Thursday, August 14, 2014

Welcome to Rock Ridge

OK, the wide-spread crisis has passed (EMP attack, solar flare, zombies rising, economic collapse, WW3, or whatever knocks civilization for a loop) and it's time to rebuild.

If your bug-out location is well-stocked, and you've made preparations for the inevitable growth of your tribe (people will make babies under ANY circumstances), then your trips into town will be limited. There will be times when you have to find something that you didn't stock enough of or can't do for yourself, so going into town is going to have  to be on your list of options.

Another possibility is that you couldn't (or didn't) prepare for the exact crisis that occurred, or your tribe has grown beyond what your land can support. Someone is going to have to move into town and try to make a living. There's no reason that a post-apocalyptic town has to be copied from "Mad Max" movies, we've seen small towns before and they weren't all that bad.

On Small Towns

Towns spring up where there is a need for them. This usually involves industry of one form or another. Farming is an industry, as is mining (fuel or metal), fur trapping, and manufacturing. Small towns in America usually formed around one of those four industries as a form of support structure or infrastructure for the industry. They provided the entertainment, trading, education, and legal opportunities not found in a barn, mine shaft, camp site, or factory ,as well as services aimed at separating fools from their money.

Towns are a mixture of good and bad when it comes to security. They can provide the "safety in numbers" effect, but they are also a concentration of people and wealth which makes the targets for bandits and "marauders". The town of Northfield, MN has served as an example for robbers and bandit since 1876. If the people in town have the will to fight, they stand a good chance of fighting off roving bands of raiders. If things get too bad, or you expect them to, perhaps you should look at the fortified towns that the US Army built along the frontier as an example of what worked against roving bands of lightly armed raiders. They contained the same basics as any small town, just within a wall and with more fire support.

Location, location, location

Towns also tended to be placed on, or near, routes of transportation (roads, railroad tracks, canals, harbors, or mountain passes) and waterways. If you're lost in the woods and want to find civilization, what do you do? You find water or a road and you follow it, because eventually you'll find a town on the water or road.

Transportation is important for the transfer of goods and people, which the townspeople will tap into to make their living. Using the economy of scale, a grocer can buy commodities in bulk and make a profit by splitting them up and reselling them in smaller quantities. Craftsmen can set up shop and find steady employment because of the number of people either in or visiting town. Blacksmiths, coopers, wagon-makers, chemists (early pharmacists), doctors, and such stand a better chance of surviving in a town than living by themselves.

Water is critical to any town. Look around your home state and try to find a city or town that doesn't sit on or near a source of water - they're rare. Water for drinking, as well as use in whatever industry is there, will usually be the deciding factor for how big a town can get. Water is also the standard method of disposing of sewage, or at least it has been for the last 150 years or so. The advent of municipal sewers has done as much for disease control and extending life expectancy as any medical breakthrough. Living near a stream or small river is better than living near a small lake, but not as good as a large river or lake. The ideal location is where a river flows into a larger body of water, either lake or ocean - look at where the big cities of the world are located. Wars between neighbors, cities, states, and nations have been fought over access to water - it's that important for the survival of civilization.

Welcome to Rock Ridge

Let's look at the layout of a typical small town from before the age of electricity. Please excuse the map, it's my first attempt at using some new software.

Rock Ridge sprang up to support a farming community, mostly ranchers raising cattle, but the railroad is planning to build a line nearby (unless they have to change the route because of something unforeseen like quicksand).

As you can see by my map, Rock Ridge has most of the amenities offered by a small town: a saloon with a stage for visiting acts; places to buy food, feed, furniture, lumber, and supplies; as well as services like a barber shop, funeral parlor, bank, stage line, and hotel. The First Methodist Church doubles as a meeting hall for town business. The bank hosts the Post Office and telegraph office, and there are small shops and businesses located above some of the street level shops.

Other things to be found in small towns like this may include a local printer and maybe a newspaper; a doctor's office (or a place for a visiting doctor); a chemist (pharmacy), a cobbler (to make footwear), and a fuel supplier.

Things you wouldn't find in a mid-1800's town that could be of use would be a library, electrical and telephone grids, street and sewers maintenance (or streets and sewers at all), and warehousing.

Rock Ridge is not the county seat or they'd have a courthouse to take care of the paperwork that is needed to keep a semblance of peace - things like registering deeds to ensure that land isn't stolen or taken by moving fence lines, or registering births, deaths, and wills to make inheritance of property less contentious. The level of government will have to be determined by the people of the community, and since we don't do political issues on this blog I will leave it at that.

I realize that it is not very likely that we'll have to start a town from scratch, but knowing what has worked in the past will allow you to look at what is available with an eye towards making it more useful under different conditions.

In the next few weeks I'll be writing about the skills and businesses that could be useful in a small town like Rock Ridge and maybe give you some ideas for areas of study. This will be an exploration of skills that are almost gone in today's world that have helped people in the past survive, and even thrive. At the very least, this should help explain how we came by some of the things we use every day, and maybe even give some insight into how to recreate them if there is ever a need.

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