Making Hard Choices During a Collapse: Lessons From Venezuela

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By J. G. Martinez D.

OK people.

Time of Revelations has come.

Jobless, just with some non-regular income here and there, and my 5 years worth of reserves almost entirely depleted, I am close to the bottom.

I have started to think that perhaps fleeing was not the smartest choice, given that we had some other alternatives that could be managed.

This said, I have been under a serious retrospective, and I have arrived at some important conclusions that I will do my best to explain in the subsequent text.

When a collapse occurs, you’ll have to make hard decisions.

One, my efforts to be independent of the power grid were not enough. Being the family head and with only one salary, and whatever I could earn with my former online job (that later would be my main income when the final stages of the collapse begun), that´s highly understandable.

However there were some precautions that worked very well: three gas bottles, allowing us to easily buy one bottle whenever the lines were short – yes, there were moments when the truck arrived and people were barely arriving, that we could go to take a place in the line, call home and my wife would bring the empty bottle. Upon her arrival, the line was already two or three hundred persons, with me being usually among the first 20s or 30s. Two bottles at home, one being used, another one in storage, and an empty one just waiting. I had to use my camping stove (gulf war edition) several times, but being over 10 years old and without being able to find a spare seals kit, it was not reliable to use and had to be stored again.

Now, with another reference frame, I can see how important is having affordable means to cook a meal. Gas is expensive as heck around here. Electricity? Forget about it. And open space is limited, so using a rocket stove is somehow…problematic, to say the least. Although I would love to taste my loved arepas made in the grill. Even better if they were made by my mom´s lovely hands.

Please let me use my imagination for a moment. Once the collapse in its final stage is starting, the trigger for me was to lose my larger income source. The regular salary was not enough to afford us a living, back then, and I knew it: we had to bug out.

I could have done things differently.

If our situation had been another, we could have just packed our stuff, sort the inconveniences of the road, I have told you before more or less which kind, and arrive safely to our place. Not exactly comfortable, but it was home. Very friendly weather, my family very close, we would be together, and some time and space to try to grow a garden. Albeit this part was not going to be exactly easy, because dry season there is really dry (and rains dogs and cats in the rainy one), it could be sorted with the proper precautions (which I did not have even yet), and I mean the water reservoirs. We could have started a garden with yucca, tomatoes, perhaps onions, and carrots. There was some citrus, and we could have seed beans, of any kind. Some chickens for eggs and broiler, and maybe some classes for kids in the town, or…who knows.

Life would have been much easier for everyone, especially for the younger members. Most of our savings would have remained untouched, and we could have invested them in the improvement of the actual infrastructure, to deal with what the collapse brought along. Taller fences, some defense means, a better gate, a chicken coop and maybe goats, improvements of the actual garden…lots of fertilizer, pipes for drop watering, and what not.

There were a lot of…family issues that brought me here, but without that strong influencing elements, I would have bugged out and tried to survive with what we could have grown, from our small patch of land. I was going to need much more coffee plants, that’s sure, but I had savings enough back then. It´s sad to see people fighting over a kilo of sugar in this country when there are lots of places where sugar cane can be grown. Processing is not that hard. It has been done manually for centuries already. But that knowledge seems to have been replaced by the oil wisdom.

Making the right choices can be extremely difficult.

I wanted to share that with you because it had been circling in my head these last few weeks, and the conclusions are as follows. It´s extremely hard to make the right choices. Even if you make them, you are unsure about its timing. And to see how people you love get affected by such choices can break your heart. Truly. You have to be ready for that. It is good to hear and try to make choices team labor. And even so, perhaps such choices are not going to be the better ones. Their consequences can last for years before you can redirect everything in the proper direction.

Most of you, I am sure to have lots of more experience in life and this can seem obvious. But for those of you that have not, now you know it. Think very carefully about your priorities, elaborate a financial plan to build an infrastructure you can rely on, and make it real no matter how barely enough it could look like. Because if something happens, like a job loss or something else equally traumatic…you will have a parachute instead of the flying squirrel suit and the lake I had. A lake where I am trying desperately not to drown in.

Steam generation may be an alternative when the grid goes down.

OK now, let´s divert our attention to more practical and useful stuff. Forget about my shady mood these days. I have been doing a little research, given the total collapse of our oil and gas industry, our power generation system, etc, etc. There is no way to resolve this problem with the grid in the short term. Once happens whatever is going to happen (and I am sure uncle Donald is going to make it happen) it is very likely that we are going to be called again to show for work. Not so fast…without a working power grid, this is going to be…rough. I have absolutely no experience with alternatives to fossil fuels, but I do trust a lot in modern materials engineering. I trust in knowledge, especially.

For basic needs, there is a source that I have not seen as taken seriously, perhaps because it can be dangerous if not handled properly. This is the steam generation. Albeit the biomass generation of our tropical rainforest is not even close to the regeneration capacity of your pinewoods, it is possible to use this old, but proven technology in an environmentally safe, and most importantly, a sustainable way. Maybe I am too old fashion for some things (I have been drooling over restoring a diesel Sterling engine from the middle 1930s that my dad has someplace laying around) but a low rpm, low-pressure steam generator coupled to the proper boiler maybe is a way that could be very useful for you, my dear and truly appreciated people of the North…because remember:

Winter is Coming.

(I just HAD to say that LOL, sorry) Now, seriously, a good steam engine can be attached to a 2kW generator and still be under the 300 rpm and 100 psi, according to a specialized website I checked. Something good for you people is that it generates a lot of excess of heat. This, of course, can be used, and there is a lot of possibilities. Water heating for the restrooms, home heating, maybe for the barn where the animals are. It´s a very good way to recharge your battery bank if there is no sun, and it´s snowing or something. Something that attracts me especially is, a traditional steam engine built with modern materials will be something that future archaeologists will find in the next centuries in your homestead. It won´t be easy for it to explode as it was in the past.

If conventional firewood is used, there will be a lot of smoke being generated. Then, perhaps you would like to attach your smoking utility.

Combining modern technologies, like an automatic combustible feeder for the boiler and remote monitoring of pressure and temperatures, can provide some acceptable level of comfort. The resulting power will be absolutely clean, environmentally safe, and the reliability of the equipment, resale value for those who appreciate it, I am sure that are as attractive for you as for me. It´s not much more harmful than burning some logs in your fireplace, with the added value that it would provide energy enough for the rest of the house. The negative aspect is that for getting 4500 Watts/hour, we need large amounts of water as big as 120 pounds, and around 30 pounds of combustible in form of firewood or burning material, depending on the type and calorific power it could have.

There is a lot of literature, not so easy to digest indeed, but I will continue researching on. I should say that, after working in maintenance engineering so long, one truly appreciates the simplicity of design, and material and building quality. A simple copper coil in contact with both sides of the boiler on the exterior, and with the hot water going to an isolated water tank will harvest excess heat that otherwise would be wasted.

If someone out there has experience with this sort of engine, it would be quite interesting to learn what they have to say. I´m not expert by any means, but if you have read me you should know that I have lots of common sense, think.

Thank you.

Thanks for your much-needed support, and please contribute with what you can, and comment if this article has been useful for you!

About Jose

Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. paypal.me/JoseM151

J.G. Martinez D

J.G. Martinez D

About Jose Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. Follow Jose on YouTube and gain access to his exclusive content on Patreon. Donations: paypal.me/JoseM151

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12 Responses

  1. Steam Engines

    About researching small steam engines, whether to make from scratch, or convert existing 2-cycle or 4-cycle gasoline engine (like lawn mowers, eg), or to buy existing steam engine kits, or perhaps even ready-made steam engines, the Big Three search resources are probably (in no particular order):

    1. A search engine, such as DuckDuckGo.com — using a search phrase such as SMALL STEAM ENGINE. Just remember not to stop after only the first page of search hits. There will be “many” pages.

    2. A book search on Amazon using the same search phrase.

    3. YouTube.com — again using either SMALL STEAM ENGINE or just STEAM ENGINE.

    There might even be some resources from time to time on eBay. You never know…

    You can expect to spend considerable hours sorting through the maze of possibilities.

    Some conversions you can probably do with minimal shop tools. Some might require a drill press. Some kits might need a little of DIY effort at home plus some basic tools. There are probably endless combinations, depending on your needs, skills, tools, time available and financial resources.

    Alcohol-powered engines

    My thought is that same search process should apply just as effectively to an equally useful concept of alcohol-powered engines, whether for shop power, house electricity, or even automotive power. IF you have access to sufficient bio-mass materials for fuel (as most farmers did up through the 1930s), alcohol-capable engines could make sense. As I’ve mentioned before, in the decade before Prohibition shut down nationwide alcohol production for fuel purposes (let alone drinking), Henry Ford’s Model-T vehicles were all flex-fuel capable. A driver could switch back and forth between gasoline or alcohol, depending on whatever was available locally.

    Wood-gas powered engines

    Run the same search process as discussed above.

    You’ll be amazed at the world of possibilities that turn up — as long as you have the grid and the internet accessible to run those searches. Once power goes down, such as happened in Venezuela or Puerto Rico, everything is more difficult.

    —Lewis

  2. Jose, you say “perhaps you would like to attach your smoking utility”. What smoking utility? How about a link? Please explain.

    1. dear Bob, thanks for asking. I am planing, once the development of my homestead back there in Venezuela is at certain level, a smoking room, or at least a cabinet. The smoke coming from the wood used for the steam engine should be directed to this cabinet to cure ham, fish, and cheese. I don’t have any link available about doing this. It just came to my mind, to maximize the usage of resources. The reason is, that during the dry season, firewood in our tropical forests is not abundant. Some alternate means, like home made briquettes should be used, with leaves and other biomass. Adding some special remains for flavoring smoke in the compacting process of the briquette is easy, and there are then used to feed the steam boiler, using the heat, and without wasting the smoke.

      1. Jose, if you have a smoke room attached to the boiler set-up, make sure that there are no parts of toxic plants being burned in the boiler. As those toxins in the smoke could result in the smoked food being poisonous to consume. Regards.

  3. José, thank you for all of your contributions to the Organic Prepper family. Your accounts of life during a true shtf situation are invaluable, as are your insights into what works and what doesn’t.
    But you shouldn’t beat yourself up about things that you wish you had done differently. If man was able to foresee every event, and every outcome to these events and our reactions to them, we would never have any crises of a man-made nature because they would have been foreseen by the people who are responsible for instigating them.
    The decisions you made made sense at the time under very difficult and dangerous circumstances.
    You are now (I hope) out of harm’s way. You have many useful skills to fall back on both personally and professionally.

    And you and your family are alive.

    That is the most important thing.

    Everything else is just details.

    Stay strong, José, and know that you are a survivor.

    1. Dear Miss Kitty,
      Thanks for that. Truly appreciated, indeed!. Perhaps what I tried to communicate is that one should be able to think carefully about the possibilities of what to do before the event occurs. Brainstorming in a family or group of families could be a good idea. Opening a debate is even fun, specially after enjoying a chapter of some (strangely seen with increasing frequency) apocalypse series or movie. Mistakes can cost lives, we all know that. I felt under a serious threat because riding a big motorcycle around armed thugs is not a smart move. Much less when corrupted cops are all over the place looking for something to “confiscate”, regardless such confiscation is legal or not. In a failed state you can’t expect some sort of justice, and that is something that has kept me away these last few years.

      Your words are encouraging, and I thank you from the middle of my heart.

      To all of you who have been so supportive, comprehensive and helpful with our situation.

      God Bless you all.

  4. Jose, you know the saying ‘hindsight is 20/20’? You made the best decisions you could at the time. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You have your wife and children with you, you are alive, You sharing your real life experiences is helpful to this community, and we value and appreciate it.

    I like the idea of exploring steam engines. As you mention, with today’s materials and advances, they could be much safer and smaller. The one thing I’m not sure about is using the smoke for curing foods. At least here in the US, we are used to using specific types of wood to smoke cure meats, like fruit tree wood, hickory, or mesquite, which may or may not be as useful for powering a steam engine., nor as readily available. That said, I’ve not smoke cured meat personally, so other more readily available woods might work just as well, without the flavors ‘we’ would normally ‘expect’. I would welcome comments from anyone with experience smoking foods about how more common woods like oak and maple do (those are probably two of the most common trees in my area). Another common tree in my area is pine, and we tend to avoid burning it because of the sap or tar in it, I wonder if it could safely be used in a steam engine.

    1. Dear GrammyPrepper, yes, I have heard about that saying 🙂 and it is quite appropriate for this case.

      Tropical forest has a lot of woods that are slow growing, but plenty of biomass in form of weeds and bush. I am no specialist in curing by any means, but traditionally here has been used acorn smoke (after removing the corn grain) for slow, flame-less burning, that generates a lot of smoke. Resulting charcoal and ashes are useful too for the separation of the shell of the corn grain, in the traditional way to make the mass for the arepas, have been told, but not tried this. I believe our woods are not so oily, not too much resin, most of them, therefore makes them well suited for smoking. However I know there is people who imports curing woods for smoking, mostly cedar and apple. Modern boilers are efficient, but I am pretty sure that the most advantage is going to be obtained by those living in colder climates that can use the heat in excess, as I mentioned earlier. I am actually trying to get some data that allows me to make some rough estimation about the cereal growing time, but not being there and trying in the field impedes me to do it and get some hard data. Where I am now winter has arrived. A very good alternative for me is biodiesel, as I can get 3 corn crops a year because there is a lot of mulch around, and alternate with other cereals too but that needs a lot of research too and maybe some equipment, like hydraulic press to get oil from the available cereals in our location, and the reaction tanks, piping, flanges, that sort of stuff.

  5. In my humble opinion, using wood gas to run a standard IC engine would be superior to fabricating a steam engine at this point. Steam engines require a lot of maintenance, and fabricating one is not an easy task, while IC engines are abundant. Wood gas won’t give but a quarter of the power that gasoline will for the same engine, but if you’re just using it to generate power, that’s not a problem.

    1. I presume this is a very good alternative, Tweell, indeed. A large, heavy flywheel, used to generate a constant movement, propulsed by a small engine using a wood gasifier can be a very reliable alternative nowadays. However there are other maintenance considerations as well. In the next articles these will be covered more thoroughly.

      Stay tuned!

  6. Oh, I forgot to add this.

    One of the reasons to, being in the tropic, to use a steam engine, is that I would use the excess heat to run a still and make my own distillate…for cleaning stuff, or for recreational purposes 🙂

    No need to heat the home down here, on the contrary, we do need to cool it off.

    A fresh beverage with homemade white liquor and the grapefruits of our garden would be great don’t you think?.

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