Homestead

We are currently transitioning from our old blog and building new sections. 26 August 2018


As life becomes more convenient, I feel a growing separation between the actions I choose and the consequences I experience. This distancing from tangible feedback obscures the learning process. Life in rural and remote areas bring with it a certain responsibility to myself and my dependents, and a respect and appreciation for the comforts of modernity.

After five years of quasi-vagabond adventuring and exploring the mountains in search of our chosen home, Brandon and I purchased bare land in the Sapphire mountains of southwest Montana. In the following years, we built a home from materials found on the land, developed our creek for water supply, and continue to improve our homestead to supply resources for our own self-sufficiency and the hardiness of the community.

My experiences with rural and remote living are a daily reminder of how precious each life is. These feelings are not exclusive of a rural, minimalist lifestyle, but it is how I am best able to share life with my neighbors and connect with myself. I am an active participant in my life. It is my goal and aspiration to encourage my friends, neighbors, and fellow homesteaders and pioneers to be an active participant in theirs.

We have been homesteading on our land in southwest Montana since the spring of 2015. We have been living minimally on and off-grid since 2012.

This page is our addition to the off-grid/modern-homesteading/alternative-living community. Inspiration came largely as result of us searching for the anecdotal experiences of others who have “been there, done that” and could impart wisdom and advice for us as we consider alternative ways of living without “reinventing the wheel”.

After years of researching, reading, watching, and listening, we have come to the conclusion that there is more than one way of doing things, but seldom was there an answer for our situation. Our hope is that others may find our experiences useful as we reflect on the approaches we take and the consequences (good and bad) of those choices. We judge “success” by the food on our table and the roof over our heads.

– Jeremy Aal

 


Cabin

We built the cabin with an idea of it being an experimental structure. We have read a lot about earth-bermed, earth-bag, timber-frame, log cabin, straw-bale, and various other alternative building methods. Each of these have aspects both to their individual benefit and detriment. We utilized several components from different methods and cherry-picked what we thought would be the best hybrid of all of them. The cabin uses whole-log posts, beams, and girders. The walls are earth-bag with cob interior covering and milled boards for exterior. We have an earthen “cob” floor. Windows are free from Craigslist or salvage jobs, and one wall is a 20ft shipping container for storage and workshop space.

In 2015, we purchased 6-acres in southwest Montana. The land is long and narrow, a tight valley bottom in the Sapphire mountains at about 5100ft. A small seasonal creek runs through it part of the year. Hear more about the creek in the Water chapter. The contiguous 6-acres is separated geographically into an open upper-valley and a densely treed lower-valley. With excess dead and dying trees to build from, we decided to use wood as a primary building material. The goal of the homestead was to minimize the amount of imported resources and maximize the  the build from resources found on the land.

The worst thing we have tried is to force preconceived plans onto land that won’t support it. This theme will appear many times through the homestead story.

2015

After the purchase-contract finalized, we wanted to start building immediately. There were a few problems with jumping straight to building. The land changes through the seasons and we could have saved ourselves a lot of extra work had we waited and lived in temporary quarters and studied the land. Ideally for a full year, but at least a few months. Some of the things we wished we thought about before building are:

  • Where does snow build up and where does the wind come from?
  • Is there spring flood after break-up when the ground is still frozen?
  • Is there fire danger?
  • Do hazard trees need to be felled? Should a whole area of trees be cleared?
  • Do we want the cabin close to certain gardens? If so, what areas are best for that garden?
  • We are in a valley. Does the sun hit one hill longer than the other?
  • Will the neighborhood subdivide or expand? If someone brought in utilities, would it go through our land?
  • Is future privacy a concern with a shared driveway?
  • If we want an earth structure, what types of soil are available and where are they on the land?

Rock Foundation

Deciding on a log-framed rectangular cabin, we knew we didn’t need (nor would we ever want) a concrete foundation. We planned an earthen floor which needed only rock as a capillary-break. We cleared the grass from an area, about 16x20ft. The outside cabin dimensions would be about 14x16ft.

With five-gallon buckets, we moved all the sod to a pile some distance away. This pile sat for a little more than a year and composted itself into a pile of rocky soil, mostly free of grass and roots. We did not yet own a wheelbarrow. We have found that almost any homestead job can be done with a 3$ Home Depot bucket. A dozen of these would make a wonderful gift for any new homesteader.

On the land, about 100ft from the building site, is the “rock quarry”. This is an exposed part of the hillside with gravel and rock in various sizes from 1″ to head-sized. This has been a great source of material for building and is where we pulled for the capillary-break “foundation”. Later, we pulled from the quarry to build a skirt around the house during fire season in 2017. We purchased a wheelbarrow by this point and moved 4-5 yards of rock starting with head-sized and moving down to 1-ome from?

  • Is there spring flood after break-up when the ground is still frozen?
  • Is there fire danger?
  • Do hazard trees need to be felled? Should a whole area of trees be cleared?
  • Do we want the cabin close to certain gardens? If so, what areas are best for that garden?
  • We are in a valley. Does the sun hit one hill longer than the other?
  • Will the neighborhood subdivide or expand? If someone brought in utilities, would it go through our land?
  • Is future privacy a concern with a shared driveway?
  • If we want an earth structure, what types of soil are available and where are they on the land?
  • Rock Foundation

    Deciding on a log-framed rectangular cabin, we knew we didn’t need (nor would we ever want) a concrete foundation. We planned an earthen floor which needed only rock as a capillary-break. We cleared the grass from an area, about 16x20ft. The outside cabin dimensions would be about 14x16ft.

    With five-gallon buckets, we moved all the sod to a pile some distance away. This pile sat for a little more than a year and composted itself into a pile of rocky soil, mostly free of grass and roots. We did not yet own a wheelbarrow. We have found that almost any homestead job can be done with a 3$ Home Depot bucket. A dozen of these would make a wonderful gift for any new homesteader.

    On the land, about 100ft from the building site, is the “rock quarry”. This is an exposed part of the hillside with gravel and rock in various sizes from 1″ to head-sized. This has been a great source of material for building and is where we pulled for the capillary-break “foundation”. Later, we pulled from the quarry to build a skirt around the house during fire season in 2017. We purchased a wheelbarrow by this point and moved 4-5 yards of rock starting with head-sized and moving down to 1-2″, or whatever we could shovel.

    To work the layers together and compact the ground, we drove over it repeatedly with the truck. This worked decently well. It was monotonous work but it was as inexpensive as a few gallons of diesel for an hour of back-and-forthing.

    Timber Frame

    Two large spruce trees were felled and cut into lengths for the posts. Six posts were needed for the plans. The spruce was dying but still moderately green. Through the years, we have tried peeling logs with a draw-knife, broad ax, pulaski, double-bit ax, and shovel. The draw-knife does the worst in all conditions. When the log is more than 6″ in diameter or has any appreciable amount of knots, a draw-knife makes for miserable work. A steak knife might be more suitable. The pulaski does alright and is easy to control by holding onto the adze-end. Both Brandon and I feel the broad ax has worked the best for peeling logs in almost all conditions. Our particular broad ax has a left-handed head angle which does help as the handle is angled slightly away from the log so our knuckles stay clear of stubs. Even if it were a straight head, it would probably still be the best option for peeling. The short handle is easy to maneuver and the large head lifts the bark off as one unit. The sharp edge can cut off stubs that were missed by the saw.

    Once the posts were peeled and cut to length, we measured and dug out six holes. They were 3-4ft deep and had a layer of head-sized rocks at the base. While digging, we discovered a treasure chest left behind from when the property was logged several decades ago.

    We used a something similar to Mike Oehler’s method described in the $50 and Up Underground House Book for preparing the posts. This amounted to wrapping them with a few layers of black plastic trash bags and dumping a gallon of diesel in the bag before taping them up. This was a bad idea. Please don’t do this. As the posts sat on the rocks at the bottom of the holes, the bags got holes poked in them and all the diesel ran into the ground… What diesel did soak in before being placed in the hole might help with ants, but there are probably better methods of setting posts without using toxic gick that ended up in the ground.

    Because we used way too large of posts for what the final structure ended up being, we boxed ourselves into using equipment to set the framing. We originally planned to berm earth onto the roof so we made extra sure we had large enough posts to handle the weight of 30-yards of earth (at 18″ depth). To have that much soil on the roof, we would have had to purchase several dump-truck loads. As you’ll learn about in the Food Production chapter, our soil is very, very rocky and a poor choice for berming material. Not to mention, without a large excavator, lifting 30-yards of soil by 5-gallon bucket is exhausting just to think about! We ended with a metal roof. Our snow load is not even close to needing 24″ posts. 8-10″ would have been just fine and could be moved without a machine. We boxed ourselves into using equipment and the rental cost for three days of a small excavator was 1500$. Bad idea.

    That being said, we have thought about building a roof with earth, but using sandbags to move the soil up then cover the layer of sandbags with a metal roof. Then we can collect rainwater and have the benefits of the thermal mass. I think there is a lot of potential for this method, but it is unlikely we’ll go back and layer sandbags of earth on this cabin. In the future, we will consider it. If someone actually tries an earth-bag roof with metal roofing, let us know!

    Once the posts were set, we notched the girders by making cuts with the saw and chipping the wedge out with the broad ax. The girder was lifted into place with the excavator several times to “fit” the notch and reshape as needed.

    Cutting notches is not much of a science. It is a skill that you get from doing it. By the end of the build, we got to be pretty alright. The first several notches left something to be desired, but I don’t think it compromised the structure any. They just look like hell.

    To secure the girders into place, we drilled as deep as we could then pounded 1/2″ rebar through them and into the posts. Our bit was 8″. We hoped this would be enough to get the rebar going and it would stay straight through the end-grain of the post. This was a total failure. The rebar bent 90-degrees as soon as it hit the end-grain of the post and came out the sides. It stayed straight only as deep as we drilled, then went all over the place. I don’t have pictures of this, but just imagine something from Looney Tunes.

    We then purchased a 14″ 1/2″ paddle bit from our local hardware store and hoped this would help. It kind of did in-so-far-as the rebar stayed straight for 14″ instead of only 8″ … then it bent and still came out the side like we learned notching from the three stooges.

    With all our money going to tools and unnecessary excavator rentals, compounded with a difference of opinion on how to proceed with the build, the frame sat for the winter. Another winter living in the 19′ Mallard camper trailer.

    2016

    Over winter we regrouped and decided on a single plan. We would build with earth-bags for the lower walls, use blue foam board for the roof and upper walls insulation, metal roof, and an earthen floor.

    We also decided to add two extra beams to cut the span from 8′ to 4′. This was probably not necessary after we decided to go with the metal roof and ended up removing one of the beams for use elsewhere.

    We finally saved the 2650$ (+200$ shipping) to buy a very-good-condition used shipping container which we had placed directly at the “rear” of the frame. We would leave the container intact and not cut into it but we would use it as one of the walls. This heat-sink was by design and keeps the container 20-30 degrees warmer than the outside air temperature without causing too much of a draft in the cabin. The issue is that the container is 8′ tall. The rear of the house is 6′ tall. So… ooops.

    The plan was to have container meet at the rear of the cabin roof and “level out” the roof line. We solved this by putting risers on the last beam. This patch-job worked pretty well but we should have seen this ahead of time. Again, we did not work our plans out from start to finish.

    Alaskan Sawmill

    To cut planks for the roof, we used the chainsaw we already owned, a Stihl 056 we bought on Craigslist several years before. We bought a ripping chain online for the 32″ bar and attached the Alaskan mill uncle Fairbanks gave us.

    Our mill is maxed out at about 24″, which is as large of trees as we get in the drier hills of southwest Montana. The branches and brush were collected into a pile which awaits a chipper. We chip our brush and use it as land covering to help build soil. We do not burn our brush.

    We can cut a 16″ wide board at 2″ depth at a rate of about 2-linear-foot per minute.

    Roof

    Once the roof decking was finished, we covered it with one layer of synthetic roof paper. Then we laid the metal roofing we bought new in Missoula. The total cost of the decking was probably 15$ in gas and 2-stroke mix. We use our old motor oil for bar oil which works very well, though it runs a little fast and can stain the board if we aren’t being careful. The synthetic paper, staples, and a box of 4″ screws was about 200$. 600sqft of metal roofing was just shy of 400$. It was a challenge finding the right places to put the roofing screws because the planks are not evenly spaced on any regular pattern with the wane-edge, so a few screws went into the gaps. These stayed in their holes and got an extra big glop of sealant.

    Racing the clock and running low on funds, we used the covered frame as a storage area until we could commence building. Fortunately, building would continue through winter as funds became available.

    Framing & Windows

    2017

    The next step was to cut notches into the posts where boards could hang. These 2″ cross-boards would be the framing that we based our window height and floor level off of, so that had to be decently level. We used an electric circular saw to cut two horizontal lines in the post. A chisel was used to knock the cut out. The intended board was cut to length assuming 2″ of notch on each post. Once one notch was complete, one end of the board was inserted into it and the other end was held up to the opposite post. The level was placed on the board and when it was level, we marked the opposite post of where to cut the notch. We used this method for finding “level” because the ground was not flat, so we could not use it. We could have used a string-line, but I found this easier to do. Once one board was in, the board notches above or below it could be cut by measuring from the first board.

    Collected over the last few years, we used salvage windows we picked up for free on Craigslist or from box-home remodels. Most of them are single-pane but we did come up with a few gems. The up-side of this is that all the windows were free of charge and might have cost 100$ in gas over the years. The down-side is that the house has single-pane windows which are very drafty in winter and there are several sizes and odd shapes so if one breaks we will need to get creative in replacing them. Framing was also a son-of-a-gun with all different sized windows, but to keep our costs low, this was the option we chose.

    Siding & Chinking

    We finished windows only on two sides before moving on to the 1″ siding. This is because the container was one wall and we had not yet decided on the front door which would hang on the last wall to the south. These siding boards were milled with the Alaskan and logs mostly from standing-dead spruce. Because nothing is the same length and there were several funny angles, hanging the siding was a tedious job. We used 2″ screws and a bead of caulk. For the last bit of siding, we did not use caulk as our funds were dipping low and we needed to move into the cabin very soon for reasons I might write about at a later time. We chinked between the boards using a sticky mortar. We found this much more cost-effective and of better quality and work-ability than caulking. This was used on the joints of the boards and anywhere else that there was a gap, especially around the girders that stuck out. This mix is also superior to spray-foam, but much slower to apply. We played with several online mixtures for a mortar mix but none of them worked well for filling holes, gaps, and places where it hung upside-down. We developed our own “sticky” mortar which was easy to apply and has held up fantastic with no cracks or shrinkage for more than a year at the time of this writing. Our sticky mortar mix ratio is:

    • 3/4-scoop sand
    • 1 1/2-scoop saw dust
    • 1-heaping-scoop cement
    • 1/2-scoop lime

    In case you were wondering why the girders extended much beyond the post in previous images of the frame, the original plan was to extend the roof several feet but that would have added extra cost to longer sheets of metal roofing. We didn’t have the money and didn’t want to wait, so we just cut the ends of the girders off.

    With extra roof decking, we built a quarter-loft.

    With the other walls sided, we moved on to the south wall. We scored a double-pane, metal-frame sliding glass door off Craigslist for free. (What people throw away in Bozeman is unbelievable!) After 40$ in gas and most of the day, we brought our fancy slider home to be framed.

    For the two funny triangle spots on the south wall, Brandon re-purposed some single-pane windows and cut-to-fit a wood frame to make two custom windows. This worked awesome except the frame was not perfectly straight and put a slight pressure on the glass. The pane cracked in both of the triangle windows, but this was not a big deal. They are for ambient light in the room, not looking through directly. Sometimes, windows crack.

    A coat of linseed oil was applied and the cabin took a new glow. I strongly suggest linseed oil for protection of wood, interior and exterior. We used boiled linseed oil which has the negative of having some petroleum additives which stabilizes the solution and allows it to penetrate better. We chose to go ahead as this was the best option for us. It was inexpensive at 28$ per gallon at the hardware store and easy to apply. It finishes dry to the touch and protects wood well without being straight-up lacquer.

    Earth-bag Walls

    To begin filling sandbags for our earth-bag walls, we drove higher in the valley for better soil. Our soil is very gravelly and we were a little worried that this might tear the bags when tamped. We found “smoother” soil with a higher clay content, but we did use rockier soil by the end. It didn’t really make a difference. The clay-richer soil packed a little better and was easier to form around corners, but in the end, the other stuff did just fine. When it comes to filling earth-bags, just use what you have. It doesn’t make much of a difference in our experience.

    We chose to use earth-bags for our walls for three reasons.

    • Thermal mass
    • Easy, quick, and cheap to build
    • Ballistic protection

    The mass of the walls keep the cabin cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The mass functions as a “thermal buffer”. In summer, the walls absorb the cool night air and take half a day to warm up in the direct sun. This keeps the inside of the cabin below 20C (70F) until late in the afternoon. The walls “catch up” to the heat of the summer sun by evening and hold the heat into the night. We stay above 15C (60F) inside until 4 or 5am. In winter, the radiant heat of the wood stove keeps the walls around 10C (50F) to-the-touch in January. Considering the outside temp has spells of -40C (-40F), this is a fantastic result. Even though the outside may fluctuate wildly in temperature between night and day or day-to-day, the walls never really change much. They also insulate outside noise.

    Ballistic protection is both for safety if there were bad guys doing bad things, but it also offers protection for negligent discharges or flying projectiles of all kinds. Our shooting range is only 100m from the house. Though it is behind a hill from the cabin, if terrible negligence was had, it is not inconceivable that a bullet could lob over the hill and toward the house. Also, this stretch of national forest is prime hunting territory. We are bordered on two-sides by national forest. If a hunter was not familiar with the area or shot high on the ridge and missed his target, again, it is conceivable that a bullet could hit the house at the bottom of the valley. Ballistic protection isn’t just for hardcore preppers. These are things to think about when considering the safety and security of your family. To do it again, I would have gone for full-height earth-bag walls. At that point, just build an earth-bag structure…

    Earthen Floor

    The rock-base “capillary break” for the earthen floor was about 30cm (12″) thick. We started with the head and fist-sized rocks pictured earlier. Then moved to smaller gravel from the quarry for an initial depth of 15cm (6″). We then purchased 7-tons of road-base (about 3/4″-minus) and had it delivered for 180$ and spread it another 15cm thick. Using a string-level, we tried to spread it as level as convenient, but as long as the whole floor was within an inch, it really won’t make a huge difference. The road base was tamped several times. The capillary break was a total depth of 30cm and we could begin the cob layer.

    We spread about 5cm (2″) of loose straw from the feed store. For our 23m² (250sqft) cabin, we flaked about two small bales at 6$ each. We then started on the cob layer. This layer is 10cm (4″) thick and is straw-heavy. It had a very concrete-like texture. From everything we read and watched online, it sounded like the mixture for earthen floors was pretty finicky – even more than the earth-bags. To avoid any costly mistakes, we purchased 3-tons of top-soil from a near-by yard. This soil was clay-heavy compared to the sandy soil in the valley. With delivery, the total cost for this was 200$. The cost was worth the time and fuel savings as compared to if we drove around the area liberating clay-rich soil from generous neighbors’ fields. We mixed it with about 4.5-tons of sand we pulled from around the land and higher in the valley and screened with 1/8″ hardware cloth. This ratio worked well with minor cracking as you will see later.

    We heard of horror stories from people who didn’t allow the cob layer to dry all the way and ended up with mold growing on the straw or mushrooms fruiting from the cracks. To help prevent this, it was suggested to add disodium tetraborate which is commercially sold as Borax to act as an anti-fungal.

    We mixed 6-shovels of clay-rich top-soil and 9-shovels of sandy-soil on a tarp. Once the soils were well-mixed, we flaked several handfuls of straw and about 1/4-1/2 cup of Borax and mixed it together. There is no perfect science to adding either of these. Just wing it. After a few buckets it will start to feel “right”. We added water and stomped the mixture, turning the tarp, and scooped the cob into buckets to move inside. The cob mixture felt something similar to concrete in consistency. If it was too dry, add water. If it got too wet, add a little soil.

    • 6-shovels clay-rich top-soil
    • 9-shovels sandy-soil
    • Several handfuls of straw
    • 1/4-1/2 cup Borax
    • Mix and add water until wet-concrete consistency

    This cob mixture is also what we used to cover the earth-bag portion of the walls.

    It took one full day for two men to mix enough cob to cover half of the floor to a depth of 10cm (4″). We used our 5-gallon buckets to walk the cob inside then used concrete trowels and a 24″ level to get it “pretty close”.

    We set aside flat stones we collected from the valley and planned to lay them at the door for a stone entrance. After much debate and an uncertainty of the final depth, we decided to forgo the stone entrance in favor of an uninterrupted earthen floor with no toe-catchers sticking up.

    What was interrupted was our cob-stomping party. Three forest fires in the area had too much fun over several windy days and we were politely asked by the Sheriff’s deputy to vacate the county before our house burned down and we died along with it causing all sorts of unwanted paperwork. We thanked the man for the notice, promptly packed the camper with as much water as we could haul and drove off into the hazy, ashen sunset for a few days until things calmed down.

    After the coast was sorta clear-ish, we returned to finish the job. Another full day and we had the cob floor finished. This 10cm layer took about a week to dry. We judged it by feel. Once it stopped feeling damp and sounded hollow when knocked with a knuckle, we gave it another day or so for good measure and continued to the final layer.

    The top-layer has sifted straw which was collected by shaking flakes over 1/8″ hardware cloth. This is the same screen we ran the soil mixture through to pull out any large rocks that would not trowel out flat. We followed the same ratio as above.

    Throughout the next few days, cracks began to form on the southern side of the room. We suspect this was caused by sun hitting this part of the room and drying the floor faster than the other side. If the floor was wet with a hose for several days and re-troweled as it dried, I suspect it would have come out much smoother with less cracking. We may try this in the future.

    Once the top layer appeared dry with a light-brown or grey color, we applied three coats of boiled linseed oil. This area took about 7-gallons. After several days of drying, it had a dark-brown color. We applied Howard’s Feed ‘n Wax, a beeswax and citrus-oil mixture. We went as heavy as possible, but it was quite expensive at 8$ for a small bottle. It took 10(?) bottles to cover the floor twice. Using an electric buffer, we went over the floor several times. this gave the floor a nice sheen.

    Over the next several months, the floor lightened in color somewhat but has stayed a dark shade. There are several cracks through the floor but they have not caused an issue one year later. We have plans to cut the top-layer and “excise” the cracks and refill them similar to how you might do a cement patch. This won’t happen until everything else is finished inside the cabin – probably another year or two.

    Mud Room

    Also called an “arctic entrance” in some parts of the world, we began building the frame for the eventual mud room. Posts and beams were skinned and set. Unlike the house where we used spruce framing and douglas fir exterior paneling, we used pine for the framing. We did this because we already had pine logs in the lumber yard of the appropriate size.

    We set the posts out about 2m (6′) from the house. This will be a walk-in mud-room, sun-room for sprouting and growing plants, and covered work area.

    The mud room is still being built. I will add more as it comes along.

    Interior

    We built a temporary kitchen using two 2″ boards stacked on milk crates. This works very well but is a little short for our preference. It has been in service for one year at the time this section was written, though I am glad the kitchen will be built soon.

    For roof and upper-wall insulation, we used one layer of 2″ blue foam boards. A 4’x8′ sheet is about 30$ at our hardware store. Over winter we milled blue-pine for the interior paneling. We have lived with the foam-board insulation showing for one year, now. It doesn’t bother me. Once we stopped worrying about how pretty stuff looks or “what might the neighbors think?!”, life got a lot less stressful. I will be glad when the house is finished and looking nice, but it looks like it is being built by hand and with no debt. Also, in case your wife is worried, the neighbors think it is pretty awesome that we’re building a home all by ourselves…

    This is an important picture to share. Sometimes, things get disorganized. I’d love to say we are well-organized and on top of things and have a great workshop in the conex like it was planned. Well, sometimes it isn’t always the case…

    Now, it isn’t like this anymore! It still has a lot of things in it and it is still a little bit of a cluster, but it is organized. When we were in the camper, so many things were kept in the box for tight storage and safe keeping. Now that we are in the house, construction materials were used up, household items were brought in, bookshelves were stocked, things got figured out… But, we could have chosen to be anal over the storage container. We chose against it. It took time to work through and it will always be getting a little better. That’s the way we did it.

    Washing Clothes

    • Five-gallon bucket with warm water from the garden hose
    • Slice of bar soap
    • Rope

    I don’t think we will ever go back to using a machine. Seriously. First, I highly doubt we will ever have such a set-up that provides infrastructure-enough to run a washing machine. Second, why bother? It is faster, funner, and more satisfying to wash clothes in a bucket.

    With warm water from the hose, we fill a five-gallon bucket. If we have bar soap, we’ll cut a sliver into it and make a sudsy mess. If not, we’ll give it a shot of dish soap. If we are low on dish soap, we’ll splash some white vinegar in the wash. No vinegar? Just water and a sun-dry is better than nothing…

    Once the water is soapy, drop a few garments in and dunk them several time. Squish them and work them and do all sorts of washing machine-like actions to the water, then give them a gentle wring and set aside. Work through the stack of nasty until everything smells like Irish Springs. Dump the bucket on the compost and refill with the warm water left in the garden hose. Dunk a few garments at a time to rinse, wring them gently, then hang on the line for the rest of the day. Your clothes with last longer (sans machine dryer heat making the fibers brittle) and smell better (with a day of UV light). A splash of vinegar in the soap water works great on sock-smell.

    Bathing

    As for bathing, there is a summer and a winter method on the homestead. In summer, we have a 4′ cattle trough (“the tub”) that is filled with water diverted from the creek. We have a dam in the creek higher in the valley which feeds us water all summer via a black poly pipe line. This water line is detailed in the Water chapter.

    This tub is filled with water which we then dip ourselves in. The creek water running into it is chilly but is mighty refreshing after working in the sun all day. A quick towel-off followed by standing in the sun to air-dry is a great feeling. Every few days we will do a full shower with warm water and soak. To heat a few gallons, we employ the 100′ garden hose that sits in the sun all day. By the afternoon, we have hot water. Set the sprayer to a gentle settling and you’ve got a hot shower. A simple as it gets.

    In winter, we have a large pot which we melt snow in all day. This works itself to be about 3 gallons of hot water. Once this pot is full and steaming hot, we pour it in a 5-gallon bucket and cool it with snow or ice until it reaches a comfortable temperature. This bucket of warm water is poured into a 5-gallon solar shower bag. We hang the bag outside where we stand on a gravel pad. This has proved to be comfortable and invigorating down to -30C (-20F). Below that, water freezes on your skin faster than you can towel it off. Above that, the warm water from the solar shower is a rush on parts of your body that are being chilled from the cold. I’m not kidding, this is a great experience – similar to being in a hot tub while it is snowing. If it is below that temperature, we will wait a day or two for it to warm up or take “sink showers” with washcloths. We do washcloth showers in winter daily, anyway, because we do not shower daily. I recommend you don’t either. Unless you are truly filthy, I personally think showering every two or three days is much better all around. It keeps the skin in its own oil longer, keeping the skin from getting as dry. I suspect it is probably better for the biome that lives on the skin, but I am not going to dig through PubMed to get the latest and greatest in dermatological science for a credible citation. Instead, I’ll cite Mr. Carlin:

    “Unless you work out, or work outdoors, or for some reason come in intimate contact with huge amounts of filth and garbage every day you don’t always need a shower. All you really need is to wash the four key areas: armpits, asshole, crotch, and teeth!” – George Carlin

    Composting Toilet

    We use a composting toilet. I will write more about this soon. 10 August 2018

    Firewood

    2018

    Spring has arrived and not much happened with the cabin over winter. We used about 5-cords of firewood. This is with a not-perfectly set-up stove, single pane windows, and lots of drafts and spots to finish sealing. Considering our winters, that is a very fine number. The earthen floor worked great, keeping a pleasant or just-cool to the touch feel. The earth-bag walls were the same. When it is -40C outside and the wall is “just cool”. That is a win.

    Lessons 

    (for homestead/off-grid/no-debt/by-hand building)

    • Don’t bring plans onto a property and “force” it onto the land. Buy land and draw plans from the resources available or search for land with the specific resources you require for preconceived plans.
    • Don’t fear plans changing. No sense in warming up the Victorian fainting couch when presented with new information. You are the only one who will suffer.
    • Take your time. Make arrangements for comfortable temporary housing. We brought our 19ft camper trailer and made it work, despite a bad attitude. We installed a Nordic oil stove and burned red diesel Jerry-rigged to a 5-gallon gas jug to keep warm. We had everything to be comfortable while we observed the land, designed plans, build a sensible house, and enjoy the process except our bad attitude. I will write a post on this someday.

     


    Water

    When we sought land, one of our most firm requirements was that it must have surface water. A small lake or solid creek, doesn’t matter. Do you know what we did? Bought a weed patch with a dry creek bed. What we didn’t know and didn’t ask the owner (ask him directly, don’t ask the agent) was “is the creek year-round on the land we are looking at?” It isn’t. This creek runs hard in spring break-up, the same time we looked at the land. It was early May and the creek ran hard, fueled by the melting snow caught by several miles of valley above us. Once the snow all melted, the springs ran low, and the creek dried. In a heavy snow year, the creek begins in late April and runs until mid-July. Light snow years will charge the creek for about a month.

    The creek in April before everything greens.

    We cannot afford a well, though they are not wildly expensive in our area. A driller quoted us 2,500$ for the estimated 75ft depth. A hand pump is another many hundred. So, when looking at the land, we planned to get our water from the creek. Drinking water. Dish water. Bathing water. All of it. We did not ask the right questions so when the end of June brought a drying creek, we realised our mistake.

    The first year we shuttled water in five-gallon buckets from Rock creek, about two road-miles away. Every day we shuttled 35-gallons on the flatbed to water the wimpy garden, fill the solar shower, drink, cook, and wash the clothes. With miles of cattle operation above us at this point in Rock creek, we filtered drinking and cooking water through our Berkey water filter.

    Rock creek.

    When the snows came in December, we started to melt snow for water. The wood stove was already burning 24/7, so we kept a large pot on the stove and filled it with snow every few hours. When the pot was full, we filled a water jug. When the jugs were full, we washed our clothes and bathed. It was an incredible and humbling experience that first year. We have always been cautious with water use, but I have never had to conserve that harshly for such a long period of time.

    The creek dries on our land but it doesn’t dry farther up the valley. It is true our creek runs “all year”, it just doesn’t run far from the spring. Our mistake was assuming that meant the creek ran all the way. This was a mistake on our part. The previous owner nor the agent said expressly or implied the creek ran all the way. This is an important note for people looking for land in the future. If you can wait, look at the water source in late-summer before purchasing the land.

    In our valley, there are five private pieces along the valley bottom. We are number three of the five. The creek runs full-time at the top of the property highest in the valley. We discussed the issue with the neighbors and made a plan. We bought 1,600ft of black poly pipe (about 300$) and would run it a quarter-mile up the creek bed to where the water ran strong. We dammed the creek on the neighbor’s land and connected the hose to a five-gallon bucket “catch” in the dam.

    The handshake agreement was that we may leave the pipe running through the creek bed and leave the dam in place provided the neighbors had access to the pipe. We installed a tee at where they wanted. This would take almost all of our pressure away when they filled their jugs, but these neighbors only come periodically and saw an opportunity to delay digging a well. It has worked well for everyone involved. This is our current summer water system and provides constant water until the line freezes. We do not, and probably will not, plumb the cabin to this water line for a variety of reasons. A daily chore is filling a 2-gallon plastic water jug which sits inside on a shelf.

    The 3/4″ 1,600ft pipe has an elevation gain of about 15ft from our cabin and provides about 3gpm with enough pressure to run one garden sprinkler at a time.

    Winter time looks a little different. Even flowing full-time, the water moving through the pipe doesn’t move fast enough to resist freezing. The fall after laying the line, we found that water flowing through 3/4″ black poly pipe moving at 3gpm exposed to the air will freeze at -2C (28F). By this time, snow has started to build so we would be able to melt. However, melting enough snow to met our daily needs is exhausting and we did not want to do that. It takes about 20-hours to melt 15-gallons, enough for three days. The quality of snow melt is relatively low, especially towards the end of winter. Months of wood smoke from the cabin settles on the snow in the vicinity which absorbs some of the taste. Snow also has a high affinity for carbon dioxide giving a car-exhaust taste after a period of time. Not to mention, the yellow snow adjacent to the house begins to radiate farther and farther away through winter leaving clean snow more of a walk. So, we came up with a new plan. The neighbor dug a pond in the creek at the top end of his property, above where we dammed. The original purpose of the pond was to work through some of the gravel for sapphires but this never amounted to anything for them. It seconds as a water collection spot for us. We have five, five-gallon water jugs. This is enough for drinking and cooking water for about six-days. We can melt washing and bathing water without too much trouble.

    Once a week we drive the half-mile up the private road to the ponded area. If driven weekly, we were able to keep the snow ruts passable. We only drove the 4Runner with all four tires chained. In four-wheel drive and engaging the locker in the rear differential, we drove up the valley with the five jugs in the back. We knocked a hole in the ice and filled them. About -29C (-20F) was the coldest day we collected water so far. The ice required a pulaski and Brandon’s hand was frost nipped after several minutes exposed. This is not ideal and will not be the forever solution, but it worked for clean water and was available all winter.

    A heavy snow year with an odd warming and cooling cycle in late-winter caused an early flow followed by an ice dam, clogging the culvert. Every other day we spent several hours picking and digging channels to divert the flow of ice from the cabin door. Digging wet, sloppy, ice trenches is miserable. No way around it. But less miserable than pouring a new earthen floor because it got flooded and molded in the spring.

    Flowing ice towards the container and cabin.

    Even after the ice dam melted, the heavy snow with heavy spring rain kept the creek (and most of Granite county) flooding heavily. This resulted in a need to build a bridge where the culvert was. See “Bridge”chapter.

    Previous dike.

    If you have surface water, flooding is something to think about no matter how unlikely. We had an unusual situation, but it is one we could have prepared for if all conceivable situations were thought of. The creek comes no closer than 100ft to the cabin. The cabin is about one foot lower in elevation, across a slightly graded field and driveway from the creek. The creek runs liquid water for about two-months each spring on average years. If there was a clog in the culvert, how would the water divert and where would it run? If it was a heavy rain year, where would new channels carve? These are important questions to ask yourself if you live on a creek or lake.

    Lessons

    • Do not trust real estate listings to tell you the whole truth. Put boots on the ground and see for yourself. Be very, very wary when buying out of the area or sight-unseen.
    • Start looking at land at least a year before you buy, if possible. Track specific properties for sale near where you are interested and even places you don’t think you are interested, walk on them, document, and take pictures for future reference. This might be slightly dishonest if you must pose as an interested buyer to get an address but you will be much more informed when you do buy.
    • What is every conceivable disaster? Can the creek flood in a 20-year storm? How high will the lake rise? Will the lake dry up or become a swamp? What’s your back-up plan for potable water?

     


    Food Production

    Industry does not come from the land. It comes from what industrious people do with the land. A gold miner makes the gold mine. Without the miner, layers of gold in rock is just layers of rock.

    This valley is a sandy, rocky river-bed with poor soil covered in invasive, noxious weeds. In three years, enough food is produced to feed several people, 6-months of the year. Enough food is produced where excess can be sold and a profit can be made from the land. The valley did not make that happen. We made that happen. We studied the land, identified its faults, and worked to improve the quality. This valley, as it sits, is unproductive. There is little value in unproductive land. We built the value.

    Producing food is the epitome of personal responsibility. Fewer things better illustrate a man’s ability to support himself and his family than to produce their food. Healthy, sustainable food (and water) is a pre-requistite for healthful existence. It may be the choice of a man to provide substinence by purchasing it rather than producing it, but this is not secure. Food supplies can be interupted, markets decline, civilizations transition.

    As I described in “The farmer-less market“, to have a plan for what could happen does not translate to a belief of what will happen. Disruptions to the supply of food, electricity, and other essential services has occurred in the past, occurs in the present, and will continue to occur in the future. In the South, hurricanes are the precipitating event that lead to empty shelves and rationing at the grocery store. The Pacific Northwest experiences “pineapple express” rain and wind storms that destroy miles of access roads and power-lines with downed trees and mudslides isolating large areas and peninsulas for days or weeks. Here in Montana, wildfires will cause whole regions of the state to be evacuated. If a victim is unable to evacuate or is not notified of the evacuation, he may be isolated for days or weeks with fire consuming all roads in and out.

    Danger is a risk associated with life. Owning your life means accepting the consequences of your decisions. If you choose to live in an apartment in the Big City, that is your choice. You get to make that decision. But you must also accept the consequences of that decision. If you choose to grow a lawn instead of a garden, that is your choice. You get to make the decision. But you must also accept the consequences of that decision, and those consequences may be bigger than they first appear. If a hurricane, flood, tornado, snow storm, wildfire, drought, terrorist attack, currency devaluing, or any other disaster disrupts the food supply you choose to be dependent on, then you must accept the consequences of that decision. Who owns your life?

    Grow a garden in the back yard. Plant a fruit tree along the drive way. Have a sprouting tray on the counter. Put an herb in the window. Taking charge of your food supply doesn’t mean selling an urban life for 40-acres with the Amish. I strongly encourage rural life and the work it requires, but it isn’t necessary to take charge of your food. Each little step adds towards a life of self-reliance and self-satisfaction. How do you live your life? Who owns it? Who enjoys the benefits and who suffers the consequences?

    Garden

     

    Compost

     

    Wild Foraging

     

    Animals (Hunting & Domestic)

     

    Home Cooking

     

    Lessons

     


    Food Storage

     

    Canning

     

    Dehydrating

    Root Cellar

     

    Lessons

     


    Access

    I love this photo.

    Summer

    We live 15-miles from the state highway and 45-miles from the interstate. At the end of 13-miles of paved county road, we have 2-miles of gravel county road. Then, a half-mile up a two-track driveway and you’re here.

    Summer access is not bad. The ruts get deep during break-up when the top layer is muddy and the bottom layer is frozen. This will make ruts that are axle-deep. Over the course of spring, they will get worn in. We shovel gravel in the deepest sections. If a visitor comes with a car, they can drive to the side of the ruts and figure it out.

    We chose for this property to have vehicle access, as opposed to a property without road access. In the contiguous-48 this is the case most of the time, but there are a few off-grid places landlocked by forest land without possibility of laying a drive way.

    Because our forest is so ill, we have trees fall across the road frequently. We probably have 10-20 trees per year. Some are small and movable by hand, others require the big saw and the truck. If you live in the mountains, you are your own Road Department. We invested in one big saw several years ago that stays in the truck. I also bought a small saw to keep in the car which can cut small to medium trees. We give ourselves plenty of time to get to where we are going in case it takes a few minutes to clear a tree. If this isn’t something you are willing to do, live somewhere without trees or off a main road where others are likely to encounter and clear trees before you or call the fire department.

    Winter

    The highway is plowed, decently fast. The paved county road is plowed, not long after. The gravel county road is plowed, eventually. Our driveway is plowed, never.

    We once owned a plow, but we sold it before buying this property. We have 4×4 rigs and chains for all four tires if needed. The truck has needed chains to make it up the driveway a few times, but the 4Runner has never needed chains to reach the house. The difference, I think, is that the truck is a flat bed and has little weight over the rear tires.

    I lived in an apartment in Butte for part of 2016. I moved back to the property (still the camper at this point) around the end of December. I thought these pictures were pretty humorous and I wanted to share them. Sometimes, you have to figure it out on your own. 

    Alternative

     

    Emergency

     

    Bridge Build

    This was such a cool project it gets its own sub-section.

    We had a heavy snow year the winter of ’17-’18. In February, we had an odd warming and cooling cycle that resulted in a heavy rain, lots of snow melt, followed by freezing temps. This cycle occurred several times and caused mayhem over the whole county. The creek was so heavy this spring it washed out the 15″ culvert. To avoid this again in the future and avoiding another ice dam issue, we opted to build a bridge.

    To get the creek back where it is supposed to run and off the driveway, we called in a favor from the neighbor. He brought his excavator and dug out the gravel that filled in the void of the culvert.

    From our log pile, we pulled two smaller logs that would be the buttresses that the logs spanning the creek would rest on.

    We then fell a dying spruce for the main logs that would span the creek. Being still-green-ish and in longer lengths (18′?), these were very heavy. We did not want to drag them so these logs would stay fresh, without rocks getting stuck in the bark. Using two rock bars and leverage, we “walked” the logs onto the truck, one at a time.

    The logs peeled nicely. We cut notches in the buttress logs to keep the span logs in place, as well as level the height of the three logs.

    Brandon used the chainsaw to roughly level the deck surface of the logs. Then, we fired up Grandpa’s 7.5kW generator and drilled as deep as the bit would reach and staked the logs with 1/2″ rebar.

    Last year, we fell an old fir that stood on the property. It appears “old growth” by the tightness of the rings. I counted 200-years and there was still more to go. This tree was dead and being consumed by the ants, so we took it down and set it aside for a special project.

    We milled this log into 4″ decking for the bridge. It is beautiful wood, but this will be a beautiful bridge.

    I know I am not wearing chaps. Please, wear chaps regardless of how quick your cut is. I made a bad decision. Fortunately no issues arose because of it, but it was a bad decision. Save your eyes, save your ears, save your skin.  

    I trimmed the wane-edge of the boards with the little saw. The 4″ depth was too much for the small circular saw we have. A quick run with the plane to round the wedges and corners and it was almost ready.

    A few spots had a little bit of funky wood, so we took care of that with the broad ax.

    The boards are spaced about 5cm (2″) apart. They were drilled, then had six 6″ lag bolts screwed in with wood glue – two lags per span log.

    We collected several truck loads of rock from the quarry and built up the ramps on both sides.

    (the second lag bolt not installed)

    The bridge is up and operational. We laid 1″ pine boards to be the “tread boards” that get torn up and replaced over the years. We will apply a coat of linseed oil when we have a few extra dollars. It should take 1-2 gallons for one, heavy coat.

    Lessons

    • Do you want road access? Do you want it year ’round? What is your plan for medical emergencies?
    • Do you have a snow plow? Are there plows in the area you can hire? Can you afford a plow, always?
    • Is a snow machine, snow shoes, or skis a reasonable alternative?
    • How many roads out are available to locals? Are you locked by bridges? Could you ford the creek in 4×4 if needed? If all else fails, can you shelter-in-place?
    • Will shelter-in-place be your first choice or will you always evacuate? Sometimes, evacuating might not be the right answer. 

     


    Property Boundaries

     

     

     


    Technology

    I will add this introduction soon. 10 August 2018

    Telephone

    There is no cell service in the valley. In fact, there is little cell coverage in the whole county. We discussed the possibility of bring in a copper-wire landline and I went so far as to call the phone company. This idea was DOA. There is a sliver of forest land between the county road and our private property. This sliver of land requires a Special Use Permit from the Forest disService. When I asked the lady at the local USFS office that issues the permit that would allow a utility company to lay a permanent line through the forest land to our private, I was told “good luck”. When I asked her to explain and give me some kind of estimate, she said it could take ten-years and at least 10,000$ for the appropriate federal agencies to do an assessment. This strip of forest land possessed the tail-end of our seasonal creek. Because a “creek” might be involved, this land had to be treated as a “wetland”. When the USFS hears tell of a private land owner who wants to molest a precious, dry, weed-patch of a wetland with infrastructure and civilization, all hell breaks loose.

    To have a telephone line brought through their land, an assessment would need to be performed to ensure the safety and quality of the so-called wetland and imaginary aquatic species. This process would involve environmental engineers, wildlife biologists, hydrologists, human-impact studies, and special environmental insurance for the government-approved contractors who would be required to lay the line through that section. All this on my dime, paid up-front.

    Lady Permit also said that if I was to do all of these things, wait this time, and pay for the costs, there was no guarantee that the impact study would result in a favorable conclusion and I would not be able to reclaim any of my costs.

    Though it needn’t be said, we do not have a landline. We do not have cell coverage. The forest road adjacent to the homestead leads to a butte that sits very tall and has clear line-of-sight to one of the two cell towers in the county. This is where we go if we need to make a phone call. The seclusion we feel in the valley is awe-some. We cannot be disturbed. We must make arrangements and schedule times to call friends or family. When we are home, it is quiet. When we have visitors, nobody is on their phone.

    Internet

    For a variety of reasons, we decided to bring in internet on year two. For the same reasons as the landline, we could not bring in copper-wire DSL. We could bring in satellite. We have Hughesnet satellite internet and it works pretty well. For daytime hours, the speeds are very slow but usable for email and basic web pages. For watching Youtube (at any resolution) or downloading anything of size, we have to hit the early-bird hours. From 3a-7a, I have hit 40mbps. The rest of the day we hover around 100kbps.

    I have a smartphone that can do wifi-calling. The internet speeds are too slow to hold a voice call without dropping or being garbled and the lag is almost two-seconds. This is no-good for voice calls. But, this works plenty fine to send a text through wifi and schedule times when either Brandon or I are in town to have a regular conversation.

    Because our power supply is very limited as you will read about later in this chapter, we don’t have the electricity to keep the internet turned on all the time. The modem is on when we need it for something specific and it is off all other times. We enjoy this seclusion and privacy. There is nothing so important in this world that it cannot wait until morning for us to check our email. If grandma had a heart attack, there is nothing that I can do 700-miles away that will help her. Being out of instantaneous contact has worked fine for the last 100,000-years, it will be just fine for a while longer.

    Solar Power

    To power the internet, we use a Goal Zero Yeti 400 battery/inverter with two 30w solar panels. (This unit was given to us by a relative. It is a fine unit if you want an easy-to-use, self-contained power supply but you will pay a premium for the convenience and brand name.)

    We have lived with minimal access to electricity for many years. While working on a ranch in the Okanogan hills of northern Washington, I had my first off-grid experience. The ranch owner’s cabin had grid electricity, but the remaining 160 acres was without power. Two Trojan L-16 6VDC batteries charged by a Honda 1000 generator powered a single light bulb in the bunk house. Radio was by battery. No television. No cell phone coverage. It was a great experience for two reasons. First, it helped “zero” me out. I was never into video games or television a whole ton, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my cell phone with me 24/7 or check my email and F*c*b**k several times a day. I was 18-years at this point. I wasn’t on the Twitergram and Instawhat all day, but I definitely felt naked without the fondle-slab. The second lesson from this off-grid ranch-hand experience was a requirement to become familiar with hand tools. There were some power tools on the ranch but it required hauling a noisy 4kW generator on the back of the truck around. In winter, transportation was strictly snow machine. To become familiar with hand tools results in a young man to be self-reliant. Feeling the give as an axe splits a piece of kindling – feeling the creak of a seized bolt in the middle of winter – lifting a log onto the pile using only the pile itself as leverage. These things result in a man learning his capabilities, he learns his strengths and weaknesses, he learns to listen.

    Since 2012, the most electricity Brandon and I have had in the house was a single extension cord that we ran through the window of a cabin we rented for a year in North Idaho. For the first month, we didn’t even do that. We used a gas lantern for light. The option was available for us to run a long extension cord from Landlady’s house to the cabin and the cost of electricity to run the lights was going to be less than paying for propane, albeit low as it was. We did this and had grid power, but it was a long extension cord and it was limited to just the lights.

    In 2014 we bought a 1999 19′ camper and lived in it full-time for three years. We stayed at an RV park over the winter of ’14-’15, but didn’t have much in the way of electrical appliances. After that, we lived in the camper while building on the property. During that time, we used a 100W panel and charged a Sr. Cheapo battery that again, only ran the lights.

    With the 60W of power the Goal Zero collects, I wish we had just a little more. With the mild amount of interneting we do, keeping the webpage going, and running the actual business side of AAL FIREARMS, keeping the power supply charged to run a laptop, internet router, and lights is a bit much. In winter, we have less than 2-hours of direct sun which means we have to run the Yamaha 1000W generator about 4-hours a week to supplement.

    To light the cabin, we have LED desk lamps that draw 2-5 watts each, depending on the setting. One is on my desk, the other is on a kitchen shelf and lights much of the area. We also have a string of LED Christmas lights that consume 4 watts. I have plans to upgrade the lighting to permanent and brighter lights after we have more power. I currently plan two (or four) Trojan T-105 batteries and one (or two) panels in the 200 watt neighborhood.

    Until that day comes, we do just fine with the power we have. For a few hundred dollars, anyone could be comfortable off-grid.

    Amateur Radio

    If you do need to get a hold of me, give me a shout on 80m. – KF7NCD

    It has been a challenge having radio of any kind in the valley. The hills on either side are so steep and tall that very little radio gets in or out. Even AM/FM is a challenge: only one or two stations that come from the north give us the least bit of advertisement-interrupted music. Even though the high-bands have trouble, 160m-40m does okay on my 204′ dipole. I suspect that a vertical might do better on 40m-10m and plan to purchase one this year or next. I’ll update this section as I experiment.

    I first tested for my Technician ticket in December of 2010. I listened to the VHF repeaters outside of Seattle for more than a year before my first-ever QSO. At the time, I had an Icom 2200 2m I was given by uncle Fairbanks. His promise was, “If you get your license, I’ll get you a radio.” That hand-me-down mobile has been great. I still have it.

    A quick, but well-needed review: Due to a ‘packaging error’ on my part when I put the 2200 in storage, it sat in a box that had been near a very leaky window. The plastic bag that I poorly wrapped the radio in caught the rain water and was almost filled. The 2200 sat in a full bag of water…for two months. Catching myself on the way to the dumpster, I figured I might as well try the unit just to see the sparks fly before I chuck it. I opened it up and let it dry in the sun for a few days. It turned on. It transmitted (into a dummy load). It appeared to be functioning perfectly! I am afraid to transmit on the air with it, but I am going to keep it and test it sometime – just in case. Maybe this isn’t as much of a miracle as I think it is, but I still find it neat. I am worried about a few drops from my jacket sleeve falling onto the screen of my Kenwood – and here is the Icom still working after soaking for two months.

    In 2013 I completed the General exam and Brandon KG7HBU passed the Tech. I currently run barefoot on an Icom 735 (usually around 35w) into a True-Talk 204′ dipole in an inverted-vee pattern (∠135°). An MFJ-941 manual tuner completes the HF system. A 100w PV panel keeps the single 12VDC deep cycle battery topped off, though this is a challenge by itself. The battery is old and weak and the panel doesn’t get much sun in winter.

    I have a Yaesu 2900 that I have kept in the house but I am not impressed with it for a variety of reasons. There is a Kenwood 218 in the truck that also isn’t doing too well. It is rated as mil-spec for ruggedness, but I think the dust has taken a toll on the circuity. An Icom V-80 Sport rounds out the amateur equipment showcase. I am not impressed with this unit as a whole, but this is my “Baofeng”. It does perform the job I bought it for. (Maybe I just can’t be impressed with any radio?)

    As of May 2016, I am now an Amateur Extra. After reading that damned book cover-to-cover (twice) and help from online study tools, I successfully completely the Amateur Extra test just under the wire for the new question pool.

    I am excited for the future of amateur radio on the homestead. Currently, it is not far from a duct tape production. As equipment is upgraded and better systems are installed, I’ll be sure to update this section.

    Lessons

    • How important is a cell phone connection? If it is very important, look around. Don’t trust the Verizon coverage maps. Drive to these properties and look for yourself. I am surprised at how many remote properties have decent service when they are only a little bit higher on a hill.
    • Satellite internet is coming along. Supposedly there are plans for 1gbps connections in the next few years from