observations. I am put to mind of 18th century factories where one water-wheel turned a long shaft to which several belt driven machines were attached. Unfortunately, few of us live next to constant flow rivers or streams that would make this work. I was recently in the Netherlands and toured a windmill that was built in 1645 and is still in operation lifting 20,000 gallons of water an hour out of pastures and fields. All gears, shafts bearings, etc., hand-made of wood. Very interesting technology and worth more study.

      • Tassiebush permalink

        I will definitely do some searching on that topic. Dutch land reclamation technology and their boats are fascinating topics!

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