Doomsday delay prompts a yard sale

December 05, 1993|By Peter Finn | Peter Finn,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

WATAUGA, Texas -- Among modest ranch-style homes, more than 5,000 miles from where Checkpoint Charlie once stood in Berlin, former survivalist Frank English has come in from the cold.

In what may be the first yard sale prompted by the end of the Cold War, Mr. English, 66, is selling the stash he kept in his home, 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth, to help him live through a nuclear holocaust.

Instead of the jumble of old romance paperbacks, threadbare furniture and clothes of questionable fashion typically found at yard sales, Mr. English's front lot is lined with red waterproof cans containing gas masks, smoke grenades, knives, Geiger counters, water purifiers, whiskey, and pounds and pounds of dry food. "It was good to be prepared for the future, so I accumulated a year's supply of everything for a family of four," Mr. English said. "It was kind of a challenge to stay alive if everyone else died."

But the post-apocalypse clearance sale, which will run through this weekend, has perplexed the shopping public. "I was a survivalist," Mr. English said to some of his early-arriving customers.

Sue Branton, looking around, said: "Well, I'll be darned. That's a good idea if you're into stuff like that. But I just take one day at a time."

Mr. English asked, "Would you like any gas masks or smoke grenades?"

Barbara Hunter, Ms. Branton's sister, said, "Honey, it wouldn't do for me to have any grenades."

Ms. Hunter eventually bought a dollar's worth of batteries.

It was an inauspicious beginning, given Mr. English's investment in his longevity.

Ten years ago, when the idea of a limited nuclear war against the then-Soviet Union's "evil empire" was at least contemplated by President Ronald Reagan, Mr. English heard the ticktock of the doomsday clock.

He spent $2,000 stockpiling material in 164 red cans. He studied survival manuals and how the prevailing winds might blow as he anticipated nuclear fallout. He planned to seal a room in his home so he could hole up while a wind of death swept across Tarrant County.

But now that the Soviet Union has collapsed, fear of a nuclear winter has been lifted from the shoulders of the retired Bell Helicopter Textron administrator.

He knows that some people will think him eccentric, or flat-out weird. But he is consoled by his belief that if there had been a nuclear strike, he'd have had the last laugh. "There'd have been people knocking on the door who were hungry, so I'd have had the choice of shooting them or feeding them," Mr. English said.

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