I have been discussing this post for a while with a good friend, and Preparer, the Analog Kid. We considered a joint effort, but getting the work done together is proving to be problematic.
First, some bona-fides: I've actually been trained by the military to be a vehicle specialist. With specialities in Operator Training, Vehicle Maintenance and Special Base Vehicle maintenance, I pretty much know the insides and outsides of auxilliary (not primary combat) vehicles. From pickup trucks to all-wheel drive vehicles, I have repaired them, dispatched them and trained people to operate them.
More important, I learned to suit a vehicle to a mission. That is what this article is about: selecting a vehicle that will be your primary transportation during whatever unpleasantness manifests itself during S.H.T.F.
In no particular order, let's consider some limiting parameters of the S.H.T.F. vehicle.
- It has to be attainable. A Hummer H-1 might be the ideal, but if you can't afford one, what good is it?
- You have to be able to maintain it. If you got some weird articulated "goat"-type military vehicle it would climb cliffs but you might not be able to take care of it's special needs in the field. Same with the common 10-wheelers (Deuce-and-a-half and 5-ton).
- It has to use common fuel. It had better run on either MoGas 87 or Diesel #2. No propane-powered rigs.
- It should have the capability to run on an unimproved road, but true off-road capability will not be required. You won't need 14 inches ground clearance or Big Mutha tires and a 6" Rancho lift kit on it.
- It has to be able to haul your load. If you have 6 people to get to a destination, and getting there means a mix of urban and rural driving, a short-cab pickup is not going to cut it. If there are just two of you, then a mini-truck might be the best ride. To assess the cargo needs, you will have to put the expected load in one place and size it up. We used to call this "chalking the load" in military logistics, and we would literally draw a chalk of the load area for the particular vehicle in outline on the pavement, then load it. The outline could be that of a truck box, or an aircraft cargo bay, it didn't matter, all loads were "chalked" with the actual cargo that would be transported with different operations plans.
OK, so we've "chalked" our load, and it doesn't fit anything we have in our fleet. What to do? This doesn't require much thought: you are either going to reduce the load or acquire more/bigger vehicle(s). Your first effort should be to reduce the load.
Your S.H.T.F. load should have priorities. First priority is the personnel. You have to have enough room to get the people outa Dodge when your peaceful burg turns into Dodge City. The people don't have to be too damn comfortable, and if there aren't enough actual seats, too bad. The questions for you as a planner are can you get them into the vehicle and can the vehicle be operated reasonably with them in it? Next priority is fuel. If the vehicle doesn't carry enough fuel to get to it's destination and be useful thereafter, you need to carry some. Ideally, this fuel is carried in an auxilliary tank, not in jerry jugs, but do what you have to.
Next comes water and provisions, then shelter (tents) and camp accessories. You might be carrying a generator set, or an inflatable boat if that is required. You will probably want some vehicle spares, such as extra mounted tires, and filters, etc.
There are two basic choices for light vehicles: the open-bed or the van. Both have advantages that are different from each other. The open-bed vehicle has more use, down the line, for the varied requirements which might come later, and they are available with more chassis options to make them better in the boonies, but a van has the obvious advantage of protecting the cargo better, and it can serve as primary shelter. Both vehicles have utility in the non-S.H.T.F. situation, as for most folks, these vehicles will have to serve in a family fleet role while being ready for their ultimate mission.
OK, we've decided on a vehicle, we've costed out the expense of maintaining and insuring it during peaceful times, and we've chalked the load so we know that the vehicle will serve it's ultimate purpose.
We've shopped locally, and we've made our purchase. For the purposes of this article, the S.H.T.F. vehicle is going to be a full-size 3/4 ton van. There are a lot of them out there, and fleet managers tend to get rid of them as certain mileage is attained, or when the interior gets seedy enough it doesn't fit the corporate purpose anymore. We've bypassed the 15-passenger Maxi-vans, and gotten a Standard-length model. It has a V-8 gasoline engine, an auto transmission, and full interior seating. It has ratty carpeting and air conditioning that doesn't work. We paid less than $2,000 for it, but the motor is strong, and the transmission doesn't slip. It starts reliably, and has a huge 30-gallon gas tank...
This vehicle could be put to S.H.T.F. use today, but we are going to make a few changes that won't cost a lot, but will improve it's mission success chances. We have 5 people to haul, but the vehicle was set up to haul 9. We will lose the rear seat. We find that the vehicle has over 7 feet of room for cargo with the rear seat out, and almost 10 with all but the driver and front passenger seat out. The cargo load chalks at 8X4X4, but a third of that is in small-cube items, so we can leave the intermediate seat in. We pull the carpeting and install a particle-board floor, bolted through the van floor. We are going to fasten things to this floor. Don't paint it, but you might put a coat or two of Snow Roof mobile home roof paint on the steel van floor to insulate it a bit before you install the wood floor. We're going to have the Mrs. sew up some window covers, and we're going to glue in some velcro to hold them on. These covers stay in the van for later use.
We've planned out our load, and we will put the 12-gallon boat fuel tank in the very rear, with it's optional hold-down kit screwed to the wood floor. The tank is equipped with 12 feet of fuel rated rubber hose and an outboard squeeze-bulb primer on the hose. The main tank can be refueled from this hose by putting it's business end in the filler neck, down far enough so a siphon will work, and operating the primer bulb. Portable gear or ATV's can also be refueled from this tank. There will be a row of 5-gallon water jugs, also with tiedown kits, but they can sit forward right behind the seat for better weight distribution. Any arms will be kept in a shallow box at the feet of the rear seat passengers. That box could be made as a safe by getting one made from aluminum diamond plate with locks. The considerable space under the bench seat is for small-cube things, preferably HEAVY small-cube things like ammo or tool boxes. This space sits in the center of the vehicle, so is best for heavy loads. The remainder of the cargo should be put into as many PVC storage containers as will fit. The more of these containers are of a standard size, the easier they are to manage later. They are lightweight, and worth their weight in gold later if they have lids that fit tightly.
Now to the fun part. Let's modify the vehicle. No this isn't "Monster Garage", but we are going to do some chassis improvements. There are four projects to do:
- We're going to put on the highest aspect-ratio wheels and tires we can find. Those should be 15 or 16 inch steel pickup wheels (minimum 7 inch width) and at least 80-series tires, 85 if we can get them. This'll set you back around $175 a wheel.
- We're going to put a basic front brush guard on, and a transmission skid plate. These are available for almost all vehicles by general catalog order, but if you know a decent fabricator, he may be able to do it as cheaply.
- We're going to install a minor body lift kit. Nothing radical, maybe 3 inches. This will necessitate new shocks, but with the high-aspect ratio tires, will give the van the ability to master any rutted trail as long as there is traction.
- We're going to put on a Class 4 trailer hitch, and put a second receiver on the front end if it can be done without too much cost. These two hitches will give the van extreme versatility in case you do want to haul a trailer later, but their primary use will be to mount a Warn receiver-mount winch. Heavy cabling and a separate battery with isolator completes this package, which now give you the versatility of a 4X4, AND the ability to rescue one if need be. This winch weighs less than 100#, and takes up little room. It will set you back about a $1,500 bill for winch and hitches and cabling, but it is the thing that makes your van (or pickup) a real go-anywhere vehicle, and it is transferrable to another vehicle with a Class 4 receiver (the battery will run it as a portable power pack, the cabling on the vehicle is not really necessary). A couple of anchoring chains and snatch blocks fill out the kit.
So, there you have it. The basic vehicle for your S.H.T.F. needs. All tricked out, it shouldn't set you back much over $5,000, but if you have more to pitch in, you can upgrade things. There aren't many of them, but 4X4 vans were built, and their chassis' will already be set for boonie-stomping. Ditto diesel-powered vans. Ford made them with the redoubtable Navistar 7.5l V-8 diesel, now known as the "powerstroke". There was a series of vans stretched out in width, based on the Dodge maxi-van. These thing are huge, but use standard chassis components. They are a full 108 inches wide (same as a semi-truck!). There are 4X4 one-ton ambulance chassis trucks. The military lets these go with relatively low mileage, and I have seen some that had less than 30,000 miles on them and the front drive wasn't even broken in! They are dually-equipped and have wide bodies for plenty of cargo room. The early ones were Ford E-Series trucks, and had a 460 CID gasser in them. Fuelish!
Don't know about you all, but for me, this vehicle preparation is almost as much fun as barbequing!