issue 93 – letters – self-reliance – preparedness – homestead

Letters To The Editor

From Issue #93

Romantic steam engines and wood/coal gasifiers as home energy sources

Regarding Michael Saucer’s inquiry on plans for steam engines as a home power provider try “The Steam Outlet,” P.O. Box 1426, Thonotassassa, FL 33592. Catalog costs $5 and offers a variety of prints on boilers and IC engine conversions as well as a line of smaller scale steam turbines and associated hardware.

To be frank, while steam might be a romantic alternative power source, if you have wood or even low-grade coal deposits I believe a gasifier is probably a more viable and safer choice.

Gasification retorts have been around for well over a century. In basic terms they involve a container in which your combustible fuel is heated, driving off flammable hydrocarbon gasses which are then scrubbed in filters to remove particulate matter before being plumbed into a modified carb to fuel a standard internal combustion engine. Such rigs were heavily used both in Europe and Australia from the interwar period thru the end of WWII to fuel motor vehicles.

There are some fine resources still available on this little known technology. Online, there was a portion of the FEMA website that was a reprint of a 1930s/40s vintage manual on building a gasifier for your farm tractor from 55-gallon steel barrels.

One can also purchase the old Mother Earth News plans, which date from the 70s when Shuttleworth’s people were doing stunts like their drive to DC in a wood-fired ½-ton truck. Decent set of plans based around the use of recycled hot-water heater tanks.

Yet another source is Lindsays Books, who currently offer several vintage titles including a reprint of the WWII Aussie conversion manual for cars, as well as a hobbiest booklet on building a small gasifier and running a common Briggs & Stratton to spin an automobile alternator.

As an aside, should you have native deposits of limestone, one could always consider breaking it down to calcium carbide to fuel acetylene generators to in turn fuel a conventional IC generator. Many ways to skin the energy cat folks.

Charles Bishop
Duluth, MN

Still building on our preparedness lifestyle

About two years ago, we began our preparedness lifestyle on 25 woody acres located a mile from any highway, because we observed many trends that made us feel it imperative to do so as quickly as possible. We are very protective of our privacy, we have no debt and no credit cards, and live on a purposely limited income so as to pay as little taxes as possible, often none. We think we are below the ‘radar’ for whatever may happen. We are working on solar and wind power for energy, and getting a water collection system in place for non-potable needs. Backwoods Home is our favorite realistic magazine, in every respect, and we feel that you are indeed our friends.

There is a difference between emergency preparedness and planning for a self-sufficient life. Both are important. One thing I am interested in is bartering during an emergency. What would you recommend as good barterables to have on hand? Someone suggested cooking oils and booze, and I think my seeds and seedlings would be important. What do your contributors have to say about this topic?

I’m also interested in non-electric appliances (Lehman’s is a good source), and in foods that do not need store-bought ingredients. One favorite item is my sourdough starter, but all the recipes I have found require yeast except one I somehow got the first half of from your March/April 1994 issue. For some reason I got pg. 78 but not pg. 79 which has the rest of the recipe! I wasn’t a subscriber then, and have no idea how I got this one page, but I’d like to get either a copy of that magazine, or the rest of the recipe. $5 enclosed for the issue if it’s available.

Ironically, we traveled through your Gold Beach about five years ago, but we didn’t know you then. However, when you talk about moving the office and about your town, we can imagine it. What fun that is! May God continue to bless you.

P.S. to Jackie Clay: We too bought an old single-wide mobile home and brought it in behind our tractor through a mile of woods and mud. I could so relate to you walking along trying to keep the branches from ripping it up. We started from scratch, lived in a 12-foot camper for a couple of months til we got this place set up. Every single thing we have here, we have done ourselves. What a satisfying adventure! I can feel your stories.

Jackie and Herman Sears
Center Cross, VA

How about ammo for barter. We sent you the March/April ’94 issue. — Dave

My food storage helped me avert a disaster

Thank you for your wonderful magazine. I love it! It has helped me very much in the very recent past. Due to some upheaval and changes in my personal and financial life, I’ve been literally living on my food storage. No money = no groceries and bills keep coming, but things keep changing and I’m getting into a better situation. I can’t wait to be able to “stock up” again, I’ve realized how important this is. “Disasters” don’t always make the news and don’t necessarily affect more than one person, but can wreak havoc on the unprepared.

Fred Scott
Craigsville, WV

Finally made the move!

Made the move into the camp in the woods up here a while back, finally off the grid! No phone, power etc. except for what I do for myself. Power freedom! Feels great. Plus no bills from the money hungry, escalating-cost wallet-suckers! Should have done it long ago.

Keep up the good work. I may have an article to submit soon on what I did and learned in this process.

T.F. Carone
Sangerville, ME

Old Arkansas pioneer needs to help needy

Recently I acquired #6, Sept/Oct issue, of Backwoods Home Magazine. Back when it was black and white. That was the time I started my first subscription! It was a great magazine then, and it’s even better today. When I get my magazine in the mail I know I’m going to have “a good day.”

I’m past 68 years old. I’ve lived without electric or any type of modern convenience. I’ve cooked on a wood stove, starting out with an old box, long, wood stove, which I set up outdoors. I’ve canned outside in a tub with a lid on top from an old wringer washer. Reckon, I’m an old pioneer sort of lady.

My ideas and views on political aspects are exactly like yours, and it’s always interesting to me to read on your thoughts Dave Duffy! Hang in there, your thoughts are on the right track.

Last year, due to a heart problem, I had to give in to having electric put in!

I raise an acre garden, and 10 square foot beds. Last year, I was blessed with so much food, I was able to help a shelter for abused women and children and a food pantry for the needy.

Why am I writing to Backwoods Home? To ask for two things, if anyone can help me on it. I’m looking for a used Vita Mix Dehydrator. Vita Mix doesn’t make them anymore. Maybe someone who reads Backwoods Home has one. And I would like to receive seeds so this 2005 garden I can plant a little more and help more people. It’s hard for me to keep seeds on my small security check.

It would be OK to print my name and address. I doubt I will see any of my letter in print, I’m not a good letter writer. But no matter what, you’ll always be sending me Backwoods Home! Bless you and yours.

Lillian Faubus
P.O. Box 197
Summit, AR 72677

A magazine strong enough to speak freely

I applaud all of you for building a publication that is strong enough to listen, and able to print criticism of your view, but yet stand rock-solid in your opinion. That in itself is inspiring. … If I could afford it I’d buy 3 copies for every library, school, prison, retirement home, hospital, and waiting room in North America. I sent a friend an issue and she loved everything except the “American politics.” She’s Canadian.

Children should be exposed to these ideas as a steady diet. The other day a buddy said over lunch that the three of us sitting there were probably the only ones in the room interested in growing their own garden. There were around 130 people there, and he’s about right. The countryside doesn’t exist in the minds of city people. If you ask about it, it is a place of chaos, dirty, backwards people that don’t know anything. That’s what they really think! The concept of supporting themselves is totally foreign to them, and that’s because as a child they were never introduced to the ideas.

Jason R. Glascock
Green Bay, WI

Backpacker water filter

Enjoyed the article on preparedness planning by Jeffrey Yago. Did I miss it or did Jeff forget to mention backpacker water filters. These let you filter over a thousand gallons of water. Unlike the 2 liter soda bottle they don’t freeze in the winter while riding around in my truck.

Where do I buy such a thin sleeping bag?

In the article on preparedness (by Jeff Yago) in this last issue there was a picture of a sleeping bag that was stuffed down to a size that was smaller than the boot next to it. Can you tell me what kind it is and where I might find one? I love your magazine.

Kyde Lance

Almost all of the survival items in the photos (except electronics and radios) were purchased from a local outdoor camping supply store. The sleeping bag shown is made out of thin thermal blanket material, and comes with the nylon carry bag. Most camping stores have this item along with more standard sleeping bags. — Jeff Yago

Preparing for a future “backwoods” life

I just wanted to give your magazine a huge “thank you” for all of the valuable information tucked inside. I started off by ordering your “Whole Sheebang” and am plowing my way through the first anthology, marking articles for my future “backwoods” life. You are the breath of fresh air that is so badly needed in our failing society. A few years ago, I purchased 5 acres of land in northern NH for under $20,000. We have since had a septic system, well, shed (with full bath), along with power and phone service installed. Last year, we added a spacious trailer. My wife and I plan to live up there when we retire. I am a music teacher in a public school system in Massachusetts and am getting very tired of the ridiculous social and educational manifestos that are crossing my path. Because of the stupidity, I feel that I will be leaving the field of education sooner, rather than later. My wife, though more tolerant, is pretty fed up with the DOE and their cumbersome gorilla-like ways. I joke about the fact that I am one of the 49 registered Libertarians in the state.

We’ve led a pretty sheltered life. I hail from Brooklyn, NY and was brought up by a father who couldn’t be bothered with building or fixing anything. His train of thought was “why bother when you can pay the super to fix it for a buck?” He concentrated on his job and I have followed in his footsteps. I believe I have some mechanical aptitude but don’t know where to begin. My wife is a computer specialist and has trained me through the years to be quite good at handling the problems that one would encounter with this medium.

We now need to acquire some skills so that we don’t have to rely on others so much. That’s the challenge for us. Any thoughts as how to build our repertoire of skill sets? Is one place better to start than another? I remember several years back when I wanted to go RV camping. I never owned an RV, nor did I know anyone that did. I learned how to hitch, get moving, and eventually I pulled my 26′ foot camper to Florida three years in a row. At first, I didn’t think I could do it, but now it’s no big deal. I can also apply mindset to gaining knowledge with firearms. After 9/11, I was convinced that I needed to actively protect my family and not become a statistic. It’s not that I don’t trust our local police. I’m just not convinced that the intruders will allow us to call while they hold us hostage.

Dave Neuman

I’ve always operated on the principle that you learn by doing. I didn’t know much about carpentry or electrical or plumbing when I built the house that eventually launched this magazine, but I kept some good how-to books by my side and learned as I went. I’m also fond of trading whatever skills I have with others for their skills. If you need some carpentry done, for example, maybe you can work a deal to tutor a carpenter’s kid. There is always demand for private music lessons. — Dave

No longer in Canada

Boy you done and did it now. A couple a years ago we moved into a small northwestern Ontario town to be closer to the property that we purchased to develop a self reliant log home. This is when we discovered your magazine! For the last two years we read and enjoyed every aspect of your wonderful information. But now we cannot find your magazine for at least the last six months. We have checked out every local store in the hope to feed our addiction to your mag but no use. Now that I am hooked, where can I get my fix?

Al and Eve Smith
Dryden, Ontario, Canada

Sorry but we’re no longer in Canada. About a year ago we cancelled our distribution contract with Disticor, which serviced newsstands in Canada as well as some in the United States. The sell-thru rate was too low and we had to wait six months and more to get paid. You’ll either have to settle for what we put on the internet (, get a subscription (costs an extra $15 for anyone with a Canadian address), or convince a local store in your area to buy directly from Backwoods Home Magazine (which is difficult because of restrictive Canadian import laws). — Dave

Using an old freezer as a battery storage box

I made a battery bank storage container out of a non-working chest freezer which are not hard to find. They are sealed, insulated, and most have a drain plug for easy cleaning. You do have to install proper venting.


This is a good idea if you live in a very cold climate, but several items need to be resolved. Yes, the drain plug is a must for cleaning, but any acid environment can really corrode aluminum. Some codes do not allow aluminum or steel conduit in a battery room, so most battery room conduit is PVC.

If the interior of the freezer has exposed aluminum, you may want to paint with a coating that will not burn and will take acid spills.

I would definitely remove any lock or latch, as a freezer will be “air tight.” I would not want to risk a small hydrogen explosion sealed inside creating shrapnel out of the freezer walls! Yes, you will need a PVC vent pipe to the outside (These outside vents have been known to seal up from freezing rain which is why I would remove the latch). I would make it a minimum of 2″ size, and it needs to be located near the top of the freezer (hydrogen gas will rise). Be sure this pipe slopes UP to the outside, and terminates with a lid that keeps the rain out and screen to keep out insects.

Many years ago I helped design explosion proof electrical equipment. We placed the air tight metal electrical boxes inside a large metal room that was filled with natural gas to test for proper design. Gas and dust were remotely injected into the electrical box and caused to explode. If any fire escaped from the box, it caused the gas filling the large room to also explode. A large hole in the roof of this room was sealed with a large paper seal. The paper kept the gas inside but allowed the explosion to easily blow through the paper seal and no harm was done to the room (except for the ear shattering boom!)

A final note to anybody making their own battery box out of anything. I prefer putting a large battery bank in their own battery room having a concrete floor, drywall or masonry walls and ceiling construction, and vapor proof lights, light switch, and vent fan. I have one PVC pipe from the outside ending at floor level where fresh make up air can enter the room. I place a small (pancake) exhaust fan and outside louver near the ceiling. Batteries generate the most hydrogen as they near their final full charge level. I control this fan based on high battery voltage, as it does not need to operate when the batteries are providing power or during initial charging.

I have built or used many different types of battery “boxes” and found that placing lead acid batteries in a small and tight enclosure greatly increases problems with battery terminal corrosion and acid mist covering all interior surfaces. I rarely need to clean batteries located in a larger battery room. — Jeff Yago

What is a city scumbag?

Please define “city scumbags” as mentioned in the January/February 2005 My view column. The reason I ask is because on the rare occasions I listen to country music stations it seems like one of the main themes is a constant grudge against city slickers, foreign cars, elitist pastimes or anyone with sophisticated tastes who lives inside a city limit.

I’m considering a move to a small town when an estate is settled. I hope I won’t be seen in an unfavorable light simply because I came from a large city.

However, if my new neighbors are ready to make assumptions, they’re in for a major disappointment. For a start, I did not drop out of school. I went on to earn a two year Associate Degree. I’ve never applied for public assistance, panhandled at intersections or lived in a fleabag hotel…

… If you’re wondering why I want to move out to a remote region, it’s simple: I want to get away from the city scumbags, same as everyone else, but what will the welcoming committee have in store for this refugee?

I’d also like to know if rural readers truly believe urban dwellers pose a serious threat should a major disaster occur. Relax! Some of my neighbors’ vehicles are so unreliable and their ability to read roadmaps or anything in print is so marginal it’s unlikely they’d get very far.

Rick Sparkes
Flint, MI

I was referring to the city’s criminal element, just as you are in your letter. Relax! Nobody’s going to prejudge you. I’ve never known it to happen, except in dumb movies or songs. Your new neighbors will accept you for who you are. But don’t make the mistake of prejudging them. — Dave

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