First Time Working In a Utility Co. Park – Adjusting to the Schedule and Communication

The company we are working for this summer has a very specific media policy which I am adhering to.  This includes not mentioning other employees by name, so I will do the best I can to recount our experience using people’s roles or titles.  Also, because it’s not really that difficult to figure out who we are working for,  I want to be clear that I in no way speak for the company, and am only recounting our unique personal experiences.  Also, any details I get wrong (and I am sure there will be many) are due to misunderstandings on my part. When researching any job or place to stay/visit I highly recommend going to the source and starting with the company website for information. 

One of the challenges, I am sure, of managing people in multiple locations with limited cell coverage is communication. Although almost everyone has a cell phone and can text, and we all have company email accounts, the lack of consistent cell coverage (both in the parks and on the drives to the off site locations) and only being able to access company email on a company computer makes using those common means of communicating tough.  That leaves the best way of communicating with people in person, but varying shifts and disparate locations make that challenging.  As a result our contact with our direct supervisor over the last week has been minimal.  Some messages are getting to us through our trainers, but when we have questions (which I invariably do) it takes a while to get those questions back up the food chain and then get a response.

One of the areas this has been challenging this first week was around our schedule.  We knew we would be working at least 32 hours a week, but didn’t talk much more about the specifics in our interview, so I was a little bummed to discover we would be working 5 days a week.  Once we learned more about the job responsibilities it made perfect sense, because gates are opened at 6am and closed at 9pm and there is quite a bit of downtime in the middle.  Our supervisor did a nice job of putting together a schedule that spread the gate opening and closings between multiple people who helps minimize people working split shifts, but we did end up with the splits on Saturdays and Sundays.  Basically our schedule is Mondays 6am-2pm, Tuesday and Wednesday OFF, Thursday 6am -2pm, Friday 3pm – 9:30pm, and Saturday and Sunday 6am – noon and then back again 8:00pm -9:30pm.  We also are responsible for opening the gates Monday, Saturday, and Sunday and closing the gates Friday – Sunday.

It’s a complicated schedule and initially was pretty confusing, plus to be honest I had to mentally work through the whole split shift thing.  It’s not that it’s on the weekends that bothers me (we actually prefer to have days off during the week), but that’s a long break in the middle of the day, and I was trying to figure out what that would look like.  I talked to Cori about it though and she brought up a great point that we would have enough time on the weekends to get out and explore if we wanted which made me feel better about it.  We definitely want to take advantage of the sunny days here and one benefit of the schedule is if we have the energy we could hike, explore, etc after 2pm almost every day. Really I just wanted to sit down and talk about the schedule with our supervisor, but because of some issues at another location and the complications I listed above that was just not possible.  We did offer to come in on one of our days off to chat about it, but it still couldn’t happen.

We also had some confusion about exactly what needed to be done prior to opening day.  All but one of the day use parks are in use, but the campground opens May 19th and the lower marina opens May 22nd.  Also there is a big Whitewater Festival scheduled May 20th and 21st and although none of our day use areas are being used specifically for the event, they are located close to the event and will probably see some use.  We thought they were in pretty good shape because of the work we had done the initial weekend, but Lee briefly saw our supervisor and he mentioned that the weeding really needed to get done before Saturday.  That sent us into a bit of a tailspin because initially we were trained not to worry about the weeding until things dried out a bit. On a side note, we found out a few days later that Sandstone Creek was being dedicated during the Whitewater Festival and since many executives would be there  they wanted it to look extra nice. All we knew on Tuesday though was it was a priority and so we set about to make it happen.

I think it’s worth mentioning here that this is where generational differences might kick in.  There have been plenty of scientific studies regarding the differences between how Boomers and Gen Xers and Millennials work, and since we keep running into this I think it’s more than fair to mention it here.  As work forces are getting younger, all companies seem to be struggling with changing how they manage a younger generation.  This problem is really obvious in the work kamping world.  90% of the people we are working with are Baby Boomers, so the work roles and managerial styles are largely tailored to them.  Makes perfect sense, because you want to keep your work force happy, but for us “younger folks” it can be frustrating.  And to be clear there is no right or wrong way to work here, but it’s tough when a work system is designed for folks with one work style when you fall into a different category.  For me, the biggest challenge is not being told “Why”. I don’t want to speak for our entire generation, but Lee and I are both “point us and we’ll go” kind of people.  What I mean by that is give us clear expectations, explain why it’s important so we have context, and then let us do our thing. If there are obstacles we will move heaven and earth to remove them and aren’t much bothered by who or what gets in the way.  Generally Boomers seem to want to analyze the situation and feathers can be ruffled by a more direct/urgent approach.  Worse, the behavior is often seen as “over exuberance” at best or “panicking” at worst, which drives me absolutely crazy.

As a project manager, I can certainly sit back and see the benefits to either approach, and usually don’t mind slowing things down a bit if the task is not time sensitive, but when something needs to be done and there is a limited amount of time to get it accomplished I generally go to what works for me.  If I know what I am doing and need minimal assistance it’s rarely an issue, but when I need other people’s help or more information it can be a problem.  In the case of the weed eating we needed functional weed eaters, gasoline (straight and oil mix) for both the truck and the two trimmers, and some idea of where the job started and stopped.  And we found out on our first day off and had to decide how we wanted to handle it.  Eventually, we got some help with getting the gas and the initial testing of the machines and one of the guys with the riding mower promised to drive up and do what he could with the riding mower.  That was a huge help, and cut down on the amount of time it took significantly.  Lee spent part of Wednesday driving to the hardware store to get the correct type of trimmer string and we did manage to be ready to go first thing Thursday morning.

Between trying to get a handle on understanding the schedule, and the getting ready for weeding though, it didn’t really feel like we had any time off.  In all fairness, the constant rain didn’t help, and we were pretty limited by what we could do on our days off.  On Tuesday we went to see a movie and went to the grocery store.  I have to say I am a huge fan of Winco and this may be my favorite grocery store in our entire three years on the road.  Their prices are really good (lower than Walmart in some cases) and their selection is solid.  Plus they have an awesome bulk foods section and we spent a ton of time getting items in that section which saved us quite a bit of money.  My plan on Wednesday was to take advantage of the rainy day and “pre-cook” so we would have food for work days.  This meant large batches of chili, spaghetti sauce, and cooked hamburger for the freezer and I also made potato salad and crunchy cole slaw for the upcoming group pot luck.  Basically I tied up the kitchen most of the day and wanted to listen to some TV shows, like The Voice, while I was cooking.  The bad part of that was it tied up both the kitchen and the living room and since it was pouring outside and our cell booster wasn’t working Lee couldn’t make phone calls or use the internet.  NOT a good combination.

Oh I wanted to mention that.  The WeBoost has been working fine except in heavy rain.  On heavy rain days the internet goes in and out frequently which makes it practically impossible to use.  Worse, we often lose signal during phone calls, which is not great.  It’s pretty clear this is a known issue so we will just need to be prepared for that going forward. Needless to say the combination of all of these factors made for a pretty lousy day.  Wednesday was actually the worst day we have had in a long time and in retrospect we should have punted at some point and just got out of the RV.  There are times when you are keenly aware of how small your living space is, and on those days at least one of you getting out is always a good deal.  The only good thing about it was we did get lots of stuff done and were prepared to hit the ground running on Thursday, which according to the forecast would be the start of 10 sunny days in a row…hooray!

One good thing about Lee and I is we may burn hot when arguing but after the storm is done we are generally pretty good about laying it aside.  We woke up to a beautiful day, were out the door by 6:30am and after grabbing the trimmers were working at Hole in the Wall by 7:00am.  Despite having the correct trimmer cord (the hardware store looked up the head model number for Lee to get it) he still had some trouble getting it to spool so I started with the push trimmer.  I have never used one of these before, but I really liked it.  It handles like a push lawn mower, but underneath are two set of trimmer cord instead of blades so you can get closer to things.  That was great because the boundaries in the day use are large boulders and the grass was really high around them.  I was clipping right along (no pun intended) when the riding mower showed up and about an hour later that was all done.  Definitely made the whole project seem more attainable and after he left we focused on the areas he couldn’t get to.  The first couple of hours were fine for me but then I started to slow down.  It required upper body strength, especially on the hilly areas, and I was definitely feeling it.  But the sun was out and Lee seemed to have found his rhythm with the trimmer.  It was a large one, but came with a harness and he was doing great with it.  After three hours though I was struggling so we switched for a while, but the trimmer was too heavy for me and he wasn’t crazy about the push trimmer, so we soon switched back.  Thankfully around the time it got really hot and I was sweaty and sore we were done.  It looked quite a bit better and definitely good enough for the event.

Lee using the push trimmer for a little bit.  He definitely liked the weed whacker better. 

The before weeds on the left and the after section to the right of the rocks

I took a short turn on the trimmer but it was pretty heavy for me, so stuck mainly to the push version

We decided to stop for lunch and then made a run up to Faraday and went to the hardware store to pickup up a couple of miscellaneous items. I definitely needed a better pair of gloves, since my hands were really hurting and we got a new trash can for the Sandstone Creek area.  I am really glad I had pre-cooked my potato salad because when we got back to the rig at 3pm I kind of collapsed.  Dinner was at 5:30pm and I had just enough time to take a shower, have a nice conversation with my sister, relax for a few minutes before we headed over to the Promontory park Day Use area.  There is a very nice day use area with a full kitchen, fire pit, large barbecue grill, and lots of picnic tables but because of the no alcohol rule it is rarely rented out. Our trainer, who was hosting the event, had scheduled it for the day and invited some of the people we would be working with this summer.  It was very sweet of her and her husband, especially because they provided all of the chicken, and we had a nice time eating, sitting around the fire, and getting to know each other better.

This is probably a good time for me to talk a little about the people I will be working with this summer.  Since I can’t use names it’s going to be tough to describe people so I am going to have to  find other ways to denote who is who.  I hate referring to people by one thing because obviously people are more complicated than that, but not sure how else to do it.  Hopefully I won’t confuse you in the process.  There are two other couples who are at Promontory Park with us and they are opposite ends of the spectrum.  One couple is younger than us and very new to the full timing lifestyle.  They live in a 14′ converted utility trailer, and it is incredibly cool.  I have seen conversions on Facebook, but seeing it in person was amazing.  The back wall has a full size bed that is elevated like a bunk bed, and their dogs have an area underneath.  Since it is a utility trailer the entire back wall is a door, which allows them to open the trailer up to the outside.  The opposite (front) wall has a 70 inch TV and surround sound.  Amazing!!  They have a tiny sink, tiny camp stove, and a cooler. There is also a surprising amount of storage because they used an IKEA crate system on the side walls and I although there is quite a bit in there it doesn’t feel cramped.  I loved it! The whole thing, including the renovation, was only $5K, and the entire setup impressed the hell out of me.  This is their first camp hosting job, and their only other work kamping job was volunteering at a fish hatchery so I will be referring to them as the Newbies, and for only that reason.

The other couple has been “semi-retired” since 2005.  This is their first season here but they have worked a ton of different seasonal jobs.  Although they are over 10 years older than us I would never have guessed that because they are avid kayakers, and nature people, and in great shape, so I am going to call them the Kayakers for the season.   I really like talking to Mrs. Kayaker and we have had some nice conversations about making the transition to a seasonal employee from a regular job.  In the last twelve years a desire for roots has put them back in a home and traditional job a couple of times but after a year or two they start to get itchy feet and go back on the road.  The way she summed it up was “in a house I feel like I work to vacation, but in this lifestyle I feel like I vacation and then go to work sometimes”.  I get what she means.  I just love talking to her to get the female perspective on this lifestyle long-term and can’t wait to chat more.  The coolest thing about the six of us is it turns out we all have birthdays this summer.  We have a cancer, three leos, and two virgos in the group, and our birthdays range from mid-July through the end of August.  We spent quite a bit of time at the potluck trying to decide if we should have 6 mini-parties or one big party because, hey, those are the important decisions!!The other two couples who came are our neighbors on the other side of the mountain and town, and stay in a Day Use area. One couple have been our trainers and I have talked about them quite a bit, but the other couple I didn’t know very well.  Turns out they have been on the road full-timing since 1999.   Wow!!  Because of that and the fact that he was in the military, they’re the Veterans. I think the Veterans have been living this lifestyle for longer than anyone else we have met.  He was a linguist in the Air Force (like our daughter Kay) and then retired from the post office.  To supplement their income they have done a variety of jobs, including Christmas Trees/Pumpkins, selling jewelry and clothing in booths, and camp hosting.  At this gig the husband works but the wife does no,t and she was pretty honest about preferring jobs where she could work for herself.  I get that too and really admire it, and they have a trailer they pull behind their Class A where over the years they have kept their inventory.  Really hope we get to talk to them more as the season progresses.

The other couple that lives at the day use area and have been doing the bulk of our training and supporting us are Mr. and Mrs. Trainer. This is their sixth year working for this company and they know the ins and outs of how this company works.  They have been very helpful with getting us settled in and teaching us the basics this week plus they organized the pot luck for everyone to get together and know each other which was very nice.

So that is the main group in this area (the 12 couples scattered at the other utility company properties we will rarely see, if ever) and we also got to hang out with one of the regular full-time employee maintenance guys, who is very sweet, and one of the corporate employees who brought her 6 month old baby.  Since her husband was out-of-town working, she came with him alone and we had a nice long cuddle session while she ate her meal.  I remember having kids that age, and what a blessing an uninterrupted meal is, plus he was absolutely adorable and I was happy to get a baby fix!  She’s running the booth during the White Water Festival and I was happy to learn I was going to get to help.  Lee and I will help her get set up on Saturday, and once I am comfortable I will run the booth the rest of the day, so that should be fun.  I always like when I get to do something different like that during a work kamping job and I was really glad they asked me to do it.

On Friday, we spent another four hours trimming the Moore Creek area and then we deep cleaned the changing rooms and pit toilets along the river.  Everything was ready to go for the festival and after another long day we headed back to the campground.  Our supervisor was their when we arrived and we got to have a nice long conversation with him.  We talked about his priorities, how to best communicate with him, and special projects he would like done during the summer.  I also received permission to have signs posted in the pit toilets with the campground phone number so if there was an issue people would have a place to call.  The nature of toilets is that you can clean them and someone could have an “incident” and that could go unresolved until the next visit.  Since we can only check some of these sites once or twice a day, I would feel much better if people had a way to reach out in this circumstance.  Our supervisor was fine with that and thought it was a good idea, so I will be working with their sign person to get something printed. Overall, the entire conversation made me feel better.  I had a better idea of what he wanted and he knows a little more about us. Clear expectations and communication seems to be the key to most of these jobs and we are trying to communicate better in the early days of these positions.  In the past we have let things go into later in the season and that has never served us well.

So that was our week, and it definitely had its share of ups and downs, but hopefully we will get settled in soon.  Today we need to finish the weed whacking at Moore Creek and give both of the pit toilets a solid cleaning.  My next post will be all about the white water festival, and hopefully will include some amazing pictures.  I hear the demonstrations are pretty amazing as these guys are all really good.  Can’t wait to see it, and in the meantime I will leave you with the promised pictures of Faraday Lake and some absolutely adorable goslings.

One of the picnic tables and some of the lake at Faraday

So many Goslings!

This mama goose was letting me know I was getting too close


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6 thoughts on “First Time Working In a Utility Co. Park – Adjusting to the Schedule and Communication

  1. Glad you are here and getting settled in. Having a morning shift May be a blessing when the summer hits. Although, we don’t get a lot of “summer” up here. A few days now and a few days later. However, that said, being up in the river canyon your experience will be different than ours out here in the open. Our weather is generally controlled by the on shore weather patterns.You’re far enough away, I really don’t know what controls the weather out there, except the winters are tougher. And if it gets too hit, there’s always the river.

    Anyway, I made a note of your work schedule and if or when I get the chance to swing out that way I’ll be sure to not show up when you’re working or just as you’re finishing.

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