You just scored the barter deal of a lifetime. It’s a tractor-trailer load of Twinkies! All the driver wanted for it was your bottle of antibiotics for his kid’s skin infection. But here’s the catch. The big rig pulling the trailer has broken down, the driver handed over the key to the padlock on the roll-up door, and now you have to get 100 cubic yards of spongy golden cream logs back to your mountain cabin. In other SDI articles, we’ll talk about ways to transport your bartering goods. Here, our goal is more about the mindset of practical trading.
The First Rule of Barter Club
Rule number one is easy. Keep things manageable. Sure, that tractor-trailer of Twinkies seemed like a good idea at the time, but how are you going to transport all that sugary goodness? Rule number two is security. With stars in your eyes from your gargantuan trade, you may not be thinking clearly. Maybe some guys in pickup trucks offer to haul your Twinkies if they can keep a few boxes. Hold on! Do you even know those guys? Your big score may compromise the security of your group when you let strangers deliver a haul of goods. For both safety and practicality, your best bet is to keep the scale smaller and opt for more “on-the-go” trading. Trade for an amount you can move.
Deals On Wheels
If you can determine your upper size limit on transportation, you’ll have a maximum that you can keep in mind. If you have a functional car, truck, van or other vehicles in your survival situation, your transportation problem is solved, and you’ll be able to measure your exact cargo space. Even in a setting without operational motor vehicles (gas shortage, or possibly an EMP) – you can still take advantage of humanity’s most revolutionary invention (the wheel). If your route home is on pavement or concrete, you can take a page from today’s homeless culture. Commandeer a shopping cart. If you’re dressed like a homeless person too, bystanders may not give you a second look.
Similarly, a wheelbarrow may work to carry your supplies. For smaller loads, you could also consider rolling suitcases or coolers as a means of transport. Keep in mind the maximum volume of stuff you could tote with your best available set of wheels.
Being forced to carry your supplies in a backpack or your arms would be the greatest limit on the types and volumes of goods you could swap. I’m not saying it is useless or hopeless. Small high-value things (like antibiotics) can go in your pocket. But large volumes of goods are not practical to carry. Even if you made a hundred trips back and forth to carry your supplies, that’s a hundred chances for some desperate nut job to follow you back to your home.
A Lesson In Resources and Transport
The Latvian Tractor story. It’s been floating around in prepper circles for a decade, though I can’t seem to find the names or city involved in the story. I do believe the story because I met a woman who was indirectly involved in the tale (the guy in the story took wood off her family’s property). But even if the whole thing is fiction – it’s still a useful parable. Here’s how the story goes. During the Great Recession in 2008-2009, the small European country of Latvia had a tougher time than the USA did.
Their “easy credit” trap virtually collapsed the already stumbling economy. When new construction stopped in its tracks in Latvia, as it did through much of the world, one small architectural firm was really struggling. The business owner couldn’t support himself and his employees with no new work coming in, so he shuttered the business. Not being able to find work in his chosen trade, this fellow took advantage of three unlikely assets.
He had a good friend “up the ladder” at a local coal-fired power plant. He had access to nearby woodlands, and he had a tractor with a wagon. Taking a break from his white collar job, the architect started cutting wood and selling it to the power plant – cheaper than the temporarily inflated price of coal. This man went from wondering how he would feed his family to making some good money (at a time where very few people prospered). After the crisis stabilized and money started to flow again, the architect took his firewood cash and reopened a bigger and better architecture firm. He was actually better off for having gone through the hardships.
Again, I believe the story to be true, but even if it’s not; the tale is a great example of survival through adaptability. It’s also about back up plans (what’s your Latvian tractor?). And it’s about transportation. If this man had shown up at the power plant with an armload of firewood, he would have been laughed at. Instead, he showed up with a tractor pulling a heavily laden wagon of firewood – day after day. Maybe your tractor is a real tractor. It could also be a dirt bike, a horse or a wheelbarrow. You’d just better hope you have the right “tractor” for the job.