Diesel, Propane, and Survivalist Small Ball: Part II

As I was struggling with a poorly draining tank chained to a little utility trailer, the world was passing me by. Private enterprise struck fossil gold in North Dakota and the government (despite its best efforts) couldn’t stop it. The price of propane fell like a rock. Everyone and their dog bought propane furnaces.

During that time my furnace died. I replaced it with… nothing. Because that’s how I roll! (See the chronicles of the learning experience that is the saga that inspired the book that will be the movie of “The Furnace: One Man’s Struggle”: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

A year later, I’d gleefully proved I could live without a furnace. Yay me. But smart monkeys like redundancy. It was time to replace the furnace. At the time everyone was buying propane furnaces. Hank Hill had won the day.

The smart monkey/survivalist/prepper/boy scout looks at propane and ponders not the fuel but the delivery system. Any dipshit with a truck can deliver fuel oil. (I knew because I’d been buying it from dipshits with trucks.) It takes complex gear to deliver propane. Ironically, the higher equipment buy in suggests a more professional level of service (but not cheaper). On the other hand, propane delivery to my house is offered by one and only one company and I’d have to “rent” a propane tank. I hate renting anything.

Did I want a fuel that requires specialized equipment? Did I want to buy into a monopoly’s delivery system? Propane is vastly superior as a fuel but the supply chain for compressed gas is pretty complex.

Do supply chains matter? To this monkey they do.

I installed another oil furnace. Obsolete technology in a world where everyone wanted propane. What a chump!

I kept muddling along trying to get off road diesel from gas stations to my house. Neglecting the tank (which I wouldn’t forgive for landing on my foot) I decided to haul fuel in 5 gallon fuel cans. It worked! Yes, a 5 gallon fuel jug will indeed haul 5 gallons of fuel. Who knew? Sometimes monkeys think too much. That kept me limping along a few more winters. It was nice to know I could “get by” with a plastic jug but even I had to admit that hauling jugs stinks.

By now I had a “new” truck. The truck was taller than the trailer I’d been using. Surely the siphon drain system would work now? I stuck the tank and skids in the truck, strapped it down very well, slapped duct tape over the broken fixture on the top, and gave it a shot.

Failure! The tank rode like a pregnant rhino and the siphon wasn’t much better. I delivered a meager 20 gallons and went back to the drawing board.

I talked to several guys about mounting the tank. Everyone was more than willing to charge me a crapload to drill holes in my truck bed and bolt the sucker down. Once mounted it would be a bitch to remove. But, they reasoned, it would be awesome for filling my hypothetical bulldozer. I called dug in my heels. I use my truck bed to its fullest extent. If I wanted a shortbed I’d have bought a shortbed.

I have a removable gooseneck hitch. It’s a big beefy steel sucker that mounts right thought the bed to an awesome subframe. It’s strong enough to pull the biggest horse trailer out there, yet I can pull a pin and pop the ball right out. Once the ball is removed my bed is flat again for hauling stuff.

Why not a tank with a pin… just like the horse trailer hitch? Mechanics insisted it was impossible. This is what happens when the word “mechanic” really means “parts changer”. If we had more mechanics who are up to custom installations, the world would be a better place. Just a few people for whom the word “fabricate” isn’t terrifying would be a good start.

After weeks of searching I found a welder. He went at it with hammer and tongs. Soon I had a beefy steel “skid” on the tank. It had a massive removable pin that slid into the gooseneck hitch receptacle.

Success! It locks down like God wants it to be there. Once pinned down, Godzilla couldn’t budge it. Full or empty, it rides like a dream.

I shook off my usual cheapskate nature and bought a transfer pump. The welder fixed up the broken top with threads and we installed the pump. Because this was a removable tank I wanted removable power to the pump. I set up a beefy set of fused leads that can be coiled up when not in use. When I need them they stretch from the pump to the truck’s battery. Sweet!

Last fall I tried it out. At the gas station I bought 30 gallons of “off road” fuel. I drove onto my lawn, adjacent to the inlet for my fuel oil tank, clipped the jumper cables to the truck’s battery, flipped the switch, and whoosh!

Success! I did a little monkey dance on the lawn!

Winter arrived with the intention of killing first Al Gore and then the rest of us. Snow piled up. My carefully laid plans went haywire. Because of the drifting snow I couldn’t get the truck close enough to the inlet.

Failure! Life is full of surprises.

Back at the hardware store I bought an extension to the fuel delivery hose. Now I can reach a good 25′ past my truck’s bed.

Did it work?

Yes! Another monkey dance.

There you have it. For a couple hundred bucks I supplanted the entire fuel delivery industry with an old tank, a pump, some welded hardware, and extra hose. It works very well. I don’t mind a long R&D period because the end result is just what I wanted.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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23 Responses to Diesel, Propane, and Survivalist Small Ball: Part II

  1. Joel says:

    Learning curve ending in success are rare and wonderful things.

  2. Richard says:

    Perhaps you should submit your blog and a butt load of pictures to http://www.farmshow.com/ , they might make you the centerfold pin-up.

    • Oh thanks for the compliment! Alas I’m a puppy compared to their big dogs.

      They’ve got articles about repowering combine engines into a truck or building machinery to do all sorts of impressive things. Usually on a budget of “not much”. Those guys are awesome. I’m not there yet. I’m still impressed when I keep the lawn mowed, the house heated, and the chickens alive.

      (In my defense you’ll note that a lot of the really cool farm show projects were made by retired gentlemen. Maybe when I retire I’ll have time to properly maintain my ramshackle homestead.)

  3. Shango says:

    Hey AC, I’ve been following your blog for a while now – months?, year?, and it appears we share the same outlook on life. There’s some commonality to our living situations as well, which prompts a question; What make and model of transfer pump did you buy, and do you think it will pump #2 diesel thru a 60 foot hose? I’m considering putting up an outbuilding containing three 500 gallon tanks, two for water and one for diesel for the day when the SHTF. Unfortunately, the best place for the building is 60 feet from the generator. Tuthill tells me their 12V pumps won’t push diesel that far. Any thoughts?

    • Hmmm… the pump manufacturers might be telling the truth. I was about to say the pump I got wouldn’t do it (or rather it probably would but might fail after a few seasons). Then I realized I’ve got half the length you’re mentioning and it barely hiccups. So maybe… I guess I just don’t know how far a little 12V DC transfer pump can go before you’ve worked it to death. I have the longest hose on any truck I’ve seen and it’s not 60′.

      If you go that route don’t buy small. I spent about $200 and it was the cheapest thing in the store. 60′ means you should buy the biggest one in the store. They’ve got a lot more ooph than the little dude I bought.

      If a generator is involved that means you can make AC. Why not look for an AC powered pump? They’re hard to find but I suspect AV pumps are a whole order of magnitude beefier and more powerful. Probably much longer useful life too.

      Also, if I had a stationary supply and a stationary generator I’d look for something more elegant than a hose to move fluid from point A to point B. Hose (for fuel) is expensive and annoying. 60′ of pipe should be much cheaper than hose. (Choose your material wisely and build with safety in mind!) If you could build the fuel depot higher elevation than the generator you could use gravity. (It’s a sickness…I can’t give up on the gravity method even though it sucked when I tried it. I’m assuming topography prohibits this.)

      One more thing, I know what you’re thinking and don’t do it. Do not try to put a single pipe to dual use for water and fuel. It sounds clever on paper but pony up for two sets of pipe and you’ll thank yourself later. (In my climate I’d set it up to easily drain both so they don’t freeze in winter too.)

      Hey I’m totally rooting for you. As you build this keep in touch. Seriously. It’s good to hear someone else is tilting at the same windows. I’m dying to hear stories about fuel depot nirvana.

      • Shango says:

        I agree that a gravity feed would be the optimal solution. I’ve never heard of a SHTF scenario in which gravity was affected. There could be rampant hyperinflation, power outages, crops failures, radiation tainted wildlife, rioting in the streets, polar vortex induced tornados, and flakes of global warming drifting up to the eves, but up will still be up and down be down. It’s good to know that there’s SOMETHING that one can rely on 100% in today’s chaotic world.

        Unfortunately, it’s that same gravity that is dictating the location of the storage tank outbuilding below that of the generator. It all starts with the height of the gutter on the garage roof to be used for rainwater catchment. It’s a little too late to move the garage uphill from the motorhome pad with the outbuilding in between. I should have thought this through years ago.

        Permanent piping would be great too. But the hose provides for movement and flexibility – the ability to get fuel to the friend’s war wagon should hostilities break out. As for one pipe both diesel and water, I hadn’t even thought of that. With my luck, I’d forget to check the valves and end up cooking or showering in diesel.

        I’ve considered AC powered pumps, but it just strikes me as wrong to rely on AC in a grid down situation. Using the generator to pump fuel for the generator seems… incestuous? It would mean running AC power from the motorhome back to the outbuilding. And what if I accidently run the generator dry? But I’ve got essentially the same issue with a 12V pump. I suppose I could keep the little backup generator in the outbuilding to power the pump. I’d actually prefer a manual pump, but again, the manufacturers tell me a manual pump won’t handle 60 feet of hose. Damn, how would they handle this on Doomsday Preppers? Why hasn’t someone posted a how-to video for this on Youtube?

        And hold on…would a reversal of the magnetic poles affect gravity?

      • Using a generator to make AC to run an AC pump to supply the generator’s fuel is about a circular as it gets. Normally it sounds dumb. I’m not pround, maybe it is.

        But think of it this way. You can always haul a fuel jug across the lawn to start the generator. A $5 jug can be your “unkillable backup” plan. Not as good as gravity but pretty darned good nonetheless. In fact you should have a fuel jug handy all the time anyway.

        Any generator will run on a couple gallons for a while. Plenty long enough to power a pump. You should always have your generator ready and fueled but even if you don’t all you need to do is walk across the lawn once before you can fire it up and pump all you need. If the generator won’t start you don’t need to supply fuel to it. The worst case would be an expensive elaborate solar powered, battery backup, super awesome fuel delivery system that survives an EMP pulse and wolverine attack only to deliver fuel to a generator that won’t start. Is that not the other side of the coin?

        This all falls apart if you’re trying to fuel a truck while the generator is toast. Then my advice is crap. I’m also envisioning a big heavy expensive generator. If it’s a little 3,000 Watt deal on wheels I’m overthinking things.

        I’ve never seen Doomsday Preppers. On Netflix I saw two episodes about some company making elaborate welded bunkers. I enjoyed the engineering but it looked like a whole lotta money being spent for minimal returns. Fun to dream but a lot like pondering commuter vehicles while watching Orange County Choppers.

        BTW: I see no reason why you can’t have a 60′ system to deliver to a few feet from your generator (maybe with a small delivery hose at the end to fill the generator’s OEM tank itself) AND a hose right at the tank to fuel tractors and stuff. (Presumably you can drive to the tanks or how are you going to get purchased fuel into the tanks.) One valve can easily be setup to choose between. Fuel hose for transfer pumps comes in 15′ lengths (I think?). Buying four will be $100 to $200… counting fittings.

        One more note. I have several 250 gallon furnace tanks I scrounged when everyone went to propane. Someday I want to make a fuel storage “facility” just far enough from my house that I don’t need to worry about fires. You’re ahead of my plans on this idea but indeed we’ve got parallel concepts.

      • Shango says:

        FYI… just to fill out the picture…
        The”Big” generator is a 7.5KW Onan super quiet diesel that sits in the nose of a Class A diesel pusher motorhome that I’ve called home for the past 9 years. I retired from a job on the road last summer so now it sits beside the 24 X 36 foot garage that I built first. Once I get around to building a house, it will become guest quarters and/or a bug out vehicle. The Onan burns 0.15-0.20 gallons/hour at minimal load (lights, TV and battery charging), and 0.35 gallons at full tilt (2 ACs and everything else). With 100 gallons on board and 500 in the outbuilding I should be able to run 4 hours a day for 18 months or more, long enough for the zombies or democrats or hyperinflation to be defeated and civilization to be restored. Either that or I won’t care to survive any longer.
        The “Little” generator is a Coleman 1850 watt gas model. Interesting note about that one; it sat in storage for 6 years without the benefit of gas stabilizer or any other storage prep. I figured I was in for a $100 bill for carb cleaning, etc. but I figured I’d give it a try before taking it to the shop. Well, you know how you give kind of a half pull on the starter cord to make sure the clutch engages before pulling for real? After six years it started on the half pull.
        Ok, you’ve convinced me that while circular logic may not be proper, using a gas generator to power a pump to feed fuel to a diesel generator is acceptable. I figure the fuel difference makes it like marrying your second cousin.
        I’m off to look for an AC pump that’ll push 60 feet on less than 15 amps.

  4. Robert says:

    Bravo Zulu, sir!
    Next: refining your own fuel from crude? Or converting a diesel rig to run on a gasifier ala WWII Pacific Islanders?

  5. Aspiring Curmudgeon says:

    Wondering why the slow transfer between the height of your truck and the oil tank? one would assume drainage speed would only be limited by hose diameter? possible vapor lock on the portable tank not allowing enough air in to replace the volume of fuel being drained?

    • I never did figure out why the drain was so slow. I opened the tank’s cap so I know it wasn’t vapor lock. I also tried to avoid air bubbles in the hose… which didn’t seem to matter anyway. I assumed it would drain more or less the speed of water (maybe a bit slower). Perhaps a barrel of water on the truck with the same length of hose going to the same level would drain surprisingly slowly too?

      In the end my experiments were short circuited by commercialism. A “cheap” pump, surely made in China, cranks the fluid admirably. I was concerned the additional hose would annoy the pump. Not a problem.

      Also the cheap pump has a 10 minute duty cycle. I was worried this would be an issue but realized I’d installed an 8 GPM pump on a 70 gallon tank. Problem solved.

  6. Kevin Baker says:

    Endeavor to persevere!

  7. Tennessee Budd says:

    You’ve mentioned it twice recently, & were right both times: there a few mechanics left. Any fool can shotgun parts. My dad, who died last July, was a mechanic, a man who lloked at & thought about the problem, then found a way to make something that would work. As he was also a perfectionist, his solutions will probably last longer than I have left on the planet. Remain in that welder’s good graces–it will be to your benefit.
    The prior mention was about the Death Wobble. You really should, at some point, reveal the name of the dealership, partly to give them an attaboy, partly so others will know a place they can go for quality work.

  8. Tennessee Budd says:

    Oops, I meant “looked.” Apparently I’m not the perfectionist my dad was.

  9. Wolfman says:

    I like the idea of tethering heavy duty stuff to the bed via the flip hitch gooseneck ball. I have (academically, as I personally do not operate a farm, and my Dad has a perfectly good tractor with a three point hitch) wondered at the suitability of installing a removable (attached via the standard receiver plus the flip hitch gooseneck ball) three point live system, such as would be found on a tractor, to a large pickup. It’d be lousy to plow with, but my thought was centered more around post pounders, backhoes, and buzzsaws. Under the right circumstances, I still believe it would work, and should I eventually (as I hope) return to the family farm, I intend to give it a go.

    As to oil furnaces- its another good bit of labor, but in quite a pinch, its possible to grow biodiesel and pour it into an oil furnace. This is nearly impossible with a propane furnace.

  10. Angus S-F says:

    Your description of the fabricated tank skid-and-holddown was great! That alone needs to be documented with pix. Perhaps there is a market for such a system ….

    • I have been thinking of elaborating this summer. It’s too damn cold to be crawling around with a camera right now. Also I planned on painting the old tank. (Might as well take photos when it’s prettier.) Remind me when it’s warm out.

      I know there’s a market for such a system but I’m not ruling out a customer base of one. (And a cheap one at that.)

  11. Pingback: Random Homesteading News | The Adaptive Curmudgeon's Blog

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