March 26, 2014

Going Galt In the Berkshires: One Person's Story

One might say that it was very appropriate we were meeting next to a railroad yard. CSX was busy moving cars when I showed up at the Harbor Freight in West Springfield, MA to visit a modern-day Galt's Gulch that an individual had set up hidden in the Berkshire Mountains. John (not his real name) sent an actual written letter to the newsletter's mail drop giving a little of his background and his current project. Formerly a resident of the Boston area, after reading Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged he took a long, hard look at himself and the world around him, and decided it was time to "Go Galt". After reading the letter and giving him a call, it turns out that we were already acquainted with one another from the Boston hacker scene of the late 1990s, when 2600 Magazine meetings were held at the food court of the Pru. (They are now held at MIT in the Stratton Student Center.) John now lives part-time in the Springfield area while he finishes his residence in the Berkshires. He had a few days off, and was stopping off at Harbor Freight for supplies before heading home.

When John made the decision to go Galt, his first moves were to generate a large enough amount of capital to be able to move when the opportunity presented itself, and divest himself of such material that would only load him down during the move. Selling off items that were excess to needs enabled him to initially move from an apartment to a rented room, and be able to save more money by cutting rent and utility costs. From there it was only a matter of time until a viable property became available. A former "hunting cabin" in the Berkshires went up for sale. After an inspection of the property and some haggling, he was able to buy the property outright, eliminating a mortgage. John said that the lessons learned here were to be ready for an opportunity, jump on it when it arises, and that having cash on hand makes things go a lot easier. When asked about alternative locations in a more free state such as Vermont or New Hampshire, John gave several good points as to why he chose the Berkshires:

  1. He was very familiar with the Berkshires from numerous family outings as a kid.

  2. The price for property was right.

  3. The tax burden on the property was acceptable.

  4. Firearms ownership, while not as easy as NH or VT, is still easier than on the Eastern side of the state.

  5. The property suited his needs.

  6. The opportunity was good enough to not pass up.

  7. He didn't think he'd find a another comparable property any time soon.

  8. The Berkshires were good enough for Ayn Rand's female protagonist in Atlas Shrugged.

I have been in communication with other survivalist-types who have chosen Western Massachusetts and Adirondacks in Northern New York for similar reasons. Personally not my choices, but as long as the individuals picked their respective locations in a logical manner based on their particular set of circumstances and requirements, who is anyone to argue?

Upon arriving at the location, I understood why John snapped it up when the opportunity arose. It is a spacious (roughly 12 ft. by 20 ft.) two-room cabin on the shore of a large pond (or small lake) with a year-round stream and close access to hundreds of acres of state hunting land. What was immediately apparent was that the location had access to adequate food and water. Another immediate observation was that it didn't look like much of anything. It's the type of place that hides in the noise floor. When John bought his hideaway, it had rudimentary plumbing, no electricity, no insulation, fireplace heating, a manual well pump, small wood stove, and an outhouse. While adequate for part-time summer use, the place was definitely in the "fixer-upper" category for year-round use.

When asked about his most useful tool since buying the property, his reply was his Ford pick-up truck as it would be difficult to transport building materials, tools, and supplies to the place without it. His other vehicle is a late-model Yamaha motorcycle he bought for routine local travel during good weather. When asked about tools in general he replied that his two favorite brands are Craftsman (Sears) and Harbor Freight. He purchases the later when he needs something for a one-time or infrequent use, and the former when looking for long-term frequent use tools. He also keeps an eye open for older quality (American-made) tools at tag sales and the like that he can buy used at a reasonable price. Towards that end, he told me that the late Eric Soane's books A Museum Of Early American Tools and A Reverence For Wood are very useful. For his power tools, he uses a Honda EU2000i Generator, and said that it was bullet-proof.

When asked about guns, John showed me a small but quite adequate collection of firearms, and said that his focus for the most part was acquiring reliable working guns that used common civilian ammunition. Despite Massachusetts' reputation with gun laws, he was able to acquire a Class A LTC from his town. He said that some towns in the Berkshires are easier than others, but that at the very least someone with no criminal record should be able to get an LTC for "Sporting" or "Hunting and Target Shooting" purposes. John does not carry for the most part, and was originally planning on settling for a lesser LTC permit as that would have at least enabled him to purchase and practice with his handguns. However the Class A LTC makes more options available. His collection consists of a Swiss K-31, Smith & Wesson Model 686 (.357 Mag.), Marlin M1894 (.357 Mag.), Marlin Model 60, Ruger Mark II, Mossberg 500 (12 ga.), and Marlin 336 (.30-30). He admitted the Swiss K-31 was the odd one of the lot when considering his focus, but he liked its reasonable (at the time) price, excellent accuracy, inexpensive (at the time) bulk surplus ammo, and smooth operation with the straight-pull bolt. All of his guns were purchased used from various small gun stores throughout the state. John has also been expanding into reloading and black powder firearms as time and finances permit, noting the lack of laws even in Massachusetts regarding antiques and muzzleloaders. His first acquisition towards that end was a reproduction of a Remington Model 1858 Revolver he purchased at a gun show.

Wireless phone service in the vicinity of the cabin was spotty at best. John said that under normal circumstances he would have ordered the cheapest level of POTS line from the local phone company, but the cabin was located too far away from the pole for a cheap installation. An off-the-shelf cellphone extender would increase coverage reliability, but is also out of the budget. John has been experimenting with homebrew DIY cellphone extenders as time permits. As an aside, I have heard from many survivalist-types who specifically look for places that don't have wireless phone service when choosing their Galt's Gulch location.

For off-grid communications, the cabin is equipped with a SSB CB rig and 2-meter FM ham transceiver, both operating on batteries and acquired from local hamfests. Plans are in the works to add an HF ham transceiver. John currently possesses a Technician Class Amateur Radio License, and expects to upgrade to the General Class at the next hamfest he attends. For news acquisition, John purchased a police scanner, shortwave radio, and weather-alert radio on clearance from Radio Shack.

As mentioned previously, John purchased a small Honda generator for running power tools and other AC electrical devices at the cabin. He went with the Honda EU2000i because of its reliability, long run time, and compatibility with electronics. He has been supplementing the Honda with the purchase of solar panels from Harbor Frieght, and small experimental wind generators.

Plans are in the works to also experiment with small scale water power from the property's stream. John has been focusing on DC as opposed to AC because he's found parts easier to acquire via RV and truck shops.

Lighting in the cabin is provided by a combination of modified dollar store solar-powered LED lights, candles, and oil lamps. John plans to eventually equip the cabin with 12 Volt appliances, powered by a battery bank charged with a combination of wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. The electronics in the cabin are powered by batteries. John uses rechargeables in these, and buys solar-powered battery chargers when he finds them on sale (Harbor Freight). Most of the electronics can also use external DC power, so they'll be able to connected to his DC power system when it's finished.

One item of noteworthy interest was John's library of DIY and self-reliance books. John built shelves into the wall of the cabin, and now has about 18 feet of shelf space. Most of his books were bought at used book sales held by various libraries. He also checks the offerings at used book stores whenever possible. I already mentioned Eric Sloane. Another one of his favorites is the Foxfire book series. John prefers paper to electronic books as "they don't need electricity".

Internet service at the cabin is non-existent, and there are no plans to establish it. John said he's on it enough when in hell, and has plenty to do at the cabin without it. However, john does have a Raspberry Pi hooked up to a small flatscreen monitor that he uses as an e-book reader and experimenter's tool. One of the future uses of the Pi is as a data terminal for digital amateur radio modes on HF and VHF.

At the present, John is still in the process of converting the place from a seasonal to an all-season residence. He is also exploring options for income generation in the Berkshires, with self-employment being a significant possibility. Once he's living in the cabin full time, he can then proceed with items that require regular attention such as livestock and a garden.

John has found that lack of an Internet connection at the cabin has enabled him to direct his free time towards other pursuits related to the nuts and bolts of establishing a homestead, and the acquisition of a useful skill set.

In the end, he advises, take a good look at your particular situation and figure out what would work best for you based on what other real people with situations similar to yours have discovered. If it doesn't work, then try something else. He said that since we are really in a slow decline, there is a good amount of time to get up to speed until the reset. So in the meantime, he's going to work on his place in hills, expand his skill-set in multiple directions, and in the end just be another anonymous dumb hillbilly in the sticks until the end happens.

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