Cut Off
Chapter 1

I have to admit, at first I was full-blown panic attack terrified. I remembered eating a toasted cheese sandwich after my night shift at the hotel. I had been a night manager at a Holiday Inn Express near the airport, just outside of Springfield Illinois. When I woke up everything was so quiet that it spooked me. I had no damned idea what happened but something strange had happened. I got dressed and stuck my nose outside. I couldn't hear a single car running. No busses, no delivery vans, no nothing. The hair on the back of my head stood up. I got in the car and began to fire it up. I figured that if it happened in town the local diner would know about it.

No deal. The car's solenoid didn't even click. I didn't get too excited over that. It was a wreck that I'd been nursing along. I walked the six blocks down to a new/used car dealership (All right, they sold Fords.). Nobody was around but the doors were unlocked. I looked around for something that they wouldn't miss. An old diesel delivery van with a painted-out side panel advertising Jenkin's hardware sat back by the fence. Some numbers were written on the window in yellow grease pencil. I looked around the shop until I found a key safe fastened to the wall. I found the key that matched the numbers and letters. I went out back and tried it. The van started! It ran a little rough at first, but that would even out as it warmed up. I wrote a short letter giving my name and address, what I was taking and described why and left it on the secretary's desk that was next to the key safe. I tried to fill the fuel tank at a gas station but the pumps wouldn't come on. I picked up a 12-volt transfer pump with a long hose on it from a tractor-trailer repair place just down the road, then returned to the gas station. I opened up the in-ground tank caps until I smelled diesel. I dropped in the hose and put the other end in the van's filler cap. I powered the pump off the van's battery. When it started overflowing I cut off the power, reeled up the hoses and stored the whole mess in a milk crate. I smiled as the gas gauge rose to the full mark when I started it. I made sure the oil and radiator were full, then I headed out. Back at my place I filled a suitcase, picked up a pair of boots and grabbed my barn coat. It wasn't fashionable, but neither was I.

I figured that if I spotted something then it was fair game. If later someone came to call me to task it would be easier to ask for forgiveness than to wait for permission. I headed for a sporting goods store near the edge of town, where all the malls were. I picked some overalls, an insulated jacket, a map book, a warm hat, gloves, a couple of big square sleeping bag that would make for nice quilts and some warm socks. It was March and it got a bit cool at night. I came up on a display of Gerber camp axes. I cleaned 'em out. They had some little 24-hour disposable heater packs that you just had to tear open to use. I stuffed my pockets with them. Just one would make sleeping that night a lot more comfortable.

Some friends had taken me on a fishing trip down to Bull Shoals a couple of years before. I liked it a lot, and figured that all else considered, it was as good a place as any to go. Springfield never felt like home to me. I was born near Branson Missouri and only left home to find a job. The night manager job was a good fit for me because I didn't have to think much, just to do what I was told and keep doing it.

Maybe you've figured out by now that I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I always got along, though. I make do. I was born on a farm and remembered how to live that way. It pretty well shaped the way I think.

It was getting close to evening. I found a Kroger's and did a little free shopping. I picked up a percolator, a couple two pound cans of coffee, a can opener, a pound of sugar, a plastic box for the sugar, a flat of evaporated milk, salt, pepper, and some food, like a steaks and a bag of red potatoes. The meat was still fresh which meant that whatever happened must have happened fast--overnight.

They had a little tabletop propane grill and some cartridges for it. I picked up those, a cooking fork, some flatware, paper plates and a big coffee cup. I'd forgotten about providing for light. I found up a big cooler that would double as a seat and took two more too, as well as a few boxes of plumber's candles and a fistful of lighters. Later I'd go back for a pound of butter and a container of sour cream for the potatoes. It was nice and convenient to eat in the grocery store.

I cooked, ate, had a cup of coffee and went outside to pee. The stars just took over the sky. I'd missed that since being a kid on the farm. I'd forgotten all about it until I saw the Milky Way again. I slept the night through on the floor of that grocery store. By morning I wished that I'd had picked up a sleeping pad, dammit. Before I left the store I filled the cooler with ice and some things that had to stay cold, like butter, bacon and beef. I picked up a couple flats of canned baked beans, packets of kool-aid, sugar, honey, baking chocolate, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, pecan halves, walnut halves, peanut butter, jelly, bread, pie filling, corn meal mix, crackers, dried eggs, instant milk, cocoa powder and whatever else grabbed me. I know that I picked up way too many candy bars and a lot of salad stuff. I cleaned that store out of the kind of spaghetti sauce I liked and the kind of short tubes of pasta I liked too. I couldn't resist temptation and filled half a cart with Kraft and Velveta Mac & Cheese boxes with the soft cheese packets in them. I found a heavy pot with a lid, a fry pan, a big cooking fork and spoon, a little flatware, a spreader to put peanut butter on my crackers, some blocks of cheese, mustard and a few packages of bratwurst. A few cans of chili, all the canned chicken they had, a dozen jugged chickens, the canned corned beef, the cans of hash and the canned beef went with me too. That delivery van just begged for filling up. I picked up probably the last oranges and bananas that I'd ever eat. I think I got out of there with five loaded grocery carts and not a cashier to be found. I took a full case of Dawn dish washing detergent, six gallons of bleach, a couple of plastic dish pans and a metric shit load of toilet paper and paper towels. I went back for a shopping cart full of paper plates and paper bowls. I looked at the eggs, took two dozen, nabbed a small watermelon, put all their live lobsters in a bucket of water, added on a few other things for dinner and headed for the door. I grabbed a fudge sickle on the way out.

I looked through a yellow pages for a military surplus place. I picked up several army wool blankets, a cot, a couple of sleeping pads, a bunch of army-green wool socks, a Bergen-style backpack with a big bladder-type canteen in it and some black military boots that fit pretty well. They had zippers on the inside of the ankle. They fit so well that I took all three pair that he had in my size. I tried on an old-style green field jacket and liked it a lot. It was comfortable and had plenty of pockets. I picked up one in my size and a liner for it, too to make it warmer. I thought about food again and cleaned the surplus place out of the MREs that I liked. Before I left I looked over his display case and found a couple of good quality sheath knives that I took, a knife sharpening kit to get those blades in shape and a big spool of parachute cord.

Then I thought about a high-end butcher shop in town I'd gone to once or twice. He made his own jerky and sausages. I picked up six more coolers and found a place that advertised dry ice in the yellow pages. I got five pounds for each cooler. Then I headed for the butcher shop. I got one cooler full of strip steaks, one cooler full of boneless pork chops, one cooler full of thick-cut apple-smoked bacon and four coolers full of sausages. I cleaned him out of jerky too. I even went in back to see what he had in the smoker and still on drying racks. I must have scored over sixty pounds of beef jerky. If I'd been busted for it I'd have gone down for grand larceny! his jerky sold for twenty-two dollars a pound and was worth every penny. I should have taken a couple of his butcher knives as they no doubt were better quality than the stuff I'd found at the military surplus place.

There was nothing holding me around there. I picked up a half dozen five-gallon jugs of drinking water, the same number of five-gallon red Jerry that I filled full of diesel and headed down the road. I had a lot more stuff with me than when I ever camped so I was pretty confident that I'd be okay.

That night I ate lobster like a king. I finished the meal with a decent sized filet done on the grill and a baked potato with sour cream. For supper I had a frozen cherry cheesecake. Let's hear it for gluttony.

The trip was pretty straightforward. I left Springfield Illinois for St. Louis, Missouri. (Well, close enough. I hit Kirkwood on the ring road for more diesel and a short rest.) Then it was on to Rolla, Lebanon, Springfield Missouri and Branson. Just outside of town to the east lay our old farm, a bit east of 76 and highway "J". I pulled up to the farm house not expecting much. You see, Mom had sold the place over ten years ago and gone into an assisted living center after Dad died. The new people had prettified the place, cleaning it up and switching to an all-hay crop. I shook my head. What the hell would they live on when the market was bad? Would they eat hay?

I found out why they were cropping hay. There was a place that took in horses for people "just around the corner". They must have started up business since I'd left. The poor horses were left in their box stalls, unfed and in shit up to their hocks. I let them out into the pasture and got a big round bale cut open for them. There was water and the weather wasn't too bad. I left the doors open to the indoor ring so that they'd have a place to shelter at night. Now what the hell was I going to do with eighteen four-legged prima-donnas? These were pets, not working horses. Granted, I still wasn't going to let them starve to death either.

I went back to the farm and explored some more. I found the empty space where they'd torn down the chicken coop and the place where the pig lot used to be. The barn was still there, as was the milking parlor and the dairy. It needed a good cleaning and a few head of milk cows. Then I opened up the machine shed. It was a big newer pole barn mostly with a sand floor. Their tractor was a big monster of a New Holland that refused to start. I took a trip into town where I picked up a bicycle, visited the tractor and implement store and found a very old New Holland tractor on his lot. The paper work said that it had just been rebuilt. That tractor worked. I used the end loader on the tractor to pile two-hundred-gallon diesel tanks on a hay wagon. Then I pinned it to the hitch, got the tanks filled at a gas station, added a few cases of oil and headed for home. With all the game I saw walking down the road I really wished for a decent rifle with a fixed sight. I'd keep my eye out for a rifle, shotgun and a pistol that I liked. I climbed on that bicycle and rode the ten-odd miles back to town to get the van. Boy, I was ready for bed by the time I got back. It was dark out by the time I found the van. I realized that the power was out everywhere. That meant I'd need kerosene lamps like grandma had. There wouldn't even be electric fans in the summer time. We had a big LPG bulk tank at the farm. All I could figure out to do was to get one or two gas-fired refrigerators from a trailer repair place and hook 'em up. There had to be a place like that around somewhere. After all, it was Branson Missouri and the Ozarks! Stuff broke down when people were on vacation.

I slept in the van again that night because I'd have to break in to the house. The doors were locked and the windows were too. I wanted to wait for daylight so I wouldn't hurt myself. I had an MRE for dinner, peed against a tree and went to bed.

I drove back home in the morning light and broke into the house through a basement window. It was big enough to let me in and small enough to cover with a sheet of plywood until I got the supplies to fix it. I remembered that my folks always had a notebook on the kitchen counter with a pencil marking the page. That was the shopping list. I grinned thinking that I'd just made the first entry in my shopping list. I felt around to get to the stairs up to the kitchen, then made my way up to where I remember my bedroom was. It was set up as a guest room so I made out all right. I wanted to clean out the main bedroom before I claimed it as my own.

The first problem I had was no water. There wasn't even a stock tank to dip water out of. I had about thirty gallons in the van but that wouldn't hold me for but a few days. I wondered if I could get a windmill up and going. I looked around for a well-head and found one with a six inch casing. I remembered being a teen when they dug it. It was maybe forty-five feet deep if I recalled right. I drove the van into town to look for a library. Maybe there was something in there about stock tank windmills. If it'd work for a stock tank then it'd work for a water tank on a stand, right? Oh, the fun times I just let myself in for!

Every day I filled six big water jugs from a spigot in the library. I guessed that the water towers were still feeding the city.

There was a place in town that sold windmills for pumping water. They had the whole shebang ready to pick up in their back lot. The problem was the filled shipping case weighed maybe two, two and a half tons. I didn't like the looks of this already. I knew that I'd want a stock tank and a water tank as well as a bunch of plumbing pieces and parts. I got everything located and picked up the plumbing stuff with the van before going back home to get the tractor again. I used four 2x12s and a chain hoist with a dally-block to get the shipping case for the windmill on the hay wagon. Then I got a plastic stock tank and a plastic water tank tied on too. They didn't weigh much at all-they were just clumsy. The tower promised to be about thirty, maybe thirty eight feet tall, and that kind of height would get me enough water pressure to work with. Now how the hell was I going to set up a water tower without a crane, I ask you. Simple. Your aren't. I looked over at that old hay barn and almost burned out one of my few remaining light bulbs. I was gonna build a platform up high inside the barn with a good sturdy criss-cross frame to hold it up. If that floor would hold sixteen tons of hay it would surely hold two tons of water, if that. I just had to spread out the load a bit. I could use the main roof truss to lift the frame pieces and the tank into place. The overflow water could be piped to a stock tank a little bit away from the barn. My next problem was how to get the water from the windmill to the tank.

If the damned Romans could do it with aqueducts then I could do it with 4x4s, tied together like a railroad span. I'd be drinking jugged water until I figured it out so I got busy.

I read the instructions to set up that windmill like it was the Bible. I could see that I'd need to build the scaffolding tower first and to fasten a good ladder up to it, as I 'd be climbing up and down it like a monkey. I needed to put in a platform at ten and twenty feet as well because the pipe segments were ten feet long and I had to get to the junctions to screw everything together. I'd need one hell of a hefty winch to hold up forty-five feet of two-inch pipe along with the pump head, then the collar at the bottom had to hold it all steady for the life of the system. No, two winches. They'd alternate as the sections were added. I'd need to pour some bodacious footers for this thing and set up a pair of really nice chain hoists with positive brakes. I had my plans and set about doing the job.

I used an idiot stick to dig a four-foot-deep footer all the way around that well head. I towed in a small water tanker and a hay wagon full of dry concrete, then mixed up batch after batch in a pair of wheelbarrows until I got the pour up to the surface. The instructions mentioned rebar ties so I had one-inch rebar criss-crossing the hole, all wired together tight before I poured. I kept jamming a pole into that mix like a milkmaid churning butter for glory. Once the pour reached the top of the form I set in the couplers for the base of the tower. I made sure to get them spaced right and square by using a piece of plywood as a jig. Then I took a well-deserved rest.

I rested a day while I cleaned up the mess, then picked up a load of 6x6s to start building the water tank platform. Using a crank hand-drill to make holes for the threaded rod that was going to hold the thing together wasn't a walk in the park. I gained a new respect for my grandpa, working that farm by hand. I got two layers of one-inch plywood up there, glued them together then drilled through them into the joists and used lag bolts to screw through both layers into the joists I'd just pre-drilled. That platform wasn't going anywhere this side of a hurricane, and then it was going in one piece. I then laid pipe from the overflow outlet, down through the hayloft floor inside the barn to where another pipe led outside to where I wanted the stock tank. I put a coupler and two valves inside the barn to drain the stock tank hose for the winter time and to fill the inside watering tank for the cattle. That tank got an overflow that led out to a lowland where we had our marsh. I used plastic hose for that and covered it good so it wouldn't freeze solid.

Have you ever taken a good look at an old-time wood railroad bridge? Not just a "That's pretty" glance, but a good look with an eye towards making one yourself? It's a lot of work! The mains are angled in like a big letter "A" with cross-pieces every so often, big long stiffeners run from top to bottom then criss-crosses tie those "A"s together like rafters, and a big support track runs across the top. Since I was only holding up two-inch water pipe and the insulation it would need, it wasn't as bad as a real railroad bridge would have been. I still had a lot of trouble cutting all those 4x4s at an angle to fit and drilling the bolt holes. About that time that I found an antique farm museum and raided them for a circular saw driven off of a tractor. I gave the blade a few licks with a file, made a template with a piece of plywood and cut off all those angles just as slick as snot. I remembered that I had to get the water from the tank to the house too, so I continued that 'aqueduct' all the way across the yard to the house. Since I needed to use gravity to feed the water once it reached the top of the tower I had to angle the pipe that fed the holding tank and then the pipe that ran from the tank to the house. I anchored both ends of that wooden monstrosity with spacer blocks to the frame of the barn and the frame of the house, then bolted everything solidly together. The concrete was dry by then and the wood structure gave me something to work with to haul the parts of the windmill tower and head up into place. I bridged the two sections of the aqueduct with more 4x4s, both to make it one big rigid system, and to give me a mounting place for the chain hoists I'd need to hold up the pipe.

I got everything ready to go bright and early one morning. I pulled the cap off the well, hooked the cable inside the cap to a chain hoist and started pulling out the electric pump and all the stuff that made it work. all that stuff got set aside, then the well head, pump rod and the flow pipe got hooked up to the first set of extensions and lowered into the hole. I used a second chain hoist to bring up the next set of extensions, fastened everything together securely and kept on lowering. I was right. I was climbing up and down that thing like a monkey. By the end of the day I needed to soak my feet in cold water and my legs were jumping around on their own. I got the six sections installed in one day. Then I clamped down the well head collar and fastened the pipe to the aqueduct. Next I fastened the pusher rod to the windmill and took the brake off the windmill mechanism. Slowly it spun around to catch the wind face-on and started turning. I headed down to get in the house and make sure the valve I had at the end of the new water pipe was turned off. I didn't want a new swimming pool in the basement if something wasn't hooked up right. I had run the line down the wall to the old waterline coming in from the electric pump, where I cut off the old line, put in an elbow and hooked everything up with another valve.

While I was down there I looked over the furnace and the hot water heater. They both ran off of gas, but they used electric thermostats and the furnace used electric fans to pump hot air through the ductwork. I'd have to hook up a trailer-type water heater in the basement and a smaller trailer-type gas-fed furnace on each floor. That old farmhouse had the old pie-plates high on the chimneys so finding where to run the flues was easy. The stove would light with a match or a lighter but the oven was a disaster. There was no way to control it. I figured that I'd have to pull out the big fancy thermostat/valve that was in it and replace it with a simpler gas regulating valve meant for a burner. That plus an oven thermometer would have to do the job for me.

After a while I opened the kitchen sink valve and got a bunch of spits and farts, then good running water. I was pretty happy. I walked along the lines, looking for drips but didn't find any. I'd done a good job with the threading and the pipe dope. The cattle tank was slowly filling. Everything was working the way I'd planned. I took the rest of the day off to add things to the shopping list and to begin making a tick list of things I'd need done by winter. I hoped that I'd be able to work a little faster than the project I'd just finished. It took over a month!

Somebody around had to have had a garden the previous year. I needed to raid it later for things like tomato seeds, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, melons, carrots and radishes. Those would all either self-seed or come up from the remains of last year's crop.

As I said, it had been over a month since I'd woken up that morning alone. I really needed to explore a few grocery stores for vegetables that had held on, long-term packaged grains, sugar, salt, spices, vinegar and canned goods. I also wanted paper goods and cleaning supplies. I made it a point that minute to set aside a couple larders, one on the main floor by the kitchen and one in the basement. I took the next couple of days to get wood, glue and screws and make sturdy shelves.

I consciously shifted over to industrial adhesive for my glue. It came in tubes for a 'grease gun', the kind that the cartridge drops into the top, you push in the plunger rod and turn the bent rod at the back. A pair of wire cutters or a sharp knife would allow you to cut off the tip of the applicator nozzle, then you squeeze away, ratcheting in that plunger, kind of like a commercial syringe. The glue itself is commonly stronger than the stuff it's holding together.

I wanted to get a couple gas refrigerators installed right away, maybe four. I needed to learn how to fill an LP bulk tank too.

I spotted a sportsman's guide magazine in town when I was at the library. I saw an ad in it for Cabela's. It gave a lot of locations. The closest looked to be in Rogers, Arkanas. By my map it was a bit over a hundred miles away. I wanted to make a pass through the place for firearms and heavy, warm clothing like Carhartt stuff.

If there were any more museums in the area I wanted to explore them. I might get lucky and find a diesel powered crane from the forties or fifties that might still work. I was really on the lookout for tractor-powered machinery and an old-time two-stroke gas powered washing machine with squeeze rollers.

By that time I had figured out that if something needed a transistor to work it probably wouldn't work, period. I didn't know how to make a generator without a regulator in it. I probably could find an old diesel motor that I could mount on a skid to drive a twelve-volt generator, then wire the place in the smaller bulbs. Maybe run a 12-volt DC motor backwards? That was on my long term list. Short term I needed food, water, warmth, security, and food down the road. The previous owners had a lot of round bales stacked up in a windrow. I needed to run some fence and round up some cattle. A milk cow or two would be nice as well. The same went for chickens. They'd do all right on their own for a while but then the predators would thin them down pretty bad. I hadn't seen any dogs but I'd heard a bobcat or two screaming up in the hills at night. I'd seen a post-hole digger built for a tractor back in town. I was going to latch onto that, pronto.

I found out that a flashlight with a bulb would work, but the fancy LED flashlights wouldn't That needled me because the new LED flashlights sure stretched the life of the batteries.

I figured that I might as well tackle the LP gas lines, then get a new furnace and water heater put in. I'd go shopping for RV add-ons in the morning. The yellow pages would help me find a place.

Holy hell, holy hell. I found a place called Gobal camper sales and supply. I got four big refrigerators and four big chest freezers that would run off of propane or LP gas as well as a good load of boxed 12-volt fans. I spent some time picking out gas pipe, tees, elbows, fittings and valves. Once I unloaded I went back for a water heater and four small furnaces. Two were spares. Fitting everything in place wasn't such a big deal. I put the refrigerators and the freezers on the porch for ventilation. The hardest part was fishing the pipe between the joists in the basement. I got a furnace mounted in the master bedroom and a furnace in the living room. Once I opened the pressure valves I used soapy water to check for leaks.

The water heater was almost a drop-in job. I used a flexible gas fitting to mate the supply pipe to the fixture's demand port. I got it lit and had a hot bath that night. Yippee!

In the morning I headed back to town. I headed for the library once more. I looked at all those CDs of music and movies, then just shook my head. I looked through the ads in the antique and home decorating magazines. One place named Lehman's out of Kidron Ohio had big gas, coal and wood stoves, horse drawn farming equipment, tack, lotsa books, very nice Aladdin lamps and a lot more including butter churns and grain mills. I wanted to see if I could get a tractor-trailer running before I headed that way.

For the rest of the day I spent some time between the grocery stores, harvesting potatoes, onions, garlic and squash from the produce displays. Everything, but everything else not canned was worthless other than sugar, salt and such. I about looked for a gas mask after opening the store doors. Jesus, what a stench. I cleaned out what I wanted from a couple grocery stores then headed for a hardware store. I needed sheet metal to make a granary. Chickens, pigs, horses and cows do love their grain.

I came across a dog while coming back from town. Its being there was unusual in itself. I stopped the truck and climbed out to pet the poor thing. It was nothing but skin and bones. When she leaned into me and whimpered that was it. I had a dog. I picked her up in my arms and took her home. I fed her and petted her until she relaxed. I woke up with her beside me. I called her Sally and she didn't complain. We did well together. It took a while to feed her up. I used the fatty, canned dog food from the grocery stores. It wouldn't go bad and she liked it.

After storing off what I had just salvaged, I drove around looking for beef on the hoof and chickens. I found some chickens which excited me a lot. I marked the place on the map and kept going. I had no way to get them at the time and no place to keep them yet. That was going to change. I did scatter a few pounds of feed for them though. Sally went everywhere I did. I should have named her shotgun because that's where she sat.

The next day I went looking for fencing, lumber and straw. I framed up a room, maybe twelve by twelve, in one corner of the hay loft. I lined it with sheet metal and screwed everything down with drywall screws. By the time I was done I thought my damned wrist was busted. I went back to the co-op for fifty pound bags of ground grain and about foundered my van getting them home. First I laid down pallets, then I piled on the sacks of grain three across. After three layers I took a break and laid in a layer of deep shelves on cut-off 4x4s. I put pallets on those and then more bags of grain. I kept a little space between the pallets so any damp or must had less chance of taking out the whole room. I finished the day by framing out the chicken house. I made it double-walled and made it with windows in three sides. I couldn't figure out at the time how to put in an automatic waterer. If I could find one that worked with a fifty gallon drum then I could go away for a few days.

I found a dozen five gallon milk cans at an antique store. They weren't too badly dented and no idiot had painted them. I bleached and scrubbed out the dairy with a broom, put in some restaurant-type open wire shelves and mounted another water heater on the wall. When I scrubbed up the milk cans they shined like they were brand new. I pulled a water feed from the stock tank pipe for the dairy and made sure that the floor drain was good. I brought four more LP gas refrigerators for the dairy and hooked them up with their flues running outside. That gave me a place to keep the bulk milk cold. Everything in sight was either painted white or stainless steel.

The milking parlor got a good working over and I salvaged a couple of hay wagons full of clover and timothy from neighboring farmers that just weren't there anymore. I paid close attention as to where any manure piles were. I had a need and they didn't.

I found a place that had water pumps that would work off of the tractor's PTO. (power take off. It's a big rotating shaft with spline cuts in it that comes out down low behind the driver's seat. It's used to run things like balers, cutters, cultivators and mowers that need more mechanical power than the wheels can provide.) It was a landscaping supply company. I wanted one to pull water out of a local lake for the fields. There was no sense in draining the good water supply that fed the drinking water tank just to dump it on the ground, now was there?

I needed to get a crop in the ground. The mud was long gone and it was late for planting. I plowed and raked two ten acre fields. I planted one in wheat and another in clover. I figured that I'd gotten over easy because the fields were easy to work. I plowed up another ten acres and planted it in hay. I spread the clover inoculate by watering it in. Then I used a cultivator to prepare a truck garden. It wasn't but two acres but that meant a lot of hand labor. (A cultivator for a tractor looks like a roto-tiller six feet wide. It's a fearsome looking thing, both standing still and running.) I laid hands on my neighbor's manure spreader and stole four manure piles. I laid it on the garden thick as hell. The Ag co-op had closed before they stocked seed for the spring, other than the clover, some timothy, some corn and the wheat.

For the rest I relied on the dried-out vegetables and the seed potatoes that I'd harvested from the grocery stores. I dug in the manure once more and let it dry a bit. Then I checked the pH with a little litmus kit. The soil was too acid, so I hit it up with a pass of lime through the seeder and watered it in. Then I planted whatever I could find seed for. I had beans, peas, cucumber, radishes, horseradish, tomatoes of various kinds, oregano, sweet and hot peppers, hills of potatoes, a few sweet potato vines, a few musk melon vines, three measly watermelon vines, onions, garlic, beets and turnips. I had hopes for dill and a few other spices that I'd have to go foraging for. I planted geraniums all around the truck garden because the bugs weren't supposed to like them. I planted four long rows of sweet corn at the edge. I dug up a row next to the clover field with the cultivator and planted eight rows of field corn there. That's all I had seed for. I could always chop the stalks for cattle bedding but I wasn't going to start making silage. (chopped fermented corn stalks. It's what you make for fodder in bad years.) You can smoke meat over corncobs too.

I spent a few days building a smoke house out of solid 6x6s. I'd always heard that you made your smoke house strong enough to keep out a hungry bear. I'd have to find, cut and split wood for that sucker, but nothing beat smoked meat. I needed plain salt too--and lots of it! You can salt cure, sugar cure and smoke cure meat. Usually a person uses two out of the three. I needed to make a run to salvage all the honey and brown sugar I could find for sugar curing hams. Back near the trees behind the barn I set up a gambrel and a butchering station for animals like deer, beef and pigs. The area wasn't big on goats or sheep.

I learned how to move a big propane tank with my tractor and a heavy trailer. As long as the supply tank was higher than the empty tank gravity would do the work of filling the lower tank, even though it was slower than using an electric transfer pump. What the hell, I had all day!

I found a few head of cattle. They were short and kind of brownish-red. They didn't act like they wanted to run too hard. I baited them in with some dried apples and cracked grain. I led them along on foot until I go them to their new pasture. I smiled to myself as the barn felt like it used to. The bull must have been someone's pet as he loved getting his neck scratched.

I netted a few chickens and a rooster. They were pretty damned scrawny but I'd feed them up. I'd have to if I wanted any eggs! I'd have to let them brood over some eggs to expand the chicken yard.

I looked around for a semi tractor-trailer with the keys in it. I found a couple of likely candidates, built in the sixties. I looked for the really old ones. Not a damned one of them wanted to start. I brought along the van and jumped the batteries. I got one to start! I left it running to charge the battery as I drove the van back home and rode my bicycle back out. I climbed in and checked the fuel. I was over a quarter full in both tanks. I looked around the cab, figuring things out. I knew a little about air brakes. I gently pushed in the foot-brake and released the air brake pull. I pushed in the clutch, shifted into reverse and straight-backed the thing into a loading dock. I took it out of gear and put the brake on again. I had to break open the dry box's door lock, but there it was, six thousand pounds of baby food. Sigh. I'd just invented a new game. Dry van bingo. I used a hand pallet jack to empty the thing, then looked around for anything I might want, now or in the future. I couldn't find a damned thing to take in that whole warehouse that made a lick of sense to take. I packed up and drove off for the farm supply store that I'd already taken a hefty bite out of. I found another transfer pump and some hose, a big plastic wheel barrow, some blankets, a big sleeping bag and some dry-stored injectable antibiotics. People are a lot like pigs, when you come down to it. What works on a sick pig will pretty much work on a sick human. I wasn't much medically inclined but I didn't want to have to shoot myself under the chin because there wasn't any other choice. I tried to plan for bad shit.

They had a big hundred pound tank compressor, line dryer, lines, air tools and the bits, blades and things that got used up at the busy end. I grabbed them. I figured that If I could hook the tractor or any other diesel engine up to the compressor part then I'd have power tools. Those impact drivers and deep well sockets just talked to me until they had the home field advantage. The cutoff saw could be set up with a wood blade. If I couldn't rig a drill collet up to an impact wrench then something was wrong! If I could find an old John Deer tractor with a PTO I'd have my power for either a generator or an air compressor. Hell, I already had a stash of fans built for a twelve volt supply and that would make summers a lot more enjoyable. That way the warm air could be spread into the bathroom in the winter and make bathing a lot less 'adventurous' too.

I puzzled out how to make a chicken watering system that wouldn't drown the birds or parch them. A bin feeder would gravity-feed ground grain. I was set. I filled the semi's fuel tanks and checked the oil, then hit the road for Kidron Ohio. I took it slow in case anybody or anything had died on the road. It took me three days to make it there. I first visited their warehouse, where I had to break in. No big deal, that's what chain hoists are for. I spotted a big Brown LP-gas fired kitchen range. I shifted that and a baby pot-belly stove for the barn, stove cement, plenty of books, kettles, fry pans, a butter churn, a grain mill, dutch ovens, saws and axes. All the big iron pots the had, I wanted and anything to do with canning. They even had hard coal by the ton Since it was on pallets I shifted over enough to finish off the shipment, about three and a quarter tons. Yep, I was way the hell overloaded, but I never went over forty miles an hour getting home.

I was tired of doing laundry by hand. I knew that they had gasoline powered washing machines with power rollers in the 1940s, so figured that they were primitive enough to work in the here-and-now. I must have hit half the antique stores in the state before I found my washer and a pair of galvanized washing tubs. I strung up a pair of clothes lines and went to town. It was nice sleeping between clean, sun-dried sheets again. I'd missed that. It had a smell all its own.

I kept on filling my granary because winter was eventually coming. I found a small baler and a windrow rake sized for my tractor. My machine shed was getting pretty full. I used my one working tractor to pull the big, non-working monster out onto the yard, then dragged out all the big attachments that the little tractor didn't have enough power to use. I reorganized the barn and set up the air compressor. I took off the motor that came with it and mounted the compressor on its side so that the drive shaft was horizontal. I'd go looking for working motors once the crops were harvested.

I weeded the garden once a week with a spring rake mounted behind the tractor. If it was dry enough to notice I watered. The garden was coming in like there was no tomorrow. I spent some time in the early mornings lying in wait with a rifle, waiting for raccoons and deer. I got a few that way and started up the smokehouse. I kept a rifle in the van and mounted a hoist to the inside of the cargo area. If I found a pig it would be bacon within the month.

I found dill and had enough onions to work with. I canned tomatoes until I was tired of canning tomatoes, then did it some more. For something different to do I harvested three does before they had a chance to get pregnant that season. I spotted a few deep pointed hoof tracks that meant piggies. I put out some grain for them every other day. I had a plan as to how to get my share of pork for the smoke-house on a continuing basis.

I canned pickles, gathered beans and peas, radishes, melons, peppers and what-have-you.

I dug a couple of cold cellars, covered them in big timbers and covered over the mess with lots of gravel and dirt. One cave was set aside for root vegetables. The other went towards a special friend of mine--mushrooms. Early in the spring I'd cut down a beech tree and covered it in black plastic. By fall it was ready. Using the end loader on the tractor along with the smallest of my carts I hauled the tree carcass into the cave and watered the hell out of it. It had already had spores on it and the air around the cave smelled sweet. By late fall I had more than enough mushrooms for pizza, cacciatore and other dishes.

It was time to cut, dry and harvest the hay, clover and grain. The grain took the most attention It was cut, dried, gathered, bundled and shaken free of its kernels. I was patently tired of the whole thing as it took over two months to finish. I got the corn cut and tied in shocks, then pulled the ears free. Those didn't go into the granary, they went ON TOP of the granary so all the bugs would die first.

I dried mushrooms and harvested tomatoes. I did my best to can tomatoes and harvest all the other crops that I could. I got a few melons and saved the seeds. I had cucumbers coming out of my ears. I had a couple books on making pickles, so I set about making a couple runs.

By the time harvest was over I'd wasted a lot, but I'd stored away enough seed to make the next year's garden quite generous, if they all sprouted. I had enough potatoes for twelve families and the flipping tomatoes went mad. I had garlic and onions coming out of my ears. I searched out the neighbors for what their self-seeded gardens provided as well. What a harvest! I didn't know what to do with all the turnips, beets and carrots. What the hell do people raise rutabagas for?

I had a cow give birth and she started producing milk. I soon had butter, and learned how to make simple cheeses. Likewise the chickens started bearing eggs. I had all I needed to bake almost anything I wanted. I put up a small cheese house and read up on how to make different cheeses. I had a true lust for pizza going for a while there.

Once the hay was cut, dried and baled, the clover cut, dried and baled and the barn stuffed full I figured it was time for a road trip. Cabela's. I wanted to go firearms shopping and to see what they had I could use on a farm, like hunting hides to reduce the deer count.

I damned near had a heart attack when I saw another person on the road as I came back. I stood on the brakes and screeched to a halt. It was a good thing the air breaks worked or I would have rolled that big bitch. Carly just stood there, waiting for whatever happened to happen. She was an olive-skinned curly haired little fox that had seen more of life than she wanted to. She latched onto me like the last life preserver, and when Sally nosed into her side she got adopted.

Carly was from Alaska, and had lived on a subsistence farm for years. When her folks disappeared she came south to find an answer as to where all the people went and a way to live through the next winter. She came down the Alkan highway on a two stroke motorbike. All she had with her was her fuel transfer pump and a backpack. She found me and I found her. We loaded her bike in the back and headed back to Cabela's for stuff for her to wear and whatever else she wanted to pick out. I'd set out one of those big roll bales for the cattle and the chickens were taken care of. We had all the time in the world.

I got a small four-stroke diesel engine working that I tore out of a John Deere garden tractor. I fastened it to a small generator and wired a few house circuits to twelve volts D.C. The wall switches worked fine and all the sockets got 12 volt replacements. It was kind of "blinky" at first until I ran everything through a battery farm to even out the DC. The engine was quiet and never demanded much fuel, as we never really loaded the thing. It also meant we didn't have such a risk of a fire on the farm from the kerosene lanterns.

I did the same with another slightly larger diesel engine and connected it to the air compressor. I didn't run it much other than when I was building or rebuilding something.

Our third and final diesel engine was destined for hard-core electrical power generation. It ran my power hammer and the big turbine air compressor for my forge. It ran a reduction furnace and a power hammer that could weld a two-inch thick billet. It was a MONSTER! But that was a few years later.

Carly was agape at the lighting and Sally looked just about as impressed. I smiled and acted like everything was normal. Soon we all ignored the improvements. I had a nice home, heat, water, even hot water, cattle, chickens, game, a partner, food for the reasonable future, clean water to drink and if I played my cards right, a mate. What else could I hope for?

Harvest was over. There was frost on the ground most mornings. I kept baiting those pigs with what turned into warm corn mash that I made in a big pot every day. I put up a pig pen and hammered together several shelters. I ran a hose from the stock tank to a water trough and put together a real sturdy feed trough for the pigs. I was ready. I dosed the corn mash with grain alcohol and got the fool things drunk. Carly and I rolled them onto the tractor's front end loader one at a time then eased them into a trailer. We got eight pigs back to the farm including one boar. We got them into the pen and let me tell you, it was work. We ended up making a chute from the trailer into the pen. I had to re-build part of the pen wall to make the chute work right. We took one more sow from the wild herd and butchered her for the meat. That was a lot of work, but we'd have a Christmas ham! We'd have bacon and eggs for a while, too.

Carly wanted to go looking for sugar beets or sugar beet seed. I had no opinion one way or another, so we criss-crossed the city looking for gardens and stores that might have what we wanted. I did my best to convince her we wanted to strip the Ag co-op of anything and everything we could, especially feed grain.

When we found out that they had a couple tons in a tower she laughed at me. I explored around back and found a couple of big hopper trailers and laughed right back. It took some work to build up and concrete in an unloading area for one of the trailers. We drove a trailer up onto an elevated station with a tunnel cut under it. We put big Gaylord roll about carts under the spouts and let gravity do the work. (Once upon a time I worked in a plastics forming plant. The colorant pellets came in big 48"x40"x36" boxes called gaylords.) I had to keep it swept up so we wouldn't get coons, deer and rodents looking for a free lunch. I cooked up big ten gallon pots of mash just inside the machine shed on propane fired cookers that someone designed for deep-frying big batches of fish and fries. We figured out what to do with all those beets, turnips and rutabagas. The pigs went to town on 'em.

We found some sugar beet seed Carly went a little nuts. It seemed that sugar beets grow about the size of your head or bigger and when mature are about half sugar. Cows, pigs and horses love the stuff. The trouble was grinding them up. Hell, with a big cane knife, a hammer and an apple cider press we could smash 'em up just fine. (Beets are odd plants. They take two years to go to seed.)

For a Christmas present Carly agreed to be my wife. We did the stupid thing and went shopping for rings, even though it was just us. We talked ourselves stupid learning what each other liked, hated, enjoyed and missed. Me? After enough digging I missed good fish. Carly missed music. We were bound and determined to fix both those problems.

Now, the fishing part was easy. Carly was from way up north and had no idea what carbide fishing was about. I was going to let the light shine in. There was a big bend in the river not more than twelve miles away or so. I broke into a high school and made off with a five kilo jar of calcium carbide. Then we snatched the biggest Jon boat we could find and still paddle. The last stop was at a swimming pool place for big dip nets and some huge coolers.

I filled four little Mason jars with rock and baked them in the oven for an hour to drive out any water. Then I carefully added carbide to the top of each one and tightened on the seals. I only made four. I doubted we'd need more than one. We took the boat to the river and tied a long rope between a dock pylon and the boat, but didn't put the boat in yet. I helped her get everything ready. I poked a bunch of holes in the top of one of the jars with a dock spike and baseballed it out into the river, up-stream. I yelled "Get down!" and huddled against the dock. "WHAM!" We were covered in a sheet of cold water that damned near knocked me flat. Oops, I'd forgotten about that part. The next part was elbows and assholes as we got the boat in the water and rowed like crazy for where all the fish were bobbing up to the surface. We got a few hundred pounds of fish in no time before we called it quits. There were some nice lake trout, walleye and bass in that mix. We got a few big catfish too but threw back the carp and gar. I got us back to our put-in point by hauling on the rope. The fish went into the coolers and we headed home. We used two wheelbarrows, one for the fish guts and one for the fillets. The guts went to the pigs and the fillets either went to the smoke house or the kitchen. We had fish and chips for dinner! The next night it was walleye simmered in chicken stock with small root vegetables and new potatoes. Parsley butter over the top and a little wine--that was a meal to remember.

We used cake drying racks to support the fillets in the smokehouse. I had to go out and find more dead fruit wood trees to finish smoking the batch. We couldn't can it like sardines and I didn't know how to jar it so that it didn't get slimy, so we triple-smoked it and ate it like jerky. Being from a part of Alaska that brought in a lot of fish this was like old home week for Carly. We tried smoking some over corn cobs but it was too bitter. We used corn cobs on the ham and gamier meat like raccoon and later, bear.

Once the ground started to get hard I made sure that the animals had plenty of bedding. We used the wheat straw and threw in the corn stalks without worrying about chopping them up. The pigs, horses and the cattle liked 'em fine. I forgot about making a side pen for the pigs so I could chase 'em into the pen so that I could scrape down the shit with the tractor's end loader once a month or so. I had so few cattle that I boarded off one quarter of the cattle manger in the barn for the pigs so that they could sleep warm at night. The only way that I got them back outside to their pen was the pen was where they were fed. In the winter I made warm mash for the cattle too, every morning after milking. I fed them and turned them out so I could clean the barn every day.

I put in a little furnace in the big training ring at the horse farm, plumbed in a water tank from their spring and set up a feeding station. They got clean hay and some grain every day through the winter. I built a tunnel with a bend in it to keep out the wind, so the horses could pass in and outside. I set up one wall with a long pile of straw for them to sleep on and hammered together a fence around the furnace to keep them from hurting themselves. High windows around the ring let in enough light to see by.

Looking over the way the cattle had over-worked their grazing field I knew that I had to set aside and fence another. That way they could eat one field half-bald while the other recovered. I might have to go to a three-rota. I figured that if I shifted the fence a bit I could use the same stock tank for two fields. Nothing would get done until the ground thawed though. Otherwise I'd tear the fence post hole digger right off the back of the tractor.

Finding anything that would play music turned out to be more complicated than we expected. No stereo, no record player, no tape deck would work. We were getting pretty discouraged, but we were in the land of the auction house and antique shop. We found a place that had radios and stereos from the nineteen forties. They ran on tubes instead of transistors. Someone had rebuilt a couple of them, replacing the capacitors and the tubes with modern copies. I had one hell of a time finding a twelve-volt to one-ten-volt converter but found one that would put out enough power to make the stereo happy. Then we went searching out needles and LPs. She finally got her music and I didn't have to show off my horrible guitar playing.

I remembered the stuff I'd gotten out of the butcher shop up north. I went around to everywhere the phone book said might have sausage or jerky. I knew that wet, or refrigerated sausages would have turned long ago, but dried or self-pickled summer-sausage type meats would be fine, as would air-cured hams and jerky. I picked up a lot of good sausage and a few nice butchering tools as well. I stole a three hundred pound butcher's block at one place. I was damned glad that I'd installed that hoist inside the van as a come-along.

For something to do we made the house more comfortable. We found a lot of Persian carpets, some nice over-stuffed leather furniture and a big heavy traditional kitchen work table. I found a couple of nice glass-fronted book shelves for the how-to books I'd found at Lehman's and the encyclopedia that I picked up at the library. We spent a lot of evenings sitting in the living room reading. I realized what was missing, though. A fire. I talked it over with the wife and she agreed. A nice stove with soapstone sides to hold the heat and a glassed-in front would do wonders for the atmosphere in the living room. We couldn't both be gone at the same time as the animals needed daily tending, especially the milk cows. I'd been to Lehman's so I knew where it was, and I had practice driving the semi. I was elected. First though, we went through their catalog that I'd brought back with me. She picked out things and I did too. We chose which stove we wanted and made sure that it didn't say "drop shipped from the manufacturer" on the selection. She wanted a big two-burner fish fryer for the kitchen for some things like making stock and rendering lard. If she was willing to lose the space I was willing to get it and install it. No problem! Once I gave the semi a physical and changed the fluids I was off for Ohio again.

I think I surprised the hell out of her when I drove a 1947 Ford pickup out of the trailer. It had been someone's pride and joy. They totally rebuilt it and it ran like a top. The van I originally started with was getting pretty ragged and needed an overhaul. This would give us another vehicle to use while the van was out of commission. The engine had to be pulled and rebuilt and most of the suspension needed to be replaced. I wanted to check all the hubs, make sure the wheel alignment was good, replace the brakes and drop the transmission pan. It probably would need a new clutch but I had to find the parts first. I had quite a little rebuild shop going in that machine shed. I was glad that the previous owner had poured a big, heavy concrete slab over one quarter of the building's floor.

I didn't tell her about the prize I'd had to leave behind. It was a 1965 Jeep Gladiator pickup, J2700, also rebuilt to cherry condition. I'd get it for her for her birthday. If she'd ever tell me her birthday.

From early spring and into spring nothing much happens on a farm because the fields would founder a tractor right up to the axles. I spent some time on the tractor, making sure everything was running all right, and went over the attachments, replacing parts and liberally using the grease gun. The van got worked over from one end of the drive train to the other. Eventually I'd run out of tires to use and I worried about that. The tread areas on the tires were thick, but if the beads stiffened and cracked they wouldn't hold air and I was out of business.

We had enough chickens to start having chicken dinners with dumplings. The Brown stove had a pretty accurate oven. The old stove I pitched onto a debris pile in town.

Every other month Carly had a bad period and I spent some time in a factory built home that I'd found in town, playing my guitar and wondering what hit me. Each time it happened I felt like I'd been run over for no reason, and when I went back home I kept watching her, wondering when I'd get fucked over again. I wasn't too happy with the way things were going. Finally I lost it. She went into her screeching and ranting. I picked her up and toted her off to the barn where I dropped her. I was nice and left her on a nice sweet hay manger. "If you want to act like an animal you can damned well sleep with the animals." I turned around and went back into the house.

It seemed to have done some good as the next morning she knocked on the door, came in and was real quiet the rest of the day. I didn't hit her but she knew damned good and well that I could have, and maybe should have spanked her, but that would open up a door into a place that I never wanted to go. We got along a lot better after that. When she had a bad time she told me and I tried to help with a massage or two. Some days we didn't get too much done but we learned to live a lot better with each other. I ended up putting in a heated soaking tub for us because of it.

I went back to reading all those books from Lehman's. I found out that diesel fuel turned bad pretty quick if it didn't have a preservative mixed into it. Now that scared the hell out of me. We depended on diesel for about everything that moved and a few things that didn't. I showed the wife what I'd found then got busy. I hit up every auto supply, Wal-Mart and maritime fuel vendor within fifty miles looking for cases of "Stabil", then looked for places with big tanks of fuel. I dosed the tanks and marked 'em on a map. First I hit truck stops, figuring that they'd have the biggest tank farms and the fuel was kept cool, underground which lengthened the life of the fuel. I treated and marked every place that I figured had five hundred gallons of fuel or more. One quart of Stabil was supposed to treat 320 gallons of fuel. I double-dosed everything.

That got me to thinking about the LP gas situation. Hell, with what I found we were set for life. there were eleven RAILROAD CARS full of the stuff on a siding near the local distribution company. I looked into rebuilding diesel engines to burn LNG but it looked like one hell of a lot of work, and I wouldn't know if it would work until it was finished. I wasn't about to put a solid month's effort into a crap shoot. an LNG engine had to use spark plugs and that was a lot of work to re-engineer. I didn't have the power tools to do it handily.

We figured out how to stop her having bad periods. Carly got pregnant. She got all giddy and cried a lot, but I supported her and we got through it. Just after Christmas our second year together we had a little girl, Emily. I was sorry for that kid. She couldn't do anything without mommy being at her side. The woman needed to lighten up!

When Emily was two she wandered into the pig pen. Momma damned near had a stroke but the kid laid down and had a nap curled up next to the boar. Now, that boar had it in for me, and never let a chance go by to try and take a chunk out of my hide. But my kid? Shit. She had a four hundred fifty pound pet. When she was four I found her running around with a bobcat. When she scrunched its ears it did something between a growl and a purr. It could have taken her out with one swipe of its paw but instead she had a pet that brought her rabbits. Dead, bloody rabbits.

Carly and I got lucky again. When Emily was five she got a new brother, Todd. He was an explorer. You'd turn your head and the next thing you knew you'd be looking up at him at the top of the windmill tower, getting ready to walk the pipe to the barn, forty feet in the air. I was sure glad he had the balance of a mountain goat. I didn't want to learn how to set a broken leg or make a cast.

I got back to the long term fuel problem after harvest when Todd was two. It had been nine years since the separation. I was coming up on forty and Carly would soon be 27. I wanted to set the place up for easier operation and had to make choices that the kids could live with. When the kids were old enough I'd teach 'em how to rebuild the diesels. That was pretty easy, really. You just had to have the gasket material to work with.

I looked into making bio-diesel. The process needed lye, methyl alcohol, glycerin and cooking oil. All the books said that palm oil was the best to use by a wide margin, but where the hell were we going to get that? I put up a long, low pole barn and started filling it with all those containers of cooking oil from the grocery stores. We wouldn't touch the stuff to cook with any more, but it should make some dandy diesel. I found some 12-volt liquid pumps, a 12-volt vacuum pump and some stainless-steel tanks, about 90 gallons each, from a big dairy. A 12-volt motor with a step-down gear box and a paint-stirrer would work nicely to turn over the feedstock in the reaction vessel. A heat tape wrapped around the tank would keep the temperature up. Vacuum extraction would eliminate a lot of problems noted in the books. I put up lots of shelves, then "harvested" methanol and grain alcohol, vegetable oil, glycerin and the hardest thing to find, lye or potassium hydroxide. I harvested all those big five-gallon jugs of cooking oil used for turkey fryers, donut shops and restaurants with fryers. Christ, I had to find another dry box, park it beside the pole barn and filled it as well. There must have been six, eight tons of oil there before I stopped.

That got me thinking about the scale of things. How long were we good for? What would happen when we couldn't salvage some of this stuff anymore? Did we have alternatives? What would our kids live in? Our grand-kids? Jeez, what would we have to teach the kids? There were just the two of us, and the two of them! English, of course. They had to be able to read to learn more when times were tough and they needed answers. A little physics went a long way when learning about leverage, gears and pulleys. If they didn't learn at least some chemistry then they would be stepping back over five hundred years! That wasn't acceptable. The physical things, like plumbing, some electricity, forge work and woodworking would be easier to teach even though the little tricks would take longer to master. Hell, I'd have to learn it in order to teach it. What about simple drug preparations, disease theory and vitamins? Sanitation was a must, especially around the sick, newborns and birthing mothers. I supposed that I should inflict my guitar work on them too. If they had the touch, more better! It would be such a tragedy to lose penicillin. So many limbs and lives were lost before its discovery that it was appalling. Sailors knew about eating potatoes to keep their teeth on long voyages. Hard-won knowledge like that should be carried down. Aspirin was a winner, too. Once we got into more hard-core chemistry, chloramphenicol was discovered, the first totally man-made germ killer. The use of chlorine bleach and Lysol should never be forgotten either, much less how to use fat and lye over heat to make soap. Soap was man's big club over disease and death. Bleach could be made from salt water and DC current.

Would glass become a magical thing without the knowledge of how to make it? Would "thunder stick go boom" become a part of the common tongue without a knowledge of how to make guncotton, how to mold and fill bullets and how to make percussion caps? God help us, we were too few to carry on so many skills. The children would eventually fall back to a new stone age existence without a community. There was no conceivable way of averting it. They had to plant, tend and harvest crops as well as hunt and preserve their meat which wouldn't leave them enough time or energy to spend on any technology that wasn't immediately applicable.

When we were cut off from the rest of man they trimmed too close to the bone. Sure, we and our children would live out our spans in some comfort and facility, but our children's children and those beyond were doomed to fall back on simpler tools and habits. I kept most of this to myself while I stocked that barn for bio-diesel. I changed my focus a bit while out scavenging. I looked for horse-drawn implements and tack. Up until that time horses were flighty, self-important things much like teen-aged girlfriends. That changed with my new long-term objectives. Horses had to be collected, cultivated and trained. We didn't need what horses could do for us now, but what they could do for us in eighty years or more.

I had written much of this in a journal to justify my ideas and actions. As my wife became concerned about what I was doing I shared it with her. I'm afraid that my pessimistic views horrified her for quite a while. I argued that we had to plan for a future no matter how painful, no matter how primitive. We turned a corner and got the kids involved.

We needed more people. The easiest way to do that was to cruise up and down the river while hitting an air horn. Then, we might do the same along the seaboards if we ever got that far. A diesel powered paddle boat would do it for us. I decided to look for people locally first. I started flying kites. Naw, not some itty-bitty two foot by two foot little toy. I made kites that could pick up a cow, twenty feet on a side made out of linen sheeting and painted with linseed oil and naphtha. We used up all the red RIT dye in the county. The sunshine polymerized the linseed oil once the naphtha carrier evaporated. I sent the thing flying and fired off one pound gunpowder bombs morning and evening at six on the dot. We got six people which doubled our adult population and added four more kids. Yippee!

The Carlings had been living up north a bit, on a farm north-east of Forsyth. They'd stayed a lot closer to home, but they'd had the same sort of ideas that we did. They'd raided the Bass Pro Shop in downtown Branson, but that was some fifteen miles by horse and wagon. They heard the explosions, and when they were fired off regularly they figured that someone was doing it so they came to investigate. Then they saw that bright red kite hanging up there in the air! That sealed the deal. They were subsistence farmers, just like us but hadn't gotten much in the way of diesel engines running, so seeing my tractor and the semi tractor-trailer running was reason enough to celebrate. They used propane cookers and lights off of twenty and thirty pound bulk tanks. That was a trick I'd missed--propane lighting, but we'd skipped past that to 12-volt lights. We lived in a six bedroom farm house, so we all decided at dinner time for them to move in with us. I was happy to help, as they were farming with steer and horses that they'd gotten from an Amish spread where the people had disappeared. Their LP bulk tank had ran out and they didn't have any way to refill it. I offered to help with that but instead we loaded up their place lock, stock and barrel. We loaded up their stock last to move as the big trailer needed hosing out and a good brooming to get rid of all the cow and horse shit. They had two more cows giving milk, just like us. We all sat down with that ratty Lehman's catalog and gave it another once-over.

I figured that we'd have to heat more rooms that winter. I set about adding gas pipe runs to all the bedrooms and putting in tiny little trailer furnaces, all with exhaust pipes to one of the two chimneys in the building. With Chuck helping, making the vertical runs wasn't nearly the caution that it could have been. I set about adding three more refrigerators to the cheese house for milk storage and two more to the back porch for our cold food storage. I sat down with paper and pencil to try and figure out how much LP gas we'd go through in a year. It escaped me as I had no way to convert the liquid to the gas ratio. I shrugged my shoulders and threw an easy answer at it. I went to town with the semi cab, hooked up a flat-bed trailer to it, backed up to the LP gas distributor's loading dock and dragged another two thousand pound tank onto the bed. (They hold two thousand pounds of fuel. I moved it empty or I'd never get it off the flat-bed without cratering it, and maybe the house!) Once I got it plumbed in I made a run back to town for a full LP gas carrier. It took four trips to fill both tanks to the top. That meant four days of no outside flames. It took a while to gravity-feed the fuel into the storage tanks.

The farm house up by the horse stable operation was perfectly useable with a little reworking. They had a spring for watering the horses and I figured out how to pipe that into the house supply. They had a bulk tank for LP gas but needed a new furnace and water heater for the house, as well as LP-gas fueled refrigerators and freezers. It wasn't much to do. It just took a little time.

The only stallion that came with the operation was a flighty little son-of-a-bitch that did nothing but give us trouble. He got penned off by himself while Chuck's big working stud took over covering the mares. Oh, that fancy little bastard was mad as hell after that. He cut up on me one evening when I was taking him to his box stall and tried to stomp me into the ground. I shot him stone cold dead. We brought over the tractor to drag his ass over to the next property. I was relieved. It was one less task and one less problem for me. It promised a better blood line for the herd.

We really needed more people. Someone should have been staying at the stable house to watch the horses and manage another garden. We needed more people to grow more hay and expand our skills. God help me, I was going to have to learn how to be a blacksmith. I was surprised and happy to learn that Carly knew how to make pottery. That gave me a couple of things to do besides getting ready for planting. I wanted a forge and a pottery with a gas kiln. Hell, we'd probably put in a separate LP gas tank for each of them. Once we learned how to make things then we'd back down in tech to a coal forge with a double bellows and a pit kiln to glaze her work.

Chuck had taken some courses in coppersmithing and knew where to get the tools. Things were looking up! Bev, Chuck's wife knew enough about working with the animals to be a jack-leg veterinarian, and could sew up a person if it came to that. These were all things we needed to pass down to the kids. We practiced so that we could teach.

The Ozarks had two big reservoirs formed by two big dams. BIG dams. A third reservoir went West into Arkansas. both Ozark reservoirs weren't less than a hundred feet wide anywhere but in the sloughs, and they both had a little current because the rivers still fed and drained the dammed sections. Up at a dock in Branson we put together a forty-foot wood framed flat-bottomed boat that we coated with six layers of fiberglass, then two layers of gel-coat. Once we got it turned over and in the water a diesel engine went in, its fuel tank, a split drive train and two paddle wheels. It was built as sturdy as we could and still maintain a shallow draft. It had an elevated fly bridge to steer from and was provisioned for a dozen people for a month. Just to be careful the bridge floor and walls were lined with a quarter inch of steel plate and armed both with a M2A1 heavy machine gun and an Mk-19 grenade launcher, courtesy of Fort Leonard Wood Military Police school. We didn't skimp on the ammunition either as it was free, even though the cases weighed sixty pounds apiece. The weapons were to be kept loaded but not employed unless someone else shot at the boat first.

We used a little 12-volt generator off of the main engine for lights and to power a P. A. system that pumped out about twenty watts. We planned for a first trip west to the big dam at Table Rock and back, then another trip east. Chuck took the first trip and I took the second. By then it was harvest season and we tied the boat up for a while.

I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. We were leaving ourselves open for raiders. If they knew where we were they could pick a time when we were the most vulnerable and attack then. I didn't want to lose a single one of us to people that decided that theft, rape and murder were an acceptable lifestyle. We ripped open the inside walls of the house and bolted in 1/4 inch steel plates. All the door frames got ripped out and replaced by units that anchored deep inside the walls and the doors got replaced by big heavy mothers. The windows all got shutters installed. Shutters with steel plates for cores. We built a big heavy wall around the LP gas cylinders and put in a damned heavy gate so that we could fill the tanks. Every place with a second story window got an M2A1 machine gun and six boxes of shells. Setting up pin mounts for the machine guns was a trial, but it got done. All the adults started carrying pistols and we practiced with them once a week. Chuck and I both worried about how to find people coming at us at night. All we could figure out was concrete trenches with gas tanks that we could shoot into and rupture with the machine guns. They should be pretty simple to light off after that. We experimented with one and it worked. Our wives wondered why we were concreting in ditches beside the road and behind the property. Chuck and I didn't want to worry them but they badgered it out of us. Then THEY got worried. We stashed a couple hundred gallons of water in a line of tanks in the basement. A local college chemistry lab had silver nitrate by the liter. We dosed the tanks with it to keep the water sweet.

We talked to the kids. They were all old enough to understand what a secret was. We had no way to let them know how cruel and bloody minded people could be if they thought they had the upper hand. It was the first time since the separation that I wished that I could show them movies, like Apocalypse Now or Blue Velvet. The brutal stuff. Instead, the next time we butchered I brought them all in to watch. I told them that some people treated other people like we butchered our meat animals, only worse. They didn't know how it could be worse. I opened up the encyclopedia to the articles on Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Chelmno, Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka and Buchenwald. There were many nightmares in our house that night.

The next day we showed our young ones what weapons we'd stashed around the farm, including in the barn. We then made plans to split the two families, one to each farm house. This way no group of newcomers would be left totally alone to plan things we'd regret. Chuck's family was used to working with horses and they were the newcomers, so they graciously elected to move. We all made sure that they had 12-volt lights working, good water, a firm food supply and a smokehouse of their own. Chuck and I went into town and found another two tractors that we could get running. Once back to my place they got a thorough going over and the best of the two went to Chuck's place. I left it up to him to plan his fields and gather implements for his new tractor. All the cows stayed at my place because it didn't' make sense to try to build a whole new infrastructure to milk them and process the milk into cream, butter and cheese. What the hell, we were less than a mile away from each other.

We came upon a family that was very religious. After meeting together several times we mutually decided that our lifestyles and needs, while quite similar, were too different to closely mesh. They took over Chuck's old place and ran a pseudo-Amish operation. We had a mutual aid agreement in place and agreed to disagree.

A family from down around Mountain Home saw our riverboat and heard what we'd been shouting out while they were at the impoundment to harvest fish. I was very glad that we made it there and out again before they went fishing because they fished the way I did--with calcium carbide bombs! There was no telling what trouble we could have gotten up to if they'd set off a charge near us, as nervous as we were. It all worked out pretty well, though. The Hermosilla family had come up to the Ozarks on vacation and somehow had been left all together when the separation occurred. There were nine of them, Momma Anne, Poppa Ramon, Aunt Carla and the kids. They had taken on a farm to get by quite like what they had in east Texas. Ramon was a chemist and Anne taught school, but they'd both been raised on farms. The kids were kind of wild and a bit older than our crew. They settled right down when they saw the horses though.

With more people at hand that meant the possibility of getting more acreage planted. I hit the Ag co-ops in a circle around our county looking for seed. I got pretty lucky, finding plenty of timothy seed, Plenty of clover seed and inoculate, enough oat seed to make us happy and enough field corn seed to drive us into our graves harvesting it, if we planted it all. The problem was seed loses its ability to germinate over time. We had to plant it all and hope to save enough for the next year's planting.

We planted sixty acres in clover to boost the ground nitrogen percentage for next year's fields. Along with mine, I had found six other manure piles. We split them between the truck gardens for the two farms. They weren't as over-fertilized a the year before, but we got everything ready to go. We had seed, tractors, prepared fields, seeders, manpower and ambition. We planted one hell of a lot of forage and truck garden. We got ambitious and transplanted a bunch of apples, pears and peaches onto the properties as well. We still had as much land laying fallow as under production, or more. There were a few ponds here and there that we used to water the crops. The tanks and boom sprayers didn't care if it was drinkable water or not.

The kids were all taught to camp, ride and care for a horse, use a rifle and use a pistol. Soon they were out hunting and cooking their own dinners as they explored the properties. I think the horses were happy as hell to get out of the paddock and get out and around. They got loved up on, cared for and all the attention that they could possibly want. Who knows what the hell goes through the mind of a horse. They seemed to come for the kids when called and they responded attentively. We couldn't ask for anything more.

Over a few glasses of wine we probed Ramon as to his, um, revolutionary feelings. I started out the conversation. "As a chemist, do you know how to make things that go 'boom'?" He gave me a wicked eye. "How big a boom are we talking about here?" "Oh, guncotton. We'll save the RDX for when we need the marines. How stable a guncotton preparation can be made with our admittedly primitive resources?" He sat and rocked for a while. "Neutralization is a funny thing. It can shift over time. A baseline pH neutral preparation is very stable, but if the decomposition products are acidic then a buffering product has to be added, and that can be trouble. Pockets can develop. Let's put it at two years if you want to carry it around. Four years if it stays in one place, like a mine or a torpedo. If you really want to make a bang, RDX is the way to go because it doesn't decompose for shit. The detonators are a real bitch, though." I turned to Chuck and high-fived him "We got a partner in crime! He took a drink. "Righteous." I put my drink down. "Right. We've got several layers of problems here, and I'm afraid that you've bought into them. One, we have to maintain a safe defensive and offensive perimeter in case our advertising brings in raiders. We've got .50 cal machine guns and belt fed grenade launchers defending both farms and the river boat. We're always looking for better solutions. Point two. Those rounds will go bad slowly over time and we'll need to refurbish or manufacture new stock over time. Point three is the worst. We don't have the structure or the population base to bring even a 1920s technology base into the fourth generation. We need to find a balanced level of tech that allows for an industrialized farm support and all the technologies that support it. We're in deep shit but we've got several decades to work with." "Jesus Christo."

Emily hung on Bev's every word. She was bound and determined to be a vet. Her animals needed her and not another thing had to be said.

David was developing a big, muscular body and loved to work around the forge. I had trouble keeping ahead of him! I was very glad for the books I'd taken on forge work for the farm and knife making. I had to make a belt sander out of pieces and parts, then went out to find all the belts that I could. It was tough finding nickel, chromium, titanium, molybdenum and tungsten. We brewed up some wretched samples of steel that nobody or nothing could work. We had to throw them away without a hope of recourse. However, we brewed some alloys that forged well and took a temper and an edge as if blessed from above. Those, we wrote down! We both made strong walking sticks with thick four inch blades coming off the tops at 90 degrees from the shaft, like a sling blade. If I came upon anything violent I turned my walking stick upside down and swung like Mickey Mantle. I caught a black bear that way and cut his foot off. Then I sliced off his snout, then I cut his throat. The poor bastard never saw it coming. I rebuilt mine to add a six-inch blade out the top to add to the blade out the side. I made them both six inches long. We developed some nickel steel alloys that worked very well on the farm. I broke into the nearest bank to scavenge nickels, just for the alloy content. (Later, we brought in a compressor and a cutoff tool to take the covers off of the safety deposit boxes. It was amazing what some people considered valuable!)

Paul was, in a word, effeminate. Thank God that Ramon's son Michael was similarly inclined. The adults got together and talked about it. We had no problems, but we realized that any religious folk could really cause us problems. We resolved to teach the two of them to kick ass and take names. Once they were past the first bliss and were comfortable with each other we'd start them on field craft and weapons. They'd be an ideal sniper pair.

The other Paul, Michael's brother looked on with a caring smile. He knew that his brother was a little different and was glad that he'd found a partner. He needed to find someone to be with. He yearned for Emily but she paid him no attention. He saw Tina watching him. They came together at dinner time, then it was their turn to wash dishes together. He bumped her hip with his and felt her breast on his arm. They walked down to the horses after dinner and kissed a little. "You wanna pair with me?" "If I don't get in trouble with Momma Bev, I will. Will you stay with me?" "Until I die." Of such things are marriages made.

Across 76 from the horse farm was a real wreck of a place. Car carcasses were littered through the trees. There must have been sixty of them buried back through the woods. Paul and Tina wanted that place for themselves. They borrowed the third tractor and found another tractor-trailer that would start with a little tender loving care. They partnered up to run a cable winch and pulled all the crap out of those woods. There wasn't a damned bit of field to work with on that side of the road so they cut everything short and asked papa Ramon for help with blasting cotton to blow out the stumps. It was a lot of work but they cleared close to thirty acres of land. The trees were laid to one side rather than burned as slash. Perhaps they'd need the lumber or firewood some day.

There was a nice house to one side and deep in the property there was a small tractor-trailer warehouse operation. Following the gravel road past the warehouse they found a large, well-decorated home. The gravel road continued. At the end was another large pole building. Inside they found the dried-up remains of a marijuana farm. So THIS was what paid for all this! Paul gave Tina a little leer and punched his thumb into an old coke can, then poked some holes in the improvised bowl. He put a healthy pinch of a bud in the bowl and lit it off. He took a big hit, then with his eyebrows climbing to his hair, offered Tina the thing to try. She tried to do what he did and damned near died coughing. Each successive cough seemed to separate her head further from her body. They sat there grinning for a while. Later they packed up a couple ounces' worth in the bag their lunch was wrapped in. They wanted all the parents to try this out.

Whoever raised that crop did one hell of a job. Nobody expected to get that high, that fast! The crop was declared to be weapons grade and was carefully harvested.

Carla had some training as a botanist and as an herbalist. She told the group that they should definitely harvest the seeds and to grow a small plot every year to keep the seeds alive. Exotic variants had a tendency to lose vigor if not replanted each year.

Chuck and I wondered about getting more land across the highway under cultivation. We needed to do some earth moving and clearing to get it done. Now, I'd never driven a cat earth mover, but I'd read up on it a bit, being curious. I knew that the bigger ones used a gasoline engine, called a pony engine, to start up the main diesel. That stopped me cold right there as the only gas engine that I knew would work was the little two-bangers in chainsaws or motorbikes. Chuck, though, had worked with a smaller cat, a D8. It started with two big 12-volt batteries rather than a pony engine. I wondered if we could get one of the big bastards running! We'd have to dump the fuel and oil, then refill 'em, and no doubt replace the batteries. They used Zerk fittings for a grease gun and you were supposed to give them a once over every day. We thought about who might have one. Not the big road construction companies. We figured that they'd use the bigger cats to do that kind of work. We wanted places that dug foundations, did landscaping and that sort of thing. We found a 1973 D8H with a blade that could be angled to dump to the left or right and a huge two-tined breaking plow in the rear. It had none of the modern anti-pollution equipment that would stop us in our tracks from using it. The fuel and oil had long since turned to sludge and the batteries were dead. We found two big semi tractor batteries that would fit and were dry, waiting for their bottles of acid to activate.

I knew that I'd been getting depressed. I was tired all the time. One night after chores the wife screeched at me, "Where the hell have you been?" I kind of ducked my shoulders, looked at her, then turned around and walked out the door. I didn't really plan on returning.

It was near dark but that didn't bother me any. I headed for the smoke house and loaded up about forty pounds of jerky that had just come ready, then went to the root cellar for some potatoes. I got about a hundred pounds and it didn't even show.

I took the van to Bass Pro Shop in downtown Branson, parked the van around back at the loading dock, picked my way through to the back and went to sleep in a tent that had been set up as a display with a pad and sleeping bag inside.

Come morning I picked through what hadn't been taken. I found a Coleman gas lantern to mount on a bulk LP gas tank, a box of mantles, a pot-load of lighters that still had some fuel left in 'em, a few sleeping bags, clothes and underwear. I found a big bird hunting vest with oversized pockets for shotgun shells and took that too. They had a display of firearms at the back and a lot of ammunition still there. There was a display of military weapons set way up high behind a heavy glass window. I brought over a rolling ladder and a hammer and made myself at home. I found a 7.62 NATO FLN rifle that I liked the feel of. It had a scope on it so I didn't have to mess with that. They had a bunch of military-type ammunition in the back by the gunsmith's safe. Only the high-end, real expensive weapons weren't cabled up so that's what I went for. I laid my hands on a pretty Benelli pump shotgun and went looking for pistols. I found a big hog leg that fired shotgun shells. I grinned and almost took it, but then went for a .357 double-action revolver with a six inch barrel. I loaded up on ammunition, took a two-burner turkey fryer with the stock pots that came with it. I loaded all that in the van then went back to the marine side of the place. I found a bunch of 12-volt batteries that were fresh, as the bottles of acid were on the next shelf. I loaded a dozen of them into a couple of carts and took all the acid they had. I thought about fuel. I took all the big five-gallon jugs of cooking oil that they had and a few cases of synthetic motor oil. Before I left I found a sling for that shotgun, loaded it and put it over my shoulder. I didn't let that hunting vest filled with shells get too far from me either. Next I hit every liquor store in the downtown area for ever clear and every other form of grain neutral spirits that I could find. Then I hit a small college on the west side of town called William Woods. They had a few drums of methanol and glycerin as well as a metric shit load of Calcium Hydroxide. It looked like someone was gearing up to teach a class that showed how to make bio-diesel. Well, I stole a march on 'em. I ran off with their feed stocks.

I remembered where I'd gotten a 12-volt vacuum pump and went back for two more. They also had a bunch of 12-volt acid-proof pumps and some 12-volt actuated valves. Then I went looking for forty gallon stainless steel tanks. I found some fifty gallon diesel fuel tanks that would do for me.

I headed north on 65 until I got to Springfield. There I slowed down, watching for malls and semi tractor trailer sales places off the interstate. I pulled off of 65 onto State Highway D where I saw the sign for a Sam's club and a lot of parking lots. I put together a bio diesel production plant running off of 12-volt batteries on a 10x10 trailer and started a batch. As soon as it was done I dumped it into the fuel tanks of the van and started another. Every six hours I started the van and charged the battery farm that ran the bio diesel plant. I got more vegetable oil from the Sam's club and picked up a couple cases of Sta-Bil too. When I came out of the Sam's club a pack of dogs came my way. I didn't feel like playing around or giving them a free lunch. I let them get to about ten yards away and started firing. That pump shotgun was a real heller. It loaded fast, too.

Up the road a bit more I damned near came in my pants a I passed a giant warehouse with a sign out front saying "Associated Wholesale Grocery". I was past it before I knew and slowed down for the next interchange. It was a good thing I did as right there on the left was what I'd been hoping to find--"MHC Kenilworth". I pulled in near the back rebuild shop and took a look around. I was looking for a cab with a sleeper. It had to be built before around 1974 and all the electronic pollution control crap became mandatory.

Wow. Someone had a 1962 Kenilworth W900 with a flat top sleeper rebuilt and it was just sitting there, waiting to be picked up. It had a Cummins 400 horse diesel engine and a 13-speed transmission. Well, it was sitting a little low, as the tires were flat from sitting for over twelve years. I was happier than I'd been in a long time. I had a project ahead of me that I could handle. and no damned people around to screw with me. I headed out for a grocery store or a pharmacy. I didn't suppose that hair spray in a can went bad. I stopped at a gas station to rip open their external LP gas storage and took six full twenty-pound cylinders. Back at the dealership I made up a bed on a couch in the sales office and went back to the shop to start in on the tractor.

I first used the nose of the van to push the tractor into a repair bay. Then I used a hand jack to lift it up far enough to get the wheels off, one by one. I found a stash of tires that had been laying on their sides, so they didn't have any permanent flat spots. I muscled off the tires with a big six-foot long come-along and got the tires started. A can of hair spray and a lighter each got the tires mounted. I didn't have any way to fill 'em, so off I went to a al-mart for a portable 12-volt tire inflator. I got 'em pumped up and re-mounted. Then the oil got replaced, all the diesel flushed out of the tank and lines, the lines got a good shot of acetone and flushed again. The differential got the fluid replaced and the grease gun got a good work-out. The fluid in the radiator got dumped and replaced, then the batteries were swapped out. The power brake and power steering fluids got changed out and the I inspected the brake pads. I felt along the belts and thought it smart to replace 'em. The stock hanging on the wall was pretty crummy but it was all I had. I used armor-all on them to try and feed the rubber for a few days before installing them.

All right. I pumped the clutch a few times. It was a little stiff but eased up after a little exercise. The fuel tanks were full of fresh bio-diesel and the filters were replaced. I hit the glow plugs for thirty seconds, depressed the brake and clutch then hit the ignition. It ground, groaned and bitched for a while then caught. The sound of that thing roaring into life was the sound of sweet, sweet success. I drove it around the lot for a bit, getting all the joints and surfaces lubricated and used to moving again. For reserves I put together four reserve wheels with good tires then called it a day.

I got smart and found a yellow pages that I could still read. I emptied out the van into a repair bay and headed for a local equipment rental place. They had an Oman tow-behind diesel generator that I lusted over. It wasn't huge but it would make things a lot easier on me. I took the tow-behind that they had and one that was mounted on something like a hand truck. I took them both back to the shop I took a few days to get them running, then sat down in a library to make plans. I didn't know whether to go east or west, north or south. First, I decided to go to Fort Leonard Wood with a 65-foot dry van and picked up some long-term food supplies, a 500-gallon water buffalo and some weapons. I wanted a couple .50 caliber M2HB machine guns, a maintenance kit, a crate full of new barrels and a pot load of ammunition. Then I returned to Springfield to kit out my wagon train. I loaded up one 65-foot van as a mobile diesel refinery with as much feed-stock as I could cram into it and keep the mobile plant running at the same time. I daisy-chained on a second 65-foot dry van for supplies. I tried to figure out how to add on a camping trailer but couldn't. To the back of the second trailer I hooked on the water buffalo, and the generator got hooked on behind that. I'd never back up the damned mess, but I could pull it. It only made sense to go low and slow because I'd burn less fuel per mile and I wouldn't lose anything. Before I left I filled all the diesel tanks and produced an extra five hundred gallons stored in fifty gallon drums. These I dosed liberally with Stabil. I used the big generator to power a city well head and fill the water buffalo. I made sure to pack two spare sets of belts for the Kenilworth along with a set of big socket wrenches and a breaker bar to replace tires. I had a big laminated national map book that made planning my route easier. I was headed for a place where it didn't snow and the fishing was good. I headed for Mazatlan, Mexico.

First it was south-west on 44 until I hit Tulsa. I spent a couple of days there exploring. Then it was on to Oklahoma City, Fort Worth and San Antonio. I lived out of a truck stop there for a while and made more diesel. I found a Sam's Club and a university chem supply to refill my feed stocks once again. Since I was in the area I hijacked as much calcium carbide as I could find too. Damn, but I was running heavy. Next it went Laredo, Monterrey, Torrenon and Durango. It was a dry, eerie trip and I didn't see another living thing the entire way across Mexico. I finally had to stop for food and a rest. All the food in the stores was over ten years old and wasn't worth fried rat shit. Oh, I found a few cans of condensed milk, evaporated coffee, real coffee and vegetables that weren't rusted, but I had to pick and choose. I spent several weeks in Durango cleaning out the food supplies that had lasted through the years. I shot a bony steer, butchered it and smoked the meat. There were a lot of fields that had been under heavy use before the parting, but the irrigation had failed and nothing grew there anymore. I replenished my bio diesel supplies and continued on down the road to Mazatlan. I had some mountains to cross so I prepared the best I could and took it easy. I only traveled during the day.

There it was. Mazatlan. It was a huge city and would support me for the rest of my life if I were careful. The fishing fleet that used to work out of the city was known for its shrimp and tuna. I'd hoped that over the decade with nobody fishing the fish had come back close to shore. I knew that I had a job ahead of me getting a fishing boat's diesel engine back in shape but I thought that I was up to the job. Like anything else, it would take time. I parked down on the esplanade, shut down the tractor's engine and climbed out. I stood there breathing the sea air, a free man. I felt a gentle smile on my face. I was where I wanted to be. When I couldn't make any more diesel I'd learn how to sail.

I was sure that I could part together a hydraulic compressor so that I could make compressed earth blocks. The worst soil seemed to make the best CEB bricks. They'd beat the hell out of adobe bricks once I'd sealed 'em with anything oil-based from the paint department. Taking it low and slow I would build a villa with an enclosed paved courtyard and a fountain. It wouldn't take more than a year to build. I could see bulk LP gas tanks around so my heating, refrigeration and cooking was assured. I knew how to make interlocking roof tiles out of cement. If a local builder had a good supply of the traditional red clay serpentine tiles I'd use those. It meant less work. I had to find the perfect site to build so that the views would be breathtaking and I would have water. Hell, I could pipe in water.

I suddenly had a yen to find a guitar, oil the hell out of it so that it wouldn't crack and start playing again, just for myself.

I couldn't starve and I'd seen green fields outside of the city that hadn't needed any irrigation. There was sure to be a well or something that I could find to get water. Maybe I'd find some chickens that had gone wild. Maybe some pigs? I'd eaten goat meat and liked it. I needed to raise some corn and find lime, then grind it for masa. I was in Mexico so I was going to have tortillas. The geography books showed fields next to the seacoast with trees on them. Hell, I had years to survey the existing fields and see what was still growing. I had forever.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Post Apocalypse / Transformation /