Friday, February 28, 2014

The Land of La Mordida

Since as far back as anyone can remember graft and corruption have been a part of daily life in Mexico. It is called "La Mordida" which translates as "the bite". It is an intrinsic part of life and everyone from bandits to politicians partake. Got a traffic ticket, no problem. Need to get out of jail, no problem. Need a cop to look the other way, no problem. It is an accepted practice to discreetly hand over your license with a folded bill or two when a cop asks for it. The problem is that the line between right and wrong has gotten muddied. So much so that violence has permeated the towns and cities along the border with the U.S. The cartels have so much cash that they can operate with impunity just about anywhere in Mexico (and other countries). They simply pay everyone off. Even an honest fellow has to think twice when he is offered the money these guys toss around. They take the famous phrase from the "Godfather" movie to new heights. The offer from them that you cannot refuse is the threatened death of your entire family for not cooperating with them. Out of all this chaos has come a group of Mexican Marines, seemingly ignorant of  the death threats and possible consequences, who chase down the cartel leaders responsible for most of the violence. After assistance from the FBI, the US Marshalls and other American law enforcement, they were able to corner Joaquin Guzman aka "El Chapo" near the resort town of Mazatl├ín, Mexico. Even then, he was able to elude the Americans before being chased down by the Mexican Marines. El Chapo translates to "Shorty" or "The Short One", and Mazatl├ín is in the state of Sinaloa, which is the namesake of Guzman's cartel.  I am always glad when someone of this man's repute is captured and (hopefully) incarcerated. Mind you, he has been incarcerated in Mexico before and escaped in a prison laundry truck; which only added to the legend. Which begs the question-how long will they be able to keep him incarcerated and where will they find officers of the court willing to try him; much less witnesses and a jury. Add to that that Mexico has steadfastly refused to extradite him, and the plot thickens. Mexico has no death penalty or even life terms as punishment. I can only imagine what a man with "El Chapo's" resources is capable of. Sadly, I don't think we have heard the last of him and there are many hands willing to accept his donation(s) to the mordida.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


We have been fortunate that when one of us has had to leave for an extended period either the gate was slow enough, it coincided with time between gates or our employer was kind enough to furnish a substitute. The company we currently contract to is unique in that they keep some elder guards around just for that purpose. If the need extends beyond a day or two they find someone to work the gate with you. Most guard companies will make you find your own substitute, with the caveat that they work for the same guard company.
That's not what this post is about; at least not directly. Missy is off to see the doctor and it is taking a bit longer than we thought. Our company has finally found a substitute to work with me in her absence. Not only is this person unfamiliar with gate guarding, she also doesn't know much about RVing. While I'll not hold it against her, she also appears to be lacking in the mechanical aptitude department. Which brings me to my point. In the past I have shared with others that this is a great way to make some money, and I have explained the job from a gate guarding perspective. In the future I am going to endeavor to make sure that I also say that you should be an experienced RVer, with a modicum of knowledge about your RV's systems. I forgot that the average RVer will rarely find himself 50 or more miles from the nearest mechanic, parts store or hookup(s). If the average RVer breaks down or encounters some sort of difficulty he or she can probably call for help. Today I woke up lathered in sweat (I know, not too nice to think about) and quickly ascertained that the breaker on our generator must have tripped. Further investigation found my new partner sitting in our hot guard shack, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the air conditioner was no longer operating or that power had been lost. I'm a little OCD (and anal and dyslexic), which might explain my conducting regular checks of the RV and its support systems. Several times on my shift I make the rounds to ensure that nothing is amiss. To me that is just common sense when you're off the grid; or on a substitute grid-you get what I mean. Just like the old reliable power poles and wires, a good running, reliable generator can lull you into a false sense of complacency. So, I suggest that if you are considering gate guarding you should get to know your RV, how it works and where everything is located on or in it. You or your partner should be able to perform basic troubleshooting and know how to cobble things together, should a problem arise. You do not want to get a reputation for calling a service person out in the middle of the night because a power cord is submerged in rainwater and is tripping the generator breaker, for instance. You will probably be looking for work before you know it. If your generator goes down (which recently happened to us BTW) and you don't want to be sitting without power for how ever long it takes to get a service person out to you, you should be able to conduct basic troubleshooting. And I haven't even begun explaining the proper way to hook up to your generator and support wagon. Time after time I read about folks all upset because their service person connected something incorrectly or put it in the wrong orifice. Folks; that is your property and no one should be hooking up anything unless it's under your direct supervision. I guess I have taken all this accumulated wisdom for granted and forgotten about all the knowledge that is required to maintain an RV in these conditions.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


We were cleaning the Masterbuilt Smoker today, which caused me to reflect upon the fact that I bought it mostly based upon my friend Andy's recommendation. Then I realized that that is true of a lot of things that we have purchased and acquired in the oil patch. Hell; we wouldn't even have the job we have if it weren't for him. It is so weird when you meet someone that shares the same thoughts and ideas and even weirder when you realize that you both have walked similar paths in life. When the proverbial defecation hit the circular ventilator, Andy was in the forefront and got us through a very difficult time. (the engine had burnt up in our beloved class A DP, which we no longer own) And, I am not the only one that Andy has assisted in joining our little community in the oil patch. He maintains a forum  and website . Between those two sites you can find just about anything you need to know about the oilfield gate guard business and toss in your opinion while you're at it. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then I am guilty. I have this blog that I write and I have endeavored to emulate Andy by helping others as best I can. I've said it before and I know Andy knows that I am grateful for his unbiased opinions and advice. But; here's a tip of the hat to the old curmudgeon.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Those Pesky 80 Percenters

I have a friend named Andy that also publishes a blog and has a forum. If you read a few of his blogs you'll find he talks a lot about the 80 percenters. For example; people that think they're owed the job they have and find no reason to do more than it takes to barely keep it. Or the lack of customer service these days. You get the idea.
Today I made the 70 plus mile roundtrip to the post office to pick up a package. I knew it was there because the fine folks at Amazon have a tracking app that said it was.
Me to the clerk, "I am here to pick up a package from Amazon".
Clerk; without looking, "I have not received any packages".
Me to the clerk, "Well Amazon said it was delivered."
Clerk; this time she hustles and bustles about apparently looking for my package, "I need a tracking number".
This means I have to deal with the new (to me) Smart phone or call the missus back at the ranch. A quick call reveals she's not answering, along with a second one. I finally accessed the net on the fancy phone as the missus called back. I took my fancy phone and gave it to the clerk so that she could peruse the Amazon website.
Clerk, "This is a Fed Ex tracking number (it wasn't) and it just says it was delivered to Asherton. You need to have our street address (it was shipped to General Delivery) to have it come here. You'll have to go around town and see where the driver left it. I'd try city hall first".
Now I'm frustrated and call the missus back and berate her (unfairly) for not having the Post Office address on the shipping label.
The missus says; "Someone named Edna signed for it".
Back I go into the Post Office and tell the clerk who signed for it. She quickly looks to her right, eyes a package and says, "Is this it?"
Now this Post Office isn't any bigger than some wealthy suburbanite's walk in closet. Add to that that she couldn't have received very many packages with Amazon embossed predominantly on the tape securing it and we have a mystery. Or perhaps we have an 80 percenter and I would not have gotten my package had I not persisted.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Basic RV Electrical Systems

I understand that this might not be the most scintillating material and that some of you are already familiar with it. It is, however, good stuff to know and review.
The electrical system in your RV can seem complex and confusing until you have a basic understanding of how it works. Your RV actually has three separate electrical systems. It has a 12-volt DC automotive system, a 12-volt DC coach system, and a 120 volt AC coach system. We are primarily concerned with the 12-volt DC and 120 volt AC coach systems.
The majority of campgrounds you go to will provide you with an external 120 volt electric source to plug into. Your RV has a heavy-duty power cord that is normally about 25 feet long. Depending on the type of RV you have, or purchase, it will either be a 30 Amp or 50 Amp system. When you plug into the proper campground electrical source it will supply power throughout your RV. You must have a 120 Volt AC power source if you are going to use the microwave, roof air conditioner, the refrigerator in the electric mode and the 120 Volt electrical outlets. For the most part everything else in the camper works off of 12-volt DC power. When you are plugged in at the campground a portion of the 120 volt AC current is converted to 12-volt DC current for the items in the RV that work off of 12 volts. Some of these items are the overhead lights, the furnace fan, and the fan over the range, the vent fan in the bathroom, the water pump, LP gas leak detector, stereo, and the refrigerator when it’s in the LP gas mode. If you look at the RV’s power distribution panel you will see circuit breakers like you have in your house for the 120-volt AC side, and automotive style blade fuses for the 12-volt DC side.
If you are not plugged into an external power source you can still use the 12-volt DC system if you have a 12-volt deep cycle marine battery on your unit. As long as the battery or batteries are charged you can use everything in the RV except the microwave, roof air conditioner, the refrigerator in the electric mode and the electrical outlets. If you have a motorhome, or you’re going to purchase a motorhome, it will have a battery for the automotive system and an auxiliary battery for the coach system. The coach battery is charged whenever the motorhome is running; the generator is running, or when it’s plugged into an external electrical source.
Before we go any further I would like to offer a few basic battery maintenance tips to keep your RV batteries in top operating condition.
First of all never work around batteries with an open flame. Vapors from the batteries can ignite, causing serious damage. To prevent the possibility of arcing turn off any 12 Volt power sources and disconnect the negative battery cable before working on or around the batteries. If you have a maintenance free battery you will not be able to perform some of these checks. The color of the eye on the battery will indicate the condition of a maintenance free battery. Consult your owner’s manual for more information on maintenance free batteries.
Constant charging depletes electrolyte levels in batteries. Inspect electrolyte levels and add distilled water as required. Add water until it reaches the split-level marker in each cell. Do not overfill.
Inspect all battery cable and terminal connections. Keep all connections clean and tight. Do not over tighten. When battery terminals are clean and tight on the battery post spray the terminals with a battery terminal protector to prevent corrosion.
To clean the battery itself use a diluted baking soda and water solution. After cleaning the battery flush it thoroughly with water.
Check the state of charge and keep batteries fully charged. Specific gravity readings for a charged battery should be between 1.215 & 1.250. If you remove the batteries for storage charge them to a full charge and check them periodically during storage. Re-charge as necessary. Follow proper charging instructions for the type of battery. Deep cycle batteries require a lower amp charge over a longer period of time.
There are numerous electronic devices and equipment in your RV that can drain the coach battery when you’re not using the RV. Some examples are; the TV antenna booster, the LP gas leak detector, clocks in radios, or just leaving a 12-volt light on by accident. If your RV is not equipped with a battery disconnect switch you can purchase a battery disconnect, from an RV dealer, that can be installed directly on the battery post. When you aren’t using the RV or have no requirement for the coach battery you simply raise a lever and disconnect the battery. A battery disconnect can be installed on the chassis battery too.
Lastly, if you are not comfortable performing the maintenance on your RV batteries have it done by a qualified service center.
Motorhomes also provide an additional source of 120 volt AC power with an onboard power generator. This unique feature offers you the convenience of 120-volt AC power whenever you need it, making the unit fully self-contained. The fuel supply for the generator comes directly from the motor home fuel tank. The system is designed so that when the fuel tank gets to 1/4 tank full the generator will stop running so it doesn’t use all of the fuel in the motor home. Some motor homes have an automatic switch over from an external power supply to the generator. Other motor homes require you to plug the motor home power cord into a generator receptacle on the motor home to use the generator.
I would also like to give you a few tips about RV electricity. To start with a 30 Amp system is the most common on RV’s. The plug on your RV is a large three-prong, heavy duty 30 Amp, 120-volt plug.
Most campgrounds you go to will provide you with a 30 Amp outlet that your RV power cord will plug directly into. If you go to a campground that has a regular house type outlet there are adapters that you can use to go from your RV plug to the house type outlet. When you do this you are plugging into a 15 Amp or 20 Amp power source. This means you will be limited as to what appliances you can run in your RV. It is even possible to damage some appliances if they are not getting the required amperage to operate properly. Let’s say for example you plug into a 15 Amp outlet and you are using a small appliance that is drawing 5 Amps, that leaves you with 10 Amps. Now you turn the roof air conditioner on and when the air conditioner compressor engages it needs about 13 Amps, but it’s not available, and it damages the air conditioner compressor.
Even with a 30 Amp service you need to be selective about what you are using. If you try to use too much the RV will let you know by tripping a breaker in the distribution box and hopefully no harm will be done. There is a short formula that may help you with this. 30 Amps X 120 Volts = 3600 watts. This is the total amount of power you can use before you overload the system. Think of it like this, with 3600 watts you could use 36 one hundred watt light bulbs. When you turn on the 37th light you will probably trip a breaker.
It is also a good idea to take a voltmeter along with you that you can plug right into one of the outlets. Campground electricity varies depending on the demand placed on it. If everybody is running his or her air conditioner the voltage may drop below an acceptable level, and it would be wise to wait until it is restored back to normal. You can glance at the voltmeter every time you walk by it and save yourself untimely and costly repairs to your RV appliances. Voltage below 105 volts or above 135 volts can damage electronic equipment and appliances.
Most appliances will tell you what the required wattage or amperage is to run the appliance. Here is the amperage draw for some common RV appliances and electronics.
  • Coffee maker - 8.3 amps
  • Converter - 8 amps
  • Hair dryer - 9 to 12 amps
  • Microwave - 13 amps
  • Refrigerator - 2.8 amps
  • Roof a/c 13.5 amps
  • TV - 1.5 amps
  • Toaster - 8 to 10 amps
  • VCR - 2 amps
  • Electric skillet- 6 to 12 amps
Hopefully this will provide you with a better basic understanding of how your RV electrical system works.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Cost of Upkeep

We took part of a day off and went to Laredo to do some shopping and relax a little. We have a Ford F 250 Super Duty diesel pickup that hauls the house around and serves as our daily runner (for now). While diesel oil changes and other preventative maintenance can be a bit pricey, the interval between performing them is longer versus a conventional gas engine. I think it kind of balances out. We got the oil change done at one store and then had to find someone who would change out the fuel filters. Once it was all said and done we had spent over $200! I believe it was money well spent as the engine had been missing of late. The fuel filters seemed to have cured that. It seems that the water content (present in all diesel fuel) is high in south Texas, so we have to keep the water separator drained. Ironically, we have had the most trouble by filling where the fuel is the cheapest. To avoid contaminated fuel, it's much better to find a busy filling station, like a truck stop. In our line of work a dependable vehicle is essential. We are miles from civilization and when we are towing we need the peace of mind that a well maintained vehicle provides us.

Keeping the RV Warm

Most RV's are not insulated that well. The manufacturers know that the vast majority are going to be used on weekends or for short trips and when the weather is suitable for camping. Add in the popularity of slideouts; which require a large opening to be cut into the RV, and you have a ton of ways for heat or air conditioning to escape. The temperature of the floors on a cold morning are also an indicator of how well insulated your RV is (that cold air loves to occupy the open space between your RV and the ground). Those of you with heated floors don't count, and I am envious. You can also not count on any labeling that might describe your RV as having superior insulation built into it. Some manufacturers call it a Northern Package, for instance. You can look for certain things that will help in cold weather when you purchase an RV. Heated tanks and an insulated and sealed underbelly are a good place to start. Keeping the weekend and short trip usage in mind, most manufacturers put in a propane heater powerful enough to overpower the cold most campers will encounter. We like to call it the "big heater". If you have  heat pumps they will handle most of the temperatures that the average camper encounters, negating the need for the propane heater. Because of the cost we have found that when we are fulltiming (living in the RV) an alternative to the propane furnace has to be found. It simply consumes way too much propane. We use space heaters and have been surprised how effective they can be. The only problem we have encountered is that they do pull a lot of amperage and you have to be creative about where you power them from. We are pleased with our 5ver, as we have been able to keep the inside at about 70 degrees, even on the coldest mornings. So, if you're not paying the electrical bill I suggest you use a space heater or two.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

How Old are Your Tires?

We recently visited Discount Tire for an inflation check and to find out the cost of replacing a tire we recently had punctured. The tech pointed out that the tire was over ten years old and that we should verify the age of the remaining tires on our RV. Our tires have plenty of tread left and the spare we put on had never been used. That is not that uncommon on RV's because most spend so much time sitting. With that in mind here is an article on how to determine the age of your tires-RV tires should be replaced after a maximum of six years.
When it comes to determining the age of a tire, it is easy to identify when a tire was manufactured by reading its Tire Identification Number (often referred to as the tire’s serial number). Unlike vehicle identification numbers (VINs) and the serial numbers used on many other consumer goods (which identify one specific item), Tire Identification Numbers are really batch codes that identify the week and year the tire was produced.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires that Tire Identification Numbers be a combination of the letters DOT, followed by ten, eleven or twelve letters and/or numbers that identify the manufacturing location, tire size and manufacturer's code, along with the week and year the tire was manufactured.
Tires Manufactured Since 2000
Since 2000, the week and year the tire was produced has been provided by the last four digits of the Tire Identification Number with the 2 digits being used to identify the week immediately preceding the 2 digits used to identify the year.
Example of a tire manufactured since 2000 with the current Tire Identification Number format:

In the example above:
DOT U2LL LMLR 5107Manufactured during the 51st week of the year
DOT U2LL LMLR 5107Manufactured during 2007
While the entire Tire Identification Number is required to be branded onto one sidewall of every tire, current regulations also require that DOT and the first digits of the Tire Identification Number must also be branded onto the opposite sidewall. Therefore, it is possible to see a Tire Identification Number that appears incomplete and requires looking at the tire’s other sidewall to find the entire Tire Identification Number

The use of a partial Tire Identification Number on the one sidewall (shown above) reduces the risk of injury to the mold technician that would have to install the weekly date code on the top sidewall portion of a hot tire mold.
Tires Manufactured Before 2000
The Tire Identification Number for tires produced prior to 2000 was based on the assumption that tires would not be in service for ten years. While they were required to provide the same information as today’s tires, the week and year the tire was produced was contained in the last three digits. The 2 digits used to identify the week a tire was manufactured immediately preceded a single digit used to identify the year.
Example of a tire manufactured before 2000 with the earlier Tire Identification Number format:

In the example above:
DOT EJ8J DFM 408Manufactured during the 40th week of the year
DOT EJ8J DFM 408Manufactured during the 8th year of the decade
While the previous Tire Identification Number format identified that a tire was built in the 8th year of a decade, there was no universal identifier that confirmed which decade (tires produced in the 1990s may have a small triangle following the Tire Identification Number to identify the decade).
And finally, hold on to your sales receipt. Most tire manufacturer's warranties cover their tires for four years from the date of purchase or five years from the week the tires were manufactured. So if you purchase new tires that were manufactured exactly two years ago they will be covered for a total of six years (four years from the date of purchase) as long as you have your receipt. If you lose your receipt, your tires' warranty coverage will end five years from the week the tire was produced (resulting in the tire manufacturer's warranty coverage ending only three years from the date of purchase in this example).

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Number 3

Even if you are not a NASCAR fan, you probably know the name Dale Earnhardt. Most all of his driving career was for owner Richard Childress, a driver in his own right. For years he tore up the tracks of NASCAR, establishing and setting records along the way (including seven championships). He was a man's man and was known for driving his trademark black #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet. Fellow racers got so unnerved when they saw him coming up from behind that they nicknamed him the Intimidator. Sadly, Dale met his demise on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Unlike most sports, numbers are not retired in NASCAR, but they do remain with the team owner(s). Fans have mixed feelings about the resurgence of the iconic black #3; but it has been warmly welcomed when it has been brought out for limited pre race tribute runs. For better or worse the Intimidator's black #3 will return to the Sprint Cup Series for the 2014 season. Ironically it will be driven by Austin Dillon, the grandson of Richard Childress. Hopefully the pressure to perform up to the Intimidator's standards won't cause undue pressure on Austin. You got to believe that he knows the tradition behind the seat he will be in when they drop the checkered flag for this years Daytona 500. Whatever happens, it won't be the same for a lot of us Dale Earnhardt fans. But; this is a new generation and I wish Austin well.

Tech Talk from a Neophyte

You can do a ton of things and entertain yourself endlessly on the internet (yes, there is more than porn out there) provided you have the data allowance. The other caveat is that you need speed to upload and download; or stream, or video, much less graphics, will never work. In today's internet most websites take it for granted you have both the speed and data necessary to stream video and upload graphics laden websites. In our case, satellite was the key to enable us to fully enjoy the internet. Once you've got enough data and speed to allow streaming, you can watch network and cable shows, interact with the gaming community via your game consoles and even have commercial free, on demand television. And that's just a few things you can do. You can also use gaming consoles to access Amazon Prime and other providers and watch all that content on your television or internet capable device. To illustrate the data problem, we are allowed 10 gigabytes of data a month on our satellite internet. We could go through that in a matter of days by just watching a few movies. Fortunately our provider allows us unlimited data usage between midnight and five a.m. So that is when we watch and record movies and television. When we first got to the oil patch we had an air card and cellular service by Verizon. It didn't take long to figure out that wouldn't work so we purchased an AT&T phone and air card from Walmart. That air card was worthless; it was slow and only provided 1 gigabyte of data per month. The setup we use now is Exede satellite internet, AT&T phones and Dish network. Both Dish and Exede have poor customer service and their techs are rarely knowledgeable. It's kind of like everything else when you're off the grid. You have to learn to muddle though and fix stuff as best you can on your own. Tuning in the satellites occasionally frustrates me; but I'm usually up and running in less than an hour. A lot of folks don't put much stock in having a high speed internet connection or subscription television, but we wouldn't be without it. As far as the phones go, they're a necessity out here.