When the Sh*t Hits the Fan

Whether it's a coupon-clipping, back-to-nature guy escaping the rat race, or someone certain we're on the brink of war or a future in which Barack Obama has taken away our guns, preppers are ready. The rest of us, maybe not so much.

Hogwood calls prepping "quality of life" insurance. "You know during a hurricane, when people start to panic they go to the store and strip the shelves? Why not plan ahead of time? What I always say is, you have a smoke detector, but do you plan on burning your house down?"

Dolly Freed believes one of the biggest draws of prepping is the sense of control it gives the prepper, especially in uncertain times. Though learning how to raise animals and crops might foster pride and a sense of security, she advises against attempting total food self-sufficiency.

"Sustenance farming — it's very hard," she says. "If you try to depend on yourself, you're gonna be in a tough way. It will get you by for a couple of years, but if civilization completely falls apart, that's a whole other story."

John Wells, a self-described moderate prepper, stands at the door of his shipping-container house outside of Terlingua, Texas. Wells keeps a blog about living off the grid, called The Field Lab, that he updates daily.
Brittanie Shey
John Wells, a self-described moderate prepper, stands at the door of his shipping-container house outside of Terlingua, Texas. Wells keeps a blog about living off the grid, called The Field Lab, that he updates daily.
Wells bought his land outside Terlingua in 2007. Originally from New York, he got sick of the rat race and decided to take on a life of self-sustainability.
Brittanie Shey
Wells bought his land outside Terlingua in 2007. Originally from New York, he got sick of the rat race and decided to take on a life of self-sustainability.

She advises a sort of beyond-the-food-and-gold way of thinking. She says part of the fun of prepping is trying to imagine how you would make yourself indispensable in a post-shit-fan scenario. "What I did for Y2K was buy a lot of sugar, because I knew I could always make moonshine and sell it. If that kind of disruption happens, it's going to come down to the skills you know."

You hear a lot of talk about skills from Sara and Casey Colando, 25-year-old newlyweds and "neighbors" of John Wells. (The term is used loosely out there in the West Texas desert. According to Sara Colando, anyone within 20 miles qualifies.) Casey Colando says it is his "personal philosophy" to see to it that "the skills" are not lost, and Sara finishes his thought. "If you can have three skills out here — any three skills — you can survive. If you can make it in the desert, you can make it anywhere."

Right now, their most lucrative skill is developing high-tech alternative-energy systems, and they have just made their biggest sale to date, a 1.8 kilowatt "sunstation," a trailer of solar panels eight feet long and six feet high. It was designed for the Airstream trailer home of a neighbor and friend of theirs, and the unit, which Casey built, sold for $13,000.

The desolate landscape is surrounded on almost all sides by mountains. Where there are no mountains, there's desert. Because of this, the land is cheap and plentiful, and even better for the preppers, there are precious few meddlesome building regulations. No codes, no inspectors. As a result, the area is filled with people aiming for some level of self-reliance. (Local lore has it that nearby, close to Nine Points Mesa, there is an off-the-grid retreat for some wealthy corporate landowners to take refuge in when the shit hits the fan.)

Some live in handmade adobe houses. Others live in trailers or metal sheds. And because of the high cost of running power lines to the area, the Colandos have a captive customer base for their business. Sara says about half their clientele are preppers, and now All Energies has grown enough that the couple are ready to hire a third employee."It's all been word of mouth," Casey says.

Like Wells, the Colandos consider themselves moderate preppers. Sara raises chickens for meat and eggs and hopes eventually to have a garden and goats, mainly because she is distrustful of corporate farming and genetically modified food. Casey has made his own concrete from scratch, using gravel from the dried-up creek bed on their property, and has developed an engine that runs on wood chunks.

The couple has been living off the grid since November 2009, and they've had a rough go. In April their entire flock of chickens, 35 in all, was killed by a fox that managed to burrow under the coop. They've also faced issues with their home, which is built of thin wood and already showing the ravages of desert weather.

"We probably weren't as prepared as we should have been," Sara says. But they're making inroads. Within the next couple of years, they hope to be living closer to self-sufficiency and dwelling in a super-energy-efficient underground "earth-berm" house and living off the sales of their alternative-energy systems.

As unprepared as the Colandos might have been in the beginning, they and neighbor Wells are probably more likely to survive a SHTF scenario than a suburban prepper with a spare bedroom full of canned food and gold bricks.

But as Dolly Freed laments, some preppers are so busy fretting about an unknown doomsday that they scarcely have time to enjoy life. She says she's flattered by the popularity of her book, but that "possum living" was about working less so she and her father could have more time to do the things they loved: fishing, gardening, reading.

For John Wells, prepping is more about a sense of self-reliance than impending doom. It's about living on his own terms.

"I like just thinking about and working on the things I want to do. Being able to say I did all this myself is an accomplishment. If you're not a pessimist, you just live off the land," he says. "Otherwise, you're a prepper."

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8 comments
David Houston
David Houston

And by the way. Can I state the obvious here? If you paid $50,000 MORE for your home (as you stated down the page) than the tax appraiser valued it, then you might have paid too much! In this economy, all I can do is shake my head after reading your comment. It's a buyers-market right now. Hate to break it to you, but it sounds like the Seller/Real-Estate agent saw you coming....

David Houston
David Houston

Erm. Can I state the obvious here? If you paid $50,000 more for your home than the tax appraiser valued it, you might have paid too much!

David Houston
David Houston

Neartown/Montrose area, the tax appraisal has been stuck at the same rate for 3 years, yet the houses have dropped in value by typically figures of $100,000+. The city of Houston however have not reduced their taxes. Clearly you live miles from town. I gave you a real example already, go look a Zillow, examples are easy to find as you approach Downtown Houston.

David Houston
David Houston

Well someone has to dig in the dirt in the 100 degree heat to keep you safe doncha know? Whether it's The National Guard or just plain volunteers like you or me. Sometimes it takes a lot of work, to work out the problems. You have to contribute something to the greater good. Otherwise you're just a burden on the rest of the people. Katrina, Ike, need I say more? During Katrina, some people were happy to pee in holes and live in tents, trailers, cars, or whatever would save their lives. You aid society by not being a burden on it, that way the people who really do need the help get the help they need. Don't be a burden on the rest of us, if that day ever comes, next hurricane or whatever... At least prepare for that, as the News & Weather Channels and Government suggests you should.

Erik
Erik

like Jeffrey explained I didnt even know that a single mom able to earn $6503 in one month on the computer. have you seen this webpage lazycash42.c()m

Anse
Anse

Eh...I just bought a house and the county's appraisal is a good $50,000 less than what I paid for it. In fact I don't think I know anybody whose tax appraisal is actually above their real market value, and most folks I know have a tax appraisal that's less.

Anse
Anse

These folks can do as they like. The 95% of us who enjoy buying our groceries at the market so we don't have to break our backs in 100 degree heat digging in the dirt for our very survival are gonna go ahead and try to work out our problems so we don't ever have to live in tents and pee in holes.

Anse
Anse

Is there any political argument that cannot exploit Hitler in some way? I'm calling foul and charging you with breaking the Lame and Predictable Talking Points Rule. I just made it up. The penalty is me and approximately half the readers of this thread groaning and rolling our eyes.

 
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