The premise for this story came to me after seeing all the confusion caused by an electrical fire under the soffit of my apartment building last weekend. Add a pyromaniac that douses all the hallways and staircases with kerosene, a 2AM wakeup call and a rainy night. Many would die, I fear--Especially the elderly and the children.
I was startled out of a sound sleep by the fire alarm yelping in the corridor. I lived on the ground floor of a fifty-year-old two-floor apartment building with about 50 units per building, six buildings total. I shook myself awake, dressed in my work clothes, scuffed on my shoes, grabbed my computer and headed for the door. No! I turned around, reached behind my desk and grabbed my buffalo box (Ethernet-available very large hard drive) and headed for the door. No! I turned, looked for and found a trade-show goodie bag, stuffed the buffalo box into it, opened my highboy drawer and threw the pistol along with what ammo I had stashed there in the bag as well. Then I headed for the apartment door. Shit! When I accidentally leaned against the door while unlocking it I burned my shoulder! I certainly wasn't going out that way.
I re-locked the door and headed for my sliding glass door to my pathetic little patio. It was going to be a life saver today. I unlocked door and slid it open. A deep breath of the cool damp air centered me. I keep a suitcase at the end of my bed for emergency call-outs. I stuffed it with underwear, socks, shirts and pants. I took the time to use a flashlight to find the power supply for my buffalo box and stuffed it in the trade show bag. I had a handful of four-packs of batteries in my highboy. I pocketed those as well. I made sure I had my cell phone. I put on a coat because I noticed a soaking rain coming down. I calmly exited through the patio door and locked it behind me. I strode through the boggy back yard to the parking lot which was jammed with emergency and fire vehicles. I walked into a horror show. There were people on litters and gurneys being madly worked upon by EMT and rescue crew-members. I saw arms, legs and chests covered in charred and blistered skin. There was a short row of body bags guarded by two sheriffs on the grass. I smelled cooked pork and kerosene from the people. A sudden burst of nausea almost overcame me. I had to grit my teeth and swallow continuously to push it down. Breathe. Breathe. I looked at a policeman, gaining his attention. "Arson?" He nodded grimly. Shit. I made my way to my jeep, unlocked it, slung my stuff inside and lit it up. There was no way I was going to exit via the parking lot so I eased it forward over the parking bump, across a landscaping berm and into traffic on the street. I headed to work. At 2 AM.
I'm an IT guy in a small company. I've got the keys for everything and the alarm codes. I silenced the alarm, went to the men's room, sat down on a stool and went back to sleep. (They don't alarm the johns.)
After a few uncomfortable hours the maintenance man got the shock of his life as he woke me up. I described the apartment flambe and he shook his head. "Bad shit." I had to agree.
I told the boss what happened the next morning and arranged to get the rest of the week off (taking time from my vacation hours, of course. Fucking bean counters.) I found police waving off anyone trying to get into the building--it had been preemptively condemned until it could be examined. Assholes! The fire damage was all at one end other than the hallways. Most of the building was sound! It was made of concrete slabs! The flaming fucking bastards were trying to keep from being sued if someone happened to cut themselves on busted glass while the people were forced to live on the streets in early April. Around Chicago this isn't a pleasant little camp-out.
I needed a place to stay and quick. I couldn't afford a new apartment with first, last and security deposit at a thousand plus per as well as re-stock the place. Screw that! I'd recently read a couple of articles about using shipping containers as cheap modular frames for housing. Well, that may work around shipping ports but wouldn't hang in the Midwest.
Alternatively I wanted to use semi trailers. I shopped around on the Internet (thank you, library). I found out that what we call trailers are called dry vans in the business. I found a place in Rockford (a goodly ways North-West) that had used Dry Van trailers for sale. I called a number from their web page and got in touch with a manager. When I told him that I wanted a 54 foot trailer to turn into a house he got excited. He had a couple of twenty-plus year old trailers that had burned out hydraulic brakes that he couldn't get rid of come hell or high water. He'd sell both to me for four grand, delivered. I couldn't believe it! Those things sell for over 25 grand apiece new! He told me that the brake replacement jobs would cost more than the value of the shells. With that, I talked him down to two grand for both to get the damned things off his lot. Now I had to find a place to put them.
Over the line from snooty Kane County where a house trailer was the sign of the lower class we come to DeKalb County, governed by a much more pragmatic group of people that just wanted revenue and people to supply it. I drove west and stopped at each farm I came across. I gave them my pitch about adding to their income by 300 a month if they could provide a place for a couple of trailers, a 100 Amp service, water and sewer. I'd pay for the electricity by the month. I finally got a bite at a horse farm that had seen better days. The Pete Franz was getting on in years and couldn't provide the labor necessary to keep the operation viable and couldn't afford the price of the hired help to replace him. He and his wife Laura were at wit's end looking for some added income and were about to sell the place. I suggested that he open a small trailer park. With a gravel ring road, two 600 amp service panels to split the load bringing up 100 amp service at stub posts, water and sewer done the same and a fenced dumpster bay he could run twelve or so trailers at three to four hundred bucks a month rent per lot. It wouldn't have been feasible without the existence of the high power lines just over his fence, paralleling the main highway. I convinced them to let me bring in my trailers as a place to live in while they got the power installed, septic field dug and water lines run. The road-fines pads and ring-road would be a final touch with a couple parking places in front of each trailer site.
I pulled services from a garden hose and a heavy extension cord from one of the old horse barns while we got things going. I checked the load I was putting on the extension cord with a clamp-on ammeter. I couldn't run too much at once.
.... There is more of this story ...