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Prepping for a natural disaster - or the end of the world - is this York show's focus

Written by Mike Argento/The York Daily Record | Aug 12, 2018 10:02 AM
Survivor Expo York.JPG

Bob Gaskin, who runs Black Dog, speaks with a show patron about the difference between the MREs that he sells compared to other companies at the Survival Expo at the York Expo Center, Saturday, August 11, 2018. (Ty Lohr/York Daily Record)

First off, Rex Kehrli wants to make to make it clear that the preppers' lifestyle is vastly misunderstood.  

He blames TV, specifically the TV show "Doomsday Preppers," which, for the most part, he believes, portrayed people preparing for the end of civilization as we know it as a bunch of, to put it politely, eccentrics. 

"There are some extreme people in the movement," Kehrli said. "But that percentage tends to be minimal. You have that TV show, what's it called, about zombies, and while some people may believe that, we don't get many of them in here." 

"Here" is Memorial Hall at the York Expo Center, which this weekend is hosting the Survival Expo, a show organized by Kehrli's company, RK Prepper Shows, out of Manchester, Iowa. The show tours the country, giving preppers and others interested in preparing for anything from a hurricane or earthquake or wildfire to a terrorist attack or nuclear Armageddon.  

But it's about more than preparing for disasters, he said. "It's preparing people to live life our grandparents lived," he said. "Our grandparents didn't worry about the power going out or the cellphone working." 

But disaster is the master when it comes to prepping. "We always tell people it doesn't hurt to be prepared," he said.  

Of course, the preppers' tent is a large one and can hold people who are concerned about being snowed in without power for a few days to those who have, shall we say, more interesting ideas. 

"We've had people giving seminars at the show, the Art Bell or Alex Jones types, the conspiracy theories like claiming how we never landed on the moon," Kehrli said. "You have people out there who believe that." 

On Saturday, the hall was filled with vendors selling everything from buckets of freeze-dried food to knives and machetes to bump stocks to Geiger counters and essential oils. 

Wait, what? 

Yes, essential oils. 

The oils, according to vendor Beth Underhill, can be used to treat a variety of maladies that may beset one once civilization collapses, from fungal and bacterial infections to viral diseases.

"A lot of preppers stockpile antibiotics, which have a shelf life of a year or two," she said. "Oils can last many, many years, 10 to 15 years." Also, trying to survive can be stressful and the aromatic oils can be soothing. 

There was a lot of merchandise that was a little more, um, eccentric than essential oils. One stand sold what was billed as a "Zombie Machete." The same stand sold stun guns, including a pink one for the ladies. The stand also sold books, including the infamous "Anarchist's Cookbook," an encyclopedia of lethal craziness, and "The Poor Man's James Bond," both volumes.

Also, there were T-shirts that identify the wearer as a member of the "Zombie Apocalypse Response Team" or "Christian. American. Heterosexual. Pro-Gun" with "Pro-Gun" spelled out in larger letters to emphasize its dominion over the other labels.

The stand also sold blow guns and stickers fashioned after hunting licenses, identifying the bearer as a hunter of "Illegal Aliens" or "Zombies" or "Yankees" or Democrats." (It meant Yankees in the sense of people who live above the Mason-Dixon Line, not the variety who play baseball in the Bronx.) 

There were a few stands that seemed out of place. One was a service to waterproof your basement, which could be considered a prepper kind of thing.

Another was the bathroom remodeling service called Bath Fitter. Asked what remodeling a bathroom has to do with survival, Steve Witmer, a sales rep at the Bath Fitter stand, said, "If you come out of the woods, you'd probably want to have a good bath." 

Across from his stand was one that sold a variety of pyrotechnics. One was billed as something that would "Piss Off Your Neighbors" by emitting 900 cubic yards of "smelly orange smoke," a bargain at $5.

It also sold flares that could light up several acres and bottles of "Railroad Grade" Thermite, which burns at 5,500 degrees. The sales guy at the stand, Will Bennett, said it is used to fuse railroad tracks for high-speed trains, but it could be repurposed for a variety of tasks. "It'll melt through anything," he said. "It'll melt right through an engine block or a tree stump." 

There were lotions to fend off weaponized chemicals or biological agents and medical kits that included the caveat "It is illegal to 'practice medicine without a license'" and that the kits were for "training purposes only."

The stand also sold a "Professional Gun Range Gun Shot Kit," which included a nice-step process for treating a gunshot wound. "Anyone who can count to nine can do everything you need to do with a gunshot wound until the ambulance arrives," proprietor Michael Sturgill said.  

Bob Gaskin is one of the leaders in the industry. He runs Black Dog, which sells everything from fire starters to MREs and other survival gear. He also presents seminars at survival expos, one billed as "Society Ending Events - The First 180 Days." 

He is not a fan of conspiracy theories. "In our industry, we have a problem that some vendors feed off the fear their customers have," he said. "I don't try to scare the crap out of my customers. I try to dispel some of the conspiracy theories." 

The Alex Jones and Glenn Becks of the world, he said, peddle a variety of far-fetched conspiracy theories that are intended to sell products. He said he dismisses a lot of those theories as nonsense and fearmongering. 

And then, he started talking about earthquakes and how he was able to predict a massive earthquake that struck Chile a few years back because seismic activity is tied to solar activity and other celestial happenstances that cause a weakening of the earth's magnetopshere.

It's cyclical, he said, and the three earth cycles - 432 years, 3,647 years and 5,464 years - have all completed and are starting over. He points out that 5,464 years ago, "Grandpa Noah built a boat and all civilization started at that point." (A T-shirt sold at a stand identified Noah as "The Original Doomsday Prepper.") 

"I tell people what's really going on," he said.  

The gist of his presentation, he said, is that "you can't be a selfish (person) that kills everybody who tries to get into your place." In the case of the collapse of civilization, he said, we're all going to need one another.

"My mother-in-law," he said, "was the most evil woman on the face of the earth and I wouldn't turn her away. You have to realize that you need other people to survive." 

There is a political component to the show, but it depends on your politics and what you believe. Kehrli said, "One thing we tell everybody is the expo's not, in any shape or form, molded by any political ideology."

Yet, he said, there has been a shift. During the Obama years, he said, most of the preppers were right-wingers who believed that Obama was going to bring about the end of the world. And now, he said, "We see just the opposite with President Trump. It's a natural human reaction." 

Patrons at the show didn't get into politics. A good number of them declined to speak to a member of the mainstream media. Those who did were not what you would call hard-core preppers.  

Joe and Megan Moser drove to York from their home in Allentown to shop for camping supplies. "We like to backpack, and we're big into the outdoors," said Joe, who was wearing a T-shirt with a silhouette of Bigfoot that proclaimed, "Bigfoot Saw Me But Nobody Believes Him." His wife said, "You can't find stuff like this other places." 

D.J. Resavage, a 34-year-old Dallastown resident who works at a Baltimore cemetery, said he came to the show because his wife was ill and he had the day free. 

"I came to see if I needed anything to prep up for," he said, noting that he usually keeps a medical kit in his car, something he picked up from volunteer firefighter training. "It's interesting." 

If you go

The RK Prepper Survival Expo will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in Memorial Hall at the York Expo Center. Tickets are $14 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under. 

 

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record.

Published in News, York

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