April 20, 2024

Some Recent History

In June 2022, we sold our house and moved to a 38-foot long 5th wheel camper. After the Christmas 2022 cold snap, my wife gave me the riot act. We had to be out of the camper by December 2023. We found a house; we liked and bought it. It is not the ideal prepping spot, but it is a town to live in. In September 2023, we started moving into the house. We were surprised how much stuff we had in the camper. For reference, we also had three storage units full of stuff. To date, we have yet to get all our stuff out of storage. Some stuff will not come to our new house. We moved from a 2,220-square-foot house to a 1,425-square-foot house.

The reason that I agreed to this house was that it has a natural gas stove, natural gas water heater, and enough spots in the breaker box to back-feed power into the house with a portable generator. Also, our neighbor is an Army vet and a handyman. Our lot is not very big, but we can have a garden and chickens.

Some Ancient History

The last ice storm to hit North Alabama, per my father, was in 1960. He was 20 years old and owned a new Volkswagen Beetle( “Bug”). The rear engine allowed dad to get out when most people could not. Bugs are air-cooled rather than water-cooled. They have no radiators, so freezing up was not a concern.

Dad went to check on his shop and make sure everything was okay and then he was coming home. By the time he was home, the police chief, of the town I grew up in, was calling my dad. He asked dad to pick up a nurse that needed to go to work at the local hospital. In total he carried 4 nurses to work and three home from work. The only problem he had was a police officer. The officer pulled dad over and asked if he so dumb not to know the roads were closed. He was ready to take my dad into the police station and commandeer his car. My dad told the police officer that he was working under the direction of the police chief and taking nurses to and from work. The policeman went to his radio. After he heard back from the police chief, he told dad he was sorry. You see there has always been communication problems. No comment about the policeman’s demeanor.

More about dad, in a minute.

Getting Ready for the Ice Storm

Two weeks before the ice storm, we had a power outage for 4 hours due to a thunderstorm. I was ready to get the generator out the next morning. Luckily, the power came back on. But, I saw the long-term forecast that told me the winter weather was coming.

I tested the generator for the first time since we moved in. It was ready. But we never lost our electricity. So, we did not need it.

We bought a 2014 Z71 Tahoe last October. It was not really taken care of, but I have been rehabbing it a little at a time. I had the radiator flushed and refilled with fresh antifreeze. I also topped the windshield wipers fluid tank with fluid good down to -20 degrees. The four-wheel drive system was checked out and in good operating condition. I put a set of Nexen all-terrain tires after I first bought it.

I had a set of the zip-tie style traction devices. They are not the set of tire chains you want. The reason I used them is I bought 6 bags of these from a guy on Facebook Marketplace. He was cleaning out his junk and did not need them anymore. The zip-tie devices are okay for short term use. They will get you out of a pinch, but do not use them on steel wheels, they will pop off. Our driveway has a down slope. Our road has an up-slope to it. My wife worked from home all week and was getting cabin fever. I wanted to see how they would work, so I attached a set on my back tires only. I know I had good tires and 4WD, but I wanted to see how these worked. We drove around for about 20 minutes; we saw people looking out windows at us. Most cars were not ready for ice.

By the time we got home, we had lost 4 of the 10 zip-ties. Think about that before you spend much money on these things. They are a one-time use item. But it was all we needed.

Lessons Learned from the Camper

I have never been so uncomfortable as I was living in a camper for 14 months. But to be warm, we used a Mr. Heater propane Big Buddy heater for heat last winter. I bought a hose to hook it to a 20-pound propane tank so I would not have to constantly buy or refill 1-pound tanks. One Big Buddy heater would heat the entire 38-foot camper. But we also used the camper’s main heater, but it would not prroperly heat the back of the camper.

This year, I used the Mr. Heater in our uninsulated garage where our water heater is located. I did not worry about our water heater freezing. The heater kept the garage at a comfortable 42 degrees when the temperature outside was 16 degrees for the high. This was the coldest weather we have seen in years. This spring, summer and fall, I plan to insulate the garage and the door, a little at a time.

To sum my review of Mr. Heater propane heaters, they are a good investment. If our power was out, I was going to use the Big Buddy in our main living area. You should consider alternative heat sources other than depending on space heaters. If I had ran the generator, they would be a major drain of electricity.

Expect the Unexpected

On Friday before MLK Day, my dad came down with pneumonia and was hospitalized 60 miles from my home. I went to see him Saturday afternoon and spent time with him and took him some clothing and toiletries. He responded well to the antibiotics, and they were ready to release him Monday. It became my responsibility to get him home. That does not sound too bad, but the winter storm began to hit Monday. My Tahoe and I went to get dad because the doctor called and said they could release him and give him antibiotics at home to continue to knock-out the infection. Not exactly what I was expecting to do that weekend and holiday, but I was ready. When had no problems and he was glad to be home.

Snow is a 4-Letter Word But Ice Should Be Too

Very cold weather followed, with about a ½ inch of ice. The ice was not on the trees or power lines, but it was on the driveway and roads. The State of Alabama road crews did the best that they could treating major roads and highways, as we were forecasted to get snow instead of ice. The forecast changed just as the storm hit Monday. We got a little bit of snow and a lot of ice.

We stayed warm. Another selling point of this house was it had a gas pack heat-pump style heater. This means the gas heat will kick in when the heat-pump becomes inefficient – or just below freezing. It worked but the house became very dry and we had to boil water on the stove to add humidity to the house.

There were children trying to slide down the road, remember I live on a hill, but they were not doing too good sliding on storage tote lids. I went out and sprayed their lids with some [silicone] dry lube and the fun times began. It was a good time to meet some of the neighbors I had yet to meet.

You need to have some projects you can do ready. Saturday before MLK Day, we bought a ceiling fan to replace the one in our bedroom. I was able to take the old one down and install the new one. I added some electrical outlets where my wife wanted some. Doing these little chores, along with cooking, helped me from getting too bored.

I’m not an electrician, I am just an accountant who works in an office. God blessed me with common sense and a desire to be prepared. I learned to do basic wiring in middle school and worked with an electrician during high school and college summer breaks.

The local news said that water works departments were running out of water due to people letting their faucets drip. The funny thing is that the news people days earlier advised people to let their faucets drip.

Last year in the camper, we left water streaming, not dripping. Also, we had to leave the valves open for the tanks. The reason for leaving valves open was so the toilets would not back up.

I started my day, each day, singing praises to God and Jesus for hot water. In the camper, we had a 12- gallon water heater – not bad for a camper, but it is nothing like a home water heater.

Summation

I thank God we are no longer in a camper. But, before you price your home to someone who stops by and wants to buy your house, think twice before you make them a price. And make sure your wife fully knows what to expect before you move into a campground. Of course, she would call it Skid-Row Camping.

There were not any other CPAs living in the campground, imagine that. But I met a guy who knew more about axes and knives than anyone person I had ever met. He could find German axe heads in flea markets, add a handle. Then he could finish the handle and sharpen the head to make the combination look fantastic. He would also sharpen knives for people at a flea market and he worked in a nursing home.

Another gentleman knew how to tan hides. He was a preacher. But he would buy hides and make leather sheaths, wallets, purses, and other items. He would also trap muskrats and tan the hides and make hand warmers, trapping pouches and other items.

The bottom line is I now know how to tan hides, sharpen knives and axes, and make what was meant to be temporary living structure into a short-term home. You see, you can learn, from people on skid row, how to hustle and survive.

For my wife to be willing to move into the camper, I had to have a functional clothes washer and dryer. I took a 7×14 enclosed cargo trailer and wired it to have 50-amp power and was able to run a washer and dryer with some red-neck engineering. What I did not plan on was that the washer and dryer being in the trailer made them subject to rusting. I needed to do some more engineering on this. But it worked for over a year. The second washer Lowe’s sold me came with a service contract. I did not know how long we would be in the camper, so it seemed logical at the time. We are still using it and the dryer in our house.

The two aforementioned guys would use my washer and dryer from time-to-time and in return, they taught me life skills. A fair trade to me.

The Bible says God does all things in his own time. I do not understand all the things he does, but I can thank God and realize a blessing when it comes.