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Monday, February 28, 2011

When the economy crashes - getting things done without power

Too many people just assume their single solution is to generate their own power. Then come what may, you flip a switch and keep living life as usual. The truth is that even if you do have a sufficient alternate power source available at TEOTWAWKI, for whatever reason it may be impractical or unwise to make use of it when the time comes. In that circumstance, having non-electric alternatives will be crucial. Here are a few labor saving devices that might make the difference between just barely surviving and living.  You can even barter good and services for your goods and services.


1) Treadle Sewing Machine. Clothing is perhaps one of the things that we take most for granted in the modern western world. We rely not only on a vast array of technical machinery, but also a huge pool of low-wage workers to fill our closets. A treadle, or foot pedal operated, sewing machine was a coveted luxury item just before the turn of the last century, and for good reason. The time savings were huge, and meant more time for other important tasks in the home. Surprisingly, these are still around in abundance, and can be had for as little as $50 in many areas of the country. Estate sales can be one of your best sources to get a used machine for little money. Look at several ads before purchase and see what brands are common in your area. The more of a single type there are the better, as you will need to find non-working or partial machines in order to get cheap or free replacement parts.  There aren't going to be many clothing stores so clothes will have to be mended.

2) Hand-Crank Grain Mill. Whole wheat berries are one of the most versatile and long lasting food stores for your pantry. Lasting up to 30 years when stored properly, these are a wealth of nutrition. However, though the whole berries (raw or toasted) are a yummy snack, you need to have a way to grind them into meal or grain. Though you are able to find these as antiques, you may want to consider purchasing a new one to ensure the blades are sharp and clean. Shop around, and read user reviews in order to get a feel for which mill will give you the most choices of textures in your price range.

3) Solar Oven. Building a fire takes time, and uses precious and consumable resources. Even in cloudy and cold climates, you should get enough sun to at least bake all your bread once a week. A solar oven also will not send up a smoke signal to alert passersby of your presence if your cooking activities need to remain clandestine. You can purchase completed ovens for a couple hundred dollars, or experiment with various plans to fashion your own. Make sure you have a thermometer so that you can see what temperatures you are actually reaching and how long it takes your oven to attain that heat level.  You can even use it to boil water...how many people do you know who enjoys taken cold showers or baths?

4) Tool Set. Because electric hand tools are so much faster and easier, many of us find that these are the only tools we have. A good sharp axe, several saws, hammer, simple farming tools like a potato planter, and a sharpening stone will become critical. If you don’t believe that these are labor saving devices, try hammering a nail using a rock! Make sure these tools are well cared for and stored in a safe place. They may just save your life one day.

5) Hand-wringer washer. Laundry is one of my most time-consuming chores, even with a modern washer and dryer! While you may think that with a wash tub and clothesline you are all set to launder clean clothes off grid, you have forgotten the difficult task of squeezing out the water that your washer does for you on the spin cycle. Hand-wringers are crank-operated, taking a huge job and turning it into just a large one. There are full setups with wooden forms to place your wash tubs, or small handheld ones that would fit in a laundry room cupboard. Again, antique stores and estate sales are good places to find a great deal on these. If you get lucky, you will find one that is fully functional but doesn’t look that pretty (they were for laundry after all), and find very little competition to purchase it.

6) Wine press. If you have all the above covered, you might want to start thinking beyond the essentials of life to the luxuries. An item like a wine press not only gives you something enjoyable, but potentially a valuable item for creating commodities you can trade. A good wine press can be used not only for wine, but juice, cider, and potentially even oil if you are in an area where olives are available. Though you can find these used as antiques, they are typically very rusted and thus not usable for anything other than a decorative piece. Thanks to the growing interest in home-brewing, you should be able to find these online and at specialty stores. Again, shop around and read user reviews to find one that meets your needs.

7) Worms.  It's easy to begin your own worm farm.  When chicken feed runs out, how are farmers going to feed their flock?  How many fishermen do you know that can actually catch fish with fake bait?  Garden soil is going to be in short supply.  If you have a tub o' worms, you have instant soil...after a while.

8) Chicken pluckers.  Those plans are easy to find online and make.  If you have neighbors, and they have chickens, you can rent out your equipment or even barter for goods and services.

Use this list to start thinking, then analyze what your individual needs would be and how to meet them. Visiting estate sales, antique shows, or perusing the antiques section of Craig’s List, can give you a wealth of ideas. We must not forget the solutions of our forefathers, or we will be stuck reinventing the wheel and losing valuable time in rebuilding our society. When choosing which off-grid machines are the most essential for your family, think about what parts of your daily life would take you the longest without electricity. Also think about things that you would miss the most, such as ice-cream or juice, and consider providing a way to make those things as well. Sometimes it is the little things, as much as the big ones, that make all the difference.

Live well and practice, practice, practice your skills whenever you can.

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