Sunday, March 31, 2013

Almost a Hoarder

From what I've seen and read hoarders collect or stash a wide variety of things, including the trash. I believe I can take solace in the fact that I have no attachment to my trash. Since we moved out of a house I have been getting rid of things both out of necessity and lack of use. I even have clothes with the original tags on them! During our last time off we went through the basement of the motorhome and got rid of a bunch of stuff. I don't know if it's spring or something else but we are now attacking the interior of the motorhome. It's odd the memories an article of clothing or chachka can evoke. I have hemmed and hawed about divesting things all my life. For some reason I place value on the oddest things and I also like to collect; which I'm sure isn't helpful. I take pride in the fact that this process keeps getting easier and easier. Another motivator for me is that I'm not getting any younger and the less I leave behind will make life easier for those cleaning up after me. Now I am down to a few sentimental articles of clothing. my tools and a few TY bears (unless you count my RC trucks and helicopters (-;). I think this process is a part of accepting your fate and maturing; even in your fifties. People have written ad nauseam about how the things your parents taught you become more and more relevant as you age; even though you may have hated and snickered about it at the time. I'm finding that to be so true.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The luxury of time

We have been mostly associated with three rigs over the past year. These rigs have been locked in competition to see who can get from spud to target depth the fastest. We continue to see the folks in charge come up with one idea after another to speed the process up. Even though we know we signed on for the nomadic life, we hated having to move every fifteen to twenty days (or less). We finally got the raw end of the deal and ended up "rigless". Unless you are lucky and/or the field superintendent (or company man) steps in, another couple ends up on your rig as someone has to pre-position to cover the gate at the new site. That is why some guards (especially newbies) end up covering a bunch of three to four day gates. This frees up the rig's guards to follow the rig. It is also why some companies don't allow folks to follow their rig. This led to us having to sit for about three weeks waiting to get back in the loop. Fortunately our entreaties to the field superintendent led to us covering both gates for the last move and we followed the rig to its new destination. Soon after our arrival we found out that they were in the process of putting in new pads (at least fourteen) and that our rig would be drilling at least five holes. Whoopee!! That meant that we could settle in and get into a routine, move the small freezer out of the motor home, set up chairs and tables, etc. What a relief and change. Before we were always ready to pull up stakes and move. And; even though civilization is over thirty miles away, we are happy to have the steady work. Ah! the luxury of time.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Can I make money as a Gate Guard?

I thought I'd revisit the whole gate guarding job thing. It seems ages ago, but we once were neophytes who had heard that there were opportunities in Texas and Louisiana for folks who had an RV to work as gate guards. We did a lot of research; primarily on the internet, and remained doubtful till we actually met some gate guards. So the answer to the first question is that there are indeed opportunities to make a decent income as a gate guard. For us the next hurdle was getting a license through the Depart of Public Safety in Texas. Actually a department called the Private Security Bureau handles the licensing. Texas licenses almost everyone who performs security work from mall security to private investigators. For a lot of guards (including us) it was easier to find an established company to help us through the process. Even though I have heard you cannot do it through the mail anymore, we completed the process that way. You will have to call a gate guard company or the Private Security Bureau to establish how to get licensed. Basically you will have to take a test (very few have a problem with it), submit fingerprints and enclose a passport sized photo. There is a fee of less than $75 to process the paperwork and complete a background check. Once you have  passed the test, you can go to work as the licenses take a while to process. I have heard of a temporary license, but have never seen one. Selecting a company to work for goes hand in hand with getting licensed. You can always move on if your first choice does not meet your expectations.The rate of pay varies from $100 to $200 plus dollars a day for a couple. The average is somewhere around $150 a day. Most pay you as a contractor (1099) meaning you're responsible for paying your taxes. There are a number of sites that list information regarding gate guard companies (including my blog) which you can find by searching the internet. Also, there are opportunities for singles out here. The work isn't as plentiful and the hours can be taxing. I have done it and you can read the blog I posted about it. A word of warning here. This can be hot, dusty, muddy, wet, tiring work; to name just a few things. Gate guard companies usually have there choice of guards to employ and frown upon folks that aren't self reliant. You won't last long down here if you feel the need to constantly bother your company over trivial problems. Your first posting is more than likely going to be way out in the boonies and a ways down a rough lease road. The nearest town and supplies are apt to be an over 50 mile round trip. So be prepared. Though it is not necessary, I highly recommend an RV with a generator. You will be dependent upon support wagon(s) with a generator and non potable water and septic tanks. It is rare, but generators do break down and you will love your generator should that happen. The summer heat is very debilitating in South Texas and fewer folks do the gate guard thing that time of year. Conversely, finding work in the winter months can be difficult; especially as gate guarding becomes  more and more popular. Plan on getting here as close to Labor Day or before if you are a winter Texan/gate guard. Finally, there have been a lot of questions concerning the supplies and amount one has to invest. I counsel you to avoid companies that require you to purchase a ton of equipment. Most companies will help you out with light and alarms. That said, we own our own halogen work lights and driveway alarms. It is a legitimate deduction and cost way south of $200 for everything. Good luck on you job search!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Compensation-or the lack thereof

Your primary responsibility as a gate guard is to account for everyone working on the rig and surrounding pad. In an emergency, you can be the person(s) they turn to to account for anyone missing. Sometimes you will find your primary responsibility muddied up by other activity occurring on the lease you are protecting. When we were working for a company paying much less than what we make now we noticed a marked increase in traffic. Turns out they were working on the pipeline that would eventually tie into nearby tank batteries. We successfully argued that the pipeline activity had nothing to do with our primary responsibility in regards to the rig and therefore did not need to be recorded. We make it a habit to have an open conversation with our company man which has resulted in a ton of benefits. Besides potable water, trash disposal, occasional meals, etc. we also no longer log the heavy trucks during a rig move-a big relief in our workload. We have learned to make decisions on our own; something you will have to decide for yourself. To us it is simple; we have a limit to the amount of work we will do for the money we are paid. I repeatedly hear stories of five plus pages recorded in a day. Unless it is a frack operation I fail to see how anyone can have that volume of traffic. I cannot counsel you on how to comport yourself on your gate. I only know that we do not record anything that does not have something to do with our rig and its activity. You have to achieve a happy medium where you meet your responsibilities, satisfy the folks you contract out to and feel properly compensated for the effort. At some point you have to determine your worth and the compensation you expect. For us it's certainly not attending daily safety meetings and/or recording multiple pages of traffic. As I have said repeatedly in the past; as a contractor it behooves you to seek out the highest compensation you can find. Trust me; it makes a heavy traffic day a lot easier to bear.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Loyalty used to be a major factor in employment decisions; both by the employer and employee. A person could spend his entire working life at one employer and retire there. Things have certainly changed and having multiple employers has become the norm. Now that we are working as contractors and workampers we have found ourselves occasionally wrestling with this issue. Low pay plagues the workamping world and the transient nature of the work does not lend itself towards loyalty. One of the first instances that tested my loyalty as a gate guard was an offer to make much more money for performing the same work. I did not want to leave the company for the one  offering the increased pay without some kind of notice. I was always taught to never "burn your bridges" and to never speak badly about your past employer(s). I went to great lengths to make sure everyone concerned was given plenty of notice in regards to our intentions. None of my entreaties was ever answered and my immediate company contact there seemed to care less whether I left or not. I have found in contracting that loyalty on the part of the employer is rarely encountered. We have had the rare opportunity to contract out to a company that seems to value us and shows it loyalty to us by endeavoring to keep us working. It seems that past history fails to serve as a reminder that alienating  and failing to communicate with workers disenfranchises them. In short; my friend Andy is correct. As a contractor seek out the employer that pays the most. As little as you interact out here with employers rapport becomes a secondary issue, like icing on the cake. As in any endeavor try not to garner a reputation for jumping from one guard company to the next. You'll have to wrestle with the loyalty issue just like I do. I remain skeptical that it is of much value out here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Change in Routine

For once we transitioned seamlessly from one gate to another. The maddening pace of our rig continued and this time it completed a hole in under eight days. It's gotten so bad that we rarely bother to set up or get comfortable at a location. In order to facilitate a move from one spot to another we split gates between us. One stays at the old site and the other helps orchestrate the move into the new digs. It's tiring; but the nearly double pay is always a welcome reward. When we move we follow a routine; Missy packs up and stows the interior of the coach and I take care of picking up and stowing everything outside; which includes disconnecting from the support trailers. I prefer to be ready to roll by the time the service people come to move us. If someone is going to relieve us I like to be off the pad when they get there. It's the professional and courteous thing to do. This time the representative of the land owner at the new site expressed concern about the gate being unattended for any length of time (the land's primary use is deer hunting). The decision was made to go ahead and have me move out from the old site at the close of business. Holy cow! That meant I was responsible for everything-packing up the inside of the RV and disconnecting and putting everything away outside. Plus I would be driving to the new site; something Missy normally did. Being flexible is indispensable in this business and we completed the move without too much hassle. Still, the change in routine was and is unnerving. Or maybe I'm just set in my ways. Who knew?

BTW-we have completed two uneventful moves in the RV and it seems to be running well. We are hopeful that we are close to working out all the bugs with the engine swap.

Monday, March 4, 2013

What is going on?

Do you ever wonder what's going on at your site? Believe it or not; barring a breakdown of some sort, there is a method to all the madness. From this layman here's an overview. If you are there from the beginning, which is unlikely, a crew with heavy equipment will come in and cut roads and make a pad(s). You may get to see the tractor mounted weed eater from hell which uses chains to whip the shrubbery and vegetation into submission. It is natures worst nightmare. The next step is to dig a large hole which is called the cellar and line it with aluminum. A guide hole is then spudded in for the big rig. If it hasn't been done already water will be run, usually with miles of semi-flexible tubing. There is a craft for each of these endeavors. Then the circus comes to town in the form of your rig. It is a modular machine with each module being about the size of a bus or boxcar. First steel pads are put in place which will hold the entire contraption. At this point, depending on your company man, some leveling may go on. We have had company men that were extremely picky about how level the pad was. The group we have now-not so much. Once the pads are in and level the modules go in. Each has a function and a place. Remember this monstrosity has to be self sufficient, providing all it's own power. Once the modules are in place the derrick is attached to a humongous frame with hydraulic cylinders that will serve to lower and raise its 100 foot plus length. Once the derrick is up the entire center section is also raised about 20-30 feet using hydraulic cylinders. In the meantime trailers will have been moved in along with all the necessities of life such as water and sewer tanks. In the sites we have worked casing lines the hole at the beginning and end, so you will see casing almost as soon as the rig appears. Once the casing is cemented in things fall into a semi routine. Drilling continues until TD or target depth is reached, then it's time for casing again. That's a rough synopsis of how it has gone for us for over a year. Our bunch is unique in that they continue to set records and we rarely are on a site longer than two weeks. Previously we would spend four to six weeks or longer at a drill site; especially if fracking and completion followed. Now a days fracking crews lag far behind the drilling crews and; if a guard is requested, your assignments will tend to be of a brief nature. Small wonder that guards try to "attach" themselves to a drill rig so that at least they have some continuity. That "gate of dreams" with an electric pole, sewer and city water (and a remote gate opener) is rare indeed. The nature of the petroleum industry is that it remains in a state of flux, subject to the vagaries of the economy and politics. One of the few things that a gate guard can count on is that the winter gate guards will eventually head north and gates will become plentiful again