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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ihedgemyhedges's picture

you need a "variety of titties" huh?  don't you see all the female elk???????????

face it, you're not Hugh Hefner............

NotApplicable's picture

I was unaware that titties were a grid phenomena.

Now, I understand Edison...

...and Tesla??? Was he gay or something?

GMadScientist's picture

May as well cap yourself now.

NotApplicable's picture

I can only imagine the results that that Google image search would provide.

DionysusDevotee's picture

Homesteading is completely compatable with hedonism.  I assure you.

Nugents Bastard's picture

True.  Eventually your woodcraft becomes so finely honed that you can rape an elk without it ever knowing you are there. 

UP Forester's picture

Speak for yerself, needledick....

blueridgeviews's picture

You, my friend, will have the hardest time surviving when the SHTF. So materialistic.

tmosley's picture

Being off grid doesn't mean you can never go to the store or the club again.

Silver Bug's picture

More and more people are going off the grid, and the government is making more and more ridicoulous laws to make this illegal.

NotApplicable's picture

Gee, I clicked your link and saw absolutely NOTHING there in relation to your words.

At least earn your money by linking to something appropriate, please. Oh, and use spell-check, or I'm going to tell Eric!

Maos Dog's picture

He is right, but sorry I don't have the links handy. There are a lot of local laws that make this kind of homesteading difficult, like requiring that you have electric from the local utility or you can't get an occupancy permitt from the county. My county, which is very rural, has a lot of bullshit laws like this.  


nmewn's picture

And yet, major cities allow urban campers & street urchins...a paradox to be sure.

Moe Howard's picture

A suburban 18 yo has sex with a 17 yo and is branded a sex offender but middle aged gang bangers in the ghetto turn out 13 yo girls and it's a way of life.

DionysusDevotee's picture

Living out here, we're miles from where anyone can pound on the wall or call the cops to tell us to keep it down, its pretty nice.  Satin...You?

QuantumCat's picture

Your mind requires retraining.  Will you comply?

Strut's picture

I'm about to close on my new home nestled deep in the forests of the midwest. Solar install is first on my list, second is a large farm pond for fish and water reserves. I'll still be "on-grid", but can live "off-grid" for extended periods of time if need be.

I love this guys place.

iDealMeat's picture

Bump the Solar to 9th or 10th..   Get into wood gasification.  Works day / night..

Vagabond's picture

And it doesn't take 20 years to pay itself off!

nmewn's picture

And the fuel source is renewable...its like deja vu all over again ;-)

azusgm's picture

Get into Jean Pain composting. He and his wife heated their water and their house, fueled their vehicle and their electirc generator and their gas stove, and built up the soil for their garden using wood chips made from "slash" (young green tree growth). The chip pile produced both methane (It's a natural fuel created during biomass decomposition. Get over it.) and humus (good for the plants that want to take up the scary CO2).

Just try not to blow yourself up.

Bringin It's picture

Thanks - Any more good ideas?


mendolover's picture

Thanks a million azusgm!  Classic example of why I LOVE this site!

DCFusor's picture

Go for it!  I did in 1979, and it takes awhile to get really good, but it's worth it.

Some stuff there under alt energy.  But I never wrote up the whole homesteading thing - I was busy reading about people who'd actually done it themselves.  There's a ton of BS out there that just isn't good info - FWIW.

It's better to be ready than not.  Nice to be able to keep the neigbors food from thawing when the infrastructure they depend on fails them...and so on.  Out here, we get our own roads plowed long before the state bothers to show up too.  It's a nicer life by far than a sewer rat in a city...

ChrisFromMorningside's picture

If you have running water on your property, look into micro/pico hydro generation. It may or may not be more reliable than solar (depends on the climate in your parts) but it certainly is cheaper.

ACP's picture

Retirement yes. Otherwise, not much split-tail out there for youngsters. Most chicks don't dig dirt.

That is, unless the entire financial system collapses. But that's a story for another time......probably very soon.

Vagabond's picture

So true... it's not easy to find the ladies that are down with dirt.

MissCellany's picture

Maybe not. But we do exist, we chicks who are down with dirt -- but NOT with filth. ;^)

Cathartes Aura's picture

heh, beat me to it MissCellany!

I have many friends rural, some off-grid - the majority are female organised, as in: community groupings - there are males too, but they are smart, respectful and use-full.  in other words, they're self-aware, not social tools.

but of course, these females aren't noticed by the boys who need "filthy" - lol. . .

ACP's picture

I stand corrected...

...which is why I used the "most" qualification...

Cathartes Aura's picture

it's all good - never to late to change your mind with new information - including what you think a "woman" should be, vs. what some actually are.

plenty of examples to support all opinions, but sometimes one can't see what exists because it isn't accepted in the mind.


ChrisFromMorningside's picture

This isn't about "dirt," it's about self-reliance and independence and there are plenty of ladies who have that as a personal goal of theirs and who are attracted to men who are likewise pursuing that as a goal. It all depends on where you look. You're probably not going to find them at the club or on your typical liberal arts college campus.

Citxmech's picture

Love the avatar!  One of my favorite movies of all time.

ACP's picture

Why thank does represent the current state of the US quite well.

Everyone living in a bubble (literally), so bored that they either get into trouble or just want to die.

DCFusor's picture

You'd be surprised how wrong you are.  Remember all those little girls who wanted a pony?  Think about it.

respect the cock's picture

Girls like riding things.  No thought needed.

DionysusDevotee's picture

I'll tell my dancer/model wife that right when she gets home.  And the neighbors wives too.

Xanadu_doo's picture

BS - plenty of good country/farm girls around, at least here in the Midwest -- mostly tall blonds of Scandahoovian descent...sigh. ;-)

goldfish1's picture

Numerous comments like these:

written by DAN DOOLEY , February 14, 2012


Omen IV's picture

got to say i agree - the house at least 2000 sq ft - two story - i lived in bozeman and went to flathead and whitefish many times - the wind is high up near kalispell and get 20 below - though most of the time around 0 to 20 most days in winter

that stove will not cut it !

juangrande's picture

I live at 8000ft in a well insulated passive solar design of 1800sq that is heated with one medium wood stove. we have a good deal of sun but nights of -10 are common and -30 possible. I use 2 chords or less and keep the house @ 63 or higher ( including attached green house, which probably cost me 5+ degrees). Solar and wind powered w/ normal appliances. I use propane to cook and heat water...Achilles heel. Have a well and creek on 5 acres. No broadcast tv.

Ripped Chunk's picture

You have it worked out.

The amount of know-it-all's that post here makes me vomit. Truly.

I live at 8,200 in CO

juangrande's picture

I'm working it out, thanks. I'm not isolated by any means as we have 1000 or so like minded neighbors( for the most part). Someone was dogging on the hippies earlier in the post. It was the hippies who realized first that the American dream was really the American delusion. The hippies have their fair share of idiots as does any cross section, but they had the balls to "just say no" to the bullshit well before most. Most of the design technology that I used to build my house (out of pocket and with my labor) was originally hippie ideas. An affinity for harmony may not bring you a "reality" tv show or any number of shiny baubles, but I think it is a sign of advanced consciousness. ps. I too live in CO.

Cathartes Aura's picture

smart post, upvote for the nod to "hippies" - so many here love to say the "hippies sold out to corporate jobs" - and many did, as normalcy bias in a culture skews roughly 70% minimum. . .

but the original folks who "dropped out" in the 70's are still around, still going strong, still providing alternatives, coast-to-coast, and still sharing ideas for newcomers.  add to that the DIYpunk culture of late 70's, and you've got quite a selection of "alternatives" to look into, all of them designed to free up your mind and days. . .

DaveyJones's picture

passive winter solar, south windows, big passive slab to soak up the energy and thick well insulated walls.

skipjack's picture

That stove will heat 2k sq ft no problem.  Don't you so-called "pioneers" with an opinion know what a wood cookstove looks like ?  It looks like a cast iron stove, which radiates heat quite nicely.Here, try this:

His house seems to be mostly open plan. Heat will travel.  He needs to buy/make a firejacket for his cookstove to heat up his hot water more conveniently.  That's the only thing about off-grid that I dislike; I really dislike washing in anything other than very hot water.



delacroix's picture

a little bit of coal, supplementing your final stoke of the evening, will keep it toasty till morning. too much, and the back of your stove, will glow orange.