About tinkicker

I discovered at an early age the joy of seeing mechanical systems in operation. An old hand at disassembling machines, sometimes now I even manage to put them together again.

And Angry Hordes Stormed the Castle Walls, Yet Not One Lived

2166885-helms_deep_2It’s so funny how things work out sometimes. Just yesterday I wrote about how I need a place of solitude, a writer’s cabin, to go to so that I can be productive and finally get ye olde novel down on paper. Today…I came across this.

I’m not knocking the writer for having an opinion. I’ve got one, you’ve got one, all God’s children have an opinion. But it does rankle me how a person purports that he knows what I need or don’t need in order to write…when he has no idea who I am. It irritates me when he avers that there’s no place in my life for the writer’s cabin that I’ve always known that I need because I should just be able to ignore everything around me and write. That is his opinion. And this is mine…

Not every person can tune out the world to the point of being able to produce a complete literary work, and many, me included, don’t want to tune out the world. We want to conceal the world. Silence the world. Shut the blinds on the world. If it were possible, climb aboard a one-person spacecraft and leave the world while writing. Some people need solitude in order to be creative. Some people are introverts, and I proudly identify as one. Any presence around me when I’m trying to be productive is an annoyance and a distraction. No one should feel like a person of lesser quality if their mentality aligns in this way. Every perspective is valid.

And a larger part of my opinion is that when I write I want it to be the highest quality writing I can produce. One reason that it won’t be the highest quality now is because I’m not a great writer yet. But in itself, that fact is a great point…if there are multiple things hindering my writing (lack of skill and distractions), shouldn’t I strive to eliminate the ones that I can practically do away with (distractions)? Writing skill is something you can’t buy or fix instantly…it’s going to have to just come as I master different things.

But really, do microchip manufacturers build their product under a shed in a hay field? No, they work in clean rooms where there are zero outside contaminants that might screw up the works. Do you brush your teeth with dirt or wash your clothes in stagnant pond water? The best way and only good solution is to eliminate all impurities. What the article’s author appears to be saying is that it’s a good thing to handicap yourself because the cure for your handicap doesn’t really exist.

From a literal standpoint, the writer’s cabin is not a myth because it does indeed exist. Hemingway loved his. And do I have to drag Picasso into this from my last post? The writer’s cabin exists because there is a real need for it, philosophically and physically.

It exists because I say it exists.


Build Something In Order To Build Something

Sometimes I really wish I wasn’t so organized.

Cue the raucous laughter from the next room where my dear wife sits watching her mystery shows.

She sees the “organized” surface of my desk. Well, the area above the surface of my desk, said surface not having been seen since before Dwight Shrute demonstrated how funny a desk could be.

She walks outside and retrieves something from my “organized” garage/workshop (which is piled high with organization). After six hours I call the Mounties to go find her. She always gets a laugh out of those rescue operations, many involving tetanus shots, and she laughs in a different way than you or I.

She trips and falls into my “organized” closet where I keep my shoes…in a highly “organized” manner. I don’t like that they take up too much space when they’re all pointing in the same direction…monotony is so monotonous, so I “mix things up”.

But the root of my pain over my organization obsession isn’t based in external world settings. This pain’s source is in the miles and miles of endless corridors of itemized everythings in my mind. If you’ve read the last post or two, then you know I’m plotting out a book-like project with a nebulous future completion date. And the thing that’s dogged my progress to that end for nigh on twenty years now isn’t a lack of effort…it’s the endlessly frustrating obsession I have with, “measuring twice and cutting once”.

In the either/or world of author identity, I am a Plotter and not a Pantser. I thrive on organization to the last jot and tittle of every factoid of the writer’s craft, which I am compelled to ingest, coordinate, and organize into A Plan before I can even touch the tip of a finger to the keyboard in actual writing. It’s come to the point where it’s beginning to be a crippling thing. At times I sincerely believe I’ll end up plotting out and writing the entire novel, (which today is just a vague cloud of mist and a distant yell here and there), in my mind before I can feel prepared enough to write it down.

In a Google Community centered around journaling I came across a fitting name for this disease: analysis paralysis. Simply, that’s when you spend so much time designing and refining your plan of attack that you never show up for the battle. Ugh. I’d credit the person who coined that phrase if I could locate the source again.

I blame this issue on philosophies from my youth. Things I dwelt on then that became part of my psyche. I always wanted to be a boy scout, but never got the chance. That didn’t stop me from studying a Boy Scout Handbook that my dad gave me until I knew every section, every page by heart, to the point where, “Always be prepared,” might as well have been tattooed across my forehead.

Later on in years when I got out in the world and began having to finish tasks of many kinds for employers, I honed every skill I used in my work to eliminate “do-overs” so as not to waste time. I hate do-overs!

As I became a family man and learned the value of every dollar, I grew to abhor waste. Remember the day you realized your dad was a direct descendant of Ebeneezer Scrooge? When I became that dad I realized the truth in what Darth Vader said. Yep, I became the Master of Inner Obsessive Compulsive Turmoil.

All of these facets of my psychology that grew and developed as I came up in life combine to cause me to edit too much. To look back too much. To take an hour to do a ten minute task because it’s got to be right, and I don’t want to have to do it again. Sometimes that’s a good, responsible way to be. It’s saved me a lot of wasted $$$ over the years. But in writing it sure does gum up the works.

I’m always looking for the next great instructional tool, or the next device to increase my productivity, or a new way to help me focus. Why have I become so obsessive? Heh…I’m obsessing over being obsessive. 🙂

Well, I’ve drawn a line in the sand. For years I’ve found this or that “reason” that delineates why I can’t write my book and get published. I’ve pointed out every tragedy that’s taken my hopes and dreams and ground them into fine powder, and patted myself on the shoulder in sympathy. Now I’ve decided to get to the bottom of things so that I can finally move on.

I need to cross the last horizon beyond everything that I’ve believed has pulled me down. So I’m building a writer’s cabin.

Okayyyy, you might murmur. I like the sound of it, but what does he mean by that?

Let me begin with a word from a man we all know and love, Pablo Picasso. “Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”

Pabs, you read me like a book, and that ain’t no easy task because, this. But really, it’s a pretty simple concept…

Whether you notice them or not, there are SO many distractions in a home. With everyone’s best intentions there are always going to be voices and noises, vacuum cleaners and cats, tv’s and blenders, all vying for some little piece of your attention. It’s a sunny day so she wants the blinds open, but all the light and moving wildlife out there distract. The phone rings, and even though you aren’t going to answer it anyway, it started jangling right at the climax of some perfect point of plotting and you lost the thought. The focus goes so easily! And it’s so hard to get back.

So I went back to an idea I’d had years ago…a private place to write where I can go and shut the world out and bang a keyboard. I took a look around the internet and there are apparently a lot of other people with the same idea…

This is the site where I found the Picasso quote. “A getaway for work, not play.” HmmmHere’s a rustic Tennessee location. I do like the mountains…  This one is up in Minnesota, so not really for me, but they’re all based on the same idea…get focused, get productive, write the book. There are scads of these sorts of web ads out there.

And I don’t need much. I’m planning a simple eight feet wide by twelve feet long room where I can put a desk, a chair, my laptop and some whiteboards on the wall for visual planning, and go get it done.

My wife and I looked at some of those prefab storage buildings that look like little houses…you have to wire and insulate and panel the insides, but it’s a big jump on getting the thing finished. The problem is that they’re so expensive! $3500 for a shell, basically, so by the time you put in a little air conditioner and a heater and get it all comfy, how much would you really sink into one of those?

So, I got on Home Depot’s website and began drawing out a simple little plan based on some pics I took of the inside of those storage buildings. I think I can have it all complete and turnkey, even with some nice floor covering and a really comfortable setup for around $2500. That’s doable, even if I have to build it section-by-section (foundation, walls, roof, etc.) to spread the expense around.

Like a wise person once said, “I’ve done so much for so long with so little that I’m now qualified to do anything with nothing.” The poor man’s anthem, and one to which I heartily subscribe.

I’ll share more details on this project once it gets rolling. Pictures and all that. In the meantime, it’s a lot later than I thought, and I want to look at a few more pictures of cabin getaways. G’night.

***OH! By the way, Happy Birthday, dad! 70 years, my how time flies…***

Scrivener Is My Novel Writing System…For Now

Back in September of 2015 I came upon a bargain sale on the Scrivener writing program. I enjoy the MakeUseOf tech website, and they have a section here where two or three times a year Scrivener is on sale for only 20USD! My purchase was for the Windows version, but I believe the Mac version is the same price because Scrivener was originally developed for the Mac. I can’t see Literature and Latte (the company behind Scrivener) preferring Windows over Mac.

In the realm of authoring I’m primarily what you’d call a Plotter, though I slip over into Pantser methodology (there’s an oxymoron for you!) when I blog or get into subjects that are only rightly approached with the Pantser style, like Christian teaching. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit should never be confined to guidance from Self…He should always have free reign to guide the writer!

Identifying primarily as a Plotter, I began searching several years ago for software that would help me get all my ducks in a row because I’m scatterbrained. When projects begin to sprawl, I lose track of where specific items are. When I lose track, I lose momentum. When I lose momentum, I stop writing in disgust.

So, for the sake of ever finishing anything of Great Consequence, I needed organization. I could always fill in the middle parts by Pantsing…

I came across a wonderful little program several years ago (10?) called yWriter by Spacejock Software. The creator, Simon Haynes, bills it as, “A word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create”. Sounds a lot like Scrivener, huh? Well, you’d be impressed with how similar the two products are.

He did a fantastic job on yWriter, and he’s up to version 6 now. I think I originally got into it with version 2. This newest version is specified for Windows from Vista up to Win10. And do you know what’s cool? Since yWriter hasn’t been converted to work on the Mac, Simon actually advertises Scrivener on his site as being more appropriate for Apple fans. 🙂

I’ve got to say that yWriter does a pretty great job in comparison to Scrivener, if you want to consider Scrivener the top of the heap. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that Scrivener has, but for Simon to be a one-man-band developer…it’s pretty amazing.

When comparing the two, Scrivener comes out ahead because of one great resource: a massive fan base. What does that do for you? Well, there are seemingly endless online resources showing the user how to do this or that in Scrivener. yWriter just doesn’t have the groupies…but it certainly deserves a screaming horde of fans.

Unfortunately it’s beyond my scope right now to reacquaint myself with yWriter’s many capabilities, so this post is necessarily going to do it an injustice. The only fair thing I can tell you is that you owe it to yourself as a starving artist to check it out for yourself because it does have one screaming advantage over Scrivener…it’s 100% free!

yWriter didn’t become a success story for me, but that was my fault, not the program’s. It was really no more difficult to use than Scrivener (both programs have time-consuming learning curves), but at the time I was using it I wasn’t dedicated enough to dig deep and become proficient. If I had only just discovered it last week, things would be very different. Shoot…I bought Scrivener in September of ’15 and I’m just now inspired to figure it out! Priorities, you know. Life changes.

I’ll move on by saying that you can only help yourself by trying yWriter6. It really will change your writing life, and you can thank Simon Haynes for developing it. Oh, and by the way, even though the program is designed for Windows, I suspect that you Linux users out there could run it by way of the Wine emulator. And doesn’t the Mac ecosystem have a Windows emulator too? I’ve had good luck running Scrivener on my Linux Mint (based on Ubuntu) laptop using Wine.

Now, my next step was another free program called Plume Creator by a gentleman in France named Cyril Jacquet. In referencing for this post I discovered that he has just released an Alpha version this month for a completely new version. Cyril’s project is very much along the lines of yWriter and Scrivener, but I’ve got to say that the version I used three or so years ago was a little more…not clunky, but I had to jump through just a few more small hoops to use it properly compared to yWriter. That’s no detraction from the product. It’s just that Cyril wasn’t as far along in development as Simon at that point.

I actually corresponded with Cyril over a few emails back then, and was able to offer some suggestions for an updated platform which is apparently the new release he speaks of here. He sent me some illustrative messages on how he was going to approach the UI and such, and if the new version reflects what he told me, it’s going to be wonderful. I regret that I don’t have time nowadays to dig into his project and do a proper review, but who knows? One day I may be able to.

I noticed that Cyril stated that Plume Creator will run on Windows or Linux systems. Mac users, again, may be able to use it through an emulator.

You know, software is always advancing unless the developer simply abandons a program, so I find myself wishing I could burrow into both yWriter6 and Plume Creator and just see what I could do with both. But there’s a fact of human psychology…or at least, my psychology…I’ll give preference to the software I actually had to pay for. 🙂 So, for now at least, I’ll go all in with Scrivener. But speaking as one who has been broke more times than he’s had cash…you’d be financially crazy to bypass these two for Scrivener if you’re just getting started. Free is good, especially when the free product is excellent.

So I guess that for now, Scrivener is my Writing Medium. As I tinker with it in setting up a general novel writing template, I’m learning more and more of the hidden nuances to its makeup. And it has a lot of behind-the-scenes features. So much so that if I were flush with cash (maybe after I actually sell a novel?), I’d get this. I’m not shilling for this fellow…I don’t have a financial arrangement with him for endorsing the product. However, it does appear to be the end-all and be-all for learning Scrivener. But $300??? Maybe MakeUseOf will come up with a half-price deal on that.

How the Creative Muse Clipped Mah Toenails

I’d like to state that each and every link, video and/or picture within this post and all preceding and following posts are the property of the entities in possession of said links, videos and pictures, and in no way should I be recognized as the source or creator of this content. I just ain’t that good.

I have wanted to be a published author since I was twelve years old. At that age, when I was in the sixth grade, I began to write short stories about the adventures of a group of boys (my friends and I, naturally). This was during the initial flights of the United States Space Shuttle program, the height of the Cold War era, and the beginning of the Reagan Years, so I was influenced mightily by the spirit of adventure, conquest and technological know-how that saturated life back then. All of that colored my stories greatly.

They generally revolved around very young yet incredibly intelligent minds crafting larger-than-life combat machines that were sometimes disguised as exploratory vessels (thank you, James T. Kirk for the template that was the U.S.S. Enterprise), and setting out with the blessings of the U.S. and its sitting President to challenge and conquer every nefarious foe that came blundering along. No job was too big, and neither were the warships we…uh, they…piloted. Three-hundred-foot-long land battleships? No problem. Four-hundred-foot-long arctic-traversing death machine? Already halfway built. A constellation of geosynchronous factories spurting out prefabbed components in precision drops to surface destinations? Boooooring…. The things that we…dang it!…they!…designed, built and flung into battle were as huge and endless as the rivers of tax funds pouring into black budget programs that paid for them.

Looking back I smile at the many sources of inspiration for my ideas back then. I mentioned Kirk’s Enterprise, but I was fortunate to see OUR Enterprise, the Space Shuttle number OV-101, up close and personal at Huntsville, Alabama’s Marshall Space Flight Center. That was during one year that I can’t remember with my brother and my parents, and it was also a big influence on my young imagination. It was linked in my mind to the space shuttle that Gil Gerard got all time-lost in, and that led to a whole host of other imagination motivators. Weird little R2-D2 derivative, anyone?

Those hundreds-foot-long land ships were inspired by a much smaller sorta’ hippy-ish survival RV television personality that I really wish I’d got to see more episodes about before it disappeared forever. I say inspired by, and that’s true. But the ideas that germinated and grew into what would later be huge story props with personalities as big as anything on TV, actually began with a pair of…nail clippers.

Yes. Nail. Clippers. The slightly larger-than-normal kind. My dad always carried a pair. I suppose it should be called, “a pair of nail clippers” like it’s, “a pair of pants”…in his pocket, and when I would get bored in church I’d get them and just like a stick floating in a stream becomes an ocean liner, the nail clippers became a roaring death machine financed by the U.S. government. The flights of fancy I dreamed up playing around like that became the stories that I’d write later. You may be laughing, but inspiration doesn’t care how or where it strikes.


Not so crazy when you see them side-by-side, huh? How many ideas have I lost to reality…my wife just shakes her head every time one of them becomes “real”.

For the full story on the real nail clipper battleship, click.

I guess the kick in the teeth award for stealing my thunder on a future invention-turned-reality is based on the TIPS-N and TIPS-C ideas I came up with back in the early 2000’s. Those ideas saw the light of day in a “real” story entitled, The Mysterious Cargo, that I began flirting with in November, 2003 and finished up back in July, 2014. I write kinda’ slow. Good thing they pay a million dollars per story nowadays.

The acronyms stand for Transitory Image Projection-Navigation and -Camouflage. Have you ever seen this? That’s TIPS-N in action. Or maybe you’ve heard of this? That’s TIPS-C travelling right along into someone else’s invention bag.

Oh, well. We all have problems.












As my retinas slowly burn away like Fourth of July sparklers, I’ll put it out there: I’m trying to wrangle thirty-some-odd years of ambitions into an actual novel. You know, the kind that gets published and that people read. Henceforth and hitherto I’ll be a-walkin’ you through the cow pasture of my mind, guiding you around the steaming landmarks and mushroom-sprouting idea piles therein.

And I’m even still on theme…there’s nothing more mechanical than the book writing procedure. It revolves around machinery. The typewriter, the word processor, the computer. The every-man tablet and pen. Even the Craft is a device in which the reader is transported across worlds. But it’s a harsh taskmaster to the author. It demands satisfaction that can only be achieved by pouring the soul through the sieve of a pen barrel. My favorite writing quote of all time is by the wonderful Roy Blount, Jr.:

Twiddle-twiddle away at my softly clicky keyboard for a while, making twiddly adjustments all along- and then print what I have twiddled. Glare at the printout and snarl and curse and scribble almost illegibly all over it with a ballpoint pen. Go back to the machine and enter the scribbles. Repeat this procedure until I hate the very meaning of every word I know.

Ah, good times.

Kart Me Off to Another Time

An interesting phenomenon is the spate of YouTube videos allegedly proving that time travelers exist. I’ve seen videos showing hipsters in early nineteen-hundreds crowds, stared goggle-eyed at cellphone-toting characters walking down rutted horse-pattied streets back in the twenties, and munched popcorn while all manner of mysteriously modern individuals gadded about in turn-of-the-century city scenes. So what’s up with that? Personally, I think it’s just a techy, modern-day version of “Where’s Waldo”, with people everywhere searching old photos for new people like so many others have always watched the stars in hopes of spying a UFO and the reverent seeing the revered on their toast.

But recently I came across evidence of sort of a reverse-time travel situation. I found a little company in Rhode Island staffed by folks I believe were brought to the present day from some early period of our twentieth century. Enter: The Flatworks Wooden Kit Company. Their product of note? A plywood go-kart, fully equipped with race kart styling and a top speed of over 30 mph, as recorded by this guy.

Yep, these inventors must be time travelers…brought forward from the days of wooden race cars and fully-non-protective leather skullcap helmets. And I for one am glad they arrived! My brother and I spent many fun years as boys riding our Sears & Roebuck two-seater go-kart given to us by dear old mom and dad when I was six. In a constant bid for more speed from the thing, I took apart and put back together that Tecumseh engine many times…and developed a love for the beauty of a functioning machine.

Now, I realize that I’m late to this particular party. Like, almost a couple years late. These guys did a Kickstarter campaign that culminated waaaay back in 2015 with a successful company launch, and they appear to be moving up in the world. I was browsing images on Google and came across this.

I saw that and immediately the urge to build a high-speed wooden kart resurfaced from about ten years ago, when I had drawn up a few plans but was stymied by my lack of adequate woodworking tools. Since my 5-month marathon teardrop camper build back in 2010 (the “Rolling Stone”), that shortfall had been remedied. Add to that, the fact that Harbor Freight is opening up here in my hometown in April, 2017, and it seems as if the discovery of the Flatworks PlyFly has been ordained as the final part of a three-pronged prompt of encouragement for me to finally do it.

You may wonder why I’d rather build a wooden kart when a steel-framed kart can be had as easily as ordering one off Amazon. Oh, I’ve got a laundry list of reasons…

  1. I don’t weld and don’t care to. Maybe one day I’ll see the necessity in it, but for the money invested in a proper welder and all the other accessories, a good saw, drill, screws and glue is much more economical.
  2. The PlyFly isn’t built from your father’s lumber. It’s either 13- or 16-ply Baltic birch plywood (can’t remember which at the moment), no voids whatsoever, and it’s phenomenally strong. The builders say they’ve left their prototypes outside in all kinds of weather for months and months with no degradation. And no rust…
  3. With a speed goal of 70 mph, I’ve got to have my act together to do it with wood and succeed. Pretty much anybody could do that with a steel framed kart.
  4. The beauty of the PlyFly lies in the engineering. If you study the design, you see that it’s put together in such a way that every piece contributes to strength. It’s a complex puzzle that solves the problems of durability, functionality, a great-appearance (for a kart), and ease of assembly all at the same time. It really doesn’t take a great mental leap to assemble a steel kart that won’t fall apart.
  5. The wow factor. Again, people go fast on metal things all of the time. Not so much with wood.

So in the days ahead I’m going to be working on plans with my favorite 3D design program, and I’ll post my progress. If you don’t hear from me before then, Happy New Year!

And yes, yes, I realize that it appears that I haven’t posted in almost exactly two years. What was I saying about time travel?

Oh, the wretched indecision…

I’m in the middle of a practical debate right now, trying to decide the particular branding of vehicle I’m going to make into my BOV. I know…I’ve already stated the XJ Cherokee is IT. But upon careful review of local resources, there are precious few of the things around me, and seemingly millions of Explorers. What’s a prepper to do?

Why, go straight to the knowledge source, that’s what!

Having established all the pros and cons already for the Cherokee platform, I paid a visit to http://www.explorerforum.com and posited my question: Can anyone tell me in comparative terms how the Ford Explorer stacks up against the Jeep Cherokee?

For anyone who’s interested, the specific thread can be followed here: http://www.explorerforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=419161 . I’m waiting for a response…

Planning my BOV. Establishing my needs for mission success.

After much consideration I’ve firmly decided that my BOV will be based on a Jeep Cherokee and NOT a Ford Explorer. Even though the Explorers cover the Earth here where I live, the Jeep is just so much cheaper and, ummm, hardy, than the Ford.

As I’ve been cruising Craigslist and Ebay and blah blah blah for potential XJ’s, I’ve also been mulling over features and functions I want to incorporate into my BOV.

For anyone who’s considering the ramifications of a true bug out scenario, the reality of most disaster events is that you can’t just hike a half mile into the woods, throw up a tent and roast marshmallows. Just ask the folks from New Orleans.
People get infatuated with the adventure of a bug out, as if it’s all just a chapter in an exciting novel. But seriously, there are people who fled Katrina who have NEVER been able to go back. Think about that.
That sobering image brings to the fore one of the biggest points I’m thinking about in plotting out my rig…long range capability. I’ve read that there are much larger fuel tanks that are direct factory replacements, so that’s going to be one of the first upgrades I make.

As I sat thinking about the ramifications of a much larger fuel supply, I began to think about what I’d be running from. Any prepper will tell you the fact that no matter how much you prepare, how many thousands of $$$ you throw at your preps, how much you study and network and learn, you’ll never ever be prepared for everything.

In order to keep your sanity, you HAVE to (as I did) take a notepad and pen and make a list of every disaster that could happen in your area, and then rearrange them according to likelihood of occurrence. Number one should be the most likely event that could mess up your life. Then you plan for that. My number one possibility here (in north-central Alabama) is a regular power outage, followed by a tornado. That’s probably the first disaster with the greatest chance of forcing a bug out, so there’s a distinct possibility that in the worst situation, I’m going to have to travel somewhere, and probably over back country roads with lots of downed trees.

I think that a good thing here would be to share the list of potential disasters for my area that I came up with. They are listed in order of probability:

Power Outage
Auto Accident
Economic Meltdown
Sudden and Unexpected Unemployment
Reactor Meltdown
Dirty Bomb
Nuclear Strike
Yellowstone Caldera Explosion

Make another mental image here…

The storied EMP burst, sixth down my list, has happened. You wake up, not to a flashing 12:00 on your alarm clock…but to no power at all. And you won’t have any power for probably a year from now as the entire national power grid and supporting infrastructure is rebuilt.

Remember…the EMP not only took out the power generation systems, but it also surged through and destroyed every electronic device stored in warehouses across the country. The replacement transformers the power guys would have hung on poles everywhere are dead too. In fact, any electronic device not shielded in a “Farraday cage”, an enclosed and grounded metal box, will be shorted out by an EMP burst.

So that leads me into another group of ideas about my BOV. As unlikely as an EMP burst might be, it’s not really a complicated or expensive thing to prepare for one. Soooo….

I want to “deelectronilize” my BOV. I want to eliminate the computer controls, convert it from electronic fuel injection to a carburetor setup, and convert the transmission from electronic control to mechanical controls. And here’s where I leave you for now, as I go to research the possibilities.

Compare and Contrast

So now I’m doing some research into the Ford Explorer versus the Cherokee. Apparently around my area, the Cherokee just isn’t nearly as common and available as the Explorer. So far, I’m having trouble justifying the Ford because it was originally intended as more of a comfortable SUV than capable. It’s heavier, bulkier, and many things about it just don’t signify “disaster-ready”.
Well…time will tell.fordexplorer1



Credit for this picture goes to an unknown member of the JeepForum.com forum. Beautiful Cherokee! If I’m contacted with a name, I’ll be glad to post it for credit here.

A BOV is a Bug Out Vehicle. It’s the thing everybody looks for when disaster strikes and they have to get out of Dodge quick! But even though its name carries an apocalyptic ring to it, its true nature and purpose can be a lot more benign.

When you mention to someone that you’ve been working on your preps, or that you’re a prepper, images of camouflage and AR15 rifles and using a five gallon bucket for a toilet spring to mind in a lot of people. There’s nothing like a good joke or talking about my disaster pantry that will bring a smile to people’s faces quickly. Then I ask them how they handled the major tornadoes that came through our area back in April of 2011, and they tend to sober up. Focus comes with a slap of reality.

See, a BOV isn’t just for pulling a Red Dawn sprint to the hills when the Russians parachute into town. Here we’ve seen the aforementioned tornadoes, a couple hurricanes that made it this far north, and untold episodes of two or more days without power. Throw in a blizzard like back in 1993, and it rapidly turns into a week of wow it’s cold in here but thankfully I’m so hungry I didn’t notice.

Back then my brother had a little Mazda 323 that we got out in to make a kerosene run about six or seven miles away…fun times that took a couple hours. But it sure would have been nice to have a fully-competent four wheel drive preloaded with extra fuel and equipment. Nobody’s cracking jokes when they’re getting pulled out of the ditch by the guy with the Bug Out Vehicle.

So that’s my philosophy…look realistically at my potential disaster scenarios and prepare accordingly. Back to the BOV…

As I formulated an ideal in my mind of the vehicle I need in order to survive whatever comes, I began to look around me. I happen to sell auto parts for a living, so I have a closer-than-most understanding of which vehicles are more suited for such. Enter the Jeep Cherokee XJ body. That’s the small, box-shaped SUV to most folks…like an S-10 Blazer or a Ford Explorer, but truthfully not quite as handsome.

So what qualified the XJ in my mind? There were many pertinent and deciding factors. Let’s look at a few requirements I had, and we’ll home in on my BOV as we go:

  1. Reliability. Whatever vehicle I would finally settle on had to be reliable. It couldn’t be one of those prima-donna night-on-the-town SUV wannabe’s that celebrities like to tool around in, pretending to be “just like the common man”. Some negatories on this list of no-show vehicles are…
    1. Anything European. You are a disaster waiting to happen, Land Rover. Mercedes, out. The Bimmer is looking dimmer.
    2. Anything excessively dressed up, decked out, frilly. The gimmicks don’t get it out in the wild. All the exterior plastic add-ons, the bling bling, the entertainment packages, and especially the Big Brother OnStar junk…nope. Practicality rules, and in the event the fabled EMP burst struck overhead, the remote tv setup will be junk anyway. When it comes to procuring replacement parts down the road, if it’s not bone stock and as plain as an Amish girl churning butter, it’s a handicap.
    3. Anything larger than my (to be decided) needs. Suburbans, Excursions, Hummers and other rolling continents just aren’t the thang when fuel shortages hit and I’ve got to cut a trail up a narrow washout.
    4. The Japanese entries. I had mixed feelings here…my Tacoma is super-reliable and a really really good truck. But the downer is that the 3.4 liter V6 inside is a timing belt DOHC aluminum-headed money pit in a breakdown scenario. I once priced a long-block from Toyota for someone else…$11,000.
      E L E V E N  T H O U S A N D dollars! Can you say, “blown head gasket equals pretty new lawn decoration”? As much as I love my Toyota, it’s just NOT a good survival scenario vehicle. And the same goes for the Nissans, the Mazdas and any other Japanese truck. You’ll get me here in a bit.
    5. Car-based SUV’s. The Pontiacs, Buicks, Cadillacs, Ford Escapes and all the rest…you know who you are!…need not apply. You are posers.
  2. Popularity. Whichever vehicle I finally went with had to be a popular choice. Why? After doomsday the distribution systems may break down completely. Trucks may not be able to run over destroyed highway infrastructure. And if electronic systems go down, the trucks may not be able to crank up. Parts availability for inevitable breakdowns is a necessity. So, the more popular a vehicle is, the more likely I’ll be able to find salvage parts when I need them if I can’t get new parts through stores or dealerships.
    With that reasoning, we can still safely include pretty much all of the domestic manufacturers.
  3. Capability. My BOV has to be able to get me where I need to be, no matter what obstacles come up. I may have to haul several people. My at-home family numbers three, and when you count my mom and dad and 95-year-old grandmother next door, we’re looking at six people. If three days into a blizzard situation someone has a surprise heart attack, I want to be able to get them to a hospital as soon as possible. Can’t depend on ambulances, or even law enforcement vehicles, in a SHTF scenario.
    I may also have to tow a trailer. Or pull someone out of a ditch. We begin to see that four cylinder engines are out…just not enough power without expensive and offbeat turbo or supercharger systems.
    And if I’m hauling six people, a pickup is a no-go. Four wheel drive is a given. So, basically, I’m narrowing the field down to SUV-type vehicles. Enclosed trucks with enough horsepower to carry six people and baggage and tow a trailer over inhospitable terrain.
    But we can’t be too frivolous here. We have to keep in mind that fuel may be in short supply, so overly-wasteful trucks are out. We can mitigate things there by avoiding V8’s. So if we drop the V8’s and we’ve already abandoned the four cylinders, that leaves us with six-bangers and the odd five cylinder GM product if we want to be relatively fuel-efficient.
    But there’s a key word…odd. The Trailblazers and Envoys and other 5-cylinder GM SUV’s are just too out of the common arena to be viable contenders when SHTF. Their ignition systems are overly-complex, and even the ones with no OnStar have circuitry that I’m not too confident isn’t telling somebody somewhere, where I am. Noooope.

So where, exactly, has this brought us to? What vehicles that have made the cut so far are in our list? Let’s see…I may miss a couple, but the way I see it, it looks like this:

  1. Chevrolet S-10 Blazer
  2. Dodge Durango
  3. Ford Bronco II
  4. Ford Explorer
  5. Jeep Cherokee

Now…looking down this list, there are only two that I don’t consider to be “bloated”. That is, a basically good design hampered by over-comfort. The level of comfort required in a vehicle is subjective I know, but I’m comfortable with bare-bones military grade sparsity. So even the least among these are relative leisure wagons. However, we can go ahead and strike the Chevy, the Dodge and the Explorer from the list, leaving only the Ford Bronco II and the Jeep Cherokee.

Looking further for negatives, the Bronco II bowed out in 1990, having only the rather odd 2.9 V6 as its largest offering. Although it gets points for great maneuverability in the woods with its short wheelbase, it falls off the table in cargo capacity and general performance.

Looks like we have a winner, and I hope that you can see, when I followed the logical procession of my particular needs and wants, there really was no other choice.

I began here to get into a long diatribe on the why’s and how’s of choosing different components of the Cherokee. To keep this already-long post from growing ever longer, I’ll just summarize.

  1. Engine – 4.0l six cylinder.
  2. Transmission – AW4 automatic.
  3. Transfer Case – 231.
  4. Front Axle – Dana 30.
  5. Rear Axle – Chrysler 8.25”.

Once I had hashed out the necessities, thanks to several online forum member experiences, I began to examine which years of XJ’s had all of these components. It appears that the 1991 through 1999 models are the ideal targets, and the 1999 is hands-down the favorite among owners as having the very best of the best. Seems as if the 2000-2002 models had head cracking issues, which takes them out of the picture.

So…to end this tonight, I’m going to Craigslist now to set up a filtered search, and monitor posts through email. We’ll see what washes up on the shore.

In future posts I’m going to get into exactly how I’m going to set up the Jeep for SHTF scenarios.

I’m getting there…

Not our car, but it looks just like it. 2004 Ford Taurus SES.

Not to be a slacker here, but I haven’t begun really chatting about disaster preparation equipment because I’ve been busy with other projects. One of those is the lack of functioning headlights on the wife’s car.

And it’s turned into a major mystery. A couple years ago I had the opportunity to salvage parts from a similar vehicle that had burned under the hood. One of those parts was a headlight switch, but it didn’t help in this situation. I also tried another multifunction switch on the column, which has the dimmer function built in. No go, but I’m glad I didn’t have to buy that $100 item…yikes!

Neither the low or high beams will come on. Not even with the “flash to pass” function. Every other light on the car, inside and out, works. The high beam indicator on the instrument cluster is on full time. I just don’t get it…yet.

We had gone to a local restaurant Monday night, and everything was working fine. Went in, ate, came back out, and I cranked the car. It sounded a little…different…when it cranked up, and the exhaust smelled weird. But it was running ok. I twisted the headlight switch knob, and nothing. I drove home, about twelve miles, with no headlights. Emergency flashers only.

I combed the internet, but so far every lead I’ve found has been a bust. I finally found a complete wiring schematic for the lighting system, and so when I have time and daylight I’m going to trace every possible circuit.

Right now my theory is a simple short between a power wire and the high beam circuit, because that’s the only way the high beam indicator can possibly be burning. This isn’t a very complicated wiring setup, and there’s no mysterious black box controlling all of it. Just switches and fuses and relays.

It’s frustrating, but I’ve just got to be patient and follow every possibility. Fortunately, my wife goes into work after daylight and gets home way before dark, so there’s no forced vehicular downtime. It’s just an irritation to my OCD that I’ve got a vehicle that’s not 100% ready for duty.

The boy scout in me is crying.