Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gate Guarding-An Almost Two Year Update

Well; we came down just after Labor Day in 2011, wide eyed and not knowing what to expect. We initially contracted through Gate Guard Services with whom we have absolutely no complaints. When we heard that we could make an extra $50 a day we jumped at the opportunity and left them after about six months. We have worked for our current company for almost two years and are very pleased with how we are treated. Here are some things we have learned.

Your primary responsibility will be to record traffic entering and exiting the facility you're assigned to. This can be a lot harder than you think. We have been very fortunate and not gotten many real busy gates. That is not always the case, so be prepared.
We came down here with Virgin MiFi and phones. We quickly discovered AT&T is the only company that works throughout the Eagle Ford Shale. Later we found out that for the same cost we were paying for MiFi we could get satellite Internet with ten times the mega byte allowance.
The value of having something to keep you entertained cannot be overstated. We enjoy our Dish network, video games and radio controlled cars and helicopters. We both use a Kindle and work puzzle books.
A generator is invaluable. The equipment we are provided has been very reliable; but if your company provided generator should go down in 100 plus degree weather you will appreciate having an alternate source of power.
Make arrangements to deposit your check somewhere. Most companies do not offer direct deposit and cashing a check can be expensive and problematic.
If you value your car, leave it at home-the caliche and gravel roads will destroy the average car. Buy something like a Jeep or Expedition; either here or at home. The same principal applies to your RV-the environment will be very tough on it.

No matter what anyone has told you, you have to experience the heat and dust to truly appreciate how debilitating it can be.

Set up mail forwarding before you get down here. A lot of guards rent a box at the local post office for that purpose. You have to be creative, but you can get package delivery in the oil field. Sometimes a call to Fed Ex or UPS will get them to deliver to whatever road and rig number you are working. Also a lot of local feed stores accept packages for the local community.

I highly recommend you make contact with a guard company BEFORE you come down to Texas. Gates are at a premium in the winter and you can sit for a very long time if prior arrangements have not been made. Things are a bit easier in the summer, but the same principal applies.

Most companies provide some sort of alarm to put into your RV to alert you about traffic. A lot of guards purchase Mighty Mule driveway alarms because of their reliability. Additionally, I like having my own equipment.

Be prepared to be in a remote spot, miles from the nearest pavement and town. Self reliance is appreciated down here.

A basic rule is that the less you bother the company you work for the more valuable you will be to them. Seniority is virtually non existent in the gate guarding world, but by following the aforementioned suggestion will find yourself leapfrogging others and getting on a gate quicker.

No one expects you to be a master mechanic, but some troubleshooting skills are invaluable. Get to know your equipment and its basic function.

We try to relate to everyone that enquires as much info as possible. Still we have folks that pack up and leave soon after their arrival. Normally you are cut out for this work or you're not; there's rarely any in between. Hopefully some of this was helpful.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Another Okie Passes

The list of Oklahoma musicians is long, laden with every genre of music imaginable. Everything from folk to alternative music has influences from the Sooner state. Red dirt and Americana music would not be what it is without their influence. JJ Cale was one of the giants, collaborating and writing with Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits on their biggest hits. To get a broad spectrum and appreciation of JJ's music listen to songs off of Troubador or To Tulsa and Back. JJ suffered a heart attack and passed on July 26, 2013. He will be missed and warmly welcomed by the other members of heaven's band.

A Week in a 5ver

Occasionally I like to rope things in and speak more on topic; if there is such a thing. When I started my blog I was inspired by Andy and his My Old RV blog. I thought I too could add to his voice and maybe help a few folks out via my experiences. I also had an altruistic motive in that I like to be able to occasionally voice my opinion.

Well we have spent a week in the new (to us) 5ver and it is starting to grow on me. (5ver is the slang term used in the RV world for a fifth wheel) I have said all along that if I have a comfortable place to sleep I can be happy. I don't really require a bunch of needless trappings. One of the things that I am guilty of is driving poor Missy crazy about the boxes of sh*t we have lying around. Let me apologize here and state she has done a bang up job of getting things situated. We had a ton of room for storage in the basement of our class A and have given up probably half of it with the 5ver. So it has been a challenge situating stuff. I'm also anal in general and want to realize the gain in interior space and enjoy it. One of my pet peeves is boxes laying about six months or more after a move. Enough about all that! When we were shopping for our new home several things were important to us. Here in no particular order are a few. Opposing slides-check, diesel generator-not yet, a real oven-check, dual ducted air-not yet, washer and dryer-check!, a large basement storage compartment-check and check (we also have a rear pass through and a few bonus compartments). Several folks questioned the importance we put on an oven and questioned whether we would use it very much. Let me say that our oven has gotten a workout and that there is nothing like cooking with gas. I have yet to make my almost famous lasagna, but it is coming.

In conclusion, we both are happy in our new abode. Here are some observations. There is a ton more interior room versus a single slide class A. The hooking up and disconnecting takes a little getting used to. We miss hydraulic jacks, but are getting the hang of leveling this thing. Having driven a tractor trailer in almost every state makes towing this thing pretty easy. However, it is a bit disconcerting that I don't have that big old Peterbilt under me when I'm doing it. A pickup feels positively small in front of this trailer. If you have animals they will go nuts over the extra room-ours love it! I am not completely sold on a 5ver. I think it is ideal for the oil field gig or weekend camping,  but I believe I would prefer a big class A to tour the country in.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How an Overnight Trip Took a Week to Complete

As I have chronicled we have been on an odyssey trying to sell our tired, worn out class A motorhome. We set out for Houston on a Wednesday and promptly broke down (see my previous blog). That took almost two days to resolve and I arrived, (Missy had gone on ahead), in Houston late Thursday evening. Friday morning we took our first look at the RV that the salesman had reserved for us. While Missy seemed fairly happy with her choice, I automatically knew it would not suit our needs. This RV dealer will finance the nearly dead and their bread and butter is refurbishing and reselling FEMA trailers, so 5th wheels are always at a premium on their lot. We took a quick look around and I settled on a 37 foot Fleetwood with three slide outs. As it turns out, that 5th wheel was missing two of its slide out motors. It had come from a repo auction in Florida and folks seem to like picking through them for parts and pieces. The dealer also offered to rip the interior out and put new carpet in and give it a deep clean inside and out. Upon further review...(where have we heard that before)?!? The slide out motors were no longer manufactured, the refrigerator wouldn't work, the water system leaked, etc. Late Saturday afternoon I decided we were not going to sit around while they resolved the issues and called the boss and asked to be put on a gate. In the meantime the arduous task of moving our stuff from RV to RV continued. This in the heat and humidity of Houston. When we had set sail on Wednesday (remember?) we had left our campsite behind thinking we would be back the next day-or Friday at the latest. We also had put some stuff in storage at the same campground. Additionally we had left the animals with a friend to keep an eye on them. Now the pet sitter and the campground were starting to get a little antsy. Since Friday was fully booked; we completed the purchase of the 5th wheel and dashed out to have the hitch installed in our pickup, we couldn't retrieve the animals till that evening. So late Friday we dashed off to San Antonio to retrieve our pets, returning to Houston early Saturday morning. Sunday was an off day at the dealership so we continued the move. Our plan was to leave sometime Monday for the gate, but we were unable to arrange for a trailer rental till Tuesday morning. So Tuesday off we went with the dogs and cats in tow, stopping briefly to strike our campsite in San Antonio, and then heading out to the gate. Nothing is ever simple and one of the cats escaped, delaying our departure. Once underway we resolved we were thirsty and hungry and decided to stop at a truck stop for lunch. The cat that had escaped (and I believe his comprade) had figured out not only how to lower the windows but also how to deactivate the window lock. You guessed it, when we walked out into the parking lot the windows were down and both cats were gone. The roundup was comical, to say the least, and took at least a half hour. We finally arrived on the gate early Tuesday afternoon. And that is how the overnight trip took a week to complete.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

New Digs!

I'm sure some of you have grown tired of both our tales of travail with our motorhome and our pursuit of a replacement. I have good news for all of you! We finally sold the Class A (we actually traded it in) and bought a 37 foot 5th wheel. Our extensive research has shown us that we should not experience near the level of anguish and fiscal outgo with a 5th wheel like we endured with our Class A motorhome. We are in the process of moving everything into the new home and excited about having it to work out of on a gate.

Things are finally coming together and we should be back in the Eagle Ford Shale soon!

I thought you had it!

As a long time veteran of aviation maintenance; and a federally licensed airframe and power plant mechanic, I have worked on and flown in a ton of aircraft. On this subject I feel particularly qualified to comment. Other than acrobatic flight (and some bad weather) I can't think of anything that disturbed me more than test flying aircraft that had just come out of heavy maintenance. Almost all of the maneuvers that we put the jets through were done at high altitude, allowing ample time for recovery. The pilots of the Asiana flight in San Francisco did not have that luxury. Commercial jet liners and planes in general do not maneuver well at low altitudes and air speed. I won't go into the physics of it, but not having the altitude to recover is a major factor. Unless someone steps forward with an explanation or there was some sort of mechanical failure, those pilots flew that aircraft into the ground. When the A 300 was introduced Airbus decided to show it off at the Paris Air Show. One of the maneuvers was a slow fly by somewhat mimicking a missed approach and the pilots were supposed to go around and retry the landing. The video is eerily like the Asiana crash-too low, too high a sink rate, too little airspeed and no time to recover. They pancaked in as would have the Asiana flight except they got the nose up in time to slam the tail in first. Unfortunately getting the nose up killed airspeed and put the aircraft in a stall as the wings lost airflow and lift. What is disturbing and unfortunate is that every endeavor is capable of failure due to human error. Even in a modern airliner replete with every computer you can imagine to assist the pilots. When I worked at American we had an airplane crash in Colombia because the wrong city/airport codes were inputted in the computer by the pilots. There were other factors (aren't there always?), but the pilots were found at fault. Unfortunately; whatever the cause, it does not make the loss of life and trauma any easier to accept. We all can learn a lesson from accidents like this by being a little more diligent when making decisions.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What A Long Strange Trip it's Been

When we first purchased Jesabel we made a maiden voyage to Oklahoma City. The minute we started home the fuel shutoff valve failed and the engine "derated" (meaning it was in "limp home mode" and wouldn't exceed about 45 mph). This on a turnpike with a 75 mph limit! We were towing a car and quickly unhooked it to use it as a "blocking" vehicle, as we were terrified someone would run up our rear end. After a week at the Cummins dealer we finally told them "no mas" as they kept finding things wrong and the bill kept creeping ever higher. It was a portend of things to come. Shortly there after we made a quick run up to Muskogee for a cook off and asked some friends to join us for dinner. We were ensconced in an RV park and when we returned to the coach after dinner there was a waterfall emanating from the top of the slide out. Turns out the slide out seal was deteriorated. Also the vent over the kitchen had leaked (and would continue to leak the whole time we owned it) and had warped the floor. Then there was the fuel leak that required the removal and replacement of the fuel tank. All this in the first six months we owned the coach! And we won't even go into how much we have invested in air conditioning repair. The coup de gras was the upper radiator hose failing, causing the engine to burn up last year. Jesbael has not run right since and, after years of putting money into the coach, we had finally had enough. We thought we had the coach traded/sold and drove all the way to Fort Worth only to have the dealer renege on the deal. That story is in a previous blog.  Now we  found another dealer who will work with us (I hope) over in Houston. We were recently released from a gate and decided to take the opportunity to head that way. Jesabel was not happy and definitely not through with us! About 35 miles out side of San Antonio a loud noise came from the right front side of the vehicle. The hub had failed after the bearing spun in its race. We had just paid a shop dearly to replace those bearings (less than 90 days ago) and we immediately called them. The repair person quickly ascertained that the race had spun and that the hub was a goner. It took two days to get the parts and to get us off the side of the road. Now we have the "chicken or the egg" argument going and have yet to see the bill for the repair. Did the race fail or did the bearings fail first? Personally I think that since they were the last folks to work on the wheel, they are at least somewhat culpable for damages. I sent Missy ahead once we knew parts and a repair were imminent, which is a whole another story. If we finally rid ourselves of Jesabel and get a newer RV-I will update as soon as practical. I am determined to leave Jesabel in Houston!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Musings yet Again!

My heart goes out to the smoke jumpers who lost their lives fighting a wildfire in Arizona. My thoughts and prayers go out to their family, friends and community. Very little can be categorized as selfless as the yeoman's work that first responders do. Making the ultimate sacrifice so that others property and lives are spared from fire is truly a heroic endeavor.

It is my fervent hope that the families, relatives and friends of Nelson Mandela can stop their selfish, altruistic squabbling and let him pass in peace.

I do not expect perfection (or even accuracy) from my local weathercaster; but it would be refreshing if they could admit they screwed up once in a while. Sundays forecast had to have been the most inaccurate in some time. We went from a hot 112 plus degree Saturday to a stormy, rain soaked Sunday that barely broke 90 degrees. This after Saturdays broadcast promised another searing day with temperatures over 100 degrees yet again.

You will never know how much sh*t (OK-stuff for the sensitive among you) you really have till you pack up the entire house for a move. And then you suffer through a multitude of feelings after you realize how much importance you put on a simple piece of property.

I believe that we will never eradicate the mice colony from our RV. The sticky traps were effective, but now they know to avoid them. We also set out some traps that looked like over sized clothes pins and baited them with peanut butter. We would hear the traps spring close only to find an empty trap and the peanut butter completely gone. I have reluctantly put out poison now and hope they don't die somewhere inaccessible. I have ordered a deterrent called Cab which comes in pouches. Mice are supposed to hate the odor and reviews say it is highly effective.

I hope there is a special place in hell for Edward Snowden. Expressing your displeasure of acts performed by your government by leaking its secrets is treasonous at best. The murky world of politics and diplomacy is rife with espionage. The thing about it is that everyone does it, everyone knows it and the less said the better. We're no angels, but neither is the rest of the world.

Finally; I am coming out here in support of Paula Deen. I don't know much about her and only occasionally watch her shows. IMHO what she is guilty of doing certainly doesn't merit the punishment she's getting. She is guilty of some pretty poor PR work. We are so quick to condemn others when our own house is far from perfect. It would be nice to have a sponsor of one of these celebrities come out in support of them before jumping on the bandwagon and sacking them.