How To Build an Invisible Survival Shelter

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In Plain Sight

Whether discussing survival shelter or just invisibility in general, off grid or on grid, there are basically three ways to ensure anything or anybody remains unseen:

1. Place the object or person in a place where nobody goes.

2. Camouflage, which includes hiding things in plain sight.

3. Mentally or spiritually adjust one’s vibrations to match surroundings.

Number one can be difficult in this relatively crowded world unless you head out for parts so unknown that starvation is a likely outcome. Number three is a skill more common than most folks realize but requires constant attention.

Therefore, #2, hiding things in plain sight, is quite often the way to go. It’s a skill unto itself, true enough…but sometimes a specific example of the art will jump right out and slap me upside the head.

That happened this afternoon as I was working on a lumber storage project. In the incredibly comfortable, secure off grid home I’ve built by hand this past year in southern Arizona (one mile from the Mexican border), we faced a challenge: What must I do before removing all of our building supplies from the final quarter of the building’s interior so that I can start finishing the interior of the kitchen/living area? Ceilings, interior walls, and subflooring are all made of OSB (oriented strand board). OSB is great stuff in many ways. It’s strong (unlike sheetrock), easy to cut, and has a number of other virtues.

But it does not like water. If I simply stacked the stuff outside until I could use it, one or two nights of rain (and we do get those) would render the boards so “fluffy” as to be worthless. They had to have cover, preferably from both rain and the sun’s UV rays.

What to do?

Neither our steel storage sheds or the antiquated semi trailer used for additional storage have enough room in them for such a use. Tarps would work, but the weather around here shreds those pretty rapidly, and they’re a pain to remove and replace every time another board is needed from the pile. I even considered building an earthbag dome, but that’s a whole lot of work and would take weeks of time needed to finish insulating the home before night temperatures begin dropping significantly–which is already starting to happen. I pondered this problem (opportunity?) for days.

Then it hit me. Duh. If I simply skirted the front portion of that semi trailer, the part ahead of the crank-down stand legs, hey, problem solved.

So it began. But being me, I had to get a bit fancy. Started with treated lumber where wood and Earth met, built a solid set of joists, filled the inside of that under-floor framing with rock where dips in the ground might have otherwise encouraged a snake to den up. Covered the subframing with sheathing boards.

In other words, without really thinking about it, I’d just made a mini-cabin floor.

By the time two sides and a short “stub” wall on the third side were finished, I realized, “Hey! I could live in this!”

"Hey! I could live in this!"

“Hey! I could live in this!”


True, it might be a good idea to close off the open sides a bit FIRST, but....

True, it might be a good idea to close off the open sides a bit FIRST, but….

The Two Key Points

This design would need a little modification to make a fully functional invisible shelter, but figuring out how to do that took no time at all. A bit of evaluation:

1. What are the benefits and limitations as a shelter per se?

Not bad, actually. The floor’s useable living space measures 7′ 6″ x 8′ 0″. That’s not huge, but it’s a sight bigger than a 4′ x 7′ pickup bed, in which my wife spent a good bit of her time during her three homeless years just prior to meeting me. You can do a lot with that much space. It would sleep two (or more) with plenty of room left over for living essentials. True, an adult couldn’t stand up in there, but sitting or even kneeling is no problem at all.

2. How is it invisible?

Simply this: Most people see what they expect to see. The individual who sees what is actually there, without filtering it through his or her own expectations, is a rare human being indeed. This could easily be finished to “represent” itself as absolutely nothing but trailer skirting…behind which would be found nothing but maybe some old tires, spiders, and cobwebs.

If the entire trailer were skirted in this fashion, there would be three separate “condos” with natural borders between them: The front portion with eight to ten feet of floor length, the center portion between the landing gear legs and the rear axles with roughly twelve feet of floor length, and a “cozy” six-footer behind the rear axles.

With something like this available, youngsters in the family could have great fun pretending to be hiding out…and the entire family could have a prepared-in-advance “safe room” for emergency situations. Or, if built in Alaska, Sarah Palin and her family might find it handy for avoiding super-snoop Moon Man Joe McGinniss or maybe a moose-hunting blind.

It's not as low as it looks. Even with the floor eating up four inches of vertical, 44 inches of headroom remain.

It’s not as low as it looks. Even with the floor eating up four inches of vertical, 44 inches of headroom remain.


I was sitting comfortably on the floor, back to the trailer-front wall, when I snapped this shot of my Wal-Mart tennis shoes.

I was sitting comfortably on the floor, back to the trailer-front wall, when I snapped this shot of my Wal-Mart tennis shoes.


Just skirting the trailer, folks. Nothing to see here. Certainly no people living inside. Move along, now.

Just skirting the trailer, folks. Nothing to see here. Certainly no people living inside. Move along, now.

In Closing….

For our current purposes, a removable side (for moving 4′ x 8′ boards in and out) will be added next to the short stub-wall, the entire structure will be painted to protect against the weather (and match the house, though not the trailer), and that will be it. Yes, of course more photos will be added here.

The best overall camouflage would obviously be to skirt the entire trailer. Unfriendly types just aren’t going to expect you and your family and twenty or thirty friends to be living under there in the dirt with the spiders; nobody would do that, doncha know! With a full skirt, there’s nothing to give away the presence of a wooden floor, and a few evenly spaced, small, screened windows would be automatically accepted as just good ventilation practice for any enclosed space.

However, it wouldn’t be hard to convert just the 8-foot section to super-invisble, either. Part of that is already in place: On the side already enclosed (as of this writing), the wall is actually ten feet long. The original purpose is to provide extra “shielding” against the elements on that side, but it also shields against inquisitive eyes.

Obviously, it would be necessary to “cover” the opening beneath the trailer that faces the landing gear. One way (there are as many others as your imagination can produce) would be to glue cardboard box sides to a piece of sheathing board, making a false front showing the “storage area” filled to the gills with boxes of, um, stuff. One taller “box” could even be built (with a bit of framing) as a hinged door, etc.

The possibilities are endless.

The Removable Panel

Got that part done today (9/14/10) and took a picture. Even managed to apply the first coat of paint…but forgot to snap a shot of that before sunset. To tide readers over till the morrow, fortunately, said sunset was spectacular, with a half moon hanging high in the sky to add to the effect.

Sun’s up. Got the snapshot! And a cool one of a big, beautiful praying mantis hanging out on the house wall, too!

The removable section installed.

The removable section installed.


Up close.

Up close.


Light at sunset (looking to the south) with a half moon riding high.

Light at sunset (looking to the south) with a half moon riding high.


After one coat of paint.

After one coat of paint.


The south side. The house wall in the background is where the praying mantis was found.

The south side. The house wall in the background is where the praying mantis was found.


Our friend, the oversized (pregnant female) praying mantis.

Our friend, the oversized (pregnant female) praying mantis.


After the second coat of paint was applied, it was time to load the invisible shelter with its first "dwellers"...58 sheets of OSB.

After the second coat of paint was applied, it was time to load the invisible shelter with its first “dwellers”…58 sheets of OSB.


Plus a bunch of the leftover scrap lumber we might still need.

Plus a bunch of the leftover scrap lumber we might still need.


Then, button back up for the night, and...BOOM! INVISIBLE!

Then, button back up for the night, and…BOOM! INVISIBLE!


Come the dawn, of course, we'll open up again...just like this morning glory adorning our driveway gravel.

Come the dawn, of course, we’ll open up again…just like this morning glory adorning our driveway gravel.

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