Comparing the “Big Five” Work Kamping Jobs

When we started the full time lifestyle, I was still working my corporate job, but I always very interested in seeing what other types of work were out there.  Fast forward one year, I voluntarily chose a buyout, and Lee and I started down the path of trying to fund our lifestyle with work kamping jobs. I am an analyst by vocation and nature, so early on I stated I wanted to try everything at least once.  Lee agreed, although in all fairness neither one of us had any idea what we were getting into, and two years later we finally completed what I consider the “Big 5”  With current technology there are all kinds of jobs you can do to support yourself on the road, but the “traditional” work kamping jobs are all onsite positions.  In my mind they included Camp Hosting, working at Amazon, selling Christmas TreesGate Guarding, and the Beet Harvest.

Let me start by saying, this comparison is based upon our experience.  I have met people who had a terrible time at the Beet Harvest, couldn’t stand Amazon, or made tons of money selling Christmas Trees.  Camp hosting in particular is an incredibly wide category and our few experiences in no way represent the large variety of working environments you could experience.  Our experiences are also only one season in a place.  Work Kamping in the same place can vary from year to year based on factors that change, such as weather, fellow employees, guests, and managers/employers.  And finally, our thoughts and feelings are of course subjective.  I did the best I could to provide a balanced view in the summaries (linked above), but if you really want to get a feel for each day-to-day experience I do recommend you read the daily logs which are linked in each summary post.

So why take the time to compare them if all of the information is situational?  Well, partly because I can’t help myself.  Analysis is what I do.  But also because I would have loved to have read something like this before I decided to quit my corporate job.  I don’t regret leaving that position; the company was poised for another buyout  and if I would have stayed there’s a good chance I would have been forced to quit or come off the road. More importantly, I had been there for 15 years and it was past time for me to try new things.  But if I had to do it all over again knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have jumped right into work kamping jobs.  There is a huge difference between being a senior manager/knowledge worker and being the lowest level employee in physically demanding jobs.  And of course there is a big difference between working these positions a few months a year to supplement income and working them 10+ months a year to fund the lifestyle.

So please keep all of that in mind as you read this comparison.  Hopefully you will find value in it, but even if not, writing it has allowed me to put a cap on the “Big Five” experience, before we move on to figuring out the best way for us to fund this lifestyle, long term.

Money Earned

The main reason we do these jobs is to earn money. But unlike our old life, we are looking for more of a work/life balance, and money alone isn’t the biggest factor.  If it was we would go back to our old professions as none of these jobs come anywhere close to what we used to earn.  Instead we weigh every job on a Time versus Money versus Quality of Life scale.  So let’s start with the money earned.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to the question of which job earned the most money.  So instead of a simple answer let me look at the revenue in multiple ways.

  • Hourly Wage – The highest wage we have earned was when we camp hosted in Alaska where Lee made $15 an hour.  At that same job I only made $12 so our “couple” average was $13.25 an hour.  We both made $14.25 in Oregon, but we were only guaranteed 34 hours per week.  We made $12.15 an hour during the beet harvest, but since we worked 12 hours days (with the last 4 hours of each day being overtime @ time and a half, and the full 12 on Saturday and Sunday being overtime @ time and a half) our hourly rate ended up being $14.58 an hour.  So depending on how you look at it, any of those three could have been our highest hourly wage.  Our lowest wage came from gate guarding, which was $5.21 an hour.  It is fair to note that this was for a $125 a day gate.  Our current gate is $175 a day or $7.29 an hour.  It’s also worth noting that Christmas Trees was the only job where we did not receive a set hourly wage.  The compensation was $2500 base pay and then commission, and bonus on top of that.  At the end of our season that worked out to $7.13 an hour.
  • Season Totals – I have provided the gross income from all of our jobs and then calculated a daily rate for days on the job location.  My rationale is that in order for us to work these jobs we have to be there, and often we were so tired on our days off we couldn’t do much in the way of sightseeing. The one exception to that was Alaska where we absolutely made the most of all of our days off.  As far as taxes go, two of the jobs we worked were 1099 jobs and the other 4 jobs were W-2.  The highest tax burden by far was Amazon where we ended up paying 21% in combined taxes.  Even our 1099 jobs weren’t that high because we were able to use deductions to offset some of the tax liability. 
    • Beet Harvest$10,082 W-2 Gross; 39 days $259 per onsite day
    • Amazon$11,825 W-2 Gross; 56 days  $211 per onsite day
    • Alaska Camp Hosting$16,899 W-2 Gross; 110 days   $154 per onsite day
    • Gate Guarding$9,750 1099 job; 79 days $123 per onsite day
    • Oregon Utility Park Camp Hosting$16,527 W-2 Gross; 136 days $121 per onsite day
    • Christmas Trees$6002 1099 job; 55 days $109 per onsite day
  • Fringe Benefits – Our campsite was included with every position, but it is worth noting that none of the jobs included a campsite I actually would have paid for.  Trees, Gates, Alaska, and Oregon all involved staying in a site that was newly created, and in all cases we did have some initial issues with getting all the services we needed.  Beets and Amazon provided a site in a traditional campground, but in both cases these were “parking lot” type RV parks that had minimal extras.  Here are some additional benefits we received:
    • All of the jobs included at least one free group meal and most included additional snacks or food items, or coffee/cocoa.
    • We received free wifi at Beets, Amazon, Alaska, and Oregon and free firewood in Alaska and Oregon.
    • All the jobs provided workers comp insurance except for Christmas Trees, which was a concern because there was some danger.
    • Amazon, Beets, and the Utility Park all offered some sort of medical benefits after 60 days.  We only took advantage of this in the Utility Park getting free dental which we were able to use for cleanings.
    • Amazon was the only job where we earned any paid time off, and received 4 hours of pay while we were there along with getting paid a full day on our last day even though we were released early.
    • We received “stay” pay at Beets, where we were paid for a half day if they called off the work due to weather.
    • We received gift cards and presents at season end from the Utility Company equaling around $35 each and we received over $70 in gift cards from Amazon, along with some Amazon logo items.  We received  lunch boxes from the Beet Harvest at end of season, and free salmon and moose meat from our Alaska job.

Working Conditions

  • Shifts – Despite the fact that these jobs are relatively low paying they have some of the most challenging schedules I have ever worked in my life.  The Beet Harvest was a mandatory twelve hour day for 16 straight days , Amazon and Christmas Trees were 10 hours a day, and gate guarding was a 24 hour shift which Lee and I split between us, generally resulting in a 12 hour day for each of us.  Alaska was an 8 hour day and Oregon was a 7 hour day, but the Oregon job had split shifts on the weekends so we both worked in the mornings and then again in the evenings.  Gate Guarding, Trees, and Beets were all 7 day a week jobs although the others gave us two days off, generally Tuesday and Wednesdays.  The exception to this was Amazon who gave us Fridays and Saturdays off, along with Sunday if we didn’t work overtime.
  • Environment – All of the jobs had a percentage of our time being outside except for Amazon which was in a climate controlled building.  The camp hosting jobs allowed for some flexibility so that tasks could be completed to some extent around the weather conditions and Christmas Trees had a large tent which helped protect us from some of the weather.  Gate Guarding was done from our rig and although we did have to walk outside in weather some of the time, again we were able to change our process some when the weather was particularly bad. I will say though that gate guarding was very dusty and it took months to get our rig clean.  The beet harvest was 100% outside and the weather was a significant factor as we experienced rain, snow, hail, heat, and lightning in the few weeks we were there.   We did have some days off if it was too cold, hot, or muddy but we worked many unpleasant days outside in difficult conditions.
  • Physical Exertion – Most of these jobs are physically demanding.  Christmas Trees was by far the most difficult as we had to lift and stage hundreds of very heavy trees with minimal staff to help us.  The Beet harvest was also difficult for me as I had to repeatedly bend over and pick up beets ranging from 5 – 30 lbs, and Amazon required that we walked 10-12 miles per day, with no sitting.  The camp hosting jobs were less strenuous, although I did have some difficulty with certain tasks like weeding and floor scrubbing that were a little more demanding.  The notable exception in this category was gate guarding, which required minimal physical effort.
  • Pace – Except for a few stages of the process, gate guarding had the slowest overall pace by far.  Since we worked out of our rig, all down time could be spent on personal activities.  Christmas trees was similar.  We had to keep an eye on the lot, but when there were no customers we could work on personal tasks.  Alaska camp hosting also had downtime, and I could use that time for personal activities, and we did have the occasional slow periods in Oregon as well, although the weekends were very busy.  From a pace perspective, the most challenging by far was Amazon.  Unlike the Beet Harvest when extra breaks were given during slow periods, Amazon was almost always a constant stream of work.  The breaks were strictly limited and there was absolutely no sitting while we were working.
  • Safety – All the companies we worked for cared about safety, but despite that we saw or experienced numerous injuries in every job we had.  Lee developed a serious shoulder strain working in Alaska and I fell into a gate and scraped my leg pretty badly while gate guarding.  Several people we know left Beets and Amazon because they had a serious strain or sprain and at Christmas trees one of the employees at another lot broke their foot. We saw several people with cuts serious enough to require stitches, and a really nasty case of poison oak in Oregon.  The worst safety incident we personally witnessed was at the beet harvest.  A truck rolled over and thousands of beets flew out of the truck bed.  Thankfully no one was seriously hurt, but the incident definitely gave us pause. The important thing to note here is with a single exception these jobs were not office jobs.  They required physical exertion, the use of power tools, and often exposure to heavy machinery.  They also often involve vehicles such as trucks or fork lifts and all the inherent risks associated with that exposure. That being said, in all cases we were provided some level of safety training and safety gear was also provided.

Quality of Work

This is a tough one, because more than any other category it is so subjective.  So, I can only speak from our experiences.  It’s also tough to sum up quality in a few sentences, but I am going to give it a shot.  They are listed below in order of which ones we liked from most to the least.

  • Gate Guarding –  Actual task time is generally pretty low, and you have lots of down time where you can work on personal projects. The work itself is pretty boring, checking people in and out isn’t rocket science, but the people were mostly nice and we did enjoy all the down time. There is also very little oversight, and as long as people are being checked in and out in a timely manner folks leave you alone.  If the weather is bad it isn’t fun, although you can often minimize your outside time by learning the names of repeat workers and waving them in and out from your RV. Wildlife is definitely an issue, and I mention it here because it did impact my quality of work.  Coyotes, rattlesnakes, cougars, vultures, and other birds of prey are all very common and although the lights and generator noise help to discourage them getting too close, you do have to be situationally aware.  Both of our gates had strong wifi and TV, which isn’t always the case, but we did experience several instances where our water or fuel was late and in one case we lost our power altogether.  These conditions do impact the work because it is not fun doing this job with minimal lighting or after not being able to shower.
  • Alaska Camp hosting  – Lee really enjoyed this job because he predominately did maintenance and his work was much appreciated by the owner.  They also largely left him alone, and allowed him to schedule his own day.  I, on the other hand, was severely micromanaged by the owner’s wife.  Almost every day she had specific tasks for me and her involvement in the minutiae drove me crazy.  That being said, I did love dealing with the customers.  We had lots of people from different countries who stayed at the campground and getting to meet them was wonderful.  I had lots of down time, which was initially difficult for me, but once I was allowed to bring my laptop in and work on personal projects during slow periods things got quite a bit better.
  • Beet Harvest – We both actually enjoyed the challenge of the beet harvest and despite difficult environmental conditions and the job being physically demanding we were never bored.  I liked the truck drivers, Lee loved running the piler, and I felt good about being up to the challenge.  The hardest part of this job was the team dynamics.  We were matched with a team of people at the beginning and with minimal instruction we were just thrown into working.  It took some time to find a working structure that everyone could live with and there was definitely some conflict until we got it all sorted out.  Overall though we did pretty well in comparison to other groups.  Several people had to be separated because they simply could not work together and dealing with “people drama” was a major part of the supervisors day. What was nice about the job though was we could actually see progress every day and our beet pile grew.  Both of us liked that.
  • Oregon Camp hosting – Our job here was “running the river” and our primary responsibility was keeping the pit toilets clean.  I don’t think I am too good to clean toilets but that was the bulk of what we did all day every day.  We did have some maintenance activities which were more fun and since we got to drive from location to location along a scenic road our views were stunning.  The people we worked for were also very nice and professional and we were given a list of tasks and largely left to accomplish them in our own way which was nice. We did have some very hot days and working outside in the full sun was difficult, but the truck was air conditioned and we were encouraged to complete our tasks during the coolest parts of the day.  My major problem with this job was definitely the lack of mental stimulation.  Since we were not able to do personal tasks during our down time we spent a ton of time babysitting the various locations. The people we interacted with were a mixed group.  Many were on vacation, but others were locals who knew more about the area than we did.  Consequently we spoke to numerous people who had complaints about how things were being managed.
  • Amazon – The work was physically demanding, fast paced, repetitive, and largely boring.   We experienced the largest amount of micromanagement of any work kamping job, and our time was tracked and reported down to the minute. The supervisors and fellow workers were mostly very nice and the company did lots of extra things to help and improve the work conditions, but just getting through some days was very difficult. We were able to cross train, which allowed us a little variety in our work, but mainly we did the same basic task all day every day.
  • Christmas Trees – More than any other job we have had, this job did not live up to my mental image.  Selling Christmas Trees sounds like fun, but it is hard damned work, and since our pay was dependent upon our sales, often very stressful.  More than any other job we have had, our roles were delineated by gender, and when I tried to cross those boundaries I was severely rebuffed.  I liked talking to the customers and I enjoyed decorating and spraying the Christmas trees with fake snow, but the rest of the job was miserable.  I spent an inordinate amount of my time with personnel issues which including hiring, scheduling, and firing people.  We were told we would put the tent up and folks would just show up to work, but that absolutely did not happen.  Our labor targets were also extremely low, which required Lee and myself to do a significant amount of the physical labor ourselves.  Worst of all, we had no idea how much money we were going to make until the very end of the season, and more than any other job we have had, we felt like we couldn’t just walk away when things got bad.

Surrounding Area

  • Alaska Camp Hosting  – More than any place we have worked, Alaska afforded us the opportunity to see many amazing things.  The short nights worked to our advantage because we had very long stretches of daylight to explore the area.  Most of these trips did require 12 hour days though.  The nearest large town was 3 hours away, and many other towns were over 5 hours away. The local town we lived in was very nice, and had a wonderful view of Mount Drum from right outside the campground. We also saw numerous moose in the local area and were able drive a short distance to see the copper river and eagles. The one thing that was lacking in my estimation were good restaurants.
  • Oregon Camp Hosting – Our campsite was right along the Clackamas river and our daily work view as we drove from place to place was absolutely gorgeous.  We were 7 miles outside of the small town of Estcada which had a nice grocery store and numerous small town events and we were about 30 minutes from a Portland suburb that had everything we needed.  It was also a great jumping off point for numerous day trips.  During the summer we saw Crater Lake, Mt. Saint Helen’s, the Oregon Coast, and numerous waterfalls.  Because we had 2-1/2 days off in a row we were able to spend time exploring the area.  Towards the end of the season though weather was a factor.  Once it got hot we were very tired from our daily jobs and did less and less as the season progressed.  Still we definitely made the most of our time there and once it stopped raining we really loved the area.
  • Amazon –  We worked in Cambellsville, Kentucky which is a nice town in the middle of Kentucky bourbon country. The town itself was very nice and had grocery stores, restaurants, and a ncie college where we were able to buy a meal ticket to their dining hall.  The town and college have numerous local events and many work kampers attended those.  It’s also in a beautiful part of Kentucky and many people went to several distilleries along the bourbon trail. We were only able to go to one, but we had a really nice time and enjoyed the experience tremendously.  The big problem for us was we were working 50 hours a week and too tired to do much of anything.  After walking 10-12 miles a day the last thing I wanted to do was walk any more, which is why we never saw Mammoth Cave National Park, even though it was only 45 minutes away. Many people we know did have the energy for sightseeing and there was plenty to see and do.  There were also numerous social events with other work kampers and happy hours galore.
  • Beet Harvest –  The beet harvest was in Sidney, Montana, which was pretty close to  Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The town itself was very friendly towards seasonal employees and they had one of the best local grocery stores I have ever seen while we have been on the road.  There were also several very nice restaurants in town.  Since we did not have any days off (unless the weather was really bad) once we got started we were unable to do anything else in the area.  
  • Christmas Trees – We were in New Braunfels,  a very nice suburb of San Antonio, but aside from one trip to the Riverwalk prior to opening the tent for business we didn’t go anywhere.  That was because we worked long, hard days and even in the mornings when we were off we never knew when a tree delivery was going to come.  Leaving to go to the grocery store, the bank, or get a  haircut was a major challenge, and invariably if one person left something would happen that would require them to come right back.  So even though we had all of the basic necessities close to us, we weren’t able to take advantage of them.  The site itself was by far the worst we have stayed in.  It was on the corner of a lot next to a gas station and on a major road.  Traffic noise was omnipresent and there was a fire station right behind us, and alarms were not uncommon. Even though we were 15 minutes away from some very good friends of ours we were only able to see them a few times as we we couldn’t leave and when they visited it was just too busy to spend time together. This job was all about the work.
  • Gate Guarding – This was by far the worst from the standpoint of exploring the surrounding area for two reasons.  First these gates are generally in isolated areas and you are lucky if there is a small town nearby.  Secondly, because we didn’t have any days off together we couldn’t drive and explore, but even if we could have there really wasn’t much to see nearby. We were near the small town of Dilley, Texas which is a very depressed little town, and didn’t have any of the local events or charm that we saw in Alaska or Estacada.  The closest grocery store was about 40 minutes away and it was 1-1/2 hours to San Antonio,  which was the closest town. The best thing about the local landscape was the sunsets, but these ranches are generally lots of dust and grit and minimal vegetation.

So, that is my summary of all of the summaries, and I hope you found it helpful.  Again, everyone’s experience is very different so please keep that in mind when you are thinking about which jobs to try.  I’m going to take most of this information and update my Revenue on the Road page with it, but then I think I will be ready to move on.  I will still be writing about our jobs as they are obviously part of our lives, but I don’t feel the need to make that my focus.  We completed what I set out to do and going forward hopefully I will find more interesting things to write about.  For some of you I am sure that will be a welcome change, but for others I know you like reading about all these crazy jobs we do.  And that may still be a big part of what I talk about, I really am not sure at this point.  What I do know is that I won’t feel compelled to write about it anymore. That may not make much sense, and may not look any different to the casual reader, but it is an important distinction to me.


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What the Frack?

Yes, the title is a nod to all those fellow Battlestar Galactica fans out there, although I think they spell it frak, but it is also a phase in oil production.  We left our gate last year prior to this phase starting, so we were curious about what it would look like on a gate.  People talk about it as a busy period in gate guarding, so we expected sort of steady stream of water and sand trucks coming in and going out, but that hasn’t been the situation here.  Instead we are getting those trucks through all hours of the day and night but they stay on site for as much as 4 hours when they come.  I don’t really get it to be honest.  We only have one well, and we heard through the grapevine they are having issue with it, but having a truck driver sit for hours at a time seems inefficient.  I asked the question in our Gate Guarding Facebook group we are in, and I think what is happening is they use different types of sand for different parts of the process so sometimes they have to sit and wait until it’s their turn.  Weird to me, but that’s how it is.  Someone told me they have upwards of 25 trucks sitting and waiting their turn on occasion.  We had 12 last night and I thought that was a lot.

Turns out the frack in this location was just a few days.  When Lee was on duty the next morning lots of people told him they were done and moving on which surprised the heck out of both of us.  It’s not 100% complete though as they still need to move out all of the remaining sand trucks and equipment, but really the whole thing was much ado about nothing.  We hear people talking about fracking process and how much traffic there is, but that wasn’t our experience.  Hard to tell if we just got lucky or if the workload is overstated, maybe it depends on the well.  We have heard that this particular one has had some technical challenges and isn’t flowing as fast as they normally do.  Maybe that is why the traffic was lighter?

My first question was “How much longer will the gate be open?”  You would think that would be a very simple question, but it is a hard one to get an answer to.  As I have mentioned before, these projects are very segmented, with each group only knowing about their individual piece, and although someone, somewhere must be in charge of the overall job, finding out who that is and talking to them is not easy.  Here’s an example.  A guy came to fill up the gasoline in our light stand and I asked him how long they were going to be on the job.  My thought process was that when the light left, maybe we would be leaving too.  He responded, “I don’t know how long are you going to be here?” Alrighty then, sorry I asked.

I do know though that when these oil field crews are motivated, they get things done!  A group of trucks came in this morning and by 3:30 they were all moving out with loads of equipment on trucks.  There were 11 trucks in all,  full of huge equipment,  and I watched them stream past, amazed by how quickly they had disassembled the equipment. The good news for us is this crew has been a large portion of the traffic at night, and if they truly are done we would expect things to slow down a bit.  Not that it has been that busy, but hey, less traffic for us.  Here is a quick picture of a portion of the convoy that went by.

Another good piece of news is the weather has been really nice.  That is changing later in the week, but for now the temps are in the 60’s and even 80’s during the day.  As I am writing this I am wearing shorts, which is awesome!  It gets MUCH colder after the sun goes down, but I am dealing with that since most of my outside trips late at night are pretty short.  Most of the time I just wave the big trucks through, (we get the driver information at the beginning of the day) and I can use that to fill out my forms.   The small trucks I always go out and see the driver the first time they come in, but if they leave and return throughout the night I am able to look back on my paperwork and wave them through from the open door.  That’s what I like about working from the rig versus a guard shack.  Most of the time I am in my house.

One other thing I should probably mention is the coyote is still hanging around.  Actually we think it is more than one since Lee saw a pack of 5 of them down the road a bit.  So far they are maintaining a distance, although I was talking to my sister the other night and walked outside and one was standing at the light post and just staring at me.  That was definitely unsettling and I had to explain to my sister why I completely lost my train of thought.  So far I am leaving them be because they are staying outside of my circle of light at night, but if I see them closer to the rig I will need to take steps.  Somewhere we have an air horn that we bought for bears a couple of years ago and that will be my first attempt at getting them to back off.

The next couple of days were nice and mellow, and although there was a significant amount of traffic as they moved heavy equipment out the weather was nice so it was just fine.  Then on Wednesday we got a wind warning.  Around 2pm the wind started blowing, and the gusts were up to 60 mph.  As those of you who live in RV’s know, wind is not our friend, and the RV was rocking as we got hit by the gusts.  Huge tumbleweeds were blowing by, and everything that wasn’t staked down blew over.  I am not a huge fan of wind, and I especially don’t like it when it has grit in it.  This wind was full of pebbles and grit, and if you walked into it you got pelted in the face.  Not nice, and it was bad enough that we put on our safety glasses.   Thankfully the truck traffic died down significantly during the storm.  At 4pm though when I walked outside to check in a vehicle, no kidding, the wind almost pushed me over.  I had to turn away from it just to see to write on the paper and really it was pretty ugly.  Lee offered to take over for me until the wind died down and I took him up on it.  He’s heavier than I am and apparently hardier and although I want to do my fair share on occasion I am just fine with letting him take care of me.

In order to take this picture I stood on the top step with the wind buffeting me so hard I almost got knocked off. I know it doesn’t do it justice, but there was definitely a sandstorm!

On Wednesday we were down to about 2″ of water in the tank so I called our service guy to find out when our water delivery was scheduled.  It was pretty clear at this  point that no special delivery would be made, and I at least wanted to know when our regular one was.  He stated we were due on Friday, but also said he had a tank with some water in it and could bring it over.  I wasn’t sure if he would be able to make it because the winds were so strong, but was pleasantly surprised when he showed up around 4:30.  The weather was windy and getting colder by the minute at this point, and it takes a while to pump water from one container to another.  Plus, our septic pump wasn’t working either so Lee had him look at that while he was there. According to him he had never heard that we needed water from the coordinator, and in any event he recommended we call him first if there was an issue.  So we will definitely do that and Lee was really nice to him when he came. Obviously this is a situation where all the power lies in the hands of one guy, and all you can do in those circumstances is make sure he likes you.

After battling the wind, I was pretty tired in the morning and went straight to bed when Lee woke up.  After a somewhat restless night, I woke up with a pretty stiff face.  I really should have washed my face before I went to bed because when I got in the shower I realized I had a layer of sand and grit on it.  I scrubbed my face using Angels on Bare Skin scrub from Lush and then moisturized using Celestial.  Worked wonders!  I just need to make sure that I start washing my face before I go to bed lol.

Speaking of bed, I have been sleeping ok, but find myself waking up every morning around 8:30am.  The sun comes up on that side of the rig and shines into the room, and unfortunately that was waking me up.  Lee decided I needed my sleep though and took some black trash bags and blacked out the windows.  I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not, but it is pretty great how dark it is and there is a tiny bit of ambient light in case I do need to get up in the middle of the “night”.

Lee’s excellent taping job and much cheaper than blackout curtains

 

This is what the room looks like with the light turned off. Yep it’s that dark, and I slept great!

Oh, and we found out some really good news.  The frack stage is absolutely done,and next they will be starting the work over.  That means much less traffic, and according to what they are telling us the gate should be open for 3-6 weeks more.  On Friday, we received our full 500 gallons of water, and we were topped off on diesel fuel as well.  We are tracking our daily water usage now and have 35 gallons a day to play with until our next fill-up, which will be more than plenty.  So we are definitely settled in here, which is a great thing.  I am enjoying the downtime very much, and actually cracked open my rough draft last night and started to work on it a bit.   That’s all for this week, looking forward to watching fomr football this weekend.  The picture here is outstanding and it’s great to be in one place where I can just watch the games.


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

 

Nothing Is Ever Good Enough, But Not In A Bad Way

Today’s post is guest-written by Lee, for the tech heads out there, or the terminally bored.

I like to putter. I like to be in more or less constant motion (unless I’m staring off at the sky or the floor puzzling on something) and move things around and unpack things and rearrange them and repack them and reorganize them until I’m satisfied, which is never. The best I can ever hope for is to be less dissatisfied than I was before. I truly enjoy it though, and always have. I also like to tinker. I like to take things apart to see how they work, and see if I can find a better way to do things. Before I ever picked up a movie camera, these were my favorite things in the world:

 

When I was kid I got in a lot of trouble for taking things apart. Everyone was always “You broke this!” and “You ruined this!” and “This is why we can’t have nice things!

Pffft. It was already not good enough, I was just trying to figure out how to make it better. I think the real problem was that I was also a kid, and would lose interest or reach the limit of my knowledge/experience/skill, and just wander off to make something else better before I finished the first thing. I was also a big fan of Rube Goldberg, and would spend hours in the basement contriving unbelievably complicated “machines” using Legos and Domino Derby parts to do pointless, simple, stupid things. I once used the entire basement to make something that would just flip the light switch down. I couldn’t figure out how to flip it up. I was grounded a lot for getting bad grades (because school was boring) so I had plenty of  free time to do this.

Gate guarding is pretty simple: It’s a lot of doing nothing, and then suddenly a truck or a car will arrive or leave, and you need to log them in or out. This can be tricky, because you have to be sort of “on your toes” but unless it’s a really busy gate, an hour or more can go by between vehicles and it’s easy to forget you’re actually “working”. It’s also tricky because while you don’t have to be standing there when they pull up, you also don’t want to make them wait too long either. The solution to this problem, of course, is some kind of device that notifies you that a vehicle has arrived. At our first gate, we had super-neato-gee-whiz-high-tech motion detectors to sense vehicles coming in or out that would use state of the art radio waves to instantly send a signal into our rig which would then make a pleasant “bing-bong” sound to alert us. They didn’t work worth a damn. Half the time they didn’t bing-bong, and the other half they would bing-bong because of a bird a mile away, or a fly would fart, or the wind would blow. We got pretty tired of logging bird and wind traffic.  If a semi truck drove by the sensors would ignore it the way a teenager doesn’t see a trash can overflowing in the kitchen. So we could never really relax, because we couldn’t trust the system, and that sucked. And I tried everything. I moved them around, I masked the sensors with gaff tape (the best stuff ever invented, duct tape sucks, throw yours away and get some gaff tape like a grown up) and I tried aiming them every possible way you can imagine. Nothing ever helped, so we just lived with it, like a couple of Neanderthal gate guards. It was awful, I don’t know how we survived it. (As you can see Lee does tend towards the overly dramatic but it was a pain in the butt.  It was especially unpleasant for me at night because on a slow night the noise would startle me, but when I looked outside all I would see was a glowing pair of yellow eyes in the brush.  We had a black cat that liked to hang out on some nights and it was constantly setting off the sensor…creepy -Trace)

When we got to this gate I was thrilled to see that they had a much older, much better solution. The legendary Milton signal bell. For anyone over 50, you probably remember when gas stations had those awesome bells that would “ding-ding” when you drove up to a pump. If you’re under 50, there once was a time long ago when people called “attendants” worked at gas stations, and when you drove in, there was this awesome bell that would “ding-dong” when you drove up to a pump, and the attendant would come out and pump your gas, and even clean your windshield and in really ancient times, check your oil level. My hand to God, this is true. It looked just like this, complete with over saturated colors and period music….

The signal bell was a magnificent piece of engineering in simplicity, functionality and reliability, which is proven by the tens of thousands of them used in every gas station all over the country for decades. Wanna know how it works? Of course you do!

First of all, they look like this:

The original design is unchanged since the original patent (we can thank inventor and awesome guy Mr. George Van Zale for this wonderful piece of Americana) and Milton Industries still makes them, in America no less! Interestingly enough, they are sold mostly by a company called Milton’s Bells, which is owned by a totally unrelated guy named Milton who first saw one at a gas station when he was a kid, and was amazed that his name was on it. If you click on the Milton’s Bells link you get to hear the bell, which is a nice touch.

It is composed of a metal plate, with a bell attached, and a wire that is plugged into 120v AC. Underneath the bowl of the bell is a very sensitive diaphragm separating two conductive contacts.

The contacts are about 1/4″ apart, with the hot side of the electric circuit going to one, and the other is on the opposite side of the diaphragm. Then there’s a solenoid with a plunger/striker. Attached to the diaphragm is a length of 1/2″ rubber hose, up to 300′ long. The other end of the hose is either plugged, usually with a bolt or stopper stuck in it, or even more simple, tied in a knot. The air in the hose is thus “trapped” and at a constant pressure. There’s a 120v AC cord on the bell plate, and the assembly is either mounted vertically on a wall, or some models can be placed on a horizontal surface, like a table top, or the ground. What could be simpler? Maybe a trained monkey with a bell and a hammer, but those need to be fed and they throw poop, which is less than ideal.

When a car, truck, or a kid on a bike rolls over the hose, the weight squeezes the hose and at the bell end, a little puff of air pushes up the sensitive diaphragm. It doesn’t take much, you can even do it with your foot, and that puff of air pushes up the diaphragm and those two conductive contacts touch each other until the pressure is released. Usually it’s only for as long as it takes for the tire to roll off the hose. When those contacts meet, it completes the circuit, electricity passes through the solenoid, and the plunger/striker shoots out and smacks the bell. When the pressure is off the hose, the diaphragm opens, separating the contacts, which interrupts the circuit, and a spring inside the solenoid pulls back the plunger/striker to wait for the next cycle. Guys, seriously, this is nothing short of magic.

I found a great short video that demonstrates of all of this so I didn’t have to make one of my own!

Another great benefit of this design is that as long as you stay under 300′ of hose, you can use “T’s” and more hose to make “branches” to cover more than one location with the same bell. So at our gate, the hose crosses the ranch road at the entrance, about 75′ from our rig, and then again another 75′ down the road as you head into the ranch. This distance gives us enough time so that when we hear the bell, we can get up and go outside just as the vehicle is pulling up to our rig. It works really well, and is an excellent solution for the circumstances……..but it’s not good enough.

After doing this for a few days, I noticed a couple of flaws in the system. The bell sits on the ground just under our steps, and is plenty loud enough to hear inside the rig, unless you’re doing something noisy, like washing dishes, or watching TV. And you absolutely can’t use headphones. So problem #1 is that it can’t always be heard.

The other thing is while the “bing” itself is not unpleasant, and sort of nostalgic, when a multi axle vehicle crosses the hose, it doesn’t go “bing”, it goes “bing….bing….biiiiiing………….biiiing” while all the wheels roll over it, and it sounds more like an old telephone than a gas station in 1955. This is not a big deal when you’re inside, but if you’re outside, it can be really obnoxious. Especially if you’re sitting out in the nice weather, and the bell is only 2 feet away. It was designed to be heard in loud gas stations and over traffic and air compressors and guys named Smitty cussing because they scraped their knuckles trying to loosen a stubborn bolt. And it’s especially obnoxious after you’ve logged someone in or out and they then cross over the second hose as they continue in or out. At that point you don’t need to hear the bell, it’s just pushy and needy. So problem #2 is that even though it works really well, it works even when you don’t want it to. Here’s a little sample of how annoying this thing can be….

 

 

All my life I’ve been accused of being impossible to please. (Not true. Evidence: Pie & General Tso’s Chicken.) It’s just that once I realize something can be better, I generally categorize it as broken, and want to fix it. So, it bounced around in my head for a week, and I figured out a way to fix both problems, with very simple solutions.

Not Good Enough #1 – I added a clear 60w candelabra sized LED light to the circuit, mounted it on a little scrap of wood, and put it inside the rig. It’s small enough to go anywhere, it’s pretty bright because it’s clear and LED, and since by nature, the circuit is momentary, it flashes sort of like a lazy strobe, and allows me to use headphones to listen to a movie or a podcast or play a game without waking up Tracy, or just adds a visual cue to the sound of the bell, which helps to avoid hearing “phantom” bells. After I made it and was so pleased by how it did exactly what I wanted, I realized that I wanted to be able to move it around (See? Nothing is EVER good enough!) so instead of having it hard-wired into the circuit, I cut the wire and put a female receptacle on the bell side, and a male plug on the light side. Now I can add an extension cord and put it pretty much anywhere. At this point the only way to make it better would be to use a spring-loaded self-winding reel with enough cord to go anywhere I want, but that would be bulky and expensive. Or wireless power, which solve a LOT of problems, but doesn’t exist yet. Maybe before I die.  (Ok I have to jump in here.  I had no idea this was a problem he was trying to solve, so I went to bed and then woke up to something that looked like an 8th grade science fair exhibit.  Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing is pretty cool, but freshly awake and with no coffee in me I was understandably confused by what was happening. Then again I am married to MacGuyver so nothing truly surprises me at this point. -Trace)  Take a look at how it works:

Not good enough #2 – I added an inline rocker switch to the main power and mounted it to the outside stair rail. Now when I get alerted and I go outside to log the vehicle, I can switch off the power on my way out. I can log them in or out, and I don’t have to listen to the bells as they continue down the road, then I can switch it back on when I go back inside. (This is a pretty cool feature. For me the jury is still out on the strobe light, but I like being able to turn the bell on and off.  It’s pretty loud at night and sometimes trucks stop and sit on the air hose to talk to me and go off a ton making it hard to hear.  I also get worried in those scenarios the noise will wake Lee up, so now I can easily switch it off. It’s not something I would have even thought to ask Lee for, but now that I have it I am glad I do.  Lots of Lee’s inventions are like that. – Tracy)

It looks a little rough because it’s meant to be temporary. Added bonus, I oriented the switch so it’s rocked position is in the direction I’m heading, so as I go out the switch is pushed away from the rig, and as I come in, it’s pushed towards the rig. It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s the little things that make happy less unhappy. The only problem is (nothing is ever good enough….) I have to remember to flip the switch when going out, or coming in, or both. So I chewed on that, wondering if I could come up with something simple that would automatically do the switching as I went in and out, thus taking my ever decaying memory out of the equation. Pressure switch on the stairs? Plunger on the door? Electric eye beam? Trained monkey? Nothing seemed like it would do the trick without some sort of electronic circuit with relays or timers, and that started to get more complicated and/or expensive a solution than the problem warranted, so I decided that while what I have isn’t good enough, it’s good enough. (That’s progress – Trace)


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

 

Just the Way Things Are

If you remember, a few days ago we got a call from the gate guarding company asking us to leave the yard and head to a gate. So we immediately sprung into action and were out of there in under an hour, driving across Texas and taking over the gate that same day. That’s who we are, and how we work with people, so it keeps surprising us when that level of commitment isn’t reciprocated.  Admittedly, our experience with gate guarding is pretty small.  We worked for a small company last year that was obviously in transition, so we chalked up a lot of their disorganization to the fact that the company was in crisis.  Fast forward to this year, and we intentionally decided to work for one of the more established companies, in the hopes that we wouldn’t run into any issues.

Big shock, the experience has been almost identical.  You get a call to go to a gate with little to no warning, and when you arrive, it’s between you and the people you are relieving to do the switch.  They are in a hurry to get out of there, so you get some paperwork dumped in your lap (literally), a cursory explanation of the rules of that particular property, and then that couple is down the road.  That’s OK, you think, because the company you work for will have the information you need, except they rarely know what is going on in detail.  You are assigned a “local” technical person to make sure you have fuel for the generator, and water, but you won’t necessarily see that person for several days until after you arrive.  The scheduler tries to be helpful but they don’t really know, so all of a sudden you are the hot potato in a game between the oil company men and the gate guarding compan,y and you are also no one’s top priority.

I get it, I really do, but the thing that really drives me crazy is the broken commitments.  If you can’t help me, just tell me that, don’t say you will do something or call me back and then blow me off.  It’s unprofessional and it happens all of the time!!  Plus it’s not like we are that demanding.  The only thing we need from these folks is generator fuel, water, sewage dump, trash removal, and working floodlights.  And all of that is just so we can actually do what they sent us here to do. Oh, and of course, to get paid.  In all fairness they seem to have figured the last one out, but at times the other items seem a bit optional.  Then we have to end up escalating or talking to other people, and the whole thing just gets rather messy.  We are here and doing our jobs from the minute we set foot on the property.  All we ask is that they do theirs.  Pretty simple really. (This stuff makes me crazy, too, but I prefer gate guarding to most of the stuff we’ve done, so I try not to let it make me too crazy. – Lee)

I know all this sounds pretty harsh, but neither one of us has any patience for it.  Well, I say that, but of course we must have the patience for it or we wouldn’t be doing this.  And again, in all fairness once you have settled into a gate and know all the players things run much more smoothly.  Let me give you an example.  When we arrived here the previous couple stated that they were almost out of fuel in the floodlight generator (which here is a separate generator from the one that provides our rig with power) and they gave me the name and number of the guy who was supposed to deliver it on New Year’s Day.  I thought that was unlikely to happen, and it didn’t, but on Tuesday when we still had not heard from him I gave him a call.  He apologized and said he would call the fuel company and see if they would get someone out right away, and that was around 5pm. Again, I thought that was highly unlikely, so wasn’t surprised no one showed.  The next day Lee called and left him a message first thing in the morning, but we didn’t hear back from him the entire day.  We also called our local company contact, but he went into a rant about how it wasn’t his responsibility, and how that company owed 20 gallons of fuel because he had filled it last time, and the company we work for doesn’t provide the lights.  Alright then..that was different from our experience last year.  Our light stand was part of our “house setup” and they provided fuel and maintenance.  This company only provides two dinky light stands that you plug into your RV. Of the four lights on those two stands, 3 have bulbs, and 2 of them have broken switches. They’re the really lightweight kind you would use in your house, and they fall over in any kind of wind.

Finally, I decided to call the name on the equipment itself, since it was also on the paper I was provided with contact information.  Coincidentally that company is heavily involved in the frack  and the guy I called had just left the site about 15 minutes earlier.  I explained the situation and my concern about coyotes, and he promised to send someone out.  Well this time that actually happened, and the gentleman they sent seemed annoyed by the whole thing.  I went out and thanked him though, and got him to talk a little, and he shared that the company who owned the drilling rig had been filling it. Now that the drilling rig was gone, he supposed he would have to do it since they were in charge of frack.  “That makes sense,” I said, thinking it’s a good thing I kept dialing numbers, and I must have made a good impression because on his way out he handed me a card for when it ran low.  Problem is solved, but the Gate Guard company was absolutely zero help, which was really the point of this story.  Since they own the contract with the oil field companies and we are merely subcontractors, we are walking a pretty thin line here.  But as I said in the title, that’s just the way things are.

Knowing this, we are settling in.  Each gate is a little different, and this one has the sand pit pretty close to the gate.  From dawn to dusk trucks are removing caliche that is being used to build roads elsewhere.  This results in a truck every 5 minutes or so, and since it’s the same traffic going back and forth to a nearby construction site, Lee put together a plan to handle it.  At the beginning of the day he gets names, truck numbers etc, and then from that point on we just log them from inside the rig with the truck number as they come through without stopping them, or going outside.  Our front living room model RV is the perfect solution for this as we can sit at the computer and easily see the truck numbers.  We still get up for all cars and pickup trucks (along with any other frack related semis), but this reduces the workload considerably.  And we are both really thankful that we don’t have to physically open and shut the gate. Now you may be wondering who gave us permission to do it this way?  Well, that is one of the benefits of the disorganization.  We can set up what works best for us and if someone has an issue, they can tell us how they want it done instead. Since no one seems to be in charge we wouldn’t know who to ask anyway.

What else?  Well, we wanted to make sure we got paid, so we printed out our contracts and scanned and emailed them.  As a side note we do carry a printer and a wand feed scanner and although we hate the space they take up, we have needed them on quite a few occasions, and often without much notice. For instance, the closest place to us where we could get something printed out is an hour away. Generally that need corresponds with us being nowhere near a place that could handle printing and scanning for us, so it’s just easier to be self-sufficient in this area.  If you are thinking about going on the road and plan on working or volunteering I highly recommend bringing these items with you.  On a completely different note, the weather has improved, and we are able to leave the water hooked up all night.  It was 12° the first four days, and now it’s in the 60’s during the day. It is super dusty , with all the traffic, and our rig is already covered in dust. We learned our lesson last time and are keeping our windows shut!  It’s a bummer not being able to air things out, but this dust does get everywhere and in the greater scheme of things it’s better.  We still get dust though from opening and shutting the door, and of course we track it in on our clothes.  I only mention this because if you hate dust and dirt this is definitely not the job for you, because it is 100% unavoidable.

On Thursday night around 9pm our gate guard company service provider showed up.  We had asked him to call before he came, and he did, giving us all of 10 minutes notice.  Thankfully Lee was still awake, and worked with him to set up our black tank and get some information on the other equipment.  He also told us that the water was purchased from a water company and I was glad to hear it.  Gate Guard companies do not guarantee potable water, which is a big deal for me since I drink so much of it.  Since the water is coming to us fresh, all I need to worry about is the tanks and for the time being we are double filtering the water and drinking it.  We have a filter at the hose and I also use a Brita, and I hope that works out OK.  Some gate guards buy bottled water, but that is expensive and a pain in the tush, so I much prefer to use what they provide if possible.  The only disturbing part of the meeting was when we asked when we would get more water.  The folks before us left us with about 125 gallons in a 500 gallon tank, but our service rep said we would be fine for 10 days.  When Lee tried to express his concern, the guy kind of blew him off.

That just wasn’t OK with us and after he left we talked about what we would do.  The way I see it we are professional and low drama, but we expect the basics of timely fuel and water delivery.  Since this is a new company and their contract didn’t spell out how much fuel and water they will provide (some are very specific about that), I decided to call our coordinator.  I started the call very nice, and just looking for specifics on their water policy, but she immediately validated my concern.  She agreed water and fuel were the bare minimum, and stated we could always call her if we ran out of water.  That was good to hear because as I expressed to her we do use water.  Some folks treat this job as if they were boondocking, but in our minds the water and fuel are part of the compensation.  At this point we are still waiting to see when they come out.  For the time being we have enough and they have plenty of time to address it.

All that being said it’s been a really nice week.  We’ve settled into a routine, and both of us are working on tasks that never seem to get done when we are traveling.  Plus we have strong cellular and all four TV networks, which is awesome because I have the time and means to watch some football, right as the playoffs are starting.  Lee and I also had our annual budget meeting where we look at the year and adjust our targets for the next year.  Those are always pretty tense, but we worked through it, and I’ll be providing more details in the January report.  Mainly we are just happy to be sitting still for awhile.  As much as I like traveling and seeing new places, it’s also nice to just sit once in a while and both of us are enjoying it.  As proof here are some pictures of what Lee gets into when he has time on his hands!  No worries, everything was put back together before he went to bed and is working just fine.

 

 

Look at that happy face

 


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

 

Third Year Budget Summary- 2017

Year Three was an important year in our travels because it was the first year where we lived off revenue earned exclusively from work kamping jobs.  In my mind, this was the true test of whether or not the lifestyle was sustainable for us long term. We are going to explore the answer to that question in multiple ways in the post, and dive deep into the specifics.  Some of you fellow “data junkies” will love that, but I appreciate many other people don’t care that much.  So for all of those folks, here is the short answer:  Basically our costs went down this year and for our basic traveling budgeting we broke even. We spent $41,653 and our cash flow was $40,122 for a net difference of -$1,531.  That’s pretty encouraging, and if I was a different kind of person I would leave it at that and move on, but as Paul Harvey used to say….”And now, the rest of the story.”

Our cash flow may have been fine, but our earned income was not nearly as good.  We started the year getting paid for our 2016 Christmas Tree job but that income was actually earned in 2016. So if you remove the $5,802 we earned at Christmas trees our income was  $34,321 which was $7,332 less than we actually spent.  Not nearly as good of a story when you look at it that way, but it actually gets worse, because we spent more money than our basic budget this year.  We had three major expenditures in 2017 that resulted in our taking $15,462 from savings.  Those expenditures, by the way, were the Mor-Ryde suspension upgrade, celebrating our youngest daughter’s 21st birthday in Las Vegas, and helping another daughter with some medical expenses that resulted from a childhood accident. The first two of those expenses were accounted for prior to going on the road, but the third was not, and either way the hit to the savings account does sting.  We started the year with $40,074 in savings and ended with $24,612 and obviously we would like to find a way going forward to put some of that back.  (As a side note this savings account does not include our retirement savings.  By mutual agreement, that money is in a “lock box” and will not be used to fund the lifestyle.)

So what conclusions am I drawing from this? Actually, the whole thing makes me pretty hopeful.  Our costs continue to go down (this year we spent roughly $8K -$10K less than each of the two previous years) , we completed all of the main work kamping jobs and now know what works for us, and we are also committed to staying on the West Coast for two years, barring any family emergencies.  We started the year with a job on day one, and we already have a job lined up for the summer. All that being said, we will need for me to take some kind of consulting work to put money back in the savings account, but since I wanted to do that anyway, I am fine with that.  Lee is also OK with giving that model a try, so my plan is to hopefully find something in October that will carry us through the end of the year. And if you are still concerned, here’s the most important reason I feel hopeful.  We are facing it head on.  Right now we are more aware of and have more control over our finances than we have had in our entire lives. Individually and as a couple. And three years in we have the knowledge and choice to make good decisions.  Certainly the unforeseeable can happen, but that is true in any lifestyle.  We choose to see the glass as half full instead of half empty and are trying to figure out how to fill it up all the way.

One last thing.  I promised to report out on revenue earned by the blog and wanted to include it here.  Since both of these income streams run about 2 months behind they only cover until October of this year.  The book royalties didn’t start until March 2017, but the Amazon Associates program is for a full 12 months.  We earned $424.30 through the Amazon Associates program and $404.73 in book royalties for a total of $829.  Since we used this money to cover the cost of our website and purchase a few other blog related extras (ie: our new tent) I didn’t include it in our annual revenue. I know it isn’t a ton of money, but I wanted to thank every person who took the time to contribute in some way. The fact that I sold 172 books means a lot to me and any time someone takes the time to buy anything through our link on Amazon that little extra is a nice bonus. I had few illusions that I would get rich from writing this blog, but making enough to at least cover the website and a few extras is very validating. So thank you for the support, both financial and emotional, it really does matter to us.  OK, onto the details.  Please feel free to stop here if this sort of thing gives you a headache! (I wish we could have Kai Ryssdal say “Let’s do the numbers….” – Lee)

Revenue

Let’s break this down a little bit and show you income by month. I added the earned column to the right to take out the money we made at Christmas trees in January.  I also included the source by month and added our basic expenses at the bottom so you can see the net difference.  It’s worth noting that even though we had some trailing income in April and October we did take those months off, and although some of that time was spent traveling to our new gigs we were also able to explore a bit and see family and friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expenses Summary

Here is the spreadsheet that shows our costs for the year, along with a spreadsheet showing 2017 Min, Max, and Averages and a three year comparison.    I will be getting into the details by category, but wanted to start with the basic information.  As I mentioned before, we were very excited that our Year 3 costs were roughly $10K lower than our two previous years.  This is absolutely a huge deal  and and will talk about that in more detail in each subcategory. Oh, and I included a pie chart for Lee.  Long time readers will get the joke. Alright let’s dive in. (I’ll do the jokes, thank you very much. And you don’t give people pie charts, you give people pie. – Lee)

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Worst. Pie. Ever. – Lee)

Category Max/Min/Avg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Year Comparison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Campground Fees – 
One of the major benefits of work kamping is not needing to pay for a campsite.  Even when we do pay for sites, we are much better at looking for inexpensive places and we use our Passport America 50% off discount quite frequently.  I adjusted the budget down in 2017 and will probably do so again in 2018.  We are averaging $104 a month or  $3.50 a day which is pretty darn good.  Significant drop from Year 1 when we spent $5213 in campground fees. 

Groceries – I am shocked to say we actually saw significant improvement in this category, with a YOY reduction of $1383. Even though we have spent a ton of time talking about food and made a concerted effort to eliminate waste, I would have guessed it had minimal impact.  Even so, I doubt I will adjust the budget in this category until I see sustained improvement.  Still it is a nice example of how you can see improvement if you focus on something. (This is Project Manager Speak™ for “I’m going to starve Lee to death.”. – Lee)

Dining Out – In direct contradiction to groceries we ran over by $928 in this category.  If you take them together we are still a few hundred dollars to the good, but obviously we would like to be on budget in both categories. The good news is we did hit a three year low in this category, but definitely still an area to focus on.  Part of the problem is I like going out to eat. It’s a great way to experience an area, and also something we enjoy doing socially.  What I think we need to reduce are those instances where we go out to eat because we haven’t planned any other food solution.  That is harder than it may sound, especially on travel days, but definitely doable if we focus on it.  What we can’t do is dine out cheap.  Well I can, but Lee’s perspective is if we are going to do it, then we should get what we want, which obviously makes it more expensive.  My desire to go out more frequently but cheaply is in direct contradiction to this.  This isn’t a new problem, by the way, just more extreme when you are on a fixed budget.  The key is attempting to find some balance, and hopefully we will be able to do a better job of that in 2018.

Entertainment – Unlike dining out, we did great in this category together.  We had lots of fun experiences this year, but largely chose activities that were reasonably priced or free. We ended up being $630 under budget, which also helped counterbalance the overage in dining out expenses. This was also by far the lowest annual cost we have had in three years even though this category includes books, music, and games.  No small feat, especially considering how much we like to read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cell/Internet/TV – This category is our third highest in cost and includes both of our cell phones, our internet, and TV solution. Even though we ended up $193 over budget we actually would have been under if I hadn’t dropped my iPhone 4 and needed to replace it.  The good news is a few months ago we were able to sign up for a really great unlimited plan through AT&T so no more overage charges.  We are huge fans of the plan, and it has reduced our monthly budget amount from $440 to $230 in 2018.  This should result in an annual savings of $2500 which is obviously significant. Pretty excited about what is happening in this category!

Memberships – Our memberships stayed pretty consistent although we did drop the Executive level Costco membership and stuck with the traditional one.  We tried it for a year and just didn’t use it enough to warrant the additional costs.  Along with Costco we are members of Xscapers, Passport America, Amazon Prime, and we buy an annual National Parks Pass. We feel all of those expenses are worth the cost.

Truck Fuel – This is another category we watch very closely and is number two in overall expenses.  This year we spent $5733 and went over our annual budget by $933. Although the expense was less than last year, that was expected because we didn’t have a trip to Alaska, and was definitely more than we wanted to spend.  It’s pretty easy to figure out why when you see our driving route for the year and we know we simply can’t afford to keep criss-crossing the country every year.  That’s going to be tough because our family is mostly on the east coast, but we love traveling in the west, but we have committed to not going back east (barring family emergency) for 2018 at least.  Our financials also includes leaving Cambellsville, going to Columbus, and then heading back to Texas.  Here is a rough sketch of our travel schedule for calendar 2017. Looking at it this way it’s easy to see where the costs came from. (I find it very funny that we started in New Braunfels, TX, traveled 8,000 miles, and ended up exactly one year later only 400 miles from where we started. – Lee)

 

Truck Maintenance – This was another category I was very happy with as we hit a three year low spending only $721.  Expect this category to rise next year though as we have used all of our pre-paid maintenance and will need to pay out of pocket going forward.  We still have some time on the warranty in case anything major happens, but maintenance is on us.  Lee and I will need to sit down and estimate when those maintenance activities will occur and then come up with a budget going forward.  I’ll have all the budget amounts updated in our January budget report and will talk then about how we made certain decisions.

Insurance – Thankfully our RV insurance has stayed the same but our truck insurance has gone up, resulting in an extra $246 in 2017.  I did call and talk to our agent to see if we could get a better price, but apparently rates for everyone who bases in Florida were raised this year.  With the hurricanes that will probably be worse next year, but at this point I like the company and am not crazy about switching to someone else, even if I could get a better rate.  We have used it twice and had no issues either time, which is no small thing.  The really good news is our health insurance will be going down significantly in 2018.  Despite a lot of stress and concern over whether our ACA plan would be available in 2018, not only did we get to keep the same plan, but we also receive a larger subsidy (on the same estimated revenue) which will result in a $230 per month savings!  This savings, like the cell phone/internet savings, were largely unexpected and will really help us with our expenses in 2018.  And yes, we have no idea how long this will last, but I will accept the reduction gratefully for this year and deal with what comes in 2019.

Storage – No more storage costs going forward as Lee cleaned out our storage area, got rid of a lot, and put the remaining items in his parents house.  It was only $20 a month on the budget, but the additional peace of mind from knowing our items are with family is priceless.  For the record, I don’t regret putting our items in storage at all, and given the same circumstances would do it all over again.  But it was definitely time to deal with it, and we can go forward without those items trailing along behind us. 

Clothing – Once again we did really well in a category showing a 30% YOY reduction.  Mainly the savings came from buying fewer T-Shirts! (So in addition to starving, I will also be going around more naked quite a lot more than previously expected. I will apologize in advance for any disruption this causes. – Lee) We still purchased some work clothes, and I bought some new jeans, but in past years our greatest expense was in souvenir T-shirts.  Don’t get me wrong, we still bought them, we just bought less of them!

Laundromat – We only spent $21 last year at the laundromat because Lee either did our laundry in the RV or our work kamping job provided free laundry.  The only time we couldn’t do laundry for free was when the blankets needed done.  They don’t fit in our Splendide unit. This may go up in 2018 because our gate guarding job may not provide enough water for us to use our own machine, so I probably won’t change the budget.

Cigarettes – This category got even better as we only spent $701 this year. More than any other category the difference between our new life and our old life shocks me as we were spending around $6700 a year on cigarettes when we used to live in a house.  The difference?  We roll our own now, and unlike the first two years where we had to buy tobacco locally at varying prices, we now are able to order it in bulk online.  Being able to buy the tobacco and tubes online has saved us an additional $500 a year, and made it even more inexpensive.  And yes, I know, the cheapest thing to do would be to quite all together, but since that hasn’t happened yet I can still be very happy about how this turned out. Lee gets 100% of the credit for savings in this area. (For the one or two of you who haven’t heard it, let me share with you what every doctor has said to me at every office visit I’ve had for most of my life. They all say the same thing: “You should stop smoking, you could afford to lose twenty pounds, and you should exercise more.” Which is pretty damned rude, if you ask me, and I always want to reply “I can stop smoking, lose the weight, and get in shape, but you’ll still be an ass.” I never do though. I’m too polite on the outside. – Lee)

Personal Care – Pretty happy with how this category turned out as well.  We have seen a steady decline in the last three years and it evened out to only $382 this year. We get cheap haircuts at Super Cuts or Great Clips and we usually only get them once every two months or so.  This also includes hair product and the occasional pedicure, but we have both done a nice job in keeping this expenditure low versus the first year where we spent $754.

Shipping and Postage – This category has been a struggle in the past, but Lee has made it a priority to get it under control and our costs this year were $389. That may seem high but it is a 50% reduction from the prior two years and a significant improvement.   Some of the cost cutting measures he has implemented are holding  back our mail as long as possible, using their scanning service as a cheaper alternative, and making sure on every single delivery he chooses the lowest postage option.  Again this is all him, although I have been really good about only ordering things using Amazon Prime, but really Lee gets all the credit on this one. (Invariably, after I let mail pile up at the mail service until there’s enough to fill a Priority Mail envelope, and then waited a week or so to make sure there’s nothing else coming, and then I have them send it all to me, I will get a notification that we have received new mail the day after they send the pile. It happens every time. – Lee)

Gifts – This one is all me, and not in a good way.  Well, it was good for the people I bought gifts for, but not so great on the budget. I spent $883 in this category, and it was lots of little things. This category has also been all over the place over the past three years and although I made some improvement last year, this year it went back up again.  What can I say?  I love giving gifts, and this category also includes charitable donations which do happen on occasion.  The fact is though we are tightening our belt in almost every other category and I need to get serious about this one in 2018.  The best approach is probably to still buy gifts, but buy less expensive ones.  I wish I was more crafty so I could make stuff for people. Maybe that should be my New Year’s Resolution.  Find something crafty that I can actually handle.  I’ll let you know how it works out. (So in addition to having to see me naked, you can all expect to get things made from popsicle sticks and bits of twine. And we expect to see those things prominently displayed in your mantle when we come to visit. – Lee)

Home Improvement – This was another area Lee really focused on and the results are terrific.  He spent $1,700 less in 2017 than in the prior two years and this was no small accomplishment.  It’s not like he didn’t still do stuff for the house, but he found cheaper ways to do it.  Plus, lots of that creative energy was put into his summer job and since the company paid for the materials that was all free for us.  Seriously, I am super proud of how he did in this category, especially compared to how I did in my two weakest areas (dining out and gifts). (Tweren’t nothin, ma’am.)

Miscellaneous – We had $1,200 in this category, which is about what we spent in the prior two years. This includes things that don’t easily fit into any other category and this year the deductibles for the numerous times we tried to get the furnace fixed are in here.  We also bought some camping gear and added it to this category, along with miscellaneous items throughout the 12 month period.  I’ll try to keep a better eye on this category next year, so I can give a better accounting. 

So, that’s the annual budget report.  Thanks for hanging in there if you made it to this point, and once again I wanted to thank you for your support as we figure all this out.  (For those of you did hang in there and read all of this, now you are stuck with the mental image of me naked, so that should teach you a lesson of some kind. – Lee) We have a plan for 2018, and we both think it’s a good one, but this is real life, so anything can happen.  I will say that I am really proud of both of us for getting this far.  We were spending well over $100K per year at the end of our life and mainly I had no idea where it was all going.  (Chinese food and video games. – Lee) I do know that we didn’t have a lot to show for it, and those things we did have don’t come close to the experiences we are having now.  This life isn’t perfect, but it’s a good one, and it’s working for us.  Time to dig in and focus on putting some money back into savings.  That’s what 2018 will be all about.  That and Utah.  We are very excited about exploring Utah between gate guarding and our summer job. Take care everyone, and remember, it’s all about your choices!


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Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

 

First Time with Frozen Water

If you have been reading all along, you know we have had several close calls with our internal water pipes freezing.  We barely got out of Alaska in time, struggled with it at the Beet Harvest and selling Christmas trees, went a year without a working furnace and made that work in below freezing temperatures in Campbellsville, and hooked up a space heater to keep the lines from freezing when our rig was in front of our parents’ house  with negative 6 wind chills.  We thought that was behind us when we got the furnace fixed, so it is with no little irony that I report, last night we finally froze up.  I say that, but I should be clear that at this point I have no idea where or how we are frozen.

I do know that we pulled into our gate last night and were dealing with temperatures in the teens.  We also had some water in our fresh tank, because we weren’t sure if we would have water at all. There are winter advisories in our little corner of the world, and the water tank and/or hoses that they supply were frozen when we got here.  No problem, we thought, and got our electric heaters up and running including the heater in the basement.  In all fairness we had a lot going on, not the least of which was making sure Lee got some sleep.  I wasn’t sure how late I would be able to stay up (turns out I made it to 3:30am, who knew I had that in me?), so I got a little concerned around 1am when I turned on the water pump to brush my teeth and nothing happened. The basement temperature was 34, but I immediately turned on the furnace to give it a little boost. Not much I was willing or able to do at 1am, so I closely monitored the temps and let Lee sleep as long as I could.

(So here’s the scoop on the water freezing. If you already know all this, or don’t care, scroll past all the italics. To start with there are actually two separate water systems Trace is referring to. Well, actually there are four, and in some rigs, five. So I’ll explain that first. The first is the city water, which is the connection to a constant pressurized water source from OUTSIDE the rig, which is basically the same as what would be in a house. The second is the fresh water tank, which is an on-board storage tank that you fill and use when you aren’t connected to city water. The third is the black tank, which is the storage tank for water from the toilet. And the fourth is the gray water tank, which is the storage tank for water from the shower and sinks. Some rigs have two separate gray tanks, one for the kitchen, and another for the bathroom.

When the temperature gets below freezing, and stays that way for long enough, you can have several problems. The liquid in the black/gray/fresh tanks can freeze, which isn’t really that big of a deal unless they’re really full, and the liquid can’t expand, which can crack the tanks. You can also get cracks in the fittings. The valves used to open and close the gray and black tanks can also freeze. And of course, if you’re not on city water, and the fresh water freezes, you can’t get any water from that tank. But it would have to be really cold for a long time for those things to happen. It depends on the starting temperature of everything, and then how cold it gets, and for how long. Once the outside temperature hits 32 everything doesn’t just instantly freeze. It all has to cool down to 32 and then stay at 32 or below until it freezes. And every material has its own properties of how long it holds heat, and where things are located and how they’re insulated comes into play. All of this is just to say that even though we’ve been in freezing temps before, we’ve never had a “freeze up” until now, but it’s helpful to understand all of this and think about it. How much you want to learn about thermal and fluid dynamics is up to you. The problem we ran into here is that although we started at well above freezing, we arrived in the dark after 7 hours of driving in below freezing temps, and once we got here it was around 12 degrees, and stayed that way all night and well into the next day. And we were on fresh water, not city water. And the city water system here at our location was already frozen, but I will get into that later.

If you’re connected to city water, then the problem starts where the supply pipe comes out of the ground, and to the spigot, and then the hose connection, and then the hose, and then where it connects to your rig, and finally, to some degree, where the pipes in your rig are located. Some campgrounds have insulation on their supply pipes and spigots, and in rare cases, heated pipes, and you can buy or make heated hoses. We use this one, and our friend Bill made his own. Generally, the point where you connect the hose to the rig doesn’t freeze, but it’s possible. Some people say that a 100 watt light bulb in that access compartment does the trick, but I’ve never had a problem in the compartment so I don’t know. I use one of these to check temperatures to see where problem areas are, it’s very helpful. I also use remote temperature sensors to see what the temps are like in various areas. You can use a single sensor and just move it around, or you can buy sets that will monitor up to 8. Or you can get really fancy and use SensorPush units, which allow you to use an unlimited number of sensors, and they will send data to your phone, and even send you text messages if temps go above or below limits you set! I told you it was fancy. If anyone ever wants to buy me a present, 8 or 10 those would be perfect. When connected to city water, I have two methods for dealing with potential freezes. If we’re going to be somewhere more than a night or two, and it isn’t already really cold, I use the heated hose.  It’s kind of unwieldy and hard to manage, because of the stiff wiring, and even more so if the hose is cold. If I get to use it, hooray, that’s pretty much all I have to do. It has a foam insulator at the spigot end which slides over the spigot connection and helps keep that from freezing. If I think that the spigot might still freeze, I turn off the spigot, disconnect the hose and completely drain it, then reconnect it. Most times, the next morning I can turn on the spigot and everything is fine. If I’m using regular hoses, I turn off the spigot, disconnect and completely drain the hose, and then reconnect it. In the morning I turn it on. If you don’t drain the hose, you end up with either slush, or a solid plug of water that blocks flow.

If you’re NOT connected to city water, then you actually stand a better chance of not having a freeze. The water in the fresh tank has to cool down and freeze, and if you’ve ever seen a pond not frozen when it was really cold, you get the idea. The real problem is the fittings. They’re much smaller, so don’t hold as much heat for as long, and there’s a tiny amount of water in them, which also will freeze faster. So you could have liquid water in the tank and the pipes, but one fitting could slush up or freeze enough to stop it. This is where each rig design comes into play. Ours has a corrugated plastic underbelly cover, then insulation protecting the tanks. The propane furnace pushes some of its hot air into the underbelly and that should help keep things just warm enough to prevent freezing. The pictures below should help explain. Not all rigs are designed this way, however. Our rig also has a “crawl space” where the furnace, water pump, water heater, and all the water lines are. That is an enclosed space and the furnace would normally keep it more than warm enough. But with our furnace not working, I put a thermostat controlled electric space heater there while we were in Campbellsville, and Columbus, which worked just fine. It was the drive from San Antonio to middle of nowhere west Texas with no heat running and a tank of fresh water that did us in. I should also mention that although my rig, and possibly yours, are advertised as “sealed” there are lots of little holes and cracks in the underbelly where cold air can get in. And “insulation” is perhaps a strong word for what amounts to a sheet of tinfoil.

My recommendation is to stay the hell away from any place that might get colder than 50 degrees. If that’s not an option, and you want to do the most you can, then start by getting underneath your rig, and if possible, remove the underbelly cover. Wherever you can see a water line or fitting, use foam pipe insulation or whatever will work, and cover as much of everything as you can, and seal up as best as you can the holes in the floor where the lines go through into the rig. Stuff every open space you can find with insulation. After the belly cover is back on, look for any spot, no matter how small, and try to seal it up with minimally expanding foam, or sealing tape. Then get into wherever you can in the crawl spaces and look for the top side of where the lines come through the floor. Seal those up. Cover the lines and fittings wherever you can, unless this is a heated space, in which case you might want to leave them uncovered. 

Some folks use skirting outside if they’re going to be somewhere for a long time, but we’ve never done that so I don’t know how well it works, but our good friend Jim has written an excellent post about preparing for an extended stay in the cold. We referenced that in a previous post. Other people cover the inside of their rig windows with insulation and whatnot, but we don’t want to do that. We also don’t have serious condensation issues, but we know that can happen in some rigs. Google around for more information on those things. 

The last thing I wanted to mention was the specific challenge of being at a gate which provides an above ground 300 gallon tank and pump and hoses for water when it gets this cold. When we arrived here the folks that we were replacing hadn’t done anything with the system, and it was completely frozen over. The hose was 50 feet of solid ice, and the pump was also frozen. The day after we arrived and I returned from the store it had warmed up to above freezing, so I laid the hose out in the sun and removed the pump and put it inside where it would thaw. I also took off all the connections and thawed them. The water in the holding tank itself had not frozen completely, but the outlet pipe had, and it never fully thawed, so I just used a corkscrew to pull out that plug of ice. Once I had everything thawed I was able to reconnect it and we took showers and did dishes. I disconnected everything again and put it in our heated storage compartment so I could just reconnect it the next day and do the same thing. Unfortunately, there’s really no solution to this apart from making a 50′ heated hose and putting a heater inside the box where the pump lives, and this cold snap is a freak thing that’s only lasting a few days, so if we get another cold snap I’ll just do the same thing. – Lee)  

All of that shows you how lucky I am to be married to this guy.  I wouldn’t have the first clue about any of that.  I am also lucky, because of this next story.  I tried my best to stay awake the next night but ultimately had to wake  Lee up at 3:30am/  Not only did he quickly get out of bed, but he also did everything he could to get me sleeping as quickly as possible.  I told him about the water, which he took in stride, and I also let him know that we had a weird timezone issue.  At the edge of this property we can literally stand with one foot in New Mexico and the other in Texas, and the closest town is actually in Mountain Time Zone.  So as I was waiting through the night my phone kept flipping time zones on me, which confused me to no end until I figured it out.  I wasn’t prepared to lose another hour to a time zone change, especially on no sleep, so I stayed on Central Time and asked Lee to find out in the morning what time zone the site worked from. Barely awake, and no coffee in him, he handled all of this with grace and I fell sleep pretty quickly and slept until 9:30am.

At that point I was awake, and although Lee wanted me to go back to sleep, I knew we had too much to do today.  We put together a plan of action based on priority, and once I was fully awake we both dug in.  This site is pretty unlevel, so the first thing was putting down some rubber pads we have and Lee driving up on them to give us a little more height on one side.  He needed my help with this little bit but afterwards it was all him.  And can I just say again how amazing that was?  The sun was shining, but it was still 23 degrees and he not only checked in vehicles but unhitched, leveled, got a few things from the basement, emptied out the truck, disconnected the propane tanks so he could fill them,  and eventually headed out to Odessa to go to the grocery store, hardware store, and to buy propane.  I focused on the inside, which was nice and warm, and checked the few vehicles in and out.

It turns out it was a real blessing that it was a holiday, because the Fracke sand trucks are off until Tuesday.  Those will be running in groups every 15 minutes between 7am and 5pm and it will be very hard at that point to get much done in the daytime.  As far as the frozen water goes, which is the point of this post, we mutually agreed to develop a “wait and see” attitude.  Food and propane come first, mainly because there isn’t much that can be done about it at this point, other than keeping the temps as high as we can.  I will say though that I am a bit frustrated.  We intentionally bought a “4 season rig” in which the tanks were somewhat sealed and heated by the furnace.  As Lee explained in great detail above, four season doesn’t come close to guaranteeing never freezing.  That would have been fine with me if the salesperson would have just been honest about it.  The sticker on the reason has a picture of a snowflake on it for heavens sakes.  Ahh well..lesson learned.

Once I was up and awake, Lee drove to Odessa, which is about an hour away, and went to both Walmart and HEB.  There is a tiny grocery store very close by for essentials, but a stocking up was definitely called for, since we had intentionally let our supplies run low as we wrapped up at Amazon. We don’t typically do a lot of cooking while we travel, and we spent a week in Columbus, and didn’t want a bunch of fresh food to go bad just from sitting for 10 days in the fridge. I watched the gate and things were pretty slow.  As the sun came out things started to warm up a bit.  Our rig was covered with a thin layer of ice from all the mist and fog we encountered while we drove here from San Antonio  which mostly melted, and it wasn’t absolutely awful when I had to step outside.  When he got home from the store, Lee decided to take a crack at getting us some water before the sun went down and the temps plummeted again. He took apart all of the connections from the water trailer, and after some effort was able to clear the ice and get some water flowing.  We both took quick, but very hot showers and then he disassembled it all again, because the temps were going down into the low teens.  Definitely not the best situation, but we can make it work in the short-term and hopefully no serious damage has been done to out water system.

The night went pretty well.  The generator powered flood lights are really strong so the area is well-lit, and there is enough road traffic that I felt pretty safe.  I can also see the lights from a nearby small town, which gives the illusion at least of not being isolated.  One of the first things I did here was write down the closest cross street and the numbers for the local sheriff and police department.  It’s pretty complicated because we are right on the border, but I would hope in a true emergency folks wouldn’t pay much attention to an imaginary line.

Around 3:30am I was pretty tired, so I woke Lee up and went straight to bed.  His morning went pretty well and he got to see our resident coyote.  (I have named him Cisco. – Lee) Around 4am it was sniffing at the vole colony across from us and stared at him for quite a while.  Then it wandered off but came back a few times between 4am and 6:30am.  So the guy before us was probably feeding the coyote which was pretty idiotic.  They generally are pretty shy around humans, but feeding them (as with any wild animal) is not a good thing and lessens their fear of people.  Lee did some research though and hazing them does work (ie: yelling and throwing things at them) but for the time being we will watch the situation and see how it plays out.  If there is no food it will hopefully move along to another area, although the vole buffet might work against us there.  Although they are nocturnal I did get a nice look at it the next day.  I was able to take some pictures and it’s a big one, about as large as a German Shepherd.

Amazing how they blend into the landscape


Lee named it Cisco

The rest of the morning for Lee was pretty busy with a fleet of about 5 sand trucks coming and going all day. They come in, are here about 15 minutes, leave, and are back in about 15 minutes. there were also some vehicles with folks coming and going to the frack site. Many of them left though, because the pumps were frozen, so the really heavy traffic didn’t come today.  I woke up around 11am (amazing how quickly I flipped my schedule to nights) and around 3pm Lee hooked up the water.  We took showers and did dishes and then filled up jugs for the toilet and coffee and then he disassembled everything again.  So tonight we should be able to get on our regular schedule.  Lee is 4am -4pm and I am 4pm – 4am.  This is different from most folks who do 6-6 shifts, but we both like falling asleep in the dark, and the earlier start time gives him a couple of slow hours to wake up before the “heavy” traffic starts at 6am.  These rigs generally run some staff 24/7, but the bulk of the traffic does come between 7am and 6pm.  That’s one of the reasons I really like working nights.  The more down time the better, and for me at least it is worth the additional cold to get fewer interruptions.

 

 

Our site. (Just off camera where you can see the black edge of a low box is a 500 gallon diesel tank. We’re more than 5 hours from the “office” so it helps to have fuel on site. Then from right to left is the 300 gallon fuel tank, the 500 gallon fresh water tank, our house generator, and then there’s another trailer behind that with a massive green septic tank. It has another smaller white tank in front of it that says “Treated Water” with a garden hose that snakes off into the bushes. I’m guessing there’s some kind of system that “cleans” the black water, I’m going to ask and see what I can find out. Behind that large green tank is a much smaller tank with a pump that’s used to transfer black water to the large tank. And the hose you see coming towards the camera is the air line for the bell. We like it much better than the motion sensors we had at our last gate, but I need to make some modifications to it in order for it to be perfect for me. – Lee)

I like how we have some brush surrounding us. Makes for a little bit of a wind break. You can see the air line for our bell going off to the left. There’s one for people coming in and going out, and they cross the road far enough away from us that it gives us time to get to the door so they aren’t waiting.

 

The gate which thankfully we get to leave open!

 

The light tower. (We like this light tower better than the one we had last time. It has it’s own generator and fuel tank, which is pretty small, but we like having it on the “curb” side of the rig because the rig does’t cast a shadow on the road. It also puts zero light into the bedroom, which is awesome for sleeping.

 

This road leads to the oil area. It is 4 miles away so no smell!

 

What we can see is this sand pit.

 

Trucks are taking out caliche,  which is used to build roads.

I’m going to go ahead and stop here, but I did want to mention the sunsets are absolutely gorgeous. (As are the sunrises, which she never gets to see because she’s sleeping. – Lee)   I’ll be providing updates as things happen, and we will see how much we have to say.  From our perspective the best thing would be a nice boring stint. I know it doesn’t make for interesting blog posts, but my life could use some boring right now.  Plus I really want to dig into the first draft of the book I wrote last year and hopefully I can get it to a place where I can epublish.  It tells the story of how we got started and since I didn’t share much detail in my early blogging days, there are lots of stories that have never been told in this blog. Some of them have made wonderful campfire stories 🙂


(And for you early birds, here’s what I get to see, pretty much every morning. – Lee)


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.

 

 

December 2017 Budget (With Revenue)

December turned out pretty well. We netted $1500 for the month, and that was after our travel costs to get to our new job.  This post is only about the month of December but I will be working on the annual budget and that will be out in a few days, so buy some popcorn now and avoid the long lines.  Details for this month are below.

 

Groceries and Dining Out  – This month was really low coming in $240 under budget.  The reason for this was spending time at our in-laws and then traveling to Texas.  Since we had next to no food when we left Kentucky, we bought fast food as we traveled.  If you lump all the categories together we were $64 to the good, which worked out nicely.

Entertainment – We went over by $59 dollars because we bought books prior to heading to our gate.  We also went to the Jim Beam Distillery and although the tickets were very reasonably priced, the souvenirs we bought, not so much.

Cell and Internet – After some difficulty we were finally able to get a correction on our bill and will receive a credit in January for the amount they have been charging us for my new cell phone.  If you remember I paid cash for the phone, but they have been billing me for it each month anyway.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to reflect the credit in this calendar year, but since it was only around $160 I didn’t think it mattered much in the grand scheme of things.

Truck Fuel – As you can see we spent over $800 traveling from Kentucky to Columbus and then across Texas. Will be interesting to see how this category turns out when we look at the entire year.

Gifts – We bought Christmas presents for the girls, and presents for my niece and nephew.  I honestly don’t know what to do with this category next year.  I’ll have to look at the whole year and Lee and I will talk about it.

Miscellaneous – Although the warranty company paid some of the bill to fix the furnace, we ended up paying $178.76.  I’m so happy that it is working now that it doesn’t really bother me, but it was not an expected expense.

I know this is a short one, but I wanted to wait until the annual post to get into more details.  I was happy though that we did manage to cover our travel costs both to and from Kentucky although it didn’t cover all of our living costs for October. Still, with the bonus at the end, it was better than I originally thought it would be.


Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer.