Monday, March 31, 2014

Hot Times

There's still a bit of a nip in the air; especially when it drops down into the fifties at night with a north wind blowing. However; Mother Nature has already telegraphed her intentions-we have already experienced a few ninety degree days-and it is only going to get hotter. If this is your first summer in the oil patch there are some things you should know. Some of this stuff is good to rehash even if you're a veteran gate guard. I know it keeps me on my toes. All of these things should have already been done or started immediately. As I said, it is only going to get hotter. If you've done some reading you should know a lot of this stuff. Andy's blog (, along with his forum, is a gold mine of information.
If you haven't already done it (or hired someone) now is the time to make sure your air conditioner(s) are clean and ready to go. If you're smart and have done your reading, you will have known to run your air conditioner periodically through the winter to keep it exercised. A second air conditioner is a must. One might do it if you had some shade, but that's unlikely down here. Some folks go even further and run portable air conditioners or window units. Just remember that you have a limited amount of amperage to run everything. It may seem like the ghetto look, but the insulated foil is a great help in cooling down the RV. You can also install insulated foam in your roof vents. They kind of look like a pillow and are available at Walmart or Amazon. We also use a fan to help circulate the air in the RV.
Keeping your roof cleaned will help ease the air conditioner(s) work load. Simply put, the whiter the roof, the better it reflects off the sun's rays which lowers the roof's heat load. I know your water is limited, but here's a tip or two. Every time you know you're going to move, use the remaining water you have to give the RV a quick bath. Most service folks dump the water anyway, rather than move the weight down the highway. Since we're at a long term gate and we have the luxury of knowing, within a day or two, when our water will be delivered we schedule heavy water usage for the day(s) before delivery. Unlike most fulltimers, it is a good idea to keep your internal tank as full as possible in the oil patch.
On a more personal level, keep sunscreen and oil handy along with a big hat. A pop up shelter such as EZ Up or Quick Shade will give you a place to get out of the sun on those busy days on the gate. Keep a cooler stocked with water and Gatorade at all times and stay hydrated. We're not talking about the heat of a Midwestern summer. We're talking about the heat of the desert, topping 105 plus degrees on a regular basis. Down here we track the consecutive days of one hundred plus degree temperatures.

Unless you have a residential unit your refrigerator cools using heat; either generated electrically or by burning propane. You can help it cool by installing a vent with an exhaust fan in place of your refrigerators current exhaust vent on the roof. These replacement vents are available in 12 volt and solar power.
Don't forget your vehicles either. Make sure tires are inflated and not weather checked. Anti freeze is important during the summer as it helps the engine run cooler with the air conditioning running. Make sure all your fluids are topped off and that you keep your gas tank as full as possible.

The heat is both a physical and mental battle. You have to be well rested and maintain as upbeat an attitude as possible. Sometimes something as simple as adjusting shifts (to equal out the heat exposure) can make all the difference. I also try to dial it back a notch and pace myself through the shift.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Trip Down Memory Lane

If you are one of those folks that has some time on your hands, I recommend you peruse my older blog entries. It is entertaining and revealing as you see us transform from neophytes to veteran gate guards. If you like, you can even go a bit further back when I first started recording our adventures as workampers and fulltime RV'rs via this blog. Along the way I take you off the beaten path and down a few side trails. There's politics, religion, points of view, advice on everything from cooking to disposing of your waste; you name it. On a lark I decided to take a trip back and read some of my older entries. Believe it or not there are a few nuggets scattered through there. It brought back a ton of memories, too. So give it a whirl and see what you think.

Adventures in Gardening

I know some of you are going to be put off by the title and read no further. That's a shame, because even if you don't have a green thumb, you should enjoy horticulture. It's a way to relax and enjoy nature without too much effort. As someone once said, if you go fishing and come home empty handed and upset, you missed the point anyway. So what if you kill a plant or two? I truly believe anyone can grow things, given enough practice and effort. I come from a family with a farmers branch and my grandfather and grandmother (on my Mom's side) always kept a good sized garden. I believe I got my desire to grow things from them. It's kind of ironic that others admire my abilities in the garden because I have known folks who could literally put me in the dirt (no pun intended). That whole "green thumb" thing is for real. Haven't you ever known someone that can just sow seeds and the next thing you no he or she is over run with healthy, thriving plants? Meanwhile, just down the street I'm struggling to get tomatoes to grow. We are fortunate (depending on your point of view) to be on a long term gate, so we have settled in and planted a few things. I am not sure how viable the soil is in South Texas when it comes to vegetables, so everything is in pots, except for a small flower garden. We have had mixed luck planting from seeds and a little better success with the sprouts we have found in area stores. Overall the selection is not very good and the stores, without fail, seem to not know how to take care of plants. Wandering about my local Walmart's garden center is very depressing. I even have a few plants that I say I rescued from the evil corporate giant. Anyway, here is the roll call (I say I'm done planting, but you never know): tomatoes, squash, sweet peppers, hot peppers and broccoli. I'm sure there will be an update, good or bad, before long.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Simple Job

I have known for some time that at least one of my front shocks was bad. I wasn't as sure that replacing the offending shock would cure the cacophony emanating out of our truck's front end. However; it had to help some and it was a good place to start. Speaking of starting; nothing got started when it came to finding a mechanic to do the job. Talented, honest mechanics are rare as hen's teeth in the oil patch and they can afford to be picky when it comes to accepting work. Especially when the job is down about thirteen and a half miles of teeth rattling caliche road. And that's just to get to our front gate. Add to that, that we are at least an hour away from anything bigger than a one stoplight (or flashing light) town and you can probably visualize the trouble I was having. All of the arm chair mechanics, pundits and raconteurs said it was a simple job and that I should do it myself. After some prodding from Missy I finally agreed to tear into the truck and see just how easy this simple job would be. I am not a fan of Ford(s) and I bought this truck primarily to move our 5th wheel. Once I removed the tire and got to see the underpinnings of the vehicle I was impressed. First off the tire and wheel assembly is larger and much heavier than those found on passenger vehicles. The sway bar, steering dampener, king pins, springs et all are all heavy duty and top shelf. On to the simple job. The first obstacle we ran into was that all the nuts and bolts were metric. On an American truck!-at least I think they still build Ford F series trucks here. As some of my dear readers know, I am a federally licensed air frame and power plant mechanic and I have a fairly complete set of tools. Apparently I don't have enough metric tools. A lot of time was lost attempting to find the correct size wrenches and sockets to do the job. The replacement shock is heavier duty and has larger nuts, bolts and bushings included with it. When we finally got the new shock installed we ran out of thread room on the top stud and could not secure the shock. You guessed it; off came the new shock and the question arose as to what  to do to fill the gap. Installing one of the provided bushings appeared to be a good answer, but I didn't know what to do with the factory bushing that was pressed into place and  filling the space. With the old shock out and the tire and wheel on the ground, it was time to put up or shut up. I knew there was a good reason as to why I wanted to hire a mechanic to knock this simple job out. Sniveling wasn't the answer so I took a pry bar to the factory bushing (turns out it was pretty worn anyway) and removed it. Back on we went; for the second time, with the replacement shocks, bushings, washers and nuts. Missy secured the shock while I tightened the nut on the top stud from above and it tightened down! Yeah! Missy took the MBAT (Mom's big ass truck) for a short jaunt and returned with a big smile on her face. The truck rode like new and, as a bonus, the cacophony had ceased!
For those of you wondering, we perused a ton of written and virtual material and could not find clear directions on shock removal and installation. It was all clear as mud and overly simple. Something to the effect of remove the tire and wheel, unscrew the top and bottom nuts and remove the shock absorber. Reverse the process to install. Why is it never that simple?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Living in the Hinterlands

I was bemused and amused by the title I gave this latest missive from my bunker and lair. When we assumed responsibility for our first gate, I thought we were in the boonies, and we were just a few miles from Kenedy, Texas! Like so many things, your perspective changes on a fairly regular basis whilst doing the gate guarding thing. Looking back, having to travel from the Gillette/Nixon area to Floresville for groceries wasn't all that bad. Although I am referring to gate guard life in general, our current location was the inspiration for this post. From the time we arrived in the oil patch through today we have and had heard stories of remote gates so close to the border that the distinction between Mexico and the United States sort of melded together. Illegals were everywhere and violence permeated every day life the stories went. There is almost a mantra in the gate guard community that goes sort of like this-"we ain't taking no stinking gate down by the border". Depending on who you ask we are somewhere between 15 and 20 miles from the border. We are on a private ranch (in Texas a ranch can comprise thousands of acres/square miles) and there are no highways to the border in here. To get there on paved roads adds another 50 to 75 miles to the trip.
First off let me say that other than sheer distances (it's a 70 mile round trip to the nearest post office-add another 20 to the grocery store) life isn't so bad down here. Off duty cops patrol the ranch twenty four hours a day and the only illegals we have seen have been on the main roads. That's not to say we don't get Homeland Security and Border Patrol activity close to us; but we kind of look at it as entertainment. They put on quite a show when they get on the "scent", brandishing all the technology and fire power a superpower can provide. They have helicopters, souped up short course looking offroad trucks, mobile command vehicles; hell they even have a cavalry!
Now that I've somewhat set the stage for you, you kind of have an idea of the challenges we face on a daily basis. However; much of what I share can be of use to anyone living away from the umbilical cord of modern day society. I have the benefit of having lived overseas and am used to not having the convenience of grocery stores, big box stores, malls, etc. I have had to journey deep into foreign countries and meet up with ranchers to buy beef on the hoof-meaning picking a cow out and having them slaughter and dress it. As some of you know I have also spent nights deep in an unfriendly jungle thousands of miles from home. So this having a remote, close to the border gate guard gig should be a breeze, right?? Actually there is a lot more to it.

Any trip needs to be planned in advance; joyrides rarely, if ever occur out here. If you're used to running to the store for a gallon of milk you are in for an attitude adjustment. The need for a plan becomes painfully evident when you get back to the hacienda and realize what you forgot; and that it's a hard ride back to town. If you run out of something you just suffer without it till the next planned trip. The only exception we make is to allow one of us to attend the occasional luncheon with other gate guards; call it a mental health break. Even then we use the opportunity to pick up things. Along those lines it is also imperative that you keep your vehicle(s) topped off with fuel. With the distances we travel, you don't want to find out your below a quarter tank. Keeping the tank full also keeps the condensation down in the tank. Vehicles also need special attention, especially the tires and fluids. Hobbies or activities become important for the sake of sanity. Find something to do that you enjoy. We grow vegetables, race RC cars and fly RC helicopters, read, Missy crochets and we both cook.

This can be a lonely trying existence. Socialization is hard to come by, so a network of friends is good to have. Our little gate guard community in South Texas is very active on the social networks and there is always a shoulder to lean on. I personally advocate getting away once or twice a year just to get a break from the daily routine. If you're looking to make good money and think you're up for the challenge, a gate near the border might be for you. You never know, you could get lucky and score a gate that's a little further north. Look for a gate guard company working down that away. Good Luck!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Saudi Myth

I have heard that some of you tire of hearing political diatribe on my blog so I have toned it down a bit. Perhaps I try too hard, but I'd prefer not to offend anyone if at all possible. Some of this stuff just can't be made up and begs for a comment. The sad thing about our current state of affairs is that it seems to have made a lot of us apathetic and docile; seemingly willing to accept the inevitable and reluctant to attempt change.

 A lot of folks see the Saudi royal family as our allies, somehow failing to realize that they provide a great percentage of the funding that fuels terrorism. There is a large part of the Saudi culture that supports radical Islamic fundamentalism. They'll tell you that the money was intended for charities, but repeated investigations have found what those charities actually do. Very little of the money ends up helping the poor and disenfranchised. These folks are adherents to Wahhabbism, a branch of Sunni Islam that takes orthodox beliefs to a whole new level. They are intolerant of non believers and refer to them as infidels. They want to institute Sharia law and even have religious police who enforce their beliefs. From a very early age male children are forced to attend classes in the madrasas, where Imams radicalize them. They are subjected to teachings that spew vitriol and hatred for the infidel; especially the great Satan-America and Americans. Most turn out to be chauvinistic misogynists who are almost always narcissists. Interestingly enough, the Wahhabi movement is dividing the Saudi and Muslim world with their fervent and unyielding beliefs. While outwardly they embrace their religion, a great percentage of Saudis own businesses' and property outside of the kingdom and spend much of their time there. They say politics makes strange bedfellows; however geopolitics seems to get you to sleep with folks who murder your citizens. We are so quick to forget sometimes-the majority of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudis and I; for one, don't doubt they funded it. Now; if any of my dear readers are Muslims or Saudis, please don't get your hackles up. Learn to be tolerant and realize that there are black sheep in every society. Yours just seems to be rife with them.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Odor of Age

I grew up with a grandmother, two aunts, a sister and; I don't know for sure how many, female cousins. There were all kinds of fascinating and exotic smells wafting through the air on a regular basis. As the son of an avid outdoorsman and a world traveler I also experienced smells of all kinds. Some foreigners have a completely different take on personal hygiene in comparison to most Americans habit of bathing daily. My grandmother passed Campho Phenique on to my mother and I use it today. Talk about a distinct smell. The era I grew up in saw hair styling literally taken to new heights as the "beehive" was de riguer. My mother and her sisters must have destroyed a great percentage of the ozone layer with the aerosol hair spray that it took to build those things. Yet another distinct smell. And then there was my mother soaking her hair in mayonnaise. I don't eat mayonnaise today because of that and BLT's; but that's another story (and distinct smell). But, I digress. As I prepared for yet another shift, I took note of all the liniments and lotions it takes to get me through the day or, in my case, night. I am now figuring out what some of the smells were that emanated from my elders as a kid. My mother has always noted my extraordinary sense of smell. So perhaps I am cursed with that ability. I have lotions for my cracked feet and hands, Aspercrème for my sore joints and Campho Phenique for my minor wounds. Thank goodness some manufacturers have worked diligently to moderate the unique odor of some of these products. Still, it's sobering to think I might smell like a senior citizen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Rite of Passage

The recent rains and subsequent muddy mess it left got me to thinking about the challenges we oft times endure as gate guards. While it's a 180 degree transformation, we also suffer from the dirt and dust that pervades everything out here. As a gate guard you will inevitably find yourself parked out in the middle of nowhere, completely at the mercy of whatever Mother Nature chooses to throw at you. As a friend of mine likes to say "There ain't no sniveling in the oil patch." I have to remind myself of that as I return to the RV with the dogs from their walk, after two days of soaking rain. We keep a towel by the door just for these circumstances and block off areas of the house that we don't want the animals in. I clearly understand that I took on the responsibility for these animals, but that doesn't make the task any easier or more agreeable. I have learned that mud that dries out into dirt is much easier to clean up. While it bothers me to no end, I have learned to accept the inevitable. The rain has stopped and we enjoyed a partial reprieve as the sun popped out and the temps soared into the eighties. The mud and muck are now a little more manageable. Another cold front is due to blow through tomorrow and the temps will crash yet again. I take solace in knowing that the length and severity of these cold waves grows shorter and shorter. As a longtime resident of Oklahoma I am well aware of how capricious Mother Nature can be. I am also a world traveler and few places have equaled south Texas in the variety and severity of weather. We're talking 50 degree temperature swings and a winter that fights voraciously against the inexorable tide of summer. I work nights and return to the RV to rest in the morning. These transition days find me switching the heat off as I retire and setting the air conditioner to avoid waking up in an oven. The process repeats itself in reverse at night. Just plain weird. Sooner than we like the storms will abate, the wind will lay down and it will be over 105 degrees in the shade. It's an annual rite of passage that anyone working down here goes through.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I Don't do Complicated

As I age I find that I simply don't have the patience to put up with a lot of crap anymore. I hate the term curmudgeon, as I don't think of myself as irritable and stubborn. I find that a lot of things that were supposed to simplify our lives have done the exact opposite. When I think of the word maturity, I cannot grasp the term in its simplest form. There are so many facets to maturity that the word is regularly misused. Maturity is defined as being fully developed or whether you respond to your environment in an appropriate manner. Well, I find myself fully developed and whether my response to my environment is appropriate or not is a matter of opinion. Why is someone categorized as immature for wanting to have a little fun now and then? Or perhaps doing something completely out of character. As far as opinion goes, I think someone that is so wrapped up in his work and bent on the pursuit of material things to the point he neglects all else is immature. Some of you may say he or she is such a hard worker and admire his nice house and car. It's a matter of opinion. My fiancé tries to find a reason to have the newest and fanciest phones. I bet I have bought her a dozen phones over the years. The latest acquisition required some adroit maneuvering on her part, with her convincing/forcing me to give up my simple old flip phone for her "I" phone. Lest you doubt my disdain for these modern ball  and chains, witness the fact that I did not text before I got the "I" phone and my total minutes used in a month rarely exceed 400. I did not want the phone and I do not like the phone. Kids today seem to embrace this stuff and my fiancé is married to her device. Lest you doubt that, witness the fact that she regularly exceeds 4000 minutes a month. I can't imagine what her text count could be. I guess we have had an entire generation now that doesn't know what a "land line" or  "home phone" is. As a truck driver I had the opportunity to see a lot of things. One that sticks in my memory is having to slam on the brakes as I exited the highway for fuel. Traffic was a mess and backed up for a mile or more. Turns out the computers had crashed and the Flying J couldn't pump fuel. Really? Somehow we have taken some of the simplest things in life and found a way to complicate them. One of the benefits (IMHO) of transitioning from a stick and brick home to the fulltime lifestyle is that it requires you to get rid of all the detritus you accumulated and drug around with you all your life. Speaking of RV's and fulltiming; Jiminy Christmas, what happened there? I admit I like my creature comforts; but I really don't see the need for a bloated, blinged out, six mile to the gallon, forty five foot monstrosity (no offense if you have one). You need an engineering degree to understand the systems in a lot of them. It ain't gonna happen, but I long for the time of mail boxes and snail mail, payphones, the daily paper and mail delivery, meat and potatoes instead of processed food and sitting down for a family dinner on a regular basis. I suppose they don't condone corporal punishment in school(s) anymore either. I know, most of this isn't politically correct. Don't ask me, it's too complicated to explain.