Starting the Tiny House Build

Trying to build a home out on the farm without good access to electricity or my tools just wasn’t feasible. I was naïve to think I could do that all by myself. I sat here for several months with my tail between my legs. However, there was a solution to the problem. I could construct a tiny house at my current residence, and drive it to the ideal site on the farm. Why didn’t I commit to doing this sooner?!

Word got around that I was planning to build a tiny house and a buddy informed me that a mutual friend was also in the process of building a tiny house. A few days later we met up and he showed me his build. We discussed details and he gave me some great pointers. It really gave me the confidence to get started immediately.

That week I acquired an RV trailer on Craigslist from a good ole boy in a nearby town. He was a great guy; the father of a soldier about to attend jump school like I had done many years ago. We instantly hit it off (which was more to his benefit than mine as my price negotiation skills are awful with people I like). Several trailers had been sold out from under me already and I needed to get this build started if I wanted to beat the rainy season, so this was the one. We shook hands and I purchased the future foundation of my tiny house for $400.
rv trailer
The trailer smelled like something had died inside of it. Seriously it was gross, but the frame seemed in good shape and it had some other parts I figured I might be able to sell to recoup some of the initial costs.

Removing the AC unit from the roof

Removing the AC unit from the roof. “AC unit on rappel!”

seated on the throne

The toilet was the last component to be removed

The first step was to demolish the trailer. This was a lot more fun than it sounds. I stepped inside with a sledgehammer and all the pent up resentment in my heart from recent struggles in my personal life… and went to pound town. I bashed and smashed and Sparta kicked until I could barely lift the hammer anymore. Finally I took a break to get rid of the giant mess I had created.
Doin demo 4
I threw some of the smaller wood chunks in the burn pile with our lawn debris. The rest went on a pile that would later be hauled to the dump. Unfortunately the wood wasn’t even salvageable as it had taken on the awful smell from the trailer. Turns out there was rotting chicken livers inside of the oven. I removed the stove with them still in there… it smelled that bad, I didn’t even want to open the oven door again!
stripped rv
The metal siding I kept to sell for metal scrap, but first it would need to be cleaned.
collapsed roof rv
The last thing to go was the toilet. It was filthy, and touching toilets is never fun. When I removed the throne from it’s perch I was met with a 2nd ungodly smell. Turns out the blackwater tank was still full. For those who are unfamiliar with the term blackwater let me fill you in. It’s shit. Literally whatever you flush down the toilet ends up in this tank. The gaping hole from where the toilet had been reeked of poo. I grabbed a large ball of insulation and jammed it into the hole to stop the smell from escaping from the tub. As I disposed of the crap I couldn’t help be picture the scene from Joe Dirt where he has a septic tank strapped to his back…
rv frame with toilet
After the camper and blackwater tank were removed, the frame was exposed and ready for touchup. I used a grinder to remove surface rust from as much of the areas as possible while my father hit the tight spaces with the sand blaster.
bare frame 2
sandblasting 1
We repainted the frame with some rattle-cans of Rustoleum to prevent further surface rust.
grinding 1
Next on the agenda is to remove the axles to ensure they are serviceable and to weld a few additional supports onto the frame.
grinding 2
finished frame

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5 Item Survival Trip

I’ve been being an armchair survivalist for the last few weeks now. Alone, Naked and Afraid, The Island… I love that stuff. Me and the Discovery channel are like this (crosses fingers).

My 5 Items
This weekend was my turn to play. I threw a few items in a burlap sack; kukri knife, empty water bottle, fishing kit, ferro rod, and a 20 X 10ft polytarp (If I get selected for naked and afraid that is my item for sure!).

moving to exfil
My buddy Mike joined me on this challenge and we decided to film the entire experience. On Friday after work we met up and swam to an island on the Columbia River. We had made a shelter on this island in the past, and stopped by to see if it was still standing, or if our hidden location had been discovered. Other people had found it alright… and had turned it into a porto john. I just imagine that conversation.

“Hey look at this cool primitive shelter!”
“Yea bro, let’s poop in it.”

I went around the back of the shelter where we had hidden a cache of supplies from our last visit. Luckily they hadn’t been defecated on. These were random items that had been strewn about. It is amazing how much “garbage” is left around in places like this. For those of you who don’t know the code it goes something like this:
Kill only time.
Take only pictures.
Leave only footprints.
Oh yeah, and pick up your trash.

mike pointing
We continued trekking along to find a new site. I was keen on finding a place with more resources as food had been scarce on my last excursion, (which I completed solo and naked) but that is a tale for another day.

Mike and I agreed we wanted a site close to the water but sheltered from the beach. Campfires are somewhat frowned upon right now as the entire state of Washington seems to be engulfed in hellfire.

craig at camp
After much negotiation we settled on a site and got to work building our shelter. I didn’t have food, so conserving calories played a major factor in our shelter design. We bent two small trees downward and twisted them together into an arch. Then cut a few long poles and secured them from the arch down to the ground, resembling a half cone shape. We draped the poly-tarp over the frame, secured the edges with sand and sticks, and viwala, we had shelter.

Next we would need a fire. I broke out the UST blastmatch and created a tinder bundle. Then Mike sparked our fire to life. Things were going well.

I brought a stainless steel water bottle and two glass bottles I had found down to the waterline, and filled them in a spot that looked to have the least amount of Hanford radiation, toxic chemicals, and fecal matter (Seriously people poop ALL over that island and just leave their toilet paper on the surface). Nasty. We boiled the water over the fire and set it aside to cool while we gathered more firewood.

As the sun was setting I came across a marshmallow that had been left on the ground from a prior camper. I had seen lots of bird tracks in the sand near our camp and this would make excellent bait. I hurried to put together snare, and had set just as the sun faded over the horizon.

So far so good.

For those who haven’t slept on the sand in a survival shelter, I’d like to clue you in on a few details. It kinda blows. The sand gets cold, and is actually quite unforgiving on your back, side, or wherever you choose to reside after tossing and turning for 30 minutes. To cope with the chill I’d scoot hot sand from near the fire under my body to help keep me warm. There would be no cuddling. This was not Brokeback Island.

Day 2

With shelter, fire, and water covered, our next priority became food. I saw small clam shells scattered all over the beach, but couldn’t determine where they were coming from. I tried to dig under an air tunnel in the sand, no joy. Then a wave came in, and there they were, sitting in the shallows. The clams ranged from the size of a dime to the size of a quarter. I collected as many of the large ones as I could find and put them in an old beer can full of water. We would be having dinner tonight!

The thought that a meal was already procured this early in the day took a lot of the pressure off the rest of the day’s activities. Together Mike and I created a primitive style bow and arrow, tongs for removing our boiling water from the fire, and various other utensils.

I went on a walk to scout for more materials and came across. The ideal wiping leaf. Note, toilet paper was not one of the five items I brought so this was a major score.

I’d been seeing deer sign all over the island; prints in the sand and areas where one had bed down, but what I came across next caught me off guard. There in the marsh was a nearly complete deer skeleton. It had obviously been there for some time as the bones had been picked clean. I salvaged a few of the bones that I could use for tools and headed to the water’s edge. The bones still smelled like death, so I used the sand to wear away the top layer by pressing them in and out of the wet sand on the shoreline and then rinsing them in the water.

A charcoal and sand water purification system

A charcoal and sand water purification system

Mike and I went on another exploration later to find even more goodies. We stumbled across a cache of railroad spikes. These make excellent knife blade material for amateur blacksmiths like myself. I was like a kid in a candy store, that has random hunks of used toilet paper lying around.

staring burn bowl
The day was getting hot so we hunkered down in the shade to work on some projects. I wanted to complete a burn bowl and also had my heart set on creating a basket backpack to carry out all of my new found/created treasures. As I was hunting for basket material I came across a backpack strap that had ripped off someone’s bag. It felt like one of those situations that you see on tv where you go, “No way, the producers definitely planted that.” I can assure you that was not the case, as we don’t have the budget for that. It was too good of a find to pass up. I had to incorporate it into my design. You know what they say, one man’s trash, is another man’s crappy backpack.

backpack backpack
I got to work weaving the basket while Mike completed his bow. This took us into the evening which is when it got a little weird. Some guy was BLARING some Kenny G jazz from his boat which just spawned more Brokeback Island jokes. It carried across the water for hours.

clam bake
As the sun faded away it was finally time to eat! This would be our first food in 24 hours. I put about 1/3 of the clams directly onto some coals to bake and boiled the other 2/3’s over the fire. Mike opted out of eating the clams, as he thought I was sure to end up shitting my guts out all night (Which did not happen). The clams were bland, but I was happy to have some food in my stomach.

The 2nd night was much warmer. We found a tarp on the beach and draped it over the top of our shelter and changed the position of our fire to reflect more heat into our shelter. Mike had brought some emergency space blankets and lined the ceiling so that it would reflect the heat from the fire down on us as we slept.

As usual, we slept like shit. Waking up every time the fire got low, as we’d start to get cold.

feeling like a bamf
By the morning of day 3 we were ready to get out of there. It was real, it was fun, but I was ready for a margarita and some good food. We had killed our challenge and I was very happy with the results. We broke down camp, leaving no trace of all the awesome stuff that had been completed there.

moving to exfil 2
Our snare still hadn’t caught anything, so I pulled it out of the tree, leaving the marshmallow for some lucky creature. I hefted my newly created backpack and we trekked back down the beach to our exfil point, where we then swam back across the river to Mike’s awaiting truck.

shuttling gear
Experiences like these really help me clear my head. You forget about the screens and work and stressors, and just focus on the few important things that keep you alive.

mission complete
As I conclude this story I forgot to mention one thing that you are sure to see in the photos. I made a spear, for no real purpose other than to look like a badass.

craig profile pic
Hope you enjoyed the story. Hit me up next time and you can join us on an adventure.

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My Birthday Truck – Optimus Not-So-Prime

craig with beater truck
I am now the semi proud owner of not 1, but 2, 1986 beater Ford F150 trucks. I was born in 86, so I feel a connection to these trucks. If I were a truck… the first one looks how I felt when I got out of the military; tired, beat up, and in need of a new heart. This veteran farm truck was with me for a year before it died. The second truck would be the equivalent to if I had started doing meth… when I was 8. That truck is a complete POS, but has a working engine, some great tires, and unlike the farm rig, has a windshield that doesn’t resemble a spider web.

Now how did I come to have my own junk yard starter kit? The “rebuild” of my farm truck ended before it even began a few weeks ago when I found a huge hole in the cylinder block. For those of you who don’t know car parts, (me 6 weeks ago) that means the big piece of metal that makes the car go vroom vroom was broke.
Hole in cylinder wall
This left me with 2 choices; scrap my farm truck, or replace the engine block. I didn’t really want to sink a lot of money into this project, but at the same time replacing the engine would be a really good learning experience. So the craigslist search began.

I found the beater listed for $600, so I called the ad and scheduled to come check it out. The truck was like a Tinder date… it looked way worse in person. My dad helped me inspect it and the engine seemed to meet his approval, but that was about it. It had several parts we could use to doctor up the farm truck (tires, windshield) but the body looked like it had been sitting in front of Babe Ruth’s batting practice. The stock door handle was missing and its replacement had been rigged from a bent strip of sheet metal. As I climbed inside I accidently knocked off the arm rest which was fashioned from an old scrap of 2 by 4. About this time I realized, I didn’t want to pay full price on this truck. Then comes the part I’m not good at, the price negotiation.

Anybody who posts something on Craigslist knows there is an unwritten rule that you never get full asking price, but the honest business person in me hates low-balling people. I know it is part of the dance, but it’s just not me. Luckily I had done copious research in haggling (I watched like 3.5 episodes of Down East Dickering), and went with the best line I’d seen. “What is your bottom dollar on this truck?” Then silence. I wanted him to low ball himself… and bingo.
“I’d like to get $500.”
“I have $500 cash on me right now.”
And just like that, I now had a rusty piece of shit.

The truck was described to have issues with the steering. Not a big deal unless you want to do stuff like, you know, turn. I figured it would be best to tow it just to be safe. My Dad and my friend Brett came with me the following day to tow it, and the truck didn’t fit on the trailer. It was a few inches too short. Story of my life. Brett, who is quite the car enthusiast was there to give me the encouragement I needed. “Just drive it home.” Technically it was drivable, it was merely a safety thing. I turned to my Dad who stood next to me and he gave me his usual ‘I told you that yesterday’ shrug, and it was decided.

My dad hopped in the Beater while I followed him in his Bronco. Things were going well until about halfway through the trip the beater truck died right as we were pulling through an intersection. This typically isn’t a big deal, unless the truck you are driving needs to be jump-started every time, and that the registration tags on said vehicle are expired. Both of which applied to us. We were definitely ridin’ dirty.

My heart was racing. I could just imagine the local sheriff turning the corner at any second. Cut to me with a frowny face as I fork over my birthday card money from grandma to pay the fine. I was determined that the po-po was not going to get me today. Not on my birthday! We pulled his Bronco up on the curb alongside the Beater. I sprang from the truck, popping the hood and had jumper cables hooked up in 90 seconds. The truck fired to life and we were back on the road, Dukes of Hazard style… if the Dukes were a dad and his son, and they drove a broke ass truck instead of the General. (For those who are wondering, yes, at 29 my grandparents still send me birthday money.)

We were almost home when my dad pulled the beater off the side of the road into the drive of an old farm. I followed in suit and jumped out to see what was wrong just in time to hear the engine die. No no no. Not again! “What’s wrong?” I yelled half expecting flames to start bursting from under the hood. We had run out of gas. I guess the seller forgot to mention none of the gauges work. Thanks Charlie.

Luckily we were only 5 minutes from home. I returned shortly with a gas can and filled the tank, but now we had to bleed all the air that had been pumped from the empty fuel tank into the fuel lines. Trucks have a valve under the hood like the one on a bicycle tire to get air out of the gas line so that fuel can once again reach the engine. For my car challenged people, that means it makes it go vroom again.

Finally we got the truck back on the road and parked it at my parents’ house. My dad headed inside to pour himself a drink, while I laughed about our luck, imagining the day when this truck would make it to its final destination, the scrap yard.Craig with engine

Even when everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong, I wouldn’t have my life any other way. It truly was a Happy Birthday.

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Primitive Survival Traps

I’ve been wanting to practice primitive trapping techniques and finally got the chance. I was joined on this project by my Army buddy Mike.
Craig with Snare
We started by rigging snares.
Mike Setting a Snare
The basic principle is that a slip knot noose is tied to a branch. The branch is then spring loaded by bending it downwards and kept in place by a trigger. When the trigger is tripped the branch is whipped upwards into the air, tightening the noose and capturing your prey.
Snare with fatal funnel
The snare should be located on a game trail. By poking sticks into the ground or building up brush along the trail one can theoretically funnel animals into the snare.
The noose can be held open by placing small forked sticks at it’s edges.

We made a short video of our snare in action.

Figure 4 Deadfall Trap Version 2
We also practiced a figure 4 deadfall trap. This one required some primitive machinist skills to notch the sticks correctly. The flat rock is balanced precariously on the sticks so that if the bait stick is disturbed, the rock will crush whatever critter is underneath it. We used peanut butter to cover the tip of the bait stick.
Figure 4 Deadfall Trap
We enhanced our initial design by adding more weight in the form of a cinder block, and placed a rock base to make a better crushing surface. We tested the effectiveness on an empty beer can and feel this could easily handle small game such as squirrels.

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Winter Babies – Goats, Rabbits, BSF Larvae

As I was preparing my house for the rental market I figured I’d give the rabbits some time outside in the yard. They cleared up all the weeds and ate the remainder of the winter kale. They also made some new additions to the farm.
Baby New Zealand White Rabbits 1 Baby New Zealand White Rabbits 2 Baby New Zealand White Rabbits 3
It’s been a fairly mild winter in the Northwest however we’ve had some really cold nights. I was pleasantly surprised to see we had lots of new Black Soldier Fly Larvae in the bins beneath the rabbit cages. The composting rabbit poop seems to be putting off plenty of heat. I transferred them into the composting pile. We will see how they fair as the weather warms up. You can ream more about BSFL here
Baby Kiko Goats Baby Kiko Goat 1
Our Kiko goats had several babies in the last 2 weeks. Our mama goat Luna had triplets, and her twin daughters each had twins of their own. Unfortunately one of the 7 babies died. Of the other 6, 4 are females and 2 are males. These are purebred Kikos and will be available for purchase in the Spring if you are interested.
Baby Kiko Goat 2
This little lady was the runt. When she was born she was too weak to even stand, and was having trouble sucking hard enough to get milk from her mother. Luckily Julie’s brother Bill came to the rescue and got her to feed off of her aunt, who had her babies a few days earlier, and had a better milk flow. She spent the night indoors with Bill, chillin’ but is now back with her mother.

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No Power? No Problem – Survival Project for Kids babybel cheese candle - 1
In recent months we have had severe wind storms in the Pacific Northwest that knocked out power in several homes in my area.

Odds are if you are in your house and the power goes out, you already have some food, water, shelter, and security but one can always use more light.

With one wheel of Babybel cheese from the fridge and one square of toilet paper you can make a candle with a burn time of roughly 20 minutes. babybel cheese candle - 3
Step 1: Eat the cheese but save the wax coating and the plastic wrapper.

Step 2: Place the wax center piece in between the two wax halves from the cheese wheel and flatten them together.

Step 3: Cut or tear a piece of the toilet paper approximately 3/4’” by 3 inches. Then peel the two layers of the tissue so that you have 2 identical pieces.

Step 4: Twist each piece of tissue individually. Then twist the 2 pieces together until they form a wick.

Step 5: Press the wick into the center of the flattened wax, and then wrap the wax around the wick forming a candle shape.

Step 6: Place the wrapper under the candle to catch the melted wax. Then press the bottom of the candle down against a hard surface to flatten the base allowing it to stand on its own.

Step 7: Light the candle and enjoy the satisfaction of watching your child turn garbage into a useful project every time you buy that cheese. babybel cheese candle - 2
I actually came up with this while sitting at the kitchen table with my girlfriend’s kids after they had eaten a few mini cheese wheels. I hated to throw away the wax and thought this would be a practical way for them to practice their cordage skills by making wicks.

Note the method for making the wick is the same method for making rope/cordage out in the forest, except you’ll substitute tissue paper for grass, bark, sinew, or another fibrous material.

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Primitive Pottery

I’ve been wanting to make another container for boiling water besides a burn bowl. Making pottery seemed like a good method. I sourced some clay from the riverbank and mixed it with sand to act as a temper (Temper helps keep the pot from breaking during the firing process). I used one hand-sized ball of clay with 1/2 a cup of sand. This was just a guess for the first trial.
Craig clay river bankCraig ball of river clay 2
The clay was very moist from being on the riverbank so I left some chunks out on the counter to dry out a bit.
Craig balls of river clay
After a day of drying, I shaped the clay into small pinch pots.
Craig Primitive Pottery
I waited a few days for the pots to dry completely, and then made a fire to preheat the pots. I then placed the pots inside a large ring of fire.
craig firing pots
After they had been in there for an hour or so I added wood to the top of the fire so that they could cook the rest of the way.
firing pots in firefiring pots in coals 3

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After several hours the coals had burned down, allowing the pots to slowly cool.
firing pots in coals firing pots in coals 2
The larger of the two pots had a piece crack off early during the firing process however the main portion was still useable. Unfortunately once the pots had a chance to cool completely I realized they both had a hairline crack running through them.
craig finished fired pots with cracks craig finished fired pots
Obviously I wish they hadn’t cracked, but overall I’m very pleased with the results. I was able to whip these out from local clay that I had found and harvested myself. While they will leak water, I’m sure I can find some other uses for these pots. I may try to temporarily seal them with some pitch or wax from my bee hives so I can enjoy a bowl of Lucky Charms…

I plan on using this experience to create some fancier coil pots, and to experiment with different amounts of temper mixed into my material.

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