Thursday, April 15, 2021

Eye Washing

We've mentioned eye washing a few times over the years; the most recent one I found in a quick search (use the search box in the upper left corner) was almost 5 years ago. Bottles of commercially available eyewash aren't very expensive, and in my opinion should be part of every first aid kit. As always, seek professional medical assistance as soon as you can.

Eye washing is simply rinsing foreign matter out of your eyes. Our normal production of tears does a fair job of this on a daily basis, but sometimes we get into stuff that is too much for tears alone to handle.

The ideal eye wash is going to be, in order of importance:

  • Sterile: You don't want to introduce bacteria into irritated eyes.
  • pH Neutral: This is to prevent further irritation.
  • Comfortable Temperature: Eyes are sensitive, 60-100° F is the range you'll be using.
  • Isotonic: This means it has a salt content similar to your normal tears.
  • Large enough: Depending on what you're washing out, you may need quite a bit.

If you have access to sterile saline solution from a medical supply this is an ideal eye wash, but we often don't have what we want, so we have to improvise.

  • Clean tap water will work and is the most commonly found form of eyewash. Dozens of faucet attachments are on the market that will convert a common sink into an emergency eyewash station, most of the time without affecting the normal use of the faucet.
  • Bottled water is a good choice and there are several replacement caps that make a water bottle more efficient for washing eyes.
  • For kitchen emergencies (pepper in the eyes is extremely uncomfortable), milk or weak tea will work. Milk must be checked for freshness to prevent infection, and straight out of the icebox it will be a bit cold, but it works.
  • Homemade saline solution is simply distilled water with a little table salt (non-iodized) added. About ½ teaspoon per cup or 8 teaspoons per gallon will make an isotonic solution.

Once you have your liquid, you need to figure out how to use it.

  • Eye cups fit over the eye and hold the liquid close to the eye, reducing the amount of liquid required. Most of the bottled eye wash kits will have some form of cup attached.
  • Immersion: Simply sticking your face in a bowl of water works. If you don't have a bowl handy, cupping your hands and sticking your face into them works. Open your eyes and slowly rotate them to get the water into the folds of your eyelids. Swimming pools and other sources of open water will work in an emergency, but you start to lose some of the things like sterility and pH that we want.
  • Flowing water: Commercial eye wash stations will be connected to a water supply that provides plenty of water. Open your eyes and let the flowing water rinse them. Not pleasant, but effective.
  • Pouring: If you have a container without an eye cup, you'll have to tilt your head back and pour the liquid into your eyes. Your natural instinct will be to close your eyes when something hits them, so you may have to use one hand to keep the eyelids open while pouring with the other.

Now that you have started to wash your eyes, how do you know when to stop? The general recommended time for generic chemical is 15 minutes, and you'll see that on a lot of labels. Something is always better than nothing, so rinse as long as you can with what you have available. As long as you're using clean, pH-neutral solutions, you can't wash too much, so err on the side of caution and keep rinsing. 

One of the guidelines I found suggests the following times:

  • Minor irritants: 5 minutes
  • Mild to moderate irritants: 20 minutes
  • Non-corrosive chemicals: 20 minutes
  • Corrosive chemicals: 60 minutes

I work in dusty environments a lot, so I wash my face and eyes quite often, Dirt and normal dust are inconvenient, salts are irritating, and some of the industrial chemical are just plain dangerous. My eyes are important, so I keep water on hand to wash them out when needed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

David Blackard's Father Has Passed

Hello, Blue Collar Prepping readers. David's father passed away on Sunday. Here is the message from David's sister: 

 Hi family and friends;

Last night our dad passed away peacefully at 91 years. He led a full life and taught us so much. 

Please keep our mom in your thoughts as she adjusts to life without him. They would have been married 70 years later this month. 

We are grateful for our significant others, holding us up, as we navigate this new chapter of our lives. 

Tell your people you love them. 

Naturally, David has the week off to be with his family during his time of loss.  

David and his father and mother

David has the following message for our readers:

We don't have anything planned yet but if people want to send cards at random intervals to my Mom, that's great. Doesn't have to have any message (she can't remember things well) but nice pictures will be cool. 

1300 Juanita Dr.
Attention: Dorothy Blackard
Walnut Creek, CA 94595

 (This is an assisted living facility)  

I'm sure that David will also appreciate messages of support in the comments. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Monday, April 12, 2021

Sausage Fest

“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” -- John Godfrey Saxe, 1869

Sausage is one of humanity's oldest prepared foods and when made properly can potentially be stored without refrigeration for an extended period of time.

However, the sausage I made for this article needs to be refrigerated or frozen if it’s not to be eaten right away.

In order to make sausage, certain supplies will be needed. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Meat grinder
  • Sausage stuffer
  • Sausage casing
  • String or twist ties*
  • Meat
  • Additional fat*
  • Spices

* May not be necessary for all sausages

The author's old and new grinders

There are a variety of meat grinders on the market, from the basic and traditional hand-cranked style, through dedicated powered units, and then on to meat grinding attachments for other appliances. While I still have a vintage, cast iron, hand crank meat grinder (mine is called the Maid of Honor) I haven’t used it since I got the food grinder attachment for my KitchenAid Mixer.

Components of the grinder attachment

The sausage stuffer is attached to the outlet on a meat grinder, and is made up of a long tapered tube (called a horn) which holds the casing and feeds the ground meat. There are also dedicated manual stuffers available.

Stuffing horn replaces grinding disk

Sausage casing is traditionally made from cleaned and dried intestines, but is also available in various synthetics such as collagen, cellulose, plastic, and even 100% plant based casings, not all of which are edible. Depending on the type of casing, there may be additional preparation required, such as rinsing or soaking.

Once the sausage is stuffed the links will most likely need to be separated. While this can be done simply by twisting the sausage to separate them, I haven’t had good luck with this method and prefer twisting, then tying off with cotton string. Twist ties can also be used for this step.

I’ve made sausage from venison, chicken, and pork and eaten many more types. Nearly any cut of meat will do, but usually the cheaper and tougher cuts are used for sausage. This batch was made from a pork roast I got on sale at our local grocery outlet.

I also bought a pound of pork fat to add to the mix. It’s easy for sausage to turn out too dry, especially if it’s frozen for a while. Adding extra fat helps prevent this. Pork fat is the most common, but other solid animal or vegetable fats should work as well.

Where things can get really creative are in the spices. Italian sweet, Italian hot, Andouille, bratwurst, Asian, and many more mixes are available, or you can make up your own. My general guideline when starting a new batch is to scant the salt and any really powerful spices until I’ve had a taste test. It’s much easier to add more than to remove too much, after all.

After getting all the equipment and supplies ready, the first step is to grind the meat. For most sausage meats you should use the coarse grating disk, though there are some recipes that call for a double grind, first coarse then fine.

Once the meat is ground, add the spices and mix them into the meat using your hands. I tend to knead like I do with bread dough: fold the mix in half, press it down, rotate 90 degrees, and repeat. The spices should be evenly distributed.

Sausage mix with spices

Pull a tablespoon or so from the mix and fry it up in a pan, let it cool, and taste test. If necessary, adjust the spices and mix again. 

If your stuffing horn attaches to the grinder like mine does, clean the grinder before moving on to stuffing. Feed the casing onto the horn and tie off the end. This is very important, nay essential: tie off the end very well, else you may wind up with a counter covered in sausage stuffing.

Just over six feet of prime sausage

While you can separate the sausage into links while stuffing, I find doing this breaks my rhythm, so I prefer stuffing the entire length then dividing into individual sausages once I’m done.

Separated into links

Be careful not to overfill when stuffing the casing. There needs to be enough slack so you can twist or tie the links; if there isn’t enough room for the displaced filling, you can have a blowout. This happens, so don’t fuss if it does; in fact, I suffered a blowout in this batch and lost two links. The filling was salvaged and fried up as an addition to pasta and sauce for dinner that night. Yummy!

Don’t forget the last bit of filling left in the sausage stuffing horn and possibly in the screw threads as well. I heard this referred to as the Butcher’s Tithe many years ago and the term has stuck with me. Fry that up just like you did with the taste test at the beginning. After all, you earned it!

The basic recipe I mostly followed is below. I couldn’t find hog casings, so I used collagen instead. I of course adjusted the spices to taste, and I made six inch links instead of four, just because I could.

Sausage making is not complicated and allows for the use of some very inexpensive cuts of meat and meat scraps. If you take your time you get a more harmonious outcome. So next time someone tells you to “stuff it” you can say you have. Enjoy.

Andouille Sausage Recipe


  • 5 lbs. boneless pork butt (Untrimmed)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic granules
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, table grind
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 5-6 ft. 33-36MM hog casings


  1. For Andouille links, rinse the casings thoroughly in cold water, then place in lukewarm water prior to filling with the sausage mixture.
  2. Grind meat one time through coarse 3/8" or 1/2" plate.
  3. Combine ground meat with remaining ingredients; mix/knead well. 
  4. Taste test by frying a small quarter-size patty to see if you approve of the flavor as is.  Make changes if needed.
  5. Carefully stuff the sausage mixture into the casing, filling the casing snugly but not so tight it will burst open during the linking process.  Continue until the entire casing is filled.
  6. Form 4" sausage links by pressing the filled casing gently with your forefinger and thumb and twist four or five times in one direction, repeat and twist in the opposite direction until done.
  7. Or stuff the Andouille mixture into 1 or 2 lb. poly meat bags. Freeze slightly and then slice into 1/2" slices.
  8. Cook, fry, bake or broil just as you would any fresh pork sausage. Remainder should be frozen until needed.
Makes 5 lbs of sausage. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Dementia & Elderly Care

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
This one's going to be a ramble, because my post is less a case of "Here's what you need to do" and more like "This is what I've learned through experience."

To give you a brief idea of what my home life is like, I live with my elderly parents (dad is 85, mom is 82) and in exchange for room and board I do the things they can't do, like drive them to doctor's appointments, take them to the ER late and night, fix the computer, lift things they cannot, climb ladders to reach things, etc. In short, I'm the only able-bodied person in the house, which is rather like having the lamest superpowers ever. ("Behold NORMALWOMAN! She has all the abilities of a middle-aged woman, which makes her the strongest, sturdiest, and fastest person in the house!")

My father has Parkinson's Disease, and his manifests primarily as having bad balance. He falls a lot, and frequently hits his head. He refuses to use his walker inside the house, and I don't know how much of that is due to him just being an ornery cuss (we're Texan) or how much of that is due to his dementia. Parkinson's is a neuro-degenerative disease, and one of the non-motor symptoms is dementia. We knew things were bad when he complained that the remote control wasn't working... while pointing the cordless phone at the TV. 

So, my father falls a lot, injures himself often, and frequently can't get up without help. This means that I have become an on-call nurse, or at least an orderly, 24/7/365. Here's what I've learned:
  • If you can at all afford it, get in-home care for your loved ones with dementia or who otherwise need constant monitoring. Not only will they respond to professional care, but -- and I cannot stress this enough -- you need the constant burden off your shoulders. Even professional caregivers have shifts which end and they get to go home at the end of the day, but if you are a live-in caregiver then your shift never ends and that's terrible for your morale and your physical health. 
  • The moment your loved one is diagnosed with a degenerative illness you should start the legal paperwork so that someone in the family has both Medical and Financial Power of Attorney over them. This is because, in my experience, it takes a long time for these things to go through; we started the ball rolling in mid-February of this year and we still don't have everything done. 
    • All of this has been with my father's help, by the way, and the reason we waited so long was because he was stubborn and didn't want to give up control, and it took him several nasty falls to realize that things were getting worse and not better. If we'd done this sooner we could have had him in a VA home by now; as it currently stands, when we finally get all the paperwork done he'll still have to be on a waiting list. 
    • Get the paperwork done early if possible. Even if your loved one fights you on this. It's better to have a fight now and get them help sooner than wait until they give in and then you're trying to beat the clock. 
  • Speaking of paperwork, I don't know about other homes but I know that the Veteran's Home where my father wants to go requires miles and tons of forms, including but not restricted to: a checkup at the VA hospital; a transfer of all his medical documentation to them; a form filled out by his primary care physician stating that my father needs constant care; documentation of his disability (in his case he's 100% disabled); and of course the previously mentioned Powers of Attorney. I think we'll be lucky if we get him into the VA home before July, and I honestly don't know if he will last that long; one of these days he's going to take a nasty fall and break something. 
  • Finally, remember to take care of yourself. If you get sick because you push yourself too hard, or injure yourself because you try to do too much, you've hurt two people: yourself and the person you're caring for. In my case I hurt three, because then the burden falls to my mother and she's already at her wit's end. 
    • If you can afford it, seeing a therapist is highly recommended. It's immensely frustrating having to take care of an adult-sized, adult-weight toddler, and that's what dementia patients can become. It's very, very easy to become resentful of the person for whom you're caring, and that can lead to tension at home and strained relationships. The very last thing you want is for your final years with someone to be filled with anger towards them. 
    • To circle back, this is why you need professional help in the home. Being able to take a break, to have "me time", to be able to do things for yourself without filtering it through the lens of "Can I do this or will my duties prevent it?" will help your mental and emotional health immensely. 
That's all I have for now. When I learn more I will post a follow-up. 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Fire Season

Winter is over, spring has begun, and fire season is upon us. While the wildfires and forest fires that plague California get the most coverage in the media, most of the US is susceptible to brush fires that can destroy homes and property. The scale is what's different: California and the western US have large areas of forest that can burn while most of the rest of the country have the wooded areas broken up by roads and open fields.

Climate conditions have a lot to do with wild fire risk; hot and dry areas will always burn better than cool and wet ones. Thunderstorms are more common in the spring, and lightning is a common cause of wild fires. Here in the Midwest, we don't have forests but we do have large tracts of native prairie owned by the states, and prairies like to burn. While not as large or as impressive as a forest fire, a brush fire can ruin your day just as fast.

Prepping for a fire outside the home is mostly common sense:

1) Be ready to leave on short notice.
Your Bug Out Bag is useful for more than just bad weather. Sometimes called INCH (I'm Not Coming Home) bags, you'll want to have what you need to keep going in case you don't have a home to come back to. Use the search box in the upper left-hand corner for our articles on the various types of bags.

2) Pay attention to local conditions.
The National Weather Service issues fire danger alerts when conditions are ripe for fires. Dry air and high winds are the main factors, so know your prevailing wind directions; around here the winds tend to come from the north in winter and south in the spring/summer. Weather rolls in from the south and west, so that's where we look for rain and lightning. 

Fire is a tool sometimes used to manage land. Prescribed burns on farmland, ditches, and hillsides are common practice as the fire removes built-up debris and kills a lot of weeds and pests. Farmers have been using reduced-tillage methods for decades, which means they don't plow the fields as often (or ever) and crop residue builds up over time. A common method of removing this residue (stalks, stems, and leaves) is to burn it by taking a tractor, hooking up a long chain to the rear, putting an old tire at the end of the chain, throwing a gallon of diesel fuel onto the tire, lighting it, then driving around the field so that the burning fuel and bits of molten tire ignite the residue. If the residue is dry enough, the fire will burn hot enough and long enough to destroy weed seeds and kill several types of pests that live in the top few inches of soil, which reduces the need for chemicals. The ashes from the fire will return nutrients to the soil faster than normal decomposition, too.

The smarter farmers will have tilled a fire break around their field first, but I've seen a lot of idiots in my life. Watch what your neighbors are doing, because some of them are going to be idiots. Call your local fire department on their non-emergency line if you have questions about burning anything outside; they'd much rather prevent a fire than respond to one.

3) Know your evacuation routes.
Have more than one way out of your area, preferably in different directions. If fire and smoke is blocking a road, know how to detour around it to get to your destination. 

Fires can spread faster than emergency responders can react, especially in rural areas, so don't wait for an evacuation order. If in doubt, leave.

4) Prep your home & land to avoid fires.
The NFPA (National Fire Prevention Association) does a lot of good work. They're the ones who write most of the electrical and building codes that prevent fires inside buildings, but they also have good suggestions for prepping the outside of your house. The short version of their advice is:

  • Homes catch fire from wind-borne embers or radiant heat
  • Clean your gutters and check your roof, eaves, and attic vents
  • Keep anything flammable at least 5' from your house. This includes trees, mulch, and shrubs.
  • Keep the yard clear of leaves, dead grass, branches, etc.
  • Proper spacing of trees prevents fire from spreading (wind breaks should be at least 100' from any building)
  • Clear dead vegetation from under fuel tanks and decks

Fire is a useful tool as long as it's under control. I've learned how to set back-fires and how to burn into the wind from professionals for the times we need to clear out ditches and pastures. It's hot, smoky, dirty work, but seeing the new grass sprouting through the ashes of several years' worth of built-up debris is worth it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Prudent Prepping: When The Shoe Fits

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping. 

Well, well! Another item has been checked off my prepping wish list for my friend, Purple Pack Lady. We were looking for a jacket that was mentioned in this post and she saw shoes she liked... or at least shoes that were in colors she likes (eyeroll), so we went back to REI to see what could be found.

However, that turned out to be a large part of a small problem, and that small problem is "fit". Purple Pack Lady is decidedly petite, especially in the feet, and so several nicely colored shoes were looked at, tried on, and found to be too big, either in size, length or width. The potential to Special Order smaller sizes in two of the brands was mentioned, but both of us do not like to order, try on, say "No" and then return things, just to start the whole process again. 

She ended up wearing a pair of Moab FST Low Waterproof Shoese home. 

Merrell Moab
From the Merrell website:

Now you can have matching MOAB FST with your mini-me. Low profile, but high-performance, Merrell’s MOAB Low Waterproof hiking shoes features a breathable mesh upper and M Select™ GRIP on the outsole making it lightweight, durable and trail-ready.

• M Select™ DRY waterproof construction keeps feet dry
• M Select™ GRIP for flexible, non-marking traction
• Durable synthetic and lightweight, breathable mesh uppers
• Anti-bacterial properties in lining helps prevent bacteria and control odor

This is actually a child-sized shoe pictured, but that is what really fit Purple Pack Lady  correctly. I don't have any hesitation in buying a kids' shoe from this company since they are known as a quality brand, no matter what size.

Plus, "The colors go with so many other outfits I have!" If I roll my eyes any harder, I might dislocate an optic nerve.

Recap And Takeaway
  • Purchased from REI: one pair of Merrell Moab kids hiking shoe, $58. While they are available from Amazon for less, I do not have the ability, time or patience to continually order and return shoes until I get a good fit. Besides, as a member of REI, I get a small refund on all my purchases!
  • It's also a sturdy, well-made hiking shoe that is sorta-kinda waterproof, or at least as waterproof as a low-top can be.
  • I'm glad that my friend is happy and getting into buying quality for about the same price as 'pretty'. 
  • Nothing else was purchased this week, but items did arrive that will be reviewed next week!
* * *

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

What is a Core Charge?

I was shopping online for parts for my car this week, and underneath the price of the part was a "core charge" price. My brake calipers were only going to cost me $62 per side, so what was this other $60 tacked on to each of them? If you didn't know any better, it would feel like some serious dirty pool, but core charges are a legitimate thing, for a very good reason.

So what is a core charge? In essence, a core charge is a deposit you pay a parts supplier which gets refunded when you bring back a rebuildable core part. In my case of buying brake calipers, I would pay an extra $60 for each caliper until I brought the old ones from my car into the parts house, in which case my deposit gets refunded and they send the core off to be rebuilt and resold. It serves to keep remanufactured parts in the system, allowing for far less expensive auto repairs. Using my truck as an example (I can't use the car mentioned above, because new-manufactured brake components aren't readily available), buying a brand new rear left caliper starts at $61. A remanufactured caliper is right around $30. Half price is a pretty hefty savings in parts. "Reman" parts usually come with a warranty, although it may not be for as long a term as a new part, and are regarded as being of perfectly acceptable quality for general use.

The less-obvious thing that a core charge tells you is that a part can be rebuilt, which means that the components needed to bring the part back to function are likely available on the open market. Let's keep running with the example of brake calipers for my truck: $30 is a pretty healthy savings over $60, obviously, but what if you could do them for under $5? A rear brake caliper rebuild kit for my 2001 Silverado goes for just over $3, but this steep price savings comes at the cost of needing to read a shop manual or find other instruction on how to do the rebuild and takes more time than just swapping the caliper itself -- but doing the whole job for under $10 instead of $120 or more can easily justify some education and time.

In this instance, I'm buying the calipers because I'm up against a deadline and don't have the time to do the rebuild, but if it wasn't for that time crunch I'd be all over rebuilding. Most component rebuilds are fairly simple, consisting of replacing rubber seals and other wear components. Read the manual twice, pay attention to detail and take your time, and you can keep your vehicles running for far lower costs.


Monday, April 5, 2021

Pocket Survival Kit

There have been numerous articles on Bug Out (BOB), Get Home (GHB), and I’m Never Coming Home (INCH) bags, as well as various belt pouch survival kits. All of these have important places in a survival situation and I’m in no way discounting them. However, I wanted to write about something smaller and potentially simpler. What has it got in its pocketses?

Between my pants and jacket, I carry most of the following items on a regular basis. Some are added for particular travels, while a few are alternate or substitute items.

The Author's Usual Pocket Survival Loadout

Number 1 is a new item. I picked up this Wallet Ninja at a trade show as a giveaway. It looks like a good backup for:

Number 2, my Pocket Monkey was a gift many years ago and has lived in my wallet ever since. It’s passed through various security checks with no issues, including TSA checkpoints at several airports. It’s been of great use when I was unable to bring a larger or more versatile tool with me.

Number 3 is a small pocket knife I keep in a jacket pocket. It was a giveaway from a fundraiser.

Number 4 is my main pocket tool, a Leatherman Fuse, a gift from my wife. Unfortunately, this model has been discontinued, but similar sized models are available both from Leatherman and other manufacturers. I cannot stress enough the importance of having one of these with you as often as possible.

Number 5, my Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Champion model, lives in my jacket. This model also seems to have been discontinued; however, the Swiss Army Knife website lists a number of knives with similar toolsets.

Number 6 is my everyday pocket knife, the most commonly used tool I carry. This one is a Kershaw 1910ST, sadly also out of production. (I’m noticing a trend here) However, there are a number of comparable knives from both Kershaw and others.

Number 7 is a simple cloth tailor’s tape measure. I find this more convenient and versatile than a metal retractable tape measure as well as being lighter.

Number 8, a small LED flashlight, is normally attached to a zipper pull on my jacket. Light is one of our most important tools and while this one is small and not super powerful, it’s great for tasks such as map reading and finding a keyhole at night.

Number 9 is another flashlight. In fact, the same model the other David wrote about back in July and October of 2020 as well as mentioning in earlier posts. I bought this one in August last year due to his recommendation, and I heartily endorse his opinion on this flashlight.  I carry at least two different flashlights because the saying “Two is one and one is none” becomes true all too often.

Number 10 is a packet of tissues. I don’t think I need to add anything on how useful these can be.

Number 11 is a plastic Knot Card. It helps me remember how to tie some knots I may need but don’t use often enough. I tend to rely on one or another variation on the figure eight knot, but it’s (k)not always the best choice.

Number 12 is a sampling of various pens that accumulate in my jacket pockets, I try to always have at least one Sharpie on me at all times. They come in a variety of colors and point styles and are near infinitely useful. The other pen is a regular ball point with a twist, the point end has a small foam ball for use with touch screens.

The next two items are not always with me. They tend to get added if I’m going to a city away from home.

Number 13 is a stopcock or sillcock wrench that can be used to turn on (or off) external water spigots. This one has ends in the four most common sizes.

Number 14 is another gift, a Snowflake Multi Tool Screwdriver/Wrench combo. I haven’t put this one to much use yet, but it has good reviews and looks quite versatile.

Number 15, ear plugs, is similar to the tissues in that its use is pretty obvious. I already have pretty bad tinnitus in one ear and some general hearing loss. I don’t use these as often as I should, but they’ve saved me from certain pain on more than one occasion.

Sir Not Appearing in This Image is a small compass that lives on another zipper pull of my jacket. It’s never a bad idea to know which way you’re going.

These are not the only items I have with me; a small writing pad, larger flashlight, gloves, phone chargers, backup battery, etc, also live in my jacket pockets. In addition, I usually have a small pack or bag with me that contains various other items, such as a first aid kit. I nearly always have my sidearm, spare magazine, and phone on my belt as well, but if I had to run out the door with just what was in my pockets, I think I’d be in good shape.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Vehicle Rescue

I got a message from a friend just as I was leaving work today: his car broke down on the side of the freeway, and all my friends know I'm available and capable. He's one of my car guy buddies, so he has skills himself, but he needed a tow. While I've talked about towing trailers, I've never covered towing cars or pulling them out of tight situations.

Towing a car, or pulling out a stuck vehicle, is different than towing a trailer. With a trailer, you have a fixed and engineered system hooking everything together; when pulling a car you may have hooks in the bumper or under the vehicle, but everything else is a bit up in the air. Depending on what is available to you, you may be pulling with chains, straps, ropes, or other equipment. Also, because the towed unit is not rigidly fixed to the tow vehicle, it will require a driver attending to it. This person steers the vehicle, and also handles braking to avoid a collision between the two.

When given the option of what to pull with, I avoid chains whenever possible. They're heavy, and because they have zero stretch, they provide a very harsh towing condition and can even damage vehicles if not used properly. Straps are my favorite pulling apparatus, as they have more engineered strength than ropes, a very forgiving stretch, and can be hooked up in a wide variety of ways, depending on the attachment points available.

The biggest concern when towing in this way is avoiding damage to either vehicle. The ways damage can occur here are legion, and care must be taken to prevent them. Inspect your straps, ropes, or chains for wear and damage before hooking up. These items are under extreme tension when pulling, and if they fail, they can cause serious damage and possibly death. Make sure they are solidly hooked up to a point intended for pulling if at all possible. Move the tow vehicle very slowly to set tension on the towing line, avoiding a sudden load that can do damage. Towing in this way should only be done for a short distance, as it is hard on the drivers, and the vehicles, and can cause annoying traffic issues. 

If the vehicle being pulled has a manual transmission, put it into neutral and tow at a moderate speed, always trying to avoid that sudden shock load when starting from a stop. 

If the vehicle has an automatic transmission, it can be towed in neutral, but only at an extremely slow speed (20mph tops) and for the shortest distance you can get away with. Automatic transmissions require a pump to be operating for lubrication, and that pump is driven by the engine. Towing them without that pump operating will burn up a transmission in short order, requiring very expensive repairs. Automatics should be moved on a trailer or tow truck, and only towed in emergency situations.

If you want to see a true master of the art of towing and vehicle rescue, check out Matt's Off Road Recovery on YouTube. He's from southern Utah, and uses simple techniques, patience, and skill to rescue vehicles that seem impossibly stuck.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Sustainable Sleep

It's well-known that sleep is important to our health. How are you preparing for getting some shut-eye in the rough times?

Most of us sleep in a bed, on some form of mattress. The main purpose of a bed is to get us off of the ground, which makes it easier to stay warm and keeps us from waking up with vermin next to us. Mattresses provide a soft surface to sleep on while providing some insulation from the air in the room. The average mattress has a life-span of 10+ years, so we don't always keep them at the top of the list of things which need replacements. I've checked with friends who use a variety of different mattresses and come up with a few observations that a prepper should bear in mind when making a purchase.

Standard Coil Springs
The common mattress for nearly a century, this is basically an array of metal springs covered with various pads and layers of cloth to keep you from feeling the individual coils.


  • Not the most expensive option unless you really try.
  • Doesn't require any outside energy to maintain.
  • Huge variety from which to choose.


  • Can harbor insects and microbes due to catching the skin and hair that we normally shed.
  • Susceptible to water damage; they're difficult to get completely dry once wet.
  • Not readily maintained. Once the springs start to fail or the padding wears out, they're trash.
  • If a “box spring” is used as a base for the mattress, it will have a solid bottom frame that can make moving it a challenge. Stairs and corners may require some inventive geometry to get the silly things into the room you want to sleep in.

Air Beds
There are two types of air mattresses, static and dynamic. Static air mattresses are inflated once and should stay that way, while dynamic air mattresses have electronically-controlled pumps that adjust the pressure in the mattress to suit your whim.


  • Static beds are cheap. You can find common sizes for less than $100 in most big box stores for use while camping or for guests.
  • Static beds take up very little room when deflated, making them a good choice for a back-up or guest bed.
  • Dynamic beds have a good record of holding their air during a power outage, but the only data I have is up to a week without power.


  • You'll need a patch kit with either type. The vinyl or plastic used to make the air bladder is fairly thin and will puncture easily.
  • Dynamic beds will be stuck on their firmness setting if the power fails.
  • Dynamic air beds are some of the most expensive on the market; we're talking $10k for the upper-tier models.

Water Beds
Very popular in the 1970s and 80s, there are still a few in use today. Basically a large bladder of water with varying amounts of fiber inside to reduce the waves cause by motion on the mattress, water beds are great for reducing pressure points (one of those laws of physics: pressure is transmitted throughout a fluid evenly) and giving good support to joints and the spine.


  • Great support if you have back or joint problems
  • Heated, so you'll need fewer blankets to stay warm as long as you have power. Pets seem to gravitate toward heated beds, so you may have company.
  • Depending on ambient temperature, a waterbed will hold its heat for a day or two (if kept covered) after a power outage.


  • Waterbeds require a heater to keep the bladder at a comfortable temperature. Once you lose power, the water will start to lose heat until it matches air temperature. Since water is very good at transferring heat, you risk hypothermia if you can manage to fall asleep on a waterbed at 60-70°F.
  • You will need a patch kit, but because of the weight of the water the bladder will be made of thick plastic.
  • Waterbeds require maintenance. Draining and refilling with fresh water every year or two and the addition of chemical preservatives will make them last longer, but can become a chore. The preservatives are not an option; you have to use something to keep the water from turning into a science experiment.
  • Waterbeds are heavy when filled. Water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon, or 62.4 pounds per cubic foot. A single bed bladder is roughly 4' x 7' x 0.75' or 21 cubic feet of water; that's over 1300# pounds of water! Make sure your structure can hold the weight.


Most mattress stores today sell a basic mattress with a premium topper. There are purple gel toppers, foam, various insulating or heated toppers, and padding or cushioning toppers to meet any desire. Treat them like a mattress of the same design, since they're not much more than a secondary mattress, and expect to change them more often than the base, since the toppers will receive the brunt of the wear and tear. Be aware that the toppers can cost more than a good mattress, especially the gel and memory foam varieties.

Primitive Beds
People used to sleep on hay or grass, placing it inside cloth bags to keep it from poking them as they slept or being scattered with movement. The hay or grass would be changed out every year to keep it fresh-smelling and to replace the “loft” or support that was lost as the filling was crushed or packed by use. These simple mattresses provided some cushioning, insulation, and if refreshed with clean hay and flowers would help mask the odors of unwashed bodies.

The rich used feathers inside the bags (known as ticks, the type of cloth was called ticking) for a softer, warmer mattress, and a good featherbed was a family heirloom that could be used for many years. Sunlight and fresh air were used to keep them relatively clean, often by hanging them out of a window during the day for a few hours. Featherbeds have been demoted to mattress toppers, but they're still on the market.

Rope beds were a wooden frame with sturdy rope loosely woven (loose as in having large gaps) between the sides and ends. This is where the phrase “sleep tight” comes from: tightening up the ropes under your thin mattress to make the bed more comfortable. Think “hammock inside a wooden frame” to get a mental picture if you've never seen one.

Sleeping pads are common in camping and military surplus stores. I've tried several types and they are all just barely better than nothing. I have not found one that is truly comfortable, but they do a good job of insulating a body from the cold ground.

One Final Note
Erin has mentioned the use of breathing aids to help people with medical issues get better sleep. If you're one of those that uses a CPAP machine every night, check the power requirements and make sure you're looking into having back-up power for it. A solar/ battery/ inverter system doesn't have to run your whole house to make a difference in your life.

The Fine Print

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