A Survival Retreat for Under $1000
Richard S. Goss
Call it a survival retreat, hunting cabin, or summer cottage, a place away from the crowds and turmoil of the cities is a dream most of us share. Some folks plan out a survival retreat in such detail that long-term storage, over lapping fields of fire, and fuel supplies are worked out. Others, like myself, approach it as a vacation spot that can be readily converted if need be to an alternate living location.
Back in the late 1960s my family had a small two-room cottage on a lake in northern Michigan. The cottage had no electricity, no running water, or no heat. What it did have is nostalgically called a “bath with a path.”
This cottage did however provide what we needed. A few steps from the back door was a pump with clean, clear, cool water. All that was needed was a strong arm and a few minutes to fill the bucket. Cool summer nights were warmed by the glow of the fuel oil lantern that was hung over the dinner table. This lantern produced enough light to fill the cottage and allow card games to be played well past a normal bedtime. The heat from the lantern warmed the place and fuel was cheap. Dinners were usually planned around the nightly campfire, but the old propane stove would serve if needed.
During those periods of time that my father was laid off from work we would spend a week or two stretch of time at the cottage. Living was easy and cheap. Fish from the lake provided many meals and nuts and berries from the woods around the place were gathered and baked into pies. Fall small game season produced meat and poultry in the form of rabbits, squirrels, pheasants and grouse. My Dad and I talked often about living up at the cottage if the world went to hell in a hand basket.
After high school and moving into the world of college and working, my trips to the cottage were few and far between. Usually they were only to go up and help Dad secure the place from the last break in that occurred. Sadly, I let the cottage fall into neglect and vandals took care of the rest. Broken doors and windows let the weather in and after a few years the cottage became uninhabitable.
Mom kept the land after Dad’s passing and I started taking my sons there for a few weekend camping trips. Soon the idea of getting the cottage back in shape was talked about, but the northern winters did a good job of making the place beyond repair. With the approach of Y2K and talk of chaos renewed my thoughts of a survival treat. I discussed this with some buddies of mine and ideas of small barns to large military tents were discussed. Like the old saying about when all is said and done, there is more said than done, Y2K came and went and still nothing was done about the cottage.
One of the guys that I had discussed the ideas of a cabin in the woods with called one fall afternoon and suggested that I drive out to his campground and look at a travel trailer that they were giving away. Giving away, free for nothing, giving away? Yup, just make sure it is gone before Halloween.
My youngest son and I drove out and looked at the place. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Although it was a 1955 travel trailer, the interior was clean and bright. The wood finish on the walls was unstained and the place showed signs of good upkeep. I drove home and talked the idea over with my wife and my Mom. The wife had to agree for us to take it, and my Mom had to let us put it on the lake. Both agreed, and my sons and I started planning on getting it up north.
My wife and I agreed that a budget of $500 was all right to spend. We knew that we couldn’t build a lawn barn to use up there for that much money.
Calls to find a mover to haul it north for us were made. Prices ranged from $700 to over $3000. I was taken aback by this and did a total rethink. The guy that helped us find the trailer to begin with suggested I try the guy that moved his out to the campground he was at. That turned out to be a cold trail, but I did find a company in Indiana that was willing to do it for around $200, PROVIDING, I put new tires on it so that it would be pretty much guaranteed to make the trip.
They no longer make the same size tires for travel trailers that they made in 1955. After countless phone calls to any kind of a place I could think of I was referred to a place that dealt with a lot of farm equipment. They informed me that the size I wanted was no longer made but they did have a cross-reference tire that should work just fine. $135 later a pair of the tires were mine. The bad news was I needed them put on the rims and the rims were still on the trailer, 60 miles away. Several more phone calls to repair stores and a place was found that would put them on at the site, but the cost would be around $200.
Getting the tires on proved easier than anyone led me to believe. Even though they were old fashion split rims, the job took just under an hour and the cost was around $170. This put the cost of moving the retreat at the $500 level we had agreed would be reasonable for our budget. I was very pleased and at 11:30 in the morning I left the north central Ohio campground headed for northwestern Michigan.
Thankfully the trip was uneventful. Ben, the very nice driver that the transport company assigned to the job did an outstanding job of getting the trailer to the lake and spotting it where I wanted it. We had to chop out a couple of small trees to get it parked in the sheltered area I wanted, but the job went easy and we were done before darkness set in. The last act of the night was to finish putting the lock and hasp on the door of the trailer before I headed north to my friends cabin for the night. I figured it was easier to drive a little farther north and stay at a buddy’s cabin than make the long drive home.
Mediterranean, Southwestern, early American and assorted other styles of furniture are discussed in the finest design magazines. We settled on what my sister termed “early garage sale.” The propane stove came from a travel trailer that was being scraped out. The chairs for the kitchen table came from the roadside garbage pickup in the neighborhood. The table was a gift from my sister’s basement. Some pots and pans and silverware came from the local Goodwill store. Two sets of bunk beds came from a buddy in the Reserves that worked for a college that was recycling the bunks they had in dorms. The picture pump for the well came in trade for some home repairs done for a neighbor down the street. All in all the cost of the retreat was under $600. Some expenses that will be incurred soon: a new coating on the roof to insure it stays water-resistant and plywood shutters to secure the windows during our absences.
We now have a three-season retreat that allows us to fish, swim, hike, and hunt in the outdoors. We can practice our survival skills, such as fire building and outdoors cooking, and not look like we are doing much more than having a family campout.
We are away from crowds and turmoil of the city. Our friends and family think of it as our “vacation” home, but we know that in a time of crisis we have a survival retreat to go to, and under $1000 cost.