Guest Post: Going Off Grid - Montana Style!

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Brandon Smith from Alt-Market

Going Off Grid - Montana Style!

The concept of off-grid living is often encumbered by numerous false assumptions and associations.  Many think that to delve into the lifestyle you must be either a grizzled anti-social mountain man, a pompous starry-eyed hippie, or, a criminal on the lam.  The spectrum of characterizations range from “kooky” bunker building militia members to spoiled Al Gore worshipping vegan hipsters out to prove they are better than everyone else by reducing their “carbon footprint”.  The point is, for the average television-fed American, the idea of off-grid life automatically conjures visions of the extreme. 

I believe this reaction is due in large part to our society’s obsession with feeling “connected”.  Ever challenge a friend or family member to go without touching their cell phone for a day?  Ever ask them to shut off their TV and see if they can find other ways to occupy themselves?  Ever ask them to leave modern conveniences behind, if only for a weekend, to take part in some simple camping?  I can say that in my own experience, nine out of ten people will stare at you pale faced like you just kicked them square in the loins.  For them, leaving behind the buzz of our make-believe culture is the same as stepping outside of time, or abandoning one’s very identity.  The whole suggestion is alien.

Luckily, here in Montana, I’ve encountered far hardier souls than in most other places, and the pursuit of an existence disconnected from dependence on the system is not treated as quite so outlandish.  In fact, many here have taken the leap into self-sufficiency and gone 100% off-grid.  I was lucky enough to meet one of these pioneers recently, and take a tour of his farm, but what interested me most about him were his origins, which were rooted about as far away from his current environment as you can get…

Rich Scheben was once a highly respected sales associate in the world of big-pharma, who had spent much of his life in the urban landscape of New York.  He received accolades for his performance working within titanic companies like Merck and Glaxo, but his dream had always been to pursue a career in forestry.  Despite having a degree in the field as well as a long history participating in wilderness sports, he soon discovered that affirmative action quotas within state and federal institutions were stringent.  His applications were passed up time and again while others with little to no experience or training were hired immediately because of their politically designated victim-status.  The corporate world too was rife with people who climbed upwards on the efforts of more worthy employees, or who were given positions of prominence based on their willingness to schmooze with management, rather than work hard. 

Finally, when Rich noticed troubling health difficulties creeping up on him, a fateful doctor’s visit revealed severe damage in his spinal column.  The company immediately found out, and sidelined him.

These circumstances led Rich not only to question the structure and meaning of his efforts within the circus-like corporate framework, but to also question the structure and meaning of modern America.  Today, he is an avid supporter of the Liberty Movement, a devout Constitutionalist, decidedly anti-corporate oligarchy, and even anti-big pharma.  His day-to-day financial existence is built upon savings, sound money, and living below his means.  His health habits have taken a 180 degree turn, and he is now subsisting on largely organic and home grown diet.  Everything has changed.

Rich Scheben holding a bull trout caught in his backyard

In a beautiful corner of Northwest Montana, Mr. Scheben found a sizable plot of land to begin his off-grid adventure.  He recommends varied terrain, rather than flat.  The more rough the terrain, the more resources are generally available, and the more privacy you are usually afforded.  With hills, valleys, gorges, and even a river, Scheben has an incredible array of land types at his disposal.

The main cabin is a straightforward structure without a lot of the elaborate design often seen in average suburban McMansions.  Electricity is provided by a small solar array and a minimal battery bank.  I have always said that it does not take much in terms of solar power in order to adequately supply an off-grid retreat or farm, and Rich’s system is a perfect example.  With only four deep-cycle batteries charging on a minimal array, Rich is able to fulfill all his electricity needs.      

The cabin itself is heated by a single wood stove, which is fueled by cords of wood from timber growing on Scheben’s land.  Water is supplied by a well and pump, which is then hoisted to a large tank on the second floor.  The tank uses gravity to feed the faucets on the first floor below.  Bathroom cleaning is handled in a number of ways.  Hot showers can be had using a solar shower filled and placed near the wood stove to warm.  Water can be heated and poured into the bathtub.  Relieving one’s self is handled in a good old fashioned out-house.

Scheben's wood stove, which adequately heats his entire cabin

Though Rich still stocks bulk foods from town, his farm is completely capable of providing enough food that he would never have to leave if he so desired.  His garden area is not immense, and can easily be worked by hand.  In fact, it does not take much space at all to grow more than enough produce for a family if needed, and Scheben’s lifestyle proves that if every landowner used a corner of his yard for a garden, centralized farming and food production would disappear.  Livestock rounds out the food necessities of Schebens farm, including chickens for meat and eggs, goats for milk and cheese, turkeys, etc.  With land surrounded by Montana wilderness, wild game is abundant, and there is little to no chance of Scheben ever going hungry.

Scheben's homemade greenhouse with bathtub for summer bathing

Wild elk roaming through Scheben's property

One issue that is constantly raised when discussing Off-Grid living is that of cost.  The problem is that so many people only consider the initial expenditures involved when diving into this new life, but never take into account the extreme SAVINGS involved after they have settled in.  Scheben’s daily costs are next to nothing.  His land provides nearly every essential imaginable, and the financial drain after setting up shop is minute in comparison to the average suburbanite.  This is what preppers in the Liberty Movement need to understand when uncertain about the Off-Grid strategy.  Ultimately, it is about providing for yourself for next to nothing what you once had to pay out the nose for!

Going off-grid also does not necessarily mean abandoning technology, and I was glad to see that Scheben felt the same way.  He uses LED’s, not hurricane lanterns.  He surfs the internet and keeps up with news events, instead of isolating himself in the backwoods from the concerns of the world.  He rides ATV’s back and forth across his land, not horses (though horses are great if you can keep them).  There is a serious misconception out there that going off-grid or living through a collapse will automatically necessitate a return to a pre-industrial 18th century type of existence.  This is simply not so.  The technological advances of today should be mixed and melded with the agricultural skills of yesterday.  Neither should be hastily cast aside if we are to find balance once again in our culture.

In light of our current chaotic economic situation, as well as the potential for social breakdown, energy crisis, hyperinflation, freight disruption, and global war, the off-grid life is not just a hobby, but a valuable form of insurance.  There may come a day when, whether we like it or not, we will all be forced to survive off-grid.  Some will be prepared with the expertise required to make it work.  Some will have at least a practical understanding of the methods and philosophies that drive decentralized and independent living.  Others will not. 

Frankly, if a former New York big-pharma salesman like Rich Scheben is able to wake up to the social catastrophe looming in our country’s future, and the extraordinary significance inherent in off-grid knowledge, then anyone can, and the dismissive excuses I hear so often from those who can’t wrap their heads around the importance of this step in the realm of survival, now tend to ring lazy and hollow…

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taniquetil's picture

This guy has the idea life for my retirement (if I even get to retire by the time I get old enough). It sounds horribly cliche but catching your own dinner is extremely satisfying and makes the food taste so much better.

Bumblebee Tuna's picture

You are a sovereign citizen.  Please report to your nearest FEMA camp.


trav7777's picture

that off grid dude sure has a lot of shit built in on-grid factories.

TRUE off grid is that guy who decided to move to alaska, but even he had tools brought from the lower 48.  At least he built his own cabin but he did use a rifle to kill animals to eat

tmosley's picture

"You are not allowed to use existant capital to create a self sustaining system."

So sayth the mighty Trav.

NotApplicable's picture

Apparently, one can go off a grid only if they've never been on it? *head asplodes*

Only Robinson Crusoe types need apply.

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

"he is now subsisting on largely organic and home grown diet"

Boris is remember Chernobyl go off grid. But is not eating "organic" foods, only is get heavy metal foods from Actinoid family of elements.

MBOB's picture

Organic produce in mid winter Montana? Huh? Last time I was up I heard about towing a hay bale loader behind a pickup at 30 mph in November (early winter time) to unstick the solid frozen grease in the axle hubs.


"How would you like the rutebega tonight, hun?"

Been heating with wood for going on 40 years now. Can be done, just most people won't. It does take up time, even w/chainsaws, splitter, front loader.

Canaduh's picture

I'm a couple zones colder in northern Alberta, and am still eating carrots, parsnips, onions, turnips, squash, potatoes, cabbage, beets and radish that I harvested and stored from my garden, not counting the stuff I preserved or dried, or the trays of greens I grow in my windowsill all winter long. I don't do any forcing of things like belgian endive, but there is a whole other bunch of veg that you can eat fresh in the middle of winter. So there is actually a lot of variety available, even in the far north, but it takes a fair bit of planning and sweat equity, there are no magic bullets. And it gets even trickier when trying to save your own seed.

smiler03's picture

DCFusor, this thread is over to you ......................

AldousHuxley's picture

What does it say about a society where the value proposition is so lopsided that people think it is better to fend for oneself in middle of nowhere Montana than to be in the system of facism?


But man cannot prosper alone.....good luck when you get cancer.

antaresteleko's picture

AldousHuxley... What's your point? Going off-grid does not mean you have to go back to middle age. Anyway: life kills. I have lived in an amazonic area and there you simply accept the fact that you may get bitten by a snake and die because there is no helicopter/plane at hand. So what? Are you so scared of life? What prevents you from being run over by a car while walking on the street?


I do think that there are maybe too many people in this planet for most of them to be able to go off-grid. Sad but true. It's a matter of resources and space.

mendolover's picture

'Good luck when? you get cancer'?  I'd rather die in the woods then be a guinea pig at Yale New Haven!

dolly madison's picture

We are growing near our windows too, and we still have many fresh winter squashes left from the outdoor garden.

Canaduh's picture

Here's someone in north Idaho that grows their own food, and I guarantee they have a better diet than 99% of North Americans.

DaveyJones's picture

Read Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest. There are also plenty of people on the net demonstrating how to grow the whole year in North America. It is all about timing the seeding. There are about two months where the plant is dormant - mid Nov to mid Jan, then the position of the sun begins to start more plant response. Generally, it only takes two layers to protect many types of vegetables down to 0. Also, as mentioned, root cellars are fairly easy to store lots without power. Folks have been using these concepts for a long long time.  

Anything to fuck with the banks and Monsanto  

IrritableBowels's picture


The guy lives in at LEAST a zone 5a.  Montana covers some serious area/terrain.

trav7777's picture call this guy's shit self-sustaining?  And the laptop guy downthread, too, huh?

You're a fuckin idiot.  Self-sustaining systems are for THOSE THAT WORSHIP BALE.  Because BALE is the god of notgrowth.

tmosley's picture



Xanadu_doo's picture

Yep. Gotta go old school o-t-g.

Grizzly Adams style, bitchez.

AldousHuxley's picture

Westerners got is ALL wrong!


Examples of true off grid living:


Mongolian herdsman and mobile yurts....NO 30 year MORTGAGE slavery...


Inuits in the artic circle who eat raw meat...NO overpriced cooking wear or artificial sweetners


Amazon Indians....Not much need for clothes...just bow & arrows


You are overestimating what you REALLY NEED.


NO social security or medicare taxes just to have old folks die just die off clean without enslaving the next generation.

centerline's picture

I could care less.  But, there is a difference of getting off the grid for a period of time for a reason - and anything made on the grid is fair game to get through.  Not sustainable in the true fashion of the concept of sustainability.  

And there is Grizzly Adams - which probably isn't "all the way" either (I recall he had pots and pans, etc.).  Shit, to go all the way I suppose you have start naked with a pointy stick and work your way up.


malusDiaz's picture

NO!  All of that survival knowledge... did you get it from experience? How about someone teaching you? Where they "On-the-grid" at any point, because then you can't use that knowledge...


Ok, ok, so if you take a nakid baby, and drop it in the woods... then and only then will it have the possiblity of growing up with out the contamination of the GRID!


FFS if you use your knowledge to survive the apocolypse (because thats what all the doom shit is about), then you win! 

HoofHearted's picture

Why do some dumb asses think we have to reinvent the wheel.

Sorry, that isn't true off -grid because somebody else already invented the wheel...bitchez.

Who gives a flying fuck what is real off-grid and what isn't. I'll just enjoy being able to eat without all the work once or twice. And you can watch me. So call me a wimp if you feel the need. Fucktard. Like we give a shit what you think.

AldousHuxley's picture

because they would feel smart as if they invented the wheel?


like how Columbus discovered America?

like Survivor show in the Amazons where native live?



Rynak's picture

trav in another bullshit spree, demanding that you either subscribe to black, or white.

HELLO trav, the whole point of this is NOT an entire society sustaining itself this way completely, but instead to show that for a lot of things, you don't need what supposedly "civilization" is needed for.

There is this bipolar ideology, that either EVERYTHING has to be provided for by "civilization", or NOTHING of it is required and you're TOTALLY selfsustainable.

Trivia.... how much of current civilization overhead (read: infrastructure spending) would be needed, if people plain and simply needed replacement of hightech once in a while, and pharma-tech for ONLY extreme problems? Oh wait, let me guess.... isn't this close to the state of a hightech country, that simply "builds" for reliability, instead of "repeated purchases because the products suck".... on steroids?

Perhaps, what those MODERATE "off-the-grid"-folks want, isn't actually complete "off-the-grid"-lifestyle.... but instead simply not being in a CONSTANT dependent-relationship with the sellers, by "buying for keeps"?

And if we were to talk about supposed "ideal free-market service", isn't the THEORETICAL best service that one, that provides you with the highest reliability and performance, short- as well as longterm, for the lowest sustainable price? Or has price/quality-ratio gone kinda "untrendy" by now???

Socratic Dog's picture

I think the point Trav makes is that a guy like this is only able to live "off grid" because he is sustained by an "on grid" community.  If the on-grid community suddenly ain't there, as in TEOTWAWKI, then your precious off-grid lifestyle suddenly has a few problems.  He's not as off-grid as he thinks he is.  Lead-acid batteries last 20 years max, if they're the real expensive type,  Solar panels?  I dunno. But I do know he won't be buying new ones if TETWAWKI happens.

It's a valid point to make.  That said, I would prefer to be where this guy is than where I am, in the event of TEOTWAWKI.  He has a far better chance of surviving it. 

He needs to get some fertile pussy in.  There is no point in survival if it's not used to pass on your genes. 

He better be able to protect it all, too.

Real Estate Geek's picture

There is no point in survival if it's not used to pass on your genes.

One point would be to postpone the chapter of your life that's nasty, brutish, and short.

But point taken on avoiding the solitary part.

tmosley's picture

And just what do you think the likelihood of a 20 year long anarchic situtaion is?


Those types of situations last a few days, or a few years under the absolute worst case scenario (nearby war, beseigment).  That ain't happening for most people, certainly not those living out in the country.  For him, the worst that happens is some pitched battle takes place on or near his land, but there is warning for things like that, and time to flee.

The world isn't ENDING.  It's just CHANGING.  Probably for the better, even if that means going through the worst.

respect the cock's picture


The world isn't ENDING.  It's just CHANGING.  Probably for the better, even if that means going through the worst.

Hear fucking hear! 

Suck on fucking lunatic fringe Dick Proenneke wannabes!


blu's picture

Some hand tools or simple machines are fine. Hell a competent blacksmith can make just about any kind of garden or farm tool given some iron.

It's the 60" flat screens that won't last. And all the plastic crap. And the iGizmos. But I can re-wind an old GE electric motor and make just about any kind of small machine on my lathe. We'll still be hand-crafting the essentials for a hundred years on existing tools and machines, and then we'll make new kinds of machines from local materials and get by with that.

It's not rocket science, as they say. Well in fact actual rocket science is doomed. We'll use an older science -- or an older craft if you like -- and we'll do just fine.

DCFusor's picture

In fact, I do just those kinds of things for entertainment - rewinding motors is a bit much work when you can score them in the junkyard or dumpster usually - but it's good to know how.  It's also good to have a stash of spares and parts, which I do.  One of the things I do is collect books from when all this stuff WAS rocket science for reference.  It's amazing how almost all college educated people don't know shit about how things their life depends on work - could be a fatal flaw at some point.

So, as the "Galactic empire" crumbles...I've built the "first foundation".  See Asimov for the reference.  A man has to have a hobby after all, and when I'm not working on fusion, that's what I do.

The result is - I have exactly one bill - phone/internet.  I have to pay PP tax, car insurance and stuff like that too, but that's minimal and not all the time.  That's freedom from wage slavery now - I don't have to wait for all this supposed bad stuff to happen to benefit.

Sure is nice that the grid exists so at least a few of the wiser of us can use things from there to make ourselves more independent of it.  No, I won't forge my own ax heads - no need - one will last generations.  (See Heinlein for that one)  But I do know how.  Why not know, and practice some of this stuff?  It's fun, if you have the right attitude.  I don't have a cel phone - why should I pay for jerks with my number to interrupt me?  I don't need to waste time - I have things to do that create value.  I don't use TV at all, no need, what little I want is on the 'net anyway, and I can do without that if the system fails - I won't be trading stocks anymore in that case, right?


I was recently astonished when a professor from a local tech university needed my consulting firm's help to design a frequency discriminator - you know, the kind that's in every FM radio ever built?  The knowledge is lost, you just buy it from Japan, all made - if what they use in radios happens to match your need.  If not, you can't even find out how to make something common knowedge in 1950, at VA Tech!  That's what's sick about society - or a big part of it.  People think they know their stuff, and they don't know squat in truth.  And they're so papmpered, so far, they don't even find that out - the ones that aren't proud of their ignorance, that is.  Those kind I can live completely without.

Bringin It's picture

Great post.  It's amazing how almost all college educated people don't know shit about how things their life depends on work - could be a fatal flaw at some point.

Americans think chicken is something wrapped in plastic you pick up at SafeWay.

Gully Foyle's picture


"One of the things I do is collect books from when all this stuff WAS rocket science for reference."

I hear that Brother. I've lucked out on a shitload of DIY materials dating back before the forties. Got some nice well rounded works from the late 1800's. Everything from cleaning, to home building and DIY medical.

Got most virtually free from library book sales.

Huge fucking library to drag around with but fuck you kindle nothing beats paper.

azusgm's picture

Ever pick up a vintage Popular Mechanics? Too fun.

antaresteleko's picture

Great post. You put it with the right words, DCFusor.


trav7777's picture

wow, man that's awesome.  You mine and smelt your own copper for wiring?

The electricity for those motors...unicorn piss?

tallystick's picture

You just have to find a quality mine like your local metals recycling center.  That's the motherload these days.

francis_sawyer's picture

trav ~ you make a lot of good arguments but ARE YOU FUCKING OUT OF YOUR MIND?

If I kno TS is gonna HTF (or at least worry about it), aren't I gonna take advantage of the last possible bastion of productivity imagineable before it all vaporizes If, in fact, I'm convinced it's likely to vaporize)?

I'm 100% sure that if I didn't (& there were a blog on the other side after it happened), you'd be calling me a DICK because I didn't take advantage of resources at my disposal when I had the chance...


francis_sawyer's picture

the dude who are OUT OF THEIR MINDS are the ones clicking on the "pre-packaged chicken coop" ads on the side of these pages (unless they're decent enginneers wanting a head start on a basic plan)...

NOT the ones who are stocking up on milled lumber & copper & barbed wire...

Xanadu_doo's picture

+1 for "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND" and +1,000 for "vaporize", twice even.


antaresteleko's picture

Trav, I don't think anyone here is against trading. Maybe it would be more expensive, but if things lasted longer than today's crap there wouldn't be so much need for copper and other raw materials and it would be probably cheaper anyway. Provided that you, within your lifestyle, no matther if it's off or on grid, are PRODUCTIVE and bring value, you should be able to satisfy all your needs. And I mean, real needs, not what you have been told you need because this Ponci economy is only sustainable you you contribute to growing the GDP.

Think about this: how much more productive is a banking (or anything else) employee today than it was in the 50's? Now there are calculators, computers, and the Internet. How much of that real productivity is benefiting him/her in enjoying a better quality of life? When I think about it, there is no doub we are living a scum.

Bangin7GramRocks's picture

I moved off grid this month. Catch my own food and burn Ron Paul posters for heat and cooking. It's a great life. When I lay my head on my silver coin pillow each night I just think of all the suckers out there using all those boring, modern conveniences. Join the revolution!

akak's picture

And instead of using a flush toilet, you evidently use this forum in which to take a dump.

dolly madison's picture

Modern conveniences are convenient, trouble is you often have to work full time for them, which makes them much less convenient.

Rynak's picture


Well in fact actual rocket science is doomed.

I'm interested in your thoughts why this is so (i think so as well, but am not sure that we agree on the "why?" - thus, the resson why i'm asking.

Xanadu_doo's picture

Because when the aliens invade, they'll usher in a whole new level of technology that makes "rocket science" irrelevent???

akak's picture

Well DUH!

Don't you know anything about Stargates. and transporters, and interdimensional travel?

Some people are just so thick.

ChrisFromMorningside's picture

This is about independence and self-reliance, not adherence to some kind of purity test as to what it means to be "true" off-grid.


dolly madison's picture

Yes, for goodness sakes, many pioneers, bought things even.  Plus, the internet is a great thing.  Being more self suffiient is safer, but it doesn't mean we want to give up everything.