Chapter 4

Posted on: April 19, 2010

Home Safe Complex

11:50 am CST

About 12 miles South of Eleva, Wisconsin

The drive south was uneventful and without much traffic. Matt was scanning the radio stations for news, checking the usual AM talk radio, FM, but nothing. Even the local Christian talk show guy, Joseph Stevens, on WWJD wasn’t talking about it, just the usual loss of morality by Hollywood stuff. No breaking news, no emergency alert system breaking in, nothing of the sort. Hopefully Larry was right, they still had time, it would take the government a while to mobilize and take action, or it was all just a big mistake, and just a flu season outbreak.

Finally the turn off came, where Matt left the paved county highway to the back country dirt road. The road wound up to the right over a hill with a rather precarious 50 foot drop off with only a light guard rail. Not a problem coming in, since one could stay to the inside of the road, but in the dead of winter Matt would sometimes take the back way out to avoid this, especially if not plowed yet, even though his van was AWD. With another car coming the other way, you just didn’t want to be on the outside of that turn, and there were a couple back roads like that around with all the hills and valleys.

It was a peaceful fall day with the trees nearing peak color. He drove down into the valley where the road flattened out again, and passed the three mail boxes, each about a quarter mile apart, the Cobbs, the Petersons, and the Johnsons. Matt then crossed the narrow bridge over Helman’s Creek and started to slow down for the turn into the driveway.

No oncoming traffic, as was usually the case, so he turned on to the complex primary gravel driveway, which came a few hundred feet before the driveway into the Benny farm. 80 feet in from the road was the double cattle gate, with astatically, yet also strategically, had large boulders on either side of the gates. Helman’s Creek formed a 100 foot wide isthmus of land there, and gate closed off the only way in, over the culvert. Helman’s Creek flowed North to South almost parallel to the main road, 20 to 100 feet East of it. It wasn’t much of a creek, 8 to 15 feet wide, a foot or two water in it except after a big rain or spring thaw. The ditch however was a good 4 to 6 feet deep, enough to keep almost any vehicle from crossing it. Also, over the generations the Bennys had left and even planted some trees along the road too, such that there were few places wide enough to drive anything larger than a ATV through.

The first gate was a lighter weight steel gate with a Mighty Mule electric remote opener, like a garage door opener. Very cool system for under $500 Matt had found at Northern Too, and enjoyed the luxury it. With the push of a garage door opener, the gate opened. The heavier steel I-beam, and secondary gate inside it was open as usual, since that one had to be done by hand. Matt worried he might soon have to start closing that one, per protocol. For now though, he needed to leave the easy remote access for the deliveries that were coming, and for all the other condo owners who would be arriving. A really cool feature Matt and Larry had installed was the video and auto system, where from his condo he could see, talk to, and then open the gate for anyone coming in who didn’t have a remote.

The gate held open for 90 seconds as he drive in. He noticed the proximity sensor with a red LED not visible, and made a mental note to come back and change the batteries in it. (Crap he thought, batteries, how could he forget that of all things, especially when he was in the best place to buy the really big packs of them too). He drove up the gravel drive, looking over to the Benny farm house and the two main barn buildings to the south. No one was visible. He better leave them a message on their phone answering machine he thought.

Matt headed up the drive along the north end of farmer Benny’s north field. It was 430 yards from the west tower of the retreat to the front gate, a fact Matt knew off hand as he had sighted in his Remington 700 CDL in 300 Win. Mag. rifle, with a 4×12 Leopold scope, to that distance. The retreat complex was up on a plateau north of the valley where the Benny farmhouse and buildings were. With the tree leaf colors on the hills nearing their peak, it was all very picturesque. In fact, some of the condo owners were probably going to be coming up for the fall colors, but for the following weekend, at full peak.

The Benny farm house and buildings sat in the middle almost of about 400 acres of tillable land in a triangular shape. There were hills to the north and south, each rising over 200 feet, and then coming together at the eastern end of the land to form a rough and rocky pasture area about 50 feet about the bottom of the valley. A few years ago farmer Benny, or Jack, and Paul (his brother-in-law and President of the condo association) had repaired the old barb wire fence there and put in a small herd of game deer for fun, something different. Besides the 400 acres of farm land, farmer Benny owned nearly 400 more including a good part of the hills. The only land his family had sold for over 100 years was the 40 acre area where the retreat complex was, and that was because of Paul, so they still considered that family, not to break the record of buying and expanding only.

Back in 2006 Paul and two of his family friends, Joe Paulson in Madison, and Terry Powell in Chicago, had decided to put together a survival group and buy some land. Paul being a real estate developer in the Milwaukee area, developing in Waukesha County, at one point almost 100 residential lots a year, and his construction company building about 40 homes a year, back before the recession, had the knowledge
and connections to pursue his ambitious project. He had been looking for land, farming land, hunting land, something reasonably remote, but after discussions on Yahoo survivalist groups, he realized what he really needed to do was to partner up with an existing, operating farm in a rural isolated area, and his second wife’s brother already had that. Before partnering with him, the three had already dismissed the prospect of trying to run even a small gentleman farm with absentee landlords as that was going to be both problematic an unprofitable. Just the purchasing of new equipment and buildings was more than any of them wanted to invest for a “just in case” operation. The other issues was the cultural divide between farmers being so untrusting of “Green Acre” type city folks, esp. ones who wanted to come in and build a weird looking vacation retreat condo complex. Clearly working out a deal with Jack was the best approach for many reasons, and frankly, with the economy starting to pull back off the 2005 highs, Jack was willing to sell off some acreage for cash.

Terry Powell, an investment banker from Chicago, was the deep pockets of the group, yet also one of the most frugal. Paul Rogers was the driven developer always looking for a new construction challenge. Thirdly, there was Joe Paulson, the more reserved, but sometimes hot tempered auto shop mechanic from Madison. Though his wife pulled down far more money as a leading real estate agent, Joe would occasionally come through with one of his sports car restorations, which often won awards and high bids at cars shows. It was these three rather eclectic family friends, who’s parents had been friends, who formed CMMR, LLC, (Chicago (Terry), Milwaukee (Paul), Madison (Joe) Retreaters). They bought 40 acres from Jack and his wife in 2006 for a generous $4,500 an acre, and a driveway easement to the road. Jack was happy, as it paid off the remaining mortgage on the farm and his equipment. They chose the location because of the great 10+ acre plateau on the north end of the land about 50 feet higher than farm land. It was the perfect building site, with southern exposure for solar, and slope exposure for basement windows. The other 30 some acres around it went up the hill, down to the edge
of the fields where the septic system was. There was also a second driveway easement from it to Jack’s farm house and buildings. It was a good strategic position offering high visibility of the entire valley, all the way down to the road. Behind the complex, to the North, it was a very steep, with about a 30 foot vertical rock face in some areas too. There was only one way up it, a trail, and that was several hundred yards to the East.

Matt remembered that he was really the only member to come into this by complete dumb luck. The original three were all big into yahoo survivalist groups to gather information. Paul then started The Retreaters as a Yahoo survivalist group so that all the members could communicate easily. The group functions, such as postings, pollings, and the database were perfect for doing this, and the price was tough to beat, free. TheRetreaters being Paul’s first group, he left it on the standard settings, which left it visible to everyone and open for anyone to join. Right about that time Matt recalled he was searching for Wisconsin survival groups and found The Retreaters and joined it, to Paul’s surprise. After a little back and forth between Matt and Paul, and then the other founding members, they become impressed that Matt was in Chippewa Falls and worked just south of Eau Claire at a truss manufacturing company. Suddenly Paul and the others become interested in Matt if he would consider living there full time. The 45 minute commute to work was not big deal, even with the gas prices, as Matt was commuting 30 minutes already from the North. Matt gave the group a full time local living there, besides Jack, who they didn’t want to overly bother since he was busy running his farm. It gave Matt, as a young guy out of UW Stout, in his second job, an opportunity to get in on the group floor of a rather unique and cool place to live. As a small compensation, for overseeing the place, he did not have to pay the $150/month condo fee. Matt accepted, though his attitude wasn’t fully backed up with the necessary finances. The price was a little higher than Matt could afford, about $165,000 a unit for the cheapest ones, plus the condo fees. Luckily Matt’s uncle Larry, with whom Matt was very close, especially after Matt’s father had died, was willing to buy-in with him and put $18,000 down, plus Matt’s $15,000 made 20% down, and Matt got a good mortgage. All that, and time each year to have fun shooting, hunting, and fishing up north with his totally cool uncle Larry, it was just perfect for Matt.

Throughout the fall of 2006, the first 6 unit condo building went up, with the first 4 units were sold to the founders and Matt. Soon after, Paul got his dentist, Ralph Lutwig to buy a unit, and then Terry brought in Scott McCormick, a bank trustee he knew well in Chicago. This brought in some real money, and allowed them to build the common center area in the middle, and start planning the second building of six units also. Changes in Wisconsin condominium law
coming into effect back in November of 2004 had made this simple. There were easy provisions for developments of 12 units or less, which Paul took full advantage of. The other thing it provided was a system of government. The condo association had power to enforce several things, including contributions to common areas and fees. The association could take action against problem people or people not paying their way. With this group though, there had never been a problem. Matt seemed to be the only one financially stretched to buy in, and he earned his keep by keeping up the place, plowing, mowing, and doing general maintenance of the common area. Arguments were far more likely to irrupt over what they spent on the common areas, mainly stuff for people’s kids, as most had teenagers or older, but families with younger kids wanted some playground stuff.

Paul was always pushing the envelope to build extravagant things while Terry in particular tried to pull him back into financial reality. Just about everyone was into alternate energy. Since 2004 Paul, Terry, and Joe had gone go the annual Alternate Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin, near Stevens Point. Matt and Morgan Hathaway had even been there in 2004 as well, but they had all not met yet. Thus they would indulge Paul to a point. As a visionary, he had a talent for
dreaming a little too big. The originally planned systems and backup sub systems of the complex were enough to make most military installations jealous, but they lacked the military’s budget, so Paul had to make due with less grand plans.

The final “complex” came together looking conventional, like a vacation condos that exist around the Wisconsin Dells area, but with some rather unique and impressive features. Two six unit buildings, with two story townhouse type condominiums. Each unit being 20-22 feet wide with 2 bedrooms & 2 baths above, kitchen-dinette-great room on the first floor with half bath and laundry, and another bath and bedroom below if the owner finished it off. Each unit also has an attached two car garage, 24 feet deep. The basements had a 1/2 exposure, which allowed for legal window well for a bedroom to be added to the basement, however, egress had to be through a hatch in the deck, since a 14 foot wide deck ran the full length of the units in the front where it overlooked the valley. In the back was a blacktopped parking lot, 60 feet wide, with a set of garages on the back side, since a two car garage wasn’t enough for some members.

The complex had been Paul’s dream more than anyone, but it was a real labor of love to design and build. Matt had even played an unexpected part since he worked for a wood truss manufacturer. Since the main two buildings, six units each, used wood floor and roof trusses, and some component building, Matt became the apple of his boss’s eye at work during construction in 2006 and 2007 as it brought in over $350,000 in business to that company.

The basic concept of the complex was to form a micro survival community that was as near sufficient and self sustaining as possible. It had become apparent to many of the current members that individual efforts build one or several cottages in the woods, or buy and run a small farm was impractical for many reasons. On top of that was the consideration of realistic defense. In the event of a complete breakdown of government, society, and finally law enforcement, TEOTWAWKI scenario (the end of the world as we know it) a single family, even a somewhat extended family, would be hard pressed by lack of manpower and hours alone to maintain a competent 24/7 system of security. There was also likely to be a lack of skills within a mere single family. The three founding members, Paul, Scott, and Rich, had started in 2004 with a list of skills they thought they should seek out, and a list of every conceivable threat they would attempt to survive. (Appendix) It was in expansion of this that they strove to design facilities that would accommodate all that they could think of that would be necessary, within reason, and within budget.

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