Paul Range and Gloria Haswell have enough food, water, and guns to see the apocalypse through. And you're not invited.
Published: May 9, 2012
Paul Range and wife Gloria Haswell sleep atop a mountain of food inside their welded-steel box, rifles within reach. More akin to a fortified castle than the ranch-style homes that dot the neighboring fields, Range and Haswell have built their ultimate defense against doomsday at the center of a 52-acre patch of rural South Texas. Fashioned out of nine freight shipping containers, the steel shells are stacked into a two-floor home, the hard insides polished to mimic a kitchen, pantry, bathroom (where business is done in a bucket), and bedrooms. The towering fortification surrounds a lush courtyard that provides food and water.
Touring the edges of his property, Range, 64, bristles at the term "compound." It's a dirty word. "It sounds so charged," he says. "It makes us sound like crazies, like David Koresh-type shit." There's no cult-like religious dogma here, not a whiff of a feel-good hippie commune, either. We're about as far away from Branch-Davidian concerns as the region's thorn scrub habitat is from Portland, Oregon.
Shunning isolation, the couple ventures into town, dines at local restaurants, and chats it up with neighbors. Haswell, 49, commutes on weekdays to her techie day job in San Antonio (she asked that we not mention the employer).
Thirty-five miles southeast of San Antonio, Range and Haswell still stick out among their Floresville neighbors. "Soon after we moved, we found out the school bus driver was telling people we were a nudist colony or something, the weird hippies or that commune had moved in down the street," Haswell says. "They certainly didn't know what to think of us at first. … Some of them still don't."
The couple believes society's teetering on the edge of collapse, and they've spent the better part of a decade prepping for what they see as the eventual end. Range routinely muses over "shit-hitting-the-fan scenarios" as he wanders the grounds, talking economic collapse, food insecurity, the dangers of reliance on industrial agriculture. Collapse would trigger a free-for-all, he worries. Boulders sit strategically positioned near vast gardens that lead to the fort, ready to block intruders from hitting the front door. It's unlikely they'd ever make it that far.
Range pulls out a collection of rifles and scopes, pointing to positions on the fort's four corners where gunmen can peer as far as two miles across the fields. Range and Haswell fire pot-shots at the steel shell of a home. It's bullet proof, built to house, feed, and protect.
The couple enjoyed a brief moment in the spotlight earlier this year when the compound was featured on National Geographic's new Doomsday Preppers series, one of several segments profiling the lives of those scrambling to ready themselves for catastrophe. As the swamps of the internet breed rumors and new end-of-times paranoia, so-called "preppers" have flocked to websites like SHTFplan.com ("When it hits the fan, don't say we didn't warn you"), AmericanPreppersNetwork.com ("Freedom through teaching others self-reliance"), and CollapseNet.com, seeking advice, batting about survival plans, and popping in on community message boards. There, theories abound, from a jumble of fringe 2012 Mayan warnings to nuclear armageddon, pestilence and plague, even zombies, or failing economic and food systems as drivers of a collective collapse.
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