By Dave Duffy

Issue #163 • January/February, 2017

As publisher of Backwoods Home Magazine for 28 years, I have not had to work as hard in recent years, as younger people like Managing Editor Jessie Denning have come along and taken over essential editorial tasks. I still write this “My view” column and give overall guidance, but otherwise I’m a golfer who occasionally checks in at the office.

My daughter, Annie, who is the managing editor of our new “sister” magazine, Self-Reliance, decided I needed more to do so asked me to write a column for her publication about the various ways people make a living while pursuing a self-reliant lifestyle. She had grown up during the formative years of BHM and had heard my many stories about the extraordinarily resourceful people I had met in the course of running BHM. Many were not just building businesses like me so they could support themselves, but they were inventing new products in the process.

I agreed to the new column because I came to understand just how crucial it was to be able to financially support a self-reliant lifestyle. For my first article, I decided it should be about the invention of the original “Strike Master,” the magnesium/flint fire-starter striking tool that is so popular today. I knew the inventor, the late Skeets Houtchens, as well as his son, Charles, who still sells this indispensable fire-starting tool.

So, naturally, I set out to find Charles at the one place I thought he might be — the giant Portland Saturday Market in Portland, Oregon. Conveniently, the Amtrak train goes from near my house to Portland. I found Charles, who will be the subject of my first SR column, but it was the journey to find him that is the subject of this column.

After disembarking from Amtrak’s Cascades line at Portland’s Union Station, I was a bit put off by the dozen or two young men camped on the sidewalks just outside the station. These were not your ubiquitous 30 to 50-year-old panhandlers you encounter in cities from San Francisco to New York. They were younger, and they were not even panhandling. My son, Jake, who had been a student at Portland State for two years, said it was a Portland phenomenon, where young men, and sometimes women, simply live and sleep on the city’s sidewalks. They have essentially dropped out of society. We encountered dozens of these vagrant pockets throughout Portland.

Being from a rural area where young men don’t live on the sidewalks of the local towns, it made me uncomfortable. But Portland is one of America’s more progressive cities, so I assume this new social phenomenon is just a generational experiment, perhaps a new model of youthful freedom that will soon be emulated in other cities across America. I saw several mobile soup kitchens and social workers catering to them.

I also noticed the lack of security personnel both on the train and at the train stations. I liked traveling on Amtrak because it had roomy seats, you could walk from car to car, and it had a dining and lounge car. But like many in America, I was a little on edge due to the increase in mass shootings last year. I began wondering what I would do if one of these idle vagrants, or even a wannabe jihadist, showed up in my train car with a threatening attitude. What if he burst in with a gun and started blowing people away?

The thought was especially poignant on this trip, as my three college sons and my wife were on the train with me. At one point, as my thoughts imagined the horrors of a terrorist attack, they were all asleep in their seats, totally unaware of the danger I conjured up in my mind. I am pretty quick on my feet for a 72-year-old, but it was hard to imagine myself surviving as I charged into a hail of bullets. I felt vulnerable.

So I decided to start carrying my S&W Model 60 again. I have a concealed carry permit, am knowledgeable in the proper use and legal implications of armed self defense, and I knew I’d feel more comfortable with a discreet .357 tucked inside my belt. I even reread some applicable Mas Ayoob self-defense articles. That’s about the time I got on Amtrak’s website and discovered it was illegal for me to carry a handgun aboard their trains.

What! Illegal?

It seems Amtrak is not quite a private business. In fact, it is considered federal property, and getting caught with a firearm aboard an Amtrak train carries the same penalty, according to their website, as if you were caught carrying a firearm aboard a commercial airliner. You can, of course, ship a handgun as baggage, provided you make the necessary reservations and fill out the proper forms. But that does not suit my purpose.

So there you have it. I am not allowed to defend myself, at least not with a practical tool like a defensive firearm, if set upon by a nutcase or jihadist while traveling on an Amtrak train. I must charge into the hail of bullets, after all.

But still, I’ve decided to continue traveling on Amtrak as the best way to track down my new column contacts, and I’ll begin my new column for Self-Reliance next issue. It’s called “Making a Living.” If you’d like to read it, you’ll have to subscribe to this superb “sister” magazine of BHM (see page 2). You can do that by calling 541-247-0300, or by going online to, or by sending a check for $26 to Self-Reliance, PO Box 746, Gold Beach, OR 97444.


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