Without a doubt, the Y2K scare helped put Lehman’s on the map. Thousands of people seeking non-electric ways to survive — wood stoves, water pumps, grain mills and oil lamps — sought out our (then) small company starting in 1998. To say our company experienced a massive spike in business is an understatement. Lehman’s was absolutely inundated with catalog orders, phone calls and customers in our store, all wanting to prepare for the worst.
Our President, Galen Lehman, reflected on those days recently.
“The earliest people thought it was going to be a much bigger disaster, and they were purchasing more extreme items, like grain and grain mills, and water pumps – ways to protect their food and water supply,” he said. “They were preparing for a long-term outage.”
By buying water pumps and grain mills, folks were preparing for months or years without electricity. Grain, for example, can be stored in a dry place for years, retaining its value as safe, nutritious food. When preparing for hard times, it’s important to think about exactly what you are preparing for.
Kerosene, when kept in a cool dark room, keeps for years. And, a gallon of kerosene can provide all your lighting needs for weeks. For that reason, oil lamps are a much better option than failure prone portable solar lights or lights that use batteries, which have a very limited life cycle. They are a perfect option, if you expect to be without electricity for a period of weeks.
“Dehydrated food is popular with preppers, but much of the time it doesn’t taste very good. We didn’t sell canned meat then, but we do now – and unlike dehydrated food, it is delicious and it still lasts for years. If it gets near the expiration date, you can eat it … and you’ll actually enjoy it.”
Most canned foods, whether home canned or purchased, remain delicious for years. No method of preservation produces “forever” food. All preserved food must be eaten, sooner or later, with or without a disaster.
“From my perspective,” Galen said, “It makes a LOT more sense to preserve food that you can enjoy eating! I’m certain that most people end up throwing away the dehydrated food they’ve saved up for emergencies, because it’s just not that desirable.”
There was a marked difference in the early Y2K customers and the people who waited until the date was almost here, Lehman said. And that difference came down to supply and demand.
“The people who called us early got exactly what they wanted, without compromise. People who called later had not as many choices – so they had more stress of the upcoming threat, plus the stress of not getting what they wanted to prepare,” he said.
“It’s popular to talk about Y2K these days like it wasn’t a real threat. It was a real threat. Had it not been fixed, our economy and our electric grid would have collapsed. Here at Lehman’s we had a system (at that time) certified to be Y2K-compliant and we still lost pockets of data that were not converted properly. So it was a very real threat.”
And, many of the threats we’re facing today are real threats, he stressed.
“I think a common mistake people make is that a threat of disaster strikes fear in their hearts, so they hurriedly go stock up on everything. During Y2K people prepped, then sold all of their supplies a few years later, because they hadn’t needed them like they thought they would. That is wrong. One of those customers came back several years later and started the cycle over again, after being without power for weeks during the New England ice storm of 2008.This is a lifestyle of being prepared and being self-sufficient. It’s an American value – that pioneering spirit that made America great. That’s what we need more of.”
Lehman had further advice for those preparing for emergencies.
“There’s the idea of getting ready for a disaster – but what will it be? A resurgence of smallpox? Terrorism? An electro-magnetic pulse (EMP)? A solar flare? We don’t know. I think the truth is that what we ought to prep for is a series of mini disasters.
“That huge ‘end of civilization’ event may come. But much more likely is the threat of an extended power outage caused by a natural or man-made disaster, something that would completely destroy your lifestyle for a period of many weeks. In fact, some people reading this article have probably faced something like that already.”
He recalled a major ice storm that swept through Ohio more than a decade ago, right before Christmas. A huge area lost electric power as the temperatures dipped into the single digits.
“We had two weeks without power, and people around here had major problems,” he remembered. “People abandoned their homes, people had burst pipes and damage to their homes … not me. We had food, water and heat. My children complained about no TV and that was the worst of our problems.”
Lehman emphasizes that it doesn’t take a lot of money to get prepared for emergencies.
“You don’t have to be wealthy; there are so many simple things you can do. But, supplies can be limited so there is a need to plan ahead. The key is to think about what YOU’RE prepping for – long term or short term, or both.”