issue 118 – letters – self-reliance – preparedness – homestead

Letters To The Editor

From Issue #118

Ready to live off land

I really enjoy your magazine and look forward to it coming every month. I bought a ¼ section of land in Montana in the Bull Mountains about 4 years ago. Next spring I am retiring and will make that my new home. This year I will start building a garage for storage so I can start leaving stuff at the property. I am also having a well dug and putting in a septic system to hook my trailer up to. I will start building my home when I live there full time. Reading your magazine has helped me realize I can live off the land and have a great life. I have always wanted to live like that.

Bob Whitney
Long Beach, California

I found my man

Thank you for your wonderful magazine. I had written a short comment (venting) and you had previously published it. And no, Dave, it wasn’t meant to be a “personal”ad. I was surprised, however, in the amount of men who wrote me letters. Unfortunately BHM didn’t produce a match for me. The great news is that I did meet a wonderful man, my age, who has all the same values as I do. Last week we went to visit the 100 acres of woods he grew up on in ID where his retired parents now live in a solar and hydro powered home way back in the woods. I was also able to meet my man’s grandparents who are still married in their 90s, and still have a huge garden. So it’s in his blood! He’s a keeper. We just finished plowing up our garden on our little ½ acre plot. And I was able to purchase 12 new raspberry plants, 50 more strawberry plants, and a blueberry bush. And our pantry is ready for what is to come. Thank you again for all the wonderful encouragement and tips inside every issue of BHM.

Heather Morrow
Shelton, Washington

Thanks for helping me be prepared for the collapse

I am renewing my subscription for three more years. Please credit my account for two years and use the third for a person serving in our military. There aren’t enough ways to say thank you for all they do for us. But sending them your fine magazine is a darn good one. I have been a subscriber for quite a few years now. And I wanted to tell you what a valuable resource your magazine has been. You provide a first rate magazine, with top notch writers, and extremely informative articles. I can’t begin to tell you all I have learned from its pages. When the recent economic collapse came and I got laid off I had freezers full of food, cupboards full of canned and dry goods, money in the bank, a stockpile of ammo for hunting and protection, enough firewood cut, split, and stacked for more than a year. I pretty much had everything I needed. This was due in no small part to all I have learned about preparedness from your great magazine. What could have been a very stressful time for me has been made much easier because I was prepared. Thank you!

Our country is going through momentous and very troubling changes. Our government is using our economic troubles to steal more and more of our freedoms and dismantle our free market system. Because so many Americans are so uninformed and accepting that the Big Brother government can and should solve all their problems, I fear we are swiftly going down a path toward disaster. The wonderful gift of freedom and independence our forefathers gave us is nearly gone. And the saddest thing is that it seems to me that most Americans are only too happy to throw away this most valuable of gifts. For the illusion of security. They are willing to give over control of all aspects of their lives to those who tell them they know what is best for them. We are in a very sad time in the great history of our country. But reading your magazine helps to keep me aware of what is going on, gives me hope that just maybe there are enough of us out there to keep the truth about real freedom alive. And just maybe if people like yourself and the other intelligent and fine writers in your magazine keep on educating and giving us out here the ammunition we need to dispute all the propaganda that is out there, and to show the people we know how things have gone wrong, maybe just maybe, when things get bad enough and enough people get tired of all the lies and hollow promises, we can turn things around. Keep up the good fight and I’ll keep carrying the message to everyone I know. Despite what many may think, all is not lost. In the words of a great American, “We have not yet begun to fight!”

Timothy Crays
Roaring Branch, Pennsylvania

Annie doing a great job

I have been buying Backwoods Home since I lived in Ventura and Annie was knee high to a grasshopper! It is hard to believe she is a wonderful Mom of her own little ones. She is doing a great job with the magazine, but afterall she had the best of teachers. I hope you will continue ’til the end of my time and I am only 52 so that’s many continued years of quality reading. Jackie Clay is a gem. One of my favorites!

Cynthia Douglas
Bremerton, Washington

I felt it best to subscribe

I usually pick up this magazine at the library, but I love all the articles so much and want to reread them at my convenience. I felt it best to subscribe. Thank you!

Dawn Jungblut
Easton, Pennsylvania

Thank you for the donated subscription

I had previously written to you explaining that I couldn’t afford to renew my subscription this year. I just started receiving BHM again. Thank you very much for donating a subscription to me. I will save my money, and buy a two-year subscription next year.

I mentioned in my last letter that I am incarcerated for a drug charge. Prior to that, I held the same job for almost 14 years. I was a batchman/dispatcher for a large concrete company. I have a company profit sharing, which rolled over into an IRA. I hope to buy some land.

I have always considered the homestead life. I am divorced and have no children. My wife and I wanted children. I was tested, and found to have a low sperm count. To me, that’s proof that God sees the big picture. Hopefully, I would have made better decisions as a parent, but if not, I couldn’t imagine spending 10 years in prison trying to be a parent.

The things I have experienced here have been negative. I do all that I can to turn it into something positive. I have 2 jobs. I work from 7:30-3:20 as a teacher. I have been teaching for about 3 years. I have helped many of the inmates get their G.E.D.s. I have also taught several guys to play guitar. I am working on getting an associates degree in Business Technology. I have taught myself to speak, read, and write in Spanish. I have read all of the literary classics. I spend time reading the Bible daily. I do not watch television.

I have always been able to do anything I put my mind to. Your magazine fuels my inspiration to be a homesteader. I have had more than my fill of crowded places, and noisy people. Thank you for all that you do. I really enjoy your magazine. (I also think the guards enjoy it before I get it.)

David Francis
Glenville, West Virginia

Question on solar article

I enjoyed reading Jeff Yago’s interesting and informative article on wiring a small solar system in Issue 116 (March/April 2009). I hesitate to question his fine work, but feel I must to prevent folks from making a serious mistake. I studied engineering many years ago, was a journeyman electrician, have an Amateur Extra Ham radio license, and have lived off grid for ten years in a 2400 square foot solar powered home…solar electric, solar heat, solar well, solar hot water, and power enough to run all kinds of power tools. I travel in the desert of Arizona most winters in a solar powered diesel motorhome…solar electric for the convection microwave, toaster oven, hot plate to cook, crock pot, televisions, CD player, DVD players, radios, computer, Ham radios, hair dryer, satellite internet, LED lights, and operate the 10 cubic foot refrigerator / freezer and ice maker on solar power during the day. I’ve had a little practical experience with solar power and have made a few mistakes along the way. I’ve seen a lot of RVs with adequate sized solar panels and batteries that have to run a noisy generator because their solar system doesn’t work.

The main problem with DC wiring is it requires larger stranded copper wire about three times the size called for in the National Electric Code for AC circuits. Remember the National Electric Code is for fire protection, not for efficiency. For an AC load of 20 amps the code lists # 12 copper wire. Proper design for an AC lighting load would use 80% or less and limit # 12 wire to 16 amps. If the wire gets a little warm the voltage drops and the amperage goes up and makes the meter spin faster… power companies love this. DC is a different ball game and the DC current travels mostly on the outer surface of the wire. A fine stranded wire will carry more DC current than a solid wire of the same size before it has a voltage drop. Look at a welding cable… all fine strands! A # 12 stranded copper wire will only carry about 7 amps DC before there is significant voltage drop in a 12 volt solar system. To carry 20 amps it is necessary to use # 6 wire or # 4 wire. The solar controller should be three stage with a voltage adjustment so the bulk charging voltage can be adjusted to 14.4 to 14.8 volts measured at the battery while charging. If the wire is too small it won’t be possible to get a high enough voltage to completely charge or equalize the batteries and you will have less power. This means you will need more solar panels and batteries to get the same power you would get by setting the system up correctly without significant voltage drop. Many solar controllers are factory set to charge sealed batteries so an amateur won’t blow them up by mistake. The 6 volt lead acid golf cart batteries need more voltage to completely charge. If they are not completely charged the plates will sulphate and short out before their normal life span. This means more money wasted on batteries that could be spent on beans and rice.

If you are planning to start with a small system and add more panels and batteries later and use an inverter to provide 120 volt power, it is necessary to plan ahead. Even in a small system use two 6 volt golf cart batteries in series instead of two 12 volt deep cycle batteries in parallel. Leave the12 volt in the boat to run the trolling motor. The 6 volt plates are heavier and the batteries will last a lot longer. Choosing a controller is important because it will determine the voltage and amperage limits for the panels and batteries. Higher voltage is more efficient and cheaper to install the wiring. To have a good system will cost some serious money, but the alternative could be candles and a battery operated radio. With the present devaluation of the currency and planned future increases in energy cost, going solar now makes a lot of sense… at least until the politicians start taxing sunshine! No electric bill every month is kind of nice. It probably won’t have a payback for a few years at current electric cost, but it sure is nice when an ice storm knocks out the power grid. Been there!

At home I have 48 volts from a Wattsun tracker with 1580 watts of power going to a Solar Boost 6024H 60 amp controller and charging 16 batteries wired at 24 volts. I use a Trace SW4024 sine wave inverter to provide 4 KW of 120 volt power. On the RV I have 1095 watts wired at 24 volts on the roof that raise with linear actuators and go to an Outback MX60 controller to charge 6 batteries at 12 volts. Because I park with the RV facing south I have more panels than necessary so I get more power in the early morning and late afternoon. I have a 2 KW inverter in the RV. It is always more efficient to use the highest voltage possible from the panels to the controller and design the system to keep the wires as short as possible. I also use 4 PulseTech units at home and one on the RV to increase battery life and not have to equalize the batteries. (800) 580-7554 is their number. For some of the folks reading this that think an ohm is an Englishman’s house, I’ve probably wasted my time writing this. To summarize: USE BIG STRANDED WIRE! And NO, I’m not in business wiring solar systems…supposed to be retired. At this time in life, work is a four letter word.

Doc Schumaker
Cookeville, Tennessee

In reply to this writer I would first like to commend him for his serious use of solar power in both his home and RV, and his obvious long experience with using solar power. My only concern is his statement that he wants “to prevent folks from making a serious mistake” related to my wire sizing recommendations in this article. First, I would like to point out that I try very hard to make my articles easy to read and understand by a non-technical reader, while trying to explain how to build very simple solar projects using fairly easy to obtain materials. This means this may not be the most perfect design possible and my writing is not intended to used in a graduate electrical engineering textbook, so you need to cut me some slack. But since you brought it up, telling our readers that my wire sizing recommendations are “a serious mistake” could easily be mis-understood as implying somebody following my wire sizing table could cause serious damage or be dangerous, and this is a gross mis-representation of my article.

Since you indicate you are a ham radio operator I am sure you will understand the “skin effect” which relates to your statement that “a fine stranded wire will carry more DC current than a solid wire of the same size because DC electricity travels mostly on the surface of the wire.” For the benefit of our readers, this “skin effect” has nothing to do with DC current and it is not true that a fine stranded wire has any more current carrying capacity than a solid wire, or that DC power only travels over the surface of the wire. This “skin effect” is based on the frequency of the voltage and current passing through the wire. Yes, it is true that at higher frequencies, the current will start to travel over the “surface” of the wire instead of through the center of the wire, but it has been proven that below 0.10 MhZ there is no measurable skin effect, which means for DC electricity with a frequency of zero there will be no skin effect. If this wire was a speaker wire in a car or radio antenna wire, then yes, the higher frequencies will see a higher wire resistance for a solid wire due to this skin effect, but we are talking about short wires used to connect a 12 volt battery, not these other applications. My article makes it very clear that my wire sizing guide relates to the fact that at very low voltages, wire resistance on long wires is a major issue, and I have up-sized this wire from what is recommended by the NEC to account for the higher resistance at low voltages, not because its DC electricity. Although I may not have said that multiple strand wire will be easier to install than solid, if the reader goes to a local home builder supply as I suggested to purchase wire in the size ranges we are discussing, it will not be solid copper as you have expressed concern, but for the wrong reasons.

Finally, you state that welding cable uses finely stranded wire inside the large cable because its carrying DC electricity, not AC electricity which the NEC wire tables are based. Sorry, but this also is not correct. Welding requires very high currents at very low voltages, so the wire size must be very large to reduce voltage drop. Yes, typical building cable is made up with larger individual wires than the high strand count in welding cable, so typical building cable would be too stiff to drag around on a shop floor, bend into all kinds of tight spaces, then roll up for temporary storage when the welding is done for the day. The very fine strands used to make welding cable provides a very flexible large cable for welding, but this has nothing to do with DC electricity. In fact, I should point out to our readers that welding cable is NOT approved by the NEC or UL to be used for house wiring since its heavy wall insulation cannot meet the smoke rating for house wiring. In addition, the National Electric Code has specifically outlawed the use of fine stranded welding cable for DC solar wiring because the bundled fine wire compresses over time inside a crimped fitting or screw terminal. There have been many fires reported that were caused by these terminals over-heating and melting after the fine stranded wire “settled” after the initial terminal compression and created a high resistance connection.

I really appreciate that you have been living the solar life and clearly have learned lots of things about solar through your experiences, but my article clearly stated that it was for a “small” cabin with short wire lengths which will result in minimum wire losses. I also made it very clear that this design was not intended for large battery banks or adding 120 VAC power inverters, so as long as the reader follows my recommendations and has the proper fusing or circuit breakers to protect each wire run, I see no need for concern. You gave some good advice on your past experiences with solar charge controllers and batteries which match the advice I have provided in all prior articles and are available on line, so I am glad we agree on all other solar issues. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and letter. — Jeff Yago

Economic stimulus plans

…Is anyone else “curious” about how the various levels of Government did not have the money to “create infrastructure and ‘green’ jobs” during the very recent boom years before Wall St. sank into the abyss, but now The Economic Stimulus Plan(s) will “save the economy” by borrowing gazillions of dollars which we, our children, and grandchildren will have to repay through higher taxes. Is this a little-known-but-time-proven, or a new Pulitzer Prize winning, economic model, or simply a politically opportunistic way of further expanding Government socialistic control? the Economic Stimulus Plan(s) sure sounds like the common “keep spending until the taxpayer drops” where us little folks are once again left holding-the-bag to pay the credit bills for many years into the future. It’s always easy to be an expert in spending someone else’s hard-earned money to do “something.”

Debbie Darintony
Astoria, New York

What homegrown and homemade really are

My father was raised and lived during very hard times. This resulted in his knowing what “homegrown” and “homemade” really are. He would put up two nice steers, two because cattle & pigs are competitive eaters, and feed them out to something around 1000 lbs. (depending on the breed). We would sell one and take the other to slaughter. Seldom could we eat the meat we got back.

This got us going. We built a summer house with a basement and attic storage. Because of their age, stairs weren’t an option, so dad designed and built an elevator with a 12V winch, battery, and charger. A ladder was left in the basement, just in case.

On the west end of this two room house, we cut an eight foot hole, built a platform and set a 6×8 walk-in cooler. We located butcher equipment that was no longer suited for “commercial” production, but served us well. This set-up served us well for as long as my father lived. My mom could do her summer canning without heating up the house. The basement was right there, and the 6×8-foot cooler stored fresh food till she could get it canned. All in all it was a great set-up and we finally got to eat meat “we” raised.

We started out by butchering our first steer. To help make the job manageable, we used his tractor with front end loader. The overall work still nearly killed us all. From that point on, he hauled them to the slaughter house where for $10 plus hide, head, and entrails, our beef was killed, cleaned, gov’t. inspected, cut in quarters, placed in large bags (my mom made of sheets), put in our truck, and all in the amount of time it took to get the tractor started and wash the front end loader down.

The hogs were another story. I refused to do it the old tried and true way. I presumed, as young people do, I could skin a hog before my dad could get the water hot. For once in my life, I was right. We skinned many hogs after that. Still had plenty of lard and “hot” cracklin’s.

My youth did return to haunt me though. When it came to curing the pork my father did it all until his health began to fail. He would then stand by and instruct me. He kept telling me to make sure I broke the joint in that ham and worked the cure well into the joint. Well, my hands were cold, I had some of the cure in and that should do it! The old man always overdoes everything anyway. Lost both of the two largest hams we ever processed. Some lessons are learned the hard way; that was one of them.

I would love to keep on, as most of us old folks do tend to get long-winded, but this little note has already turned into a long letter.

I have been getting your publication since you took over from the survival mag. Have grown to love you guys as well as the read. Looks like it’s time for more than that now. Looks like it is time to start praying for each other. Keep the print coming.

Norman Pemberton
Sherman, Texas

Donating a subscription

Thank you so much! We are renewing & would like to add the cost of another subscription for someone else who is probably really cutting corners and on a fixed income. We love your magazine and would not want to lose any of our reading time with you. (And I know someone else is sad if they are having to cancel Backwoods!) Please, Duffy, it’s up to your choice to pick who you can help…

Tamuela & Patrick Tracy
Horse Creek, Wyoming

Enclosed please find a check for $95.85. $70.90 is to renew my subscription for three years. The remaining $24.95 is to cover, at your discretion, either a military subscription or to renew the subscription of a current subscriber who has fallen on hard times.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your publication! I have been stationed overseas since 2005 and have deployed to Iraq during that time. Backwoods Home Magazine has always been not only a source of great information on many topics, but a welcome respite on occasion and continual proof that most Americans are not the idiots portrayed in the mass media. Keep up the great work!

Steven Hinman
Camp Zama, Japan

Thanks. We make sure subscription donations go to worthy & needy people. — Dave

Thanks for being in-depth

Thank you for the Jan/Feb Issue. I have enjoyed reading it—immensely.

Major compliment—you have not succumbed to the Sesame Street “mind-programming” of mini-segments of information. Your articles are in-depth and meaningful.

I especially liked John Silveira’s article, “The Last Word.” I found it to be the clearest explanation of where we are economy-wise than anything else I’ve seen. Len Torney’s “Don’t Get Stranded in Winter” article is excellent for new-bees and has good reminders for those who’ve been around the block.

I had to fight for the right to breast-feed as per Rebekah Cowell’s article—so nice the world has turned around where it should be. Liked Massad Ayoob’s “Firearms” article. I cooked my Southern husband’s favorite “Red beans & rice” meal after being triggered by Richard Blunt’s “Gourmet nutrition” article.

Phyl Chisholm
Tijeras, New Mexico

Are you all Libertarians?

I visited Oregon when I attended the Libertarian Party Convention in Portland, Oregon. Oregon was really great—interesting. We drove to the coast from Portland, then south to that sea lion place. Astoria was fun.

Are you all Libertarians? From the address label that you sent me, it is most assuredly from the Liberty magazine list. I was very good friends with Bill Bradford and Kathy. They used to live in Michigan.

James Hudler
Chelsea, Michigan

The publisher (me), main editor (Annie Tuttle), and Senior Editor (John Silveira) are Libertarians. — Dave

Found you in card pack

I’m so glad your card was in one of those ad packs. Thankfully I didn’t throw it away—I have missed you guys—can’t find you on the mag racks anymore—around here anyway! Am sending the $9.95 but want to sign up for more so please send a form.

C.R. Morris
Colville, Washington

We’re not in many stores anymore. Another distributor of magazines to bookstores went bankrupt between issues. Many magazine distributors, and many magazines themselves, are doing poorly. BHM is one of the few that is doing well. — Dave

Don’t ever let Jackie go!

Don’t ever let Jackie Clay quit. There’s something about her and her horse-sense that appeals to people. Her answer to the reader, asking her to give a run-down on her life story, revealed her love of horses and the Tomboy trait. A Gal after my own heart.

Not that your other writers aren’t good. They are. But Jackie’s down-to-earth attitude speaks volumes to a lot of people…

Michaelene Spikes
Licking, Missouri


I love your magazine. I look forward to it. Just when I start slipping back to being wasteful and careless—here comes your magazine to keep me on track.

The garden season should be good here in S.D. We have had lots of spring rain. Thank you so much for all your work!

June Snyder
Hartford, South Dakota

You guys are great! Great practical magazine. Lots of good ideas. Love the political slant on things in Gov’t. Keep it up. The only “change” we can count on is more of what we’ve gotten.

Joe Sabah
New Franken, Wisconsin

Your magazine is better than MEN & Countryside. We really enjoy your magazine! If I get your magazine first, I hide it from my husband until I read it completely & so does he if he gets to the mailbox 1st.

Marcelle Bethany
Tupelo, Mississippi

We love Backwoods Home! Finally a magazine for our heads and our hearts!

Margot Keyes
Epsom, New Hampshire

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