Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015

Here's wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas. Whatever your chosen method of celebrating is; I hope it finds you safe, secure and warm.

I would be remiss if I didn't touch on those far less fortunate. In Nigeria, reports say hundreds were killed when a gasoline tanker exploded. In the never ending civil war in Jordan, government troops went on a rampage in Damascus. Their search for dissidents in a mostly residential neighborhood left over 200  dead. A large percentage of them were women and children. Closer to home, rare December tornadoes raging from coast to coast have left many dead and injured in their wake. While I hate mentioning these things, it serves to remind us all just how fortunate we are.

I have to apologize as I have suffered somewhat from writers block this year. The pall that hangs over the petroleum industry has dampened my creative spirit. As I look to the future it appears fuel prices may drop even more, with some saying that $20 a barrel is the new bottom. It also appears that little will happen, pending the next presidential election. In that case; even if the Republicans prevail, we will be looking at another year, at minimum, till we feel any effect down here. That's at least a couple of years till some sort of recovery - if you're counting.

No matter how depressed we may or may not be, we are seeing the results of our efforts at work. We still answer the bell/alarm promptly and conduct ourselves professionally. Only the very best will remain as contractors during this economic downturn. There are many security companies struggling right now, many with way less than half the gates they had this time last year. The owner of the company we contract with has assured us that we'll be the last to go; should it come to that. Kudos to all that work with us at J&G Security as our hard work has resulted in our company getting an exclusive contract with one of the largest exploration companies in the petroleum business. I believe that may just be enough to keep us afloat till the worst passes.

Here's hoping that all of you and yours has a wonderful holiday season and that next year is happy and prosperous for you all!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Selling Ice Cream in the Winter

Oil continues its downward spiral and jobs by the thousands are disappearing. We have an administration that's anti fossil fuel(s) and has no interest in combating OPEC and its policy of flooding the glut market. Working in the industry or living in the oil patch has gotten down right depressing. It's almost impossible not to get swept up in the negativity. I have become a student of geo politics and have followed this decline very closely. However, I never thought we'd see sub $40 a barrel oil, and now it looks like we'll see a bottom of around $20 before it's all over. Folks, there is a concerted effort to kill off oil and coal dependency in the world. In some ways I see the point; eventually that will have to happen. However, to do it now, when alternative sources of energy are still in their infancy and most are unproven, seems ludicrous. Progress has always exacted a toll, but I had hoped that it would not be as sudden or capricious as this. I am seeing the last crash repeat itself over and over; sort of deja vu. Just like before the effect is monumental and, unfortunately, not noticed or appreciated by the masses. Everyone from the service sector; like septic pump out, catering and house cleaning, to management has been affected. We are already seeing some towns board up as the petroleum tax base shrinks. And; just like before, all the infrastructure that supports drilling and exploration is becoming worthless. Soon, getting rid of it will be like selling ice cream in the winter.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gate Etiquette

Missy and I have established a reputation as being the "go to" guards on problem gates. Give us the rankest, rudest land owner or company man and we'll find a way to get along. Unfortunately, sometimes the problem is with the guards. I have said repeatedly that your gate is for you to control. You have to modify the behavior of those you come in contact with so that things run in a smooth, safe manner. Obviously this is not as easy as it sounds because we continue to hear of problem guards/gates. Like a lot of things in life dealing with people in the conditions we do requires unique individuals. I believe this ability has to come naturally, but can be developed and honed over time. If it helps, you do not technically report to the company man, tool pusher or any authority on your job site. You do, however, have to keep them placated and deal with them in a professional manner. The same applies to the rest of the workforce you deal with. Once complaints get to the company man's level, your time on a gate can be very short. I rather not bore you with particulars, since this topic has been rehashed ad nauseam. However; you'd think simple things like grooming and being polite would be obvious. In this time of production slowdowns and layoffs, it behooves all of us to take personal inventory and see where we are lacking or can improve. Guard companies have always held the upper hand when it came to selecting guards - and even more so now.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Winding Down a Dismal Year

Somehow with the oil glut and crash in fuel prices we have remained employed as gate guards. I am sure the pinch is spreading and affecting many other folks, including businesses dependent on the exploration and production of oil and gas. Like so much these days the real story of the glut is one entangled in "spin" put out by everyone from the media to the folks with the boots on the ground in the oil fields. Back in the day stories without merit (or even truth) were published and known as yellow journalism. I think today's electronic, internet driven media is as bad or worse than yellow journalism. It would be refreshing to have a reliable source of news that was unbiased and accurate. Lest you're wondering what my point is, witness the following. As far back as the gas crisis of the seventies pundits said the world was nearly out of oil. Now we're awash in it? China's economy and its recent slowdown (by the way, how do we know that is accurate?) have also been named as culprits. However, most would be surprised how little our business with China affects our economy in the overall scheme of things. There are plenty of other examples of murky reasoning; but what concerns me the most is the lack of reaction to the goings on in the Mideast. Used to be, the slightest hint of trouble in an oil producing state and gas prices would soar. Fuel prices have remained steady, and even dropped, with all the current upheaval. As contractors in the oil fields of south Texas we have a unique perspective on things. Yet we still are wholly unsure of exactly what is going to happen. The last time oil prices crashed (in the late 70's early 80's), it pretty much shut production down in Texas. In fact, if directional drilling hadn't developed we wouldn't be where we are today. There have been all sorts of rumors; but we do know that rigs are laying down like flies and layoff notices have gone out to a ton of folks. One surprising statistic is that there were over 280 rigs in the Eagle Ford Shale this time last year. Now we're down to under 75 and falling. Understandably this has created a morale problem and the topic seems to surface in almost every conversation in the patch. As a contractor it behooves one to do whatever is necessary to remain employed. It's hard to imagine things getting any worse; short of a shutdown. Traditionally the patch sees an uptick in activity as we roll into the first part of a year. Let's hope that happens in 2016.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Job of Gate Guarding

I like what I do for a living. I may be an old curmudgeon but I do like meeting and interacting with folks. I also enjoy watching the process of producing oil from the ground. I do regret that my partner is not as enamored with the job as me. The workamping sites continue to have lively discussions over the issue of pay with the only agreement seeming to be that it is inadequate, at least from the workers point of view. I do know we could not make ends meet doing campground work. Unfortunately, making a living on the road is fraught with uncertainty and supplemental income is almost a necessity to make it happen. Which brings us back to gate guarding. Our struggles on the road only steeled my resolve to make gate guarding work. Perhaps the biggest obstacle keeping folks from becoming, or continuing as gate guards, is the commitment required. Very few jobs require a twenty four hour presence without a break for weeks on end. Detractors also like to break down the total hours worked, dividing the total, and claiming the pay is not worth it. I think a lot of them must not have tried to make a living on the road. I simply look at it from a different perspective, knowing from experience I can't make the same money elsewhere. We also have the luxury of taking time off between postings. I believe our attitude has helped us to continue to have gates offered to us on a regular basis. It remains to be seen if the petroleum industry recovers here in South Texas. Hopefully we can keep working for a while longer.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Creature Comforts and Toys

As varying as the work and job sites can be, there is a certain tedium to the work we do as gate guards. Besides taking occasional breaks, most all of us have to find something to keep from going stir crazy. Some paint, some sew or crochet, most of us read-you get the idea. It didn't take long after our first check in the patch that we decided to splurge on satellite television. When we were living hand to mouth, television wasn't even on the list of necessities. Since then we both have acquired smart phones and also now have satellite internet. Depending on your creativity; you can find ways of deducting most of that stuff when your stuck out in the pucker brush; miles from civilization. Just remember that I'm no tax expert. Recently I reluctantly retired my faithful 4 cup coffee maker; as Missy insisted we upgrade to a Kuerig brewer. This little miracle can make everything from coffee to soup. I've already grown fond of it. We've also indulged and bought a couple of quadcopters. I have long accepted and surrendered to the fact that technology has out run me (actually I think it ran me over and left me behind). These little quadcopters certainly confirm that fact. They have cameras and can take both video and still photographs. Most have four propellers, each rotating in opposite directions, which give them exceptional maneuverability. The learning curve has been steep and the caliche has been unforgiving. However; unlike the helicopters we initially tried to master, we seem to be able to control the quadcopters pretty well and see regular improvement in our skills. The one caveat being to not attempt to fly them if it's windy. If you get creative you can be comfortable out here and find things to keep you busy in your downtime.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Holiday Time?

I rolled into Wally World the other day to find a bizarre collection of Christmas and Halloween decor. Most of my dear readers know that this is precisely why I abhor the holiday season, especially in its current state. I am known to cut my visits to stores when the Christmas music starts blaring out of the muzak system. Seriously; it drives me bonkers and I don't do any serious shopping till it stops. Retailers continue to push their scheduling of the holidays further and further back, now trampling on Halloween. I even heard tell of an early "Black Friday" shopping day. I know I wax nostalgic a lot, but my childhood memories of the holidays seem so different. The way I remember it there was a distinct separation of the holidays and Christmas didn't really kick into gear till around Thanksgiving. Internet shopping is a godsend and tailored for Scrooges like me.

It has been an all too weird past few weeks as the Autumnal Equinox came and went, signaling the end of summer.

The never ending drama that is Hillary Clinton continued to drag on and still her ardent supporters remain faithful; seemingly oblivious to the lying and conniving that is her specialty. Will we ever get the bottom line and truth out of her on Benghazi? Somehow I doubt it.

The PTB have finally admitted they lied in regards to just about any maneuver they've attempted in the Middle East. The latest being that; after spending millions and millions of our taxpayer dollars, the arming and training of the rebels in Syria is in shambles and an abject failure. To add insult to injury, this bunch turned around and sold the supplies we sent them to Assad's military. I'm thinking someone noticed something around that time.

The Pope came to the US of A and addressed a joint meeting of Congress, something that has never happened. Apparently something he said had some effect, because the spirit moved in John Boehner. He resigned shortly after the Pope's appearance. Don't you wish he'd had the same effect on a lot of the other curmudgeons in Congress?

Adding to the weirdness, we also had a lunar eclipse and a super moon at the same time; an event that won't come around again till some time in the 2030's.

Finally, it appears that we're going to have a hurricane strike the east coast. Let's hope it's not another devastating October storm.





Monday, September 21, 2015

Supervision; or the Lack Thereof

Noobs are left to wonder when they hear that most gate guards are paid as independent contractors, or 1099. Simply put 1099 means you're responsible for your tax payments and that you receive a 1099 instead of a W2. Being self employed, or working as a contractor is far more involved than that. By far, the biggest source of controversy has arisen from some folks feeling that they are under compensated and that they should be classified as employees. Suits have been filed in more than just the gate guard vocation; most of them centered on pay-especially overtime. I'll not comment on that, except to say that I took this job knowing I would be paid as a contractor and that I am satisfied with my situation. How all this controversy affects you as a gate guard (or contractor) is simple. It has led employers (in this case security companies) to further themselves from involvement in the day to day activity of their contractors (gate guards). A lot of guards came from a corporate or military environment where their day to day activities were spelled out for them. This makes the transition into contracting difficult for some folks. Personally, I prefer a "hands off" work environment; I don't need or want anyone hovering over me. Gate guarding also presents numerous challenges. You live in close quarters with someone, dirt and/or mud is your constant companion, proper rest can be difficult, you have to reconcile the fact that you're married to the job 24-7 and 365 days (or until an assignment is finished or you make arrangements for relief) and you need to be a self starter and disciplined. And that fails to take into account the whole "off the grid" thing. If you're like us it will be the first time you have had to ration water and deal with a generator for power. There have been seemingly endless arguments posed over the compensation versus the hours worked. However, there is very little in the workamping world that pays near as much as gate guarding. Contracting also allows you the freedom to come and go at your leisure between gate assignments. You can still make decent money and enjoy some leisure and travel time. So; if you think gate guarding is a simple deal, mostly accomplished from a chair in front of your RV you are in for a rude awakening. Finally, the flip side of little or no supervision is that you're under constant scrutiny by the workers around you and the traffic utilizing your gate. Sometimes they can be a harsher judge than your employer. If you are found wanting as a gate guard it will manifest itself in the difficulty you have securing a gate. As in any business, valued contractors are rewarded.
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Monday, September 14, 2015

A Matter of Degrees

Fall is in the air. Morning and afternoon temperatures have abated and there has even been an occasional morning chill. We're approaching that time of year when it becomes more comfortable to work outside. It's also when systems on the RV seem to function optimally. Suddenly two a/c's aren't necessary and the refrigerator cools much better. We ask a lot of our equipment. The working parts of the refrigerator are in an uninsulated space, exposed to ambient temperatures. Most of the time we are parked out in the open, (I like to call it the bald ass prairie), without the benefit of shade of any kind. In 100 plus degree temperatures it's a wonder we get the inside of the RV down in the 80's. This is also a good time to do any needed outside maintenance and repairs. As a dear reader reminded me the other day, it's also a good time to exercise your house furnace. Just as it's a good idea to fire off the a/c in the cooler months. Equipment does not like to sit unused. After owning several RVs I have accepted that they are just not made for extreme weather. It doesn't matter if the manufacturer says it is a four season coach or that it's super insulated. With few exceptions, the RVs that fulltimers try to turn into mobile homes were designed for a vacation trip or a weekend on the lake.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Strange Times

I have struggled to keep from commenting on politics and other things as some of my dear readers do not seem interested in hearing my drivel. However, the state of affairs in every day life these days almost compels me to comment.

If nothing else convinces you of the need for a viable third party, the 2016 (it is 2016, right?) election should. Instead of unifying and solidifying the Republican Party, the Tea Party Movement has produced a schism in the party. Now we have a dozen or more candidates flailing about with very few of them capable of winning the nomination. Talk about smoky backroom politics, Clinton and her bunch are so sure of the Republicans ineptitude, that she runs unopposed. I understand that I am just one ignorant voice, but do you really think any of these candidates are the answer to America's problems? It has gotten to the point with Clinton that her innocence or guilt is not in question in my mind; its that she has so much turmoil and baggage to carry that it has to be a distraction. I am truly dismayed that our welfare society may indeed propel someone as corrupt as Clinton into office. And Bubba as first gentleman? Didn't he already soil the White House and Presidency enough? Again, we truly need a viable third party and some term limits. I fear that we are going to elect someone just for changes sake. Didn't we already try that? Buy the way; as I like to say, somewhere the Mullahs are rejoicing.

Without going into details, suffice it to say that the police have not always been my favorite people. As I have aged and mellowed I have begun to appreciate the need for some sort of law enforcement. The wholesale slaughter, especially of kids, in our cities has helped convince me of that. Isn't it odd that, if you do some research, the folks that run the worst of these cities are all part of the political machine that runs this country. For one thing Rob Emanuel and his cronies in Chicago are a prime example. They'll probably welcome Obama back to Chicago with open arms. (If you've been under a rock, they've been killing people by the hundreds in Chicago)  Despair runs rampant in our inner cities and the youth of today have generations behind them that have grown up in a gang culture. We're talking grandfathers and sons both rioting and on some sort of government subsistence. We (our tax dollars) have given a hand up to so many that the recipients feel no need to find other means of income. Add to this our appalling treatment; or the lack thereof, of the mentally ill. It seems as if every other horrific act is perpetrated by either someone mentally ill or having an extensive prior record; or both. This has produced a powder keg of emotions, making effective policing an almost impossible challenge. Now we are second guessing law enforcements every action and a disturbing trend of cop killings seem to be on the rise. It is going to take strong leadership and a resolute electorate to bring this under control.

Finally; I wasn't a fan of political correctness, or PC, when it started. However, lot of Americans needed to come out of the chauvinistic, male dominated thinking of the past. Some bucked up and resisted, spawning women's lib and minority movements, like Equal Opportunity, and adding them to the mix. Now, some thirty years or so down the road, gay folks are marrying and getting benefits and women have somewhat broken the glass ceiling. Minorities continue to struggle, even after having been given every kind of opportunity imaginable, and racism is as strong as ever. It's an uneven and ugly track record. People are afraid to speak their mind and there is a wholesale assault on just about anything someone finds offensive. From God in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments, Nativity scenes along with Menorahs and now; surreally; the Confederate battle flag-which has morphed into a movement to eradicate all things Confederate. It seems that this will never end and, to me, the bad part is a lot of it has to do with our heritage. No civilizations history is unblemished, they all have their flaws. To deny that is wasteful and ludicrous.

It is obvious that we lack a common goal. To be what has been traditionally defined as an American has become diluted. Unfortunately, we have let the genie out of the bottle and there is no going back. We need strong leadership and a groundswell of pride to get us headed in the right direction. To do the proper thing and find the right path is rarely easy. Unfortunately, these are strange times and we are faced with that very dilemma now. Let's hope we, as a society, can pull this off.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Little Fatigue

I know some of my dear readers have been expecting a post, but I am suffering a bit from writers block. We spent over a year working an almost "nine to five" existence on pipeline and construction gates. There never was a need for one of us to work through the night, as is common on most gates. Consequently, when we assumed this post on a drilling rig, it was both a shock and adjustment to provide 24 hour coverage. I volunteered to work the overnight shift and have struggled mightily to adapt to my new hours. Add to that that the security company we contract out to has been offered a ton of additional work. What does that have to do with fatigue, you might ask? Well, they got caught shorthanded and we ended up covering a gate for them for a day or two. Perhaps it's my age, and surely the change in work and sleep patterns had something to do with it; but working thirty some hours with just a nap squeezed in, kicked my butt. Then my body and spirit rebelled and I came down with a cold; or some version of the oil field "crud" that circulates around. One of the things we have to remember and adjust to is that frack and drilling gates run pell-mell 24 hours a day. There is no respite. That makes runs to the big city; as we did today, a chore. To keep it from being overtaxing, we find it works best if both partners give up a little of there sleep. Don't misunderstand this as me complaining. Far from it. We are always glad to have work and we actually are pleased to be back on a drilling rig. We feel a sense of camaraderie here and feel like members of the team. Like a lot of guards, we like to ingratiate ourselves with the crew. We prepare all sorts of things for them from cookies to smoked brisket. We have found that most of the roughnecks, support and supervisory personnel to be real "salt of the earth" people. Though we rarely ask for it we know that, in return, they have our back.

There has been a lot of uncertainty in the patch with the collapse of oil prices. It is a shame that most Americans seem oblivious to how much the folks in the oil business are affected by it. The layoffs and cutbacks have conspired to create an aura of apprehension. For whatever reason, some of the bigger players appear to be shrugging it off and continuing production.  I have and continue to be apprehensive, but the near future seems almost positive. So far I haven't seen the influx of winter Texans; at least not at the level of last year, and the demand for guards remains strong. Volatility goes part and parcel with the petroleum industry. Lets hope American shale production can survive these turbulent times.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Back in the Saddle

After about two weeks off, we have settled into a new gate near Gonzales, Texas. We got a lot of things done, along with some playtime, but it was time to get back to work.
 
Since gate guarding has become a vocation for us, we carry a ton of stuff we feel is necessary to make the job easier. This includes two Dish and one Exede (for internet) satellite dishes, a phone booster and antenna, a window air conditioner, several computers and TV's plus all the wiring and connections to make all that work. We know some guards that get by on whatever TV signal they can snatch from the air and rely on Wi Fi or whatever internet they can get through their phones. We tried "nickel dimeing" it with an air card when we first started gate guarding. It barely worked and gave us a whopping one megabyte of data a month. As it stands now; we have 10 megabytes (plus unlimited data from midnight till 5 a.m.) with Exede and somewhere between 10 and 20 megabytes on our phones. Anyway, all this stuff has to be connected, and the first few days on the gate require that time be allotted for these tasks. The August heat has been unrelenting, making these tasks even more daunting. Once we're done, we have a cool RV all sat up for the information age. I never cease to be amazed that, in some of the remote locales that we inhabit, we have a climate controlled habitat with internet and TV.
 
Our ability to transition from spot to spot has improved remarkably. Sure, we still have hiccups now and then; like slideout failures, but it normally isn't a hassle. What we haven't figured out, is how we continue to see folks out there that look so clean and neat as they do the RV "thing". After the removal of sewer and water hoses, jack pads, power cords, wheel chocks et all, we are tired, dirty, sweaty and a bit grumpy. And that's when things go well. I guess working out of the RV is bit different than doing the weekend warrior thing.
 
On our trip to Gonzales we were saddened and surprised to see diesel priced at under $2.15 a gallon. Challenging times are ahead for the petroleum industry as oil continues to drop in price. We could and probably will see oil under $30 a barrel before long. We had heard all kinds of dire predictions about the viability of directional drilling at $58 a barrel, much less at the current prices. While things have slowed, the rig count has actually ticked upward a bit. Unfortunately, unless things improve, there will most likely be a lot of stacking in the near future. It would be nice to have our leadership stand up to OPEC and others and moderate the flow of oil. I don't see that happening anytime soon, so things could get interesting.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Getting the most from your security License

Some of my dear readers know we are on vacation. Yet, here I am, sweating in 90 degree plus heat, on yet another gate. I've only made myself available to one company, J&G, during our down time. Our boss has always been there for us and has been more than fair. So, if I'm in the area, he knows he can use me. Their is also other work available, if I choose to do it. Missy and I have both worked a gate during our time off. The way we look at it, our space at the RV park is now covered. I am not going to get into the rules and legal mumbo jumbo when it comes to working for other companies. You do need to be registered with DPS to legally work for a company. There is also a fee involved. You should also verify what company rules you have to follow. Some won't let folks that don't work for them to act as relief(s), for example. As I have said in previous entries, just because you're a contractor doesn't excuse you from adhering to general etiquette. When you part ways and move on from a company, don't burn your bridges. See where this is going? It is always nice to have a source of income available, so don't tick people off. We are fortunate to have several companies wanting to use our services. If the traffic at the gate we're on allows it, we try to do it. Their are downsides in relief work, especially 12 hour gates where you work out of your vehicle. However, if you can squeeze in the time, the rewards can be great.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Buying Some Time

 
We were only a couple of payments away from paying off our last 5th wheel when we found our current toyhauler. We needed more room and a 5th wheel with a garage seemed the perfect answer. I'm not getting any younger and I had hoped this would be my last RV purchase. As it turns out there is a lot more work needed than I'm willing to do, so we're on the hunt for yet another home; hopefully my last. We were able to get the dealership to repair some things, but the leaky living and kitchen slideouts (and a few other things) were left for us to repair.
 
That sent me off on one of my searches. As my dear readers know, I can get a bit anal when it comes to my projects. I am a big believer that well over half the battle is complete and through preparation. I had read where RV'rs had used Kool Seal on their roofs. It not only helped seal them, it also provided a reflective barrier from the sun. However, further investigation revealed that Kool Seal for rubber roofs is difficult to find and; more importantly, required an expensive primer before applying. EPDM seemed to fit the bill, but I could not find it locally. Finally, we went to Texas RV Supply and they recommended Plas T Cote. It is latex based, which means easy cleanup with water. It requires no primer and the surface just needs to be thoroughly cleaned before applying. We bought 2 cheap brushes and a 6" roller. The job only took as long as it did because of the heat. Otherwise it goes quickly. Here's some pics of the product and a slideout that we did. If you don't want to go through the expense of replacing a worn roof or simply want to extend the life of it, this is the way to go.
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dressed Down

It's hot; even for south Texas in the summer. We have been using our time off to accomplish some maintenance and up keep on our 5ver. Add that to the heat and you can imagine I am dressed down. In my old age and semi retirement I have grown less and less concerned about my appearance. Since the days when my mother guided my choices in fashion till a few years ago, I always tried to dress with others opinions in mind. It's not that I cared what they thought, it's just that I didn't want to stand out. Funny how that works; the nicer that I dressed, the more conspicuous I felt. Not so much anymore. Comfort is paramount; we even have a "Walmart" uniform. So, if you and I should happen to meet, don't be surprised if you find me in shorts, a tee shirt and some clogs. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Repairs and Whatnot

We packed up last Monday and attempted to head to Houston for RV repairs and some well earned time off. We typically ask and are allowed to take a day to get packed up, so we didn't hit the road till Tuesday. Notice I say attempted. Missy and I have a well organized system we follow and, when it came time, the &*&^% kitchen and living slideouts would not come in. We set a approximate time of departure of 10 a.m. on travel days. We do not like to rush, especially when we're hauling 40 feet of toyhauler down the road. Well, the slideouts come in when everything else is done because you can't move around the house when they're stowed. So, it was well after nine when this debacle occurred. We have been RVing for a while, so we know how to assess and troubleshoot most problems. First thought was to attempt to bring the slides in manually. I know that, in most cases, the motors have to be disengaged from the tracks. Some systems have a simple lever you use to accomplish this and some require the removal of the motor. Well, I saw no way to disengage the motor(s), plus the wrench provided for the job could not be used in the tight space (you don't suppose they checked that out at the factory, do you?). On to further trouble shooting. Did I mention it was getting hotter by the minute and that we were rolling around in gravel and dirt? No voltage to the motors, voltage at the circuit board, but no voltage at the fuses, continuity check showed fuses checked good, all connections seemed tight-WTF? Finally decided to disconnect the motors and jump them directly with a battery charger. Apparently there was not enough oomph to make things happen. What to do? We finally jumped the motors with our faithful Ford pickup. At least they were stowed and we could get headed down the road. There is nothing I hate more than hopping in the truck all sweaty, dirty and frustrated. Fair warning to all you noobs out there; RVing rarely comes off smoothly. For those of you not bored to death; it turned out that the circuit board itself had failed. The fairly simple fix was to move the wires to an opening on the board. We were really glad to have had the option of a bedroom slide as it gave us a place to stay for the night. The following morning we headed out in the morning rush hour to get to the repair facility. If you want a test of your driving abilities, try towing a 40 foot toyhauler through Houston during rush hour. Some of my dear readers have posed the question of how we handle our pets in these situations. It's never easy and the heat makes it doubly so. We were forced to idle and keep the pets in the truck, till we figured out an alternative. One alternative would have been to use one of the dealers trailers to stay in, but that never happened. Then we tried hotels, which proved difficult, because we wanted to stay in the area and had to find one that was pet friendly. We finally found a hotel, but they couldn't get us checked in till early afternoon. Sometimes the stars just do not align for you. We spent about a day and a half chasing after the mechanics and their supervisors, trying to get as many things as we could repaired. We finally left around lunchtime and started a search for a RV park. Let me tell you something; RV parks may be in abundance near Houston, but try finding a space. We spent three days in a small RV park in the country and satisfied Missy's shopping bug. We also got her ring repaired, which is near impossible to do in the oil patch. Now we are ensconced at Hidden Valley, one of our favorite RV parks, near San Antonio. Missy leaves Thursday to spend a few days in Las Vegas with some of her gal friends and we're scheduled to head back to work the Tuesday following her return. All in all, we'll have gotten a lot done and; more importantly, relaxed a bit.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Dismal Outlook

The agreement with Iran, Greece's economic disaster and a sharp downturn in China's economy; amongst other things, have caused yet another application of the brakes in the oil patch. There has been a slight uptick in fracking, but even that appears to lack momentum. Maintenance and support, like work over rigs, are some of the few activities steadily ginning along. We are just entering the dog days of summer and this does not bode well for security work in the patch. I believe the yearly loss of workers: due to winter Texans heading North and away from the heat, is one of the few reasons that here are any gates open at all. It is my strong belief that extreme care should be taken by anyone contemplating coming South for gate guard work this winter. My advice to you: if you do not secure a gate before coming down, is don't come. If the security company says they can't place you unless you're in the area; tell them politely that you're not interested in serving as a standby. If I haven't dissuaded you, only agree to come if the security company is willing to provide a spot for you while you wait for a gate. The only bright spot might be for those licensed guards that are returning. If you can't already tell; I am doing my best to help prevent the debacle we suffered through last winter. For those of you that missed it, the crash in oil prices last winter saw guards suffering through long waits for gate openings. Some reportedly set for weeks or longer. Seeing this downturn is especially disturbing, given the time of year. It is my sincere hope that my predictions are in error. However, if gate guard work has any kind of accurate barometer, it is the amount of infrastructure that is sitting unused  in security yards. Based on a recent tour, including our own company's yard, things do not look good.
 
I realize this blog entry may have some of you wondering what a unlicensed noob should do. I think the employment outlook for someone having no other source of income is not good. I believe the days of coming down to the patch with only change in your pocket and just enough gas to get to a gate are, unfortunately, gone. If you're determined, have an alternate plan in place and some money set aside. Do not attempt to get licensed and on a gate after mid August. Traditionally, Labor Day is when winter Texans migrate south, so you should be here prior to that. Security companies have a reputation for not answering and/or returning calls. The best thing you can do to assist your hunt for a gate, is to establish a rapport with guards that are actually doing the work. Social media is a great place to start and you will find that most guards are very helpful. I guarantee you I can get someone on the phone much quicker than a noob ever could. Additionally those of us doing the work have a finger on its pulse, and know the market. If you approach this work with the attitude of a contractor you can find it very rewarding, especially monetarily.
 

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Plum Project Winds Down

We have been on this gate since October, easily a record for us. For some reason we are well liked and have been told that we can expect more of the same in the future. Part of the reason we were assigned here; there was a night shift in place when we first arrived, was to have us available for a pipeline project that was/is upcoming. That project got caught up in the "oil glut" cutbacks and we have remained. It's the first time we have been "squirreled" away by a company official, so now we know it can happen. The trick, it seems, is to simply do the job the best way you know how. You can do the job of a gate guard without being an insufferable ass. To add to our record, we have also outlasted an innumerable amount of contractors and everyone of our company men. That's right, we currently are rudderless, and have no leader-so to speak. It also seems the last company man failed to leave specific instructions on how to deal with, much less release, the guards. So now we are caught up in a delicate dance, with both sides saying they have performed their due diligence, and neither, seemingly, wanting to pull the plug. The only thing we know for sure is that the end is near, so we are preparing to move. Lest this confuse you, it might help to know that our exploration company rarely uses gate guards on these types of projects. We will miss this plum assignment as it has been rewarding in so many ways. We have UPS and Fed Ex delivery, but no mail at the gate. We are close to town and the facilities that provides. We rarely work past six pm, then lockup and settle in for the night. Best of all, the pace of the gate has allowed us to take on relief work and temporary assignments, essentially doubling our income at times. Conversely, it has also allowed one of us to get away and do things with regularity.

Our immediate plans for the future are to head to Houston and have needed repairs performed on our toyhauler. We have been without our main air conditioner for some time now and cannot wait to get it replaced/repaired. The trailer has almost become unbearable in the late afternoon. I have long espoused the need for two air conditioners to beat the South Texas summer heat. This experience has reaffirmed that. While the repairs are being performed we hope to explore the Houston area and relax. A friend of ours has RV spots in Rockport and we are hoping to stop by there for a day or two on our way back to the patch. I recommend the area for anyone wanting to make a daytrip. The seafood alone is worth it.

If I don't get around to it sooner, there will be an update once we get settled.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Exercise

I know the title must have you a little curious. Don't worry, I'm not going to start a physical fitness campaign (even thought it's a great idea), at least not for my dear readers. I'm talking about exercising your rig. Most folks with 5vers don't have much to worry about if they use their tow vehicle regularly. Motorized RVs are a different breed and diesel RVs even more so. A good place to start is with the misconception about mileage. Strange as it may seem, a high mileage, well maintained diesel pusher may be a better buy than a similar, low mileage unit. Well maintained diesel engines can easily make 500,000 miles and a lot of truck engines don't get overhauled till the million mile mark. Diesels, and their drive trains, plus other components, do not fare well sitting idle. Algae can breed and grow in the fuel and condensation and moisture can infiltrate the air and fuel systems. A Class A coach, especially a diesel, is meant to stretch its legs. If you have a diesel and have to sit, start and run the generator under load weekly. A lot of diesel owners don't know that they can adjust their idle with their cruise control; just like truckers. If you have that feature you should always sit at high idle (around 1000 rpm) if parked for any length of time. Like the generator, you should also run your diesel engine at high idle weekly. One area that diesel owners neglect is the care and maintenance of their air system. Most diesels have air bags (which makes the ride so wonderful) and air brakes. Most also have a drier, because clean, dry air is a necessity for the system to work properly. The drier will have a filter and desiccant cartridge that should be changed annually. Periodically, the brakes should be bled down and allowed to recharge. The brakes also have slack adjusters that should be inspected regularly. You can conduct a Google search on all of these things or visit a truck maintenance facility and ask some questions. Although mileage is a factor when considering the purchase of a gas rig; don't forget that most folks don't put a lot of miles on them on an annual basis. If you're a weekend warrior, a well maintained gasser might be right up your alley. Either way, if you're going to sit for any length of time, the same advice vis a vis exercising applies. Finally, PLEASE weigh your rig when you are loaded and ready to hit the road. For one thing you don't want to overload it and it gives you a target for setting your tire pressure. IMHO you should purchase a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) if your rig doesn't have one. Finally, after years of experience and owning both class A's and 5th wheels, here's my advice. If you think you're going to travel a lot and utilize your rig regularly a diesel pusher is the way to go. It causes me heartache to see expensive diesel pushers parked and ignored. A well trimmed out 5ver also works fine for fulltimers or over the road travel. If you long term camp or use your rig for things like work or as a park model, a motorized rig is not the way to go. Some may argue, but a Class A gasser just doesn't work for extensive travelling. Most lack the air ride and heavy duty chassis found on a diesel pusher. The lighter chassis also affects your load capacity. Hopefully, this has been helpful and enlightening. Now, go out there and exercise!
 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Purpose Born Out of Necessity

We descended upon the oil patch, wide eyed and innocent, in a abused and used motorhome. Add to that we had no idea of the depth of experience or integrity of RV repair in South Texas. I will not bore you with details as most of my dear readers know that we spent thousands of dollars trying to keep that motorhome running. At about $500 a visit, we slowly grew too realize that the majority of the mechanics knew little more than we did. That was especially difficult to deal with in specialty areas such as air conditioning and electricity; trades I was wholly ignorant in. It was a shocking wake up call since, back in Oklahoma, we had an honest, knowledgeable and reasonable RV tech and mechanic. Notice I said RV tech and mechanic separately. This is especially important when it comes to motorized RVs, because they require two distinct specialties. For instance, it is a rare mechanic that works on both drivetrains and RV roofs. Since we couldn't find a decent RV tech, or get one to come out to the patch, I embarked on a crash course in RV systems. I am blessed to be mechanically inclined and I also had a father that imparted a ton of knowledge. Along with that I am a certified welder and possess a Federally issued Airframe and Powerplant license. The Information Age has provided an endless source of knowledge via the internet and I am a voracious reader. It then seemed only natural to share this knowledge with others, especially those stuck in the oil patch with little or no hope for needed repairs. I soon noticed that more and more folks were contacting me and asking questions. A Face Book page followed (Gate Guard Info and RV Maintenance Tips) and more and more folks turned to it; saving themselves a ton of money. When a tech had to be called or the RV went into a shop, folks were at least better prepared. Information is your friend, especially when dealing with some of the repair techs that prey on RVers. A typical service call involves at least a $100 fee to just come out; then a mysterious sliding scale for labor, plus parts thrown in for good measure. If, after you have exhausted all other possibilities, you have to call out a tech or head to the shop, get the fees and costs up front. Like a dentist a thousand dollars doesn't go far in the patch or shop. I feel especially blessed knowing that I have saved folks some money, shared some knowledge and given them some peace of mind.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Changing Face of Gate Guarding

Every endeavor and job evolves over time. Rule changes, environment changes, pay changes (hopefully up), uniform changes; you name it and all of us have probably experienced them. As my dear readers know I have chronicled how much the face of gate guarding has evolved since those heady "wild west days". I, for one, enjoyed the craziness. We had utter chaos going on; I suspect much like the days of the gold rushes of yore. There were people that had no business, much less the qualifications, to be out here. That included gate guards, by the way. If you could fog a mirror and understand basic questions in English, Armenian, Spanish or whatever language, you could secure a CDL. Nepotism ran rampant, feeding the good old boy network. Caterers were everywhere and food and drink flowed. We had drilling, fracking and production running willy-nilly all over Texas. Dusters be damn, let's continue drilling! Eventually some organization took over and fracking companies caught up to the drilled holes, followed by organized flowback and production. All of this was because of stratospheric oil prices, which eventually were choked by OPEC. The road might go on forever, but the party had to end in the patch. (apologies to Robert Earl Keen)  I remember sitting for a week or two with nary a visitor after drilling had completed. Hell, we were even forgotten on a gate once! Those things rarely happen anymore in the brave new world of sub $100 a barrel oil. If there is a day or two gap between operations anymore, the entire gate guarding ensemble is pulled off the gate. No easy task for both the gate guard and his or hers security company. A revolution is occurring, with more and more guard shacks taking over gates normally manned by a couple in an RV. Used to be you could get a security job over the phone. We even completed the whole process via the mail and Fed Ex when we started. Now security companies have the luxury to pick and choose who they want on their gates. Those guards with a "past" that burned their bridges are slowly being ousted and having trouble securing work. In a way it is good for the profession, as professionalism is always appreciated by the suits in corporate. That won't keep me from reminiscing about the camaraderie of following a rig and running balls to the wall 28 hours a day. We once drilled a hole, including setup and tear down, in about a week. We went from spud to TD in about three days! I have an idea that I witnessed history in the making and it will probably never happen again in my lifetime.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Rigors (and rewards) of Gate Guarding Revisited

Sometimes I overestimate the reach of this blog. However smarmy it may sound, I truly hope that some of the things I espouse and write about get noticed: and hopefully inform and help others. That is the main reason I publish this blog. Having said that, I would hope that my dear readers feel free to cut and paste (or spread by any means) anything they find helpful and informative.
 
Before I get into what has gotten my interest peaked; let me say that my information is just as much anecdotal as factual. In most cases I wasn't there, nor did I experience some of the things the folks I am writing about did.
 
I have tried to, as factually as possible, describe the opportunity that gate guarding provides. Along the way I have written several blogs (and an untold number of postings) about both the good and bad it entails. At the risk of repeating myself, let me try to make some things clear. Gate guarding is not for everyone; however obvious that may sound. Until recently, most opportunities required a couple to park on a usually remote gate and one of them to be there 24 hours a day. So; hurdle one is - are you an RV'er and can you stand to live in close quarters with someone for an extended period of time? Another direct facet of this is the guards mechanical ability and knowledge of their rig(s). Finding a honest, knowledgeable and reliable RV mechanic in the oil patch is very difficult. The best way I can describe preparing your RV for the rigors of gate guarding is to treat it like you were going on an expedition to some remote outpost. All the basics need to be covered. Strong and fresh batteries, recently replaced and/or checked belts, hoses and tires along with a thorough and complete PM (oil change, lube and fluid top off). While I'm discussing preparation, you should have some cash and plenty of potable water with you. Also, try to find the time and wherewithal to get to the closest Walmart or grocery store and stock up. If that hasn't dissuaded you, let me now prepare you for what you may encounter. Bugs of every type and size imaginable will eventually get into every nook and cranny of your rig. Even though we just broke a historic drought, dust will be your constant companion; also finding its way into every nook and cranny of your rig. And; even though a lot of the patch is in a desert clime, it can and does rain. The resulting mud and muck can be debilitating. Just when you thought you were in the desert southwest, you can encounter sleet and freezing precipitation. The inclement weather seems to have the uncanny ability to strike at the most inopportune moments, trying both your patience and willpower. Depending on the security company you sign up with, you may and probably will get some crappy assignments at first. Short term and remote may be the order of the day. Even after years out here we occasionally get a zinger of a gate which tests our meddle. Overall, I have to say we have been rewarded with some plum assignments as our experience has grown.

As much as I and others have tried to forewarn candidates about the rigors and rewards of gate guarding, we still get folks who can't hack it. We have had candidates simply disappear in the rear view mirror of their escort as they headed for a gate. We have had folks simply drive off and abandon a gate. There have even been excuses as inane as not being able to cope with the mud and/or mosquitoes; or the infamous guard who asked to be moved or relieved in hopes of getting better cell phone or satellite reception. I implore you to give it at least a day or two and think things over. Give your security company the opportunity to find and get a replacement in place. Remember, if the room and environment allow, the departing guard should be off the pad and ready to depart when his or her replacement arrives. It has been our experience that very few opportunities exist for fulltimers that pay as well as gate guarding. Whenever we find our motivation or desire lacking, we think about the money. It's as simple as that.
 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Shortage of Gate Guards?

Don't look now; but summer is upon us. One of the things that that has traditionally meant; along with the heat, is a shortage of guards. Most winter Texans have headed North or are planning on leaving soon. One of the things I was looking for; after the fall of oil prices and over abundance of guards last winter, was whether we would see the traditional shortage of guards come summer. It appears that we indeed need guards to fill openings throughout South Texas! Now, if we could just stem the flow of candidates coming south around Labor day. While I believe it won't make a lot of people happy, oil seems to have leveled off at around $60 a barrel. Companies are adjusting, the glut has subsided and demand is rising. There are those that think $100 a barrel is in the realm of possibility. I disagree, but remain hopeful. It may do those that avoid the heat to reconsider and try summer gate guarding anyway. Use the money to hunker down in the winter where the weather is somewhat moderate.

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season

Although it's a longshot, hurricanes can and do make it into the Gulf of Mexico and affect Texas cities and towns. While we haven't had a hurricane yet, we have had more than its equal in rain, hail and tornados. Jimmy Buffet wrote a song about how a lot of Floridians (and others) deal with it; hence the title of this posting. The only thing I might directly attribute to climate change is the wild swings and duration of some weather phenomenon. Even then, I feel a lot of what we are experiencing is cyclical in nature. I think it might do everyone more than a little good to look back over an extended period of time when trying to reconcile the weather we are currently experiencing. Droughts have come and gone, monsoons used to be a seasonal occurrence in the desert southwest and hurricanes come and go; both in severity and quantity. And that's just to mention a little of the wild things weather and mother nature can throw at us. Even now, the phenomenon known as El Nino is building in the Pacific and promises to wet the parched western United States. Why stricter water conservation measures haven't been imposed remains a mystery to me; but that's a different story. I vividly remember traveling through the south, not too long ago, and thinking the lakes and rivers might never recover from a multi year drought. Spring in the Midwest has traditionally meant rain and wild weather. Mother nature just hasn't seen fit to share that with Texas the last few years; especially south Texas. When that power greater than us all decides to turn on the tap, I'm not convinced it realizes the full power it can unleash. In it's effort to refill our reservoirs and right what's meteorologically wrong, it can sometimes sadly cause untold death and destruction. Fortunately, people are resilient, and they will prevail. I try to remember that as we prepare for another facet of the recent rains; the flooding that will come as water flows downstream and looks for a place to go. We are about a half mile as the crow flies from the nearest river and have been told to prepare to evacuate. We are not panicking and even using the opportunity to clean up and organize our "stuff". We have had guards forced to evacuate already, some reportedly having to abandon their RV's. So, in an abundance of caution (and to obey and pay heed to our exploration company's wishes) we have and are prepared to go. The latest weather predictions seem to bode well; so I don't think we'll be taking advantage of having a home on wheels.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Resigned to our Fate

I grew up believing the ethos that the man should be both the provider and protector of the home. When you fulltime in an RV there isn't much you can do when you get hit by a violent storm; especially when you work out of it in the middle of nowhere. On the surface I try to remain cool, calm and collected. The problem is that it has happened before and I know, no matter how I rack my brain, there is nowhere for us to go or hide. I guess we have been fortunate that, in the years that we have done oil field security work, we have never suffered any major damage. This year has me frazzled, as we are coming out of a major drought with a vengeance. This is the first time we have had our possessions tossed about by the wind and the mud and flooding is as bad or worse than ever. Hopefully, someone will eventually figure out how to incorporate a "safe room" in an RV. In the meantime; I will remain stoic and pray that nothing catastrophic will happen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What a long, strange trip it's been

After years in the patch; I've been doing some reflecting. Like a lot of other gate guards we weren't sure how long this gig might last or how long we might stay. The horror stories we had heard about the South Texas heat were somewhat exaggerated; although it does occasionally get uncomfortably hot. The stories about the dust and mud were true; especially the dust getting into every nook and cranny of the RV. I think we were preconditioned by the struggle we had undergone trying to survive by workamping. Anything that promised decent wages appealed to us. We pulled into the Gate Guard Services yard with less than fifty bucks between us. Time management is the key to survival as a gate guard as far as we are concerned. We can only do this job for so long before a break is needed. We know better than to let ourselves get burned out. Either way, we still have folks that can't even make a week down here. Right now, finances and future plans only allow us to take an extended period of time off about once a year. The grand plan is to rotate out of Texas during those hot summer months and gate guard during the winter. As a lot of my dear readers know, that is all dependent on how well oil prices rebound and the general health of the economy. It has been a tense, worrisome period in the patch since oil prices plummeted. Regardless, we are well liked and respected and plan to remain in gate guarding till my health fails and/or we're shown the door.
 
Along the way, during this journey, we have found out a lot about ourselves, tested our mettle and learned a ton of things. To me, the main thing that thwarts the success of many a gate guard is the realization that (in most cases) one of them must be on site at all times. After all this time, we still revel in the novelty of being able to go out together. Even being in the same vehicle together is a simple pleasure. Some folks just cannot abide not being able to enjoy simple things together. Add in split shifts and not sleeping together and you have the potential for disaster. We have a credo "think about the money". For the most part we are paid a tremendous amount of money for what we do. I like to say all things in life are like a circle. This has had special meaning in our work as gate guards. We have suffered tremendously on some of the most challenging gates you can imagine. I won't bore you with details; but we have been richly rewarded for our efforts. For almost a year we have been working pipeline and construction gates. Compared to a frack, this is like a walk in the park. We have little or no night traffic and weekends are very light. Traffic is so light that it allows one of us to take on relief work and twelve hour gates, greatly padding our income. Those of you that turned your back on this kind of work after they led you down a bumpy caliche road, out in the middle of nowhere, might want to think about that, 
 
You know you have been in the patch for a while when you recognize and have been to places like Carrizo Springs, Los Angeles (no. not that one silly) Christine, Cotulla and Gonzales. If some one asks us to meet them at the courthouse in Tilden we don't need directions. You know it's been a long strange trip when someone says; "Take I 410 to 16, go through Poteet and Jourdanton, and turn right on CR 140 and go 2 miles and we'll meet you", and you immediately know where to go.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Link to my Facebook Pages

I recently received a request to help locate my Facebook page.

I have two Facebook pages; my personal one and one dedicated to gate guarding and RV maintenance.

Here they are:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/307499239449519/

My personal page is under Mark Bass

Hopefully this helps

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Boldly Going where Few RVers Go

Along with the isolation, long trips to the store, everything from dust to rain, eventual burnout, etc.; gate guarding also prevents a challenge to maintain and care for your RV. We regularly run into folks that have no idea what preventative maintenance is when it comes to an RV. For instance; it leaves me to wonder when we get the early winter flood of complaints from folks who can't get their furnace to light off. This after the furnace has set idle for months in a less than desirable environment. Lack of knowledge when it comes to basic care and maintenance can lead to thousands of dollars in repairs. Adding to it all is that getting a reliable and knowledgeable tech to come out to the hinterlands where a lot of us work is difficult at best.
 
When we first got out to the patch, we would finally get someone to come out for repairs; only to watch them drive off and within the hour experience the same problem. This after we lined their pockets with hundreds of dollars. We decided to study voraciously and began undertaking repairs on our own. We extended the overall life of components and got them to work more efficiently by implementing a maintenance schedule. Components like air conditioners get regular filter changes and the evaporator and condenser coils get cleaned at the beginning and end of the year. We learned to trouble shoot and replaced control boards, pumps, refrigerators, shocks, tires; you name it. Besides being a confidence builder, you also have the pride of having done a task well.
 
My strong suggestion to you is to utilize the internet (and other .sources) and learn as much as you can about your RV. They may not look the same; but after a while you soon realize they all use similar components and parts. If you are not physically capable or just don't want to perform repairs or maintenance, find a shop you can trust and let them look your RV over at least twice a year. I promise you will be money ahead; especially if you've done your homework. If you decide to deal with an individual or shop do not be afraid to ask questions. If a component is slated for replacement, insist on seeing and/or getting the removed parts back. There are less than a handful of RV techs that I trust (and even fewer shops). Never be afraid to get a second opinion. Techs and shops like to treat RV repair as a "black art" and depend and prey on your ignorance. These may seem like harsh words, but they're coming from a multiple RV owner with years of ownership behind him.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Expense or Investment?

Most of my dear readers know that I write form a gate guards perspective. However, gate guarding is just an extreme form of fulltiming and a lot of the products we use can be used in a lot of other applications. On top of that, we put products through some extreme tests. There are some things that you just shouldn't skimp on. I also regard most of what I intend to discuss as necessities.
 
There is no way to place a value on a good set of tires and a monitoring system to go with them. I once thought of tire monitors as just another gadget. I've since found the built in system in our Ford F250 to be utterly reliable-plus it's already detected a puncture. We've had a few teething problems with the system for RV's. However, the company has backed its product and replaced a faulty transmitter. We give the system a thumbs up and find the peace of mind it provides invaluable.
 
Those of you unlucky enough not to have a built in generator should definitely look into one. In the unlikely event that your primary generator should fail; especially when its 110 degrees out, you'll appreciate a back up. Whatever you purchase, it should be able to handle the needs of your particular RV. We have found 7500 watts, with a peak of 9000, safely handles everything our 50 amp service can throw at it. You can find a gas generator for $500 or less. A used Onan, installed can cost an easy 5K.

Along the lines of electricity are the cords and adaptors that are necessary to utilize it. Always buy heavy duty components. Anything less and you risk, at best, overheating and failure. At worst, you can spawn a major fire. We tend to use ours in high amperage and high demand situations.

I repeat the importance of a towing plan, or EVRS. There are several, with Coach Net and Good Sam being the most prominent. They will pay for themselves. Just make sure you join one that deals with and understands the needs of RVers.

I'm sure there are other things we all use on a regular basis that we have a choice of quality when purchasing. I hope I highlighted a few that you might not "skimp" on next time you purchase them.





 
 
 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Spring

In Oklahoma I consider April our cruelest month weather wise. You can experience everything from snow to tornadoes. The first year I grew tomatoes I found out the hard way and, from then on, kept seedlings covered or indoors till Spring really set in. In south Texas, where we are currently working, March heralds Spring and all sorts of weather anomalies can also happen.
 
Now that it is April in south Texas, the harbingers of Spring are everywhere. Rattlesnakes are on the move and Bluebonnets are evident in abundance; most likely helped by the wet winter and Spring rains. We have seen our first 90 degree day and thunder has reverberated through the air. Before we know it 100 degree plus days will be the norm and the hell that is summer in South Texas will be upon us.

With the heat the Winter Texans will head North and; hopefully, the logjam of guards should ease up. Summer should be a test of the petroleum industry and gate guarding. History tells us that summer traditionally leads to a shortage of guards. It is late Spring and we still have folks sitting, patiently waiting for work. If this continues much longer, recovery will most likely not occur this year. I strongly urge anyone considering coming down this fall to ensure they have work prior to pointing the RV South. I do not think the companies are going to be as generous with their yard space next winter.

Meantime; we're glad to have had a gate through the winter. Spring has definitely sprung, temperatures are on the rise and we're reveling in the cool nights and not so hot days. Experience tells us we'll spring, if not leap into summer real soon.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Musings Yet Again

I haven't published a new blog in a while. Perhaps it's because I find a lot of creative time going towards building and maintaining my Facebook page; which deals with a lot of the same issues and topics. I also believe that a lot of how you face things, and complete the day to day slog, is based on your attitude. That has also limited a lot of what I like to discuss lately because things in the petroleum world have been very negative. The oil glut and falling prices of fuel and gas directly affects every facet of what is going on in the oil patch here in South Texas. I suppose that rings true in North Dakota and everywhere else they are pursuing "black gold". At one time diesel selling for around $2.00 a gallon would be cause for celebration. After almost four years of working in the "biz" our attitude is remarkably different. I personally think that oil selling for much above $100 a barrel is a thing of the past. What we really need is for things to bottom out and stability to take over. Unfortunately; all we are seeing is prices continuing to decline. One positive note that we have heard and observed is that there is still a ton of infrastructure that needs to be completed, in order to connect all the pieces, and get the oil and gas moved out of here.
 
Though I am not a bible thumper and refrain from proselytizing, I have to say some evil things have occurred of late. We have some depraved murderers pretending to act in the name of Allah determined to establish a Muslim caliphate, ruled by Sharia law. They place little value on human life; seemingly able to come up with a new and unique way to murder anyone who stands in their way. I started this paragraph before I found out that the co pilot intentionally flew the Germanwings Airbus into a mountain in the French Alps. One was definitively suffering from some sort of mental malady and I guess it can be argued that they both are/were. Look, I admire anyone that is so devoted to his or her beliefs that he or she is willing to die for them. Where I have a problem is when they involve innocents in the dying part of that belief. It's there that I also get off the train when someone twists the Koran to fit his or her beliefs. With all due respect I believe anyone is wrong when they believe that their deity or idol sanctions the taking of innocent lives. I am unfortunately resigned to accept that any sort of long term peace in the middle east will be fleeting, at best. How ironic that we set things in motion by deposing Saddam Hussein. It is his followers that make up the core of ISIS leadership. Even more serendipitous is that we had its leader confined in Guantanamo at one time. You may wonder why you should care about a conflict that is thousands of years old. With the involvement of both Iran and Saudi Arabia we now have a full fledged regional war. Add to that weak leadership in the United States, and the nearby civil war in Syria, and you have a powder keg ready to explode. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Slogging Along

We are on a pipeline and construction gate. Maybe it's the funding (or lack thereof); but the care and maintenance of a gate guard pad is not even on their radar. That is one of the very few regrets we have about this type of gate guarding. Especially since the work itself is so easy. Recent rain has exacerbated this problem and we have not only a muddy driveway, but also ponding and flooding. The last gate we were on we buried the 5th wheel almost half way up the rims-took two pickups in tandem to pull it out of the muck. It's not quite that bad at our current location. Of all the things that I discussed and researched before embarking on this adventure, rain and mud was not one of them. I do love this kind of gate guarding, so don't get me wrong. We used to be a top dog with our exploration company and anything the CM (company man) couldn't or wouldn't get us, our field superintendent would. That included leveling a pad and providing and spreading a load of gravel. We kind of miss being part of the team on a drilling rig. We knew the schedule and what to expect (most of the time). However; when I think about getting paid for a 24 hour gate with little or no weekend or evening traffic I think we can learn to live with it. Even if it means living on an unimproved pad and having to slog around in ankle deep water and mud.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Reality Sets In

Anytime a commodity starts appearing in abundance you can usually expect its value to drop. This axiom doesn't always apply in a global economy; but it has tremendously affected the price of oil. A few years ago OPEC had a stranglehold on the availability and supply of crude oil. Prices soared, especially with the rumors that the supply was short. Political unrest and violence  also abetted the volatility and cost of oil. As most know, we have seen a barrel of oil fall to unprecedented levels-almost $40 a barrel. This from a recent high of $145 plus. A strange thing happened at an OPEC meeting last year. Rather than curtail supply to counter the abundant discoveries brought on by directional drilling and the removal of oil trapped in shale deposits, OPEC decided to maintain (and even increase) its production. The inevitable happened and we now are locked in an economic battle of wills; with tumbling prices causing wholesale panic in the petroleum industry. A perfect storm has occurred, as China and the world economy in general have slowed exponentially. And; along the lines of "no good deed goes unpunished"; years of calls to conserve and increased efficiency of internal combustion engines have lowered domestic demand.
 
In the gate guard world, the perfect storm was that word had gotten out that fairly easy money could be made living and working in the oil patch in South Texas. The result was a yearly increase in the sheer number of candidates vying for a finite number of jobs. (A horrific winter hasn't helped either). With the onset of the oil glut, you inevitably ended up with folks basically wintering in South Texas, unable to secure a gate. A few were "lucky" and were able to live off the largesse of a few guard companies by staying in their company yards. Expect this tradition to undergo radical change, as early as the upcoming winter; if not sooner. Back in the day the demand for guards; especially in the summer, almost demanded that a guard company keep folks on standby-no more. This summer should be telling in the gate guard community.
 
While it has been difficult to see our kindred spirits struggle to find work; until recently is hasn't hit close to home for us. My sour predictions have unfortunately borne fruit and we are seeing the affects of cuts amongst those that frequent our gate. New faces are a poignant reminder of those no longer serving our job site and the layoffs are starting to have a profound affect. Some changes were needed and excesses curtailed; but that hasn't lessened the pain. As gate guards it is imperative that we remain in good stead with the companies that we are charged with protecting. While the vast majority of guards probably conduct themselves in a responsible, professional manner; a reminder to do so may be in order. I inadvertently received a tip from a reputable source the other day. Simply ingratiating yourself with the people you work with can go a long way to extending your longevity. Also make sure you get your name out there, so they know who you are.

As time inevitably rolls on, the winter Texans will head back north and gates should come available. The question is how many? The economic viability of directional drilling is in grave peril and this could signal the end of drilling as we currently know it. I believe the days of gate guarding from an RV are nearing an end. Before long, uniformed guards and shacks will be the order of the day. The worst case scenario is if oil never fully recovers and we have a complete bust; not unlike the one in East Texas in the late 70's and early 80's. Then we'll simply have low cost guards babysitting anything that's left that is worth protecting.

I have heard pundits say that oil will both sink to $20 a barrel or rise to $200 a barrel by years end. There's no telling who is right. I do not think we'll see $150 a barrel oil for some time. Let's hope I'm wrong.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Some Axioms

Spring, then summer, will eventually come. Hard to believe with all this cold, but true. Apparently the word has finally gotten around that; unless you find some shade somewhere, one air conditioner will struggle to cool an RV in the South Texas summer. Some of the more recalcitrant and ignorant RVers have found their units wanting when it comes to the issue of adding extra air conditioners. At the risk of sounding "preachy", here we go again. Do not buy an RV with 30 amp service if you plan to live and work in it fulltime. It trumps price or any other BS a salesman might tell you. As if you need further proof, many RVs with 50 amp service are already prewired for the second unit.

$100 - 200 is cheap when you start adding up the things that may need repair when you acquire a new or used RV. Pay the money and get the potential unit properly and thoroughly inspected.

While we're on the subject of repairs; purchasing a roadside emergency service plan is like money in the bank. Good Sam EVRS or Coach-Net are two that come to mind. Both can be had for under $150 a year. Avoid AAA or any other provider that does not deal specifically with RVs. I promise you it will pay for itself over time.

Try to keep up with the condition of your rig. It's easy to forget about that big diesel engine in the back of a motorhome; or the generator-wherever it is located. Both should be run regularly, with an electrical load on the generator. Basic things like tread wear, fluid levels, axle bearings and such should be monitored. Those of you towing should lavish attention on your truck. Without it where would you be?

Which leaves us with the final axiom. Ignore theses suggestions at your peril.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

2015 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo

Some former military NCO's must be involved with the San Antonio Rodeo. It is organized, clean, safe and runs with a precision that would make any Swiss clockmaker proud. The fact that it has won the best indoor large rodeo for ten years straight attests to that. Rodeo; perhaps more than any other sport, goes out of its way to generate funding and support youth organizations. Everyone has their reasons for attending, but to me the only downer is that merchandising has almost overtaken what part of the grounds that the stock show doesn't use
 
San Antonio's rodeo also books top drawer entertainment, with acts ranging from One Direction to Jeff Foxworthy. One way to enjoy both the rodeo and the entertainment is to purchase Rodeo Star Experience tickets; which benefits a youth rodeo charity. However, this package is wildly popular and is limited to 200 people per event. Typically the San Antonio Rodeo announces and starts selling tickets for their entertainment in late October or early November for the following year's rodeo. We were determined to purchase the Rodeo Star Experience ticket package, so we stayed in contact with the Rodeo. Our efforts were rewarded as we scored tickets to Keith Urban. Now, I have to tell you I like Keith Urban, but I wouldn't call him my favorite artist. Perhaps it was the fact that our seats were within ten feet of the stage; but from the first note he had me. The man is a dynamo and a virtuoso on the guitar. He connects in an unassuming manner and obviously loves to share his virtuosity with the audience. The sounds emanating from four guys (the drummer had just been replaced and this was his first gig) was sublime. Suffice it to say that Keith moved up in my list of favorite musicians. It goes without saying that we found the San Antonio Stock and Rodeo Show Rodeo Star Experience more than worthwhile. Here's a brief synopsis of what's included. Grounds tickets, reserved and paid parking, rodeo seats in a reserved zone, two drinks a piece, a steak dinner with all the trimmings, seats down on the rodeo dirt directly in front of the revolving stage and a souvenir chair to keep. It's not cheap, but a couple just attending the rodeo (the concert is included) will easily spend at least half or more than we did. And that's without a meal and sitting in the rafters to boot. This easily made my list of top five concerts ever and the best entertainment for the money spent period. Go attend the rodeo and then you'll understand just how valuable the Rodeo Star Experience was.
 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Sad Truth About Fulltiming and Workamping

The road calls out to a lot of folks, kind of like the siren song of the mermaids did to mariners. Those of us that have answered the call soon find that the harsh face of reality hits you very hard and fast. Even supposedly well prepared folks find the costs eat into any savings you might have had. Those fortunate enough to have a retirement plan like social security or a IRA stand a better chance of survival. Then there are the working poor without supplemental income who have answered the call, faced reality, and continue to struggle to survive. Employers know they have a captive audience and take full advantage. For instance, they charge workers for site fees and keep your hours down to avoid paying benefits. Ironically, those minimal hours are what end up paying for your site. The best opportunities that I have found pay less than $1500 a month for a couple. Workamping sites tend to glamorize the lifestyle and are lean on the harsh truth of living on the road. How ironic it is that I rarely enjoy the travel part of living on wheels that I love so much. I envisioned getting to see the great United States, but got caught up in making a living wage.
 
You may wonder what got me rehashing over life on the road. While I remain optimistic, it would be foolhardy of me not to investigate life beyond the plum job of gate guarding that I find myself doing today. The sobering reality of falling oil prices is that cuts will affect all that are involved in the business. For gate guards it has manifested itself into a horrific winter for those hoping to find a gate. While there have been a few layoffs in the service sector, gate guards themselves have not been laid off, per se. They have however, not found many opportunities this winter. I am waiting for the ax to fall any day now on those that have been given a site to stay in whilst waiting for a gate. It has been a long standing tradition by gate guard companies to "put up" the gate guards they have on standby. I fear sheer economics will put and end to that tradition soon; their largesse just can't continue (some folks have set for weeks on end). Ironically, not only is there a huge divide between Workamping  and gate guarding wages (by more than half), the slowdown has cast more folks into the availability pool. The sheer amount of folks out there unfortunately allows the employer(s) to not only be more selective, but also pay inferior wages. It is a sad truth of workamping that someone will always take a position that most would not even consider. Even someone ignorant in economics can see that, if wages remain constant, a person can afford less and less. That's where workampers find themselves.

There are plenty of opportunities to make money travelling and working in this great country. Just remember that you have to pay for fuel and living expenses. You should also severely temper your expectations and have some sort of income stream, before embarking on the life of a workamper. As far as gate guarding goes; for the foreseeable future, it will suffer from the same malady that affects most workampers seeking winter work. The vast majority of workampers head south for the winter, making not only sites difficult to come by, but also, workamper opportunities to be very competitive. This year we suffered from the "perfect storm" in the oil patch-a glut of oil and way to many available candidates. I don't see it getting better anytime soon.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Alternative

I suppose some of you came to the oil patch as a first foray into the world of fulltiming. Hopefully, most of you had some experience making ends meet performing  some other type of endeavor. Especially those of you that have neither retirement/pension, social security or some other form of supplemental income. I say this because it has been the experience of many a workamper that the opportunities to make a decent living on the road are few and far between. It was that experience that has made us forever grateful for having stumbled into the world of gate guarding. Our first two years on the road were fraught with misery, watching every penny we spent and making agonizing decisions over what we could and couldn't afford. It was a no brainer; despite the challenges, to immerse ourselves full time into gate guarding. We take the occasional break, but otherwise treat this as a full time job. With the oil glut casting a gloomy outlook on gate guard work, it behooves all of us to explore other opportunities and to ensure we have the finances to transition back out into the workamping world. It never fails to befuddle me how employers expect workampers to make a decent living; especially with more and more resorts and campgrounds expecting part of your pay to go towards lot/site rent. It would seem to be a double edged sword-they want healthy, hard working folks; yet the vast majority of workampers are elderly or somewhat to fully disabled. I guess I might be wrong about that, since its based on anecdotal evidence, but you get my gist. They do; however, unfortunately have a captive audience, willing to perform just about any task. It wasn't my intent to come across as "Debbie downer", but a sad truth awaits most workampers seeking to make a living on the road.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Black Gold

A lot of folks don't realize that we primarily fought WW2 over oil. We continue to fight over it today; sometimes without even raising a hand in anger. Now that we have established ourselves as a world player in the production of oil, OPEC is determined to undermine our new found wealth by flooding an already glutted market and making it unsound financially to extract it. While an immediate benefit has been falling oil prices, the petroleum sector is suffering with decreased revenues and inevitable layoffs.
 
In order to move all that oil in a safe, reliable and financially responsible manner you need pipelines (among other modes of transport). Our own internal battle rages on with our legislators locked into a pitched fight over the Keystone pipeline. Not only do we have a President that looks upon oil and coal (at best) as an ugly necessity, he is also determined to undermine any legislation dealing with it. Now comes word that the new Republican majority in the House and Senate have approved legislation that would green light the pipeline. So entrenched are both sides that the President has simply declared that he will veto any measure that comes across his desk. Perhaps we should take a step back; even though I don't think it will happen. Even though the legislation has passed, the Senate's and House's version(s) have to be reconciled. This is not the first time that we have been at this juncture. I, for one, think passage of the bill is inevitable. I worry that Congress just doesn't care about the costs involved. Last time I checked a similar battle over the Health Care Law has resulted in millions having been wasted in trying to overturn it.
 
As I said, I believe passage of the Keystone pipeline is inevitable. Unfortunately some individuals have decided to remain pigheaded about the whole mess. It is under assault by environmentalists and political hacks, to name just a few. Do we really intend to simply leave the project undone and waste the millions already invested? How long is the American public going to put up with this silly infighting in Washington? Instead of having a President willing to compromise with the Republican majority, we have ended up with a failed leader that seems bent on making standing up for what he believes his legacy; no matter the cost.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Aesthtetics over Practicality

We have owned four RVs and have learned a lot from each of them. One of the toughest aspects of choosing an RV is getting beyond how much the "wow" factor hits you versus how practical it is for your lifestyle. The RV a fulltimer uses should, and probably is, different from your typical weekend warrior RV. Let me explain.
 
If you're going to live in an RV you really need to ensure it has 50 amp service. 50 amp service is essentially 240 volts split into two 120 volt branches. If you're thinking that gives you twice the amperage (or load) capability; you'd be right. It's also the only way to run two air conditioners and a lot of other heavy loads. A washing machine and dryer are also invaluable for a fulltimer. Storage space/capability are also paramount; keeping weight in mind. Which brings up size. Normally, the larger and longer the unit, the bigger the load you can carry. I always maintain that you should always get the largest RV you can afford. With few exceptions, most folks wish they had a larger coach. Basically the things you might consider a necessity in an RV you live in aren't as important for short term stays; like weekend camping.

Once you've zeroed in on a particular RV a thorough inspection is in order; especially if buying a used model. There are mechanics that do this sort of thing for around $100, so it is cheap insurance. Unfortunately, you have to be careful when shopping. Even the most reputable dealer or owner can miss a few things. You should check every system on the unit, including things like the the water heater, the water pump and the black and gray dump valves; just to name a few. Look the body over and check for delamination and/or cracks. Walk the roof and check its condition, including soft spots. There are handy checklists available on the internet.

To keep your self on track, make a list of the amenities that you feel you can't live without. Then, by process of elimination, you can narrow the field down to the coach that best suits your lifestyle. It may not be a aesthetically pleasing as some, but you will live more comfortably. Wouldn't you feel just a little bit silly if your RV air conditioner couldn't keep you comfortable in the heat, just because the model you were bowed over by didn't have a 50 amp electrical system? That's just a prime example of practicality over aesthetics.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Anonymity of the Virtual World

There was a time when, if you promised to do something, the person so promised could relax knowing it would be done. This is so hard to put into words. I feel like I've become my dad. This stuff is intertwined with values that have eroded, even disappeared, over the years. Especially in this virtual age. Like a cancer it has affected every fiber of our being. Promise and honor have seemed to have lost their intrinsic value. When I say every fiber, I mean from simple requests to contractual obligations. It's gotten to the point that I am almost always surprised when someone actually does what he or she said they would. It's also gotten to the point that folks actually get riled when; after you have been dissed and burnt, that you have the audacity to contact them and complain. Which brings up contacting. You would think in this virtual world, rife with means of communicating, that getting a hold of somebody wouldn't be difficult. Some how we've turned availability into a means of hiding. I mean; how do you ignore voice mail, FB messaging, Twitter, e-mail, company intranet, et all? I often joke with folks when, after multiple efforts, they finally get back with me. "What would I have done if it was an emergency?" Maybe we have created this virtual world where we feel as if we're in contact with others simply by our presence on the internet? IT'S VIRTUAL, FOLKS-DO I HAVE TO POST THE DEFINITION FOR YOU? For whatever it's worth, I implore everyone to make an effort to not only do what you say you will, but also attempt to answer those voice mails, Twitter, e-mails, etc. Lets all also try to reconnect in the real world.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I'd Rather Sweat then Shiver

Some of you may know that we have arguably the most "cush" gate in the patch. When we stumbled into pipeline and construction work, we had no idea what was in store. We quickly found out that high traffic flow is not the hallmark of the job. Quite the opposite; three to five vehicles a day was the norm, unless supplies or material was coming in. They also rarely work nights and weekends, and even more rarely, on a Sunday. That provides us the added benefit of not having to be outside much, exposed to the elements. Did I mention that we only log after hours, on weekends and holidays? And then, only if they are not  known to us. Finally, the lack of traffic has also provided us with the ability to supplement our income as one person can easily run our gate, while the other takes side work.
 
The recent onslaught of cold by "old man winter" has been a rude awakening; even to veteran guards. Add to that persistent rain and cloudy days and you have the recipe for a challenging work environment. You may have noticed that on the list of necessities that a lot of veteran guards provide noobs is long undies and insulated overalls and jackets. For some, that might have come as a surprise; especially after a summer in South Texas. While our current situation allows us some respite from the cold: we both are veterans of some trying, miserably cold shifts on a gate. Oddly enough, my worst experience was an overnight shift on a gate within spitting distance of the Rio Grande river. Who knew that that far South you could get freezing rain and sleet? It unfortunately was a very busy gate, further adding to the misery. Nights like that test your resolve to perform your duties.
 
We recognize and are grateful for the situation that we find ourselves in. Especially considering that so many guards are sitting and making no income at all. However, winter will eventually pass and high temps will be the rule, not the exception. Hopefully, you have found ways to stay warm-gate guards are nothing, if not creative. I, for one, will welcome the heat. I'd rather sweat than shiver any day.