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.


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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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Second Time Gate Guarding

After leaving Columbus and getting our furnace fixed (which is working great…hooray!) we made a beeline for Texas.  A couple of reasons for that.  First, we made less money than we thought we would at Amazon, and we needed to get some funds in the bank as quick as possible, but we also felt like the sooner we got there the better our chance of getting a gate. Lee has been monitoring the gate guarding Facebook group we are a part of and was seeing some opportunities in West Texas.  Unfortunately, you need to physically be in Texas to qualify for one of those since the need is almost always immediate, so we knew the sooner we got there the better.

The big question was where would we stay while we were waiting. We have friends who are spread throughout Texas, but most had plans for the holidays and we also didn’t want to go to a place just to turn around and leave.  And Texas is a pretty big state, so when we hit Texarkana Thursday night I asked Lee to call one of the Gate guarding companies and nail things down a little bit.  I liked the company we worked for last year, but they are only offering $125 and Lee wanted to maximize how much we made so he reached out to another company that was offering $175.  We knew about them from people on the group and since most folks were positive about their experience we decided to give them a try.  This decision was further reinforced by the fact that they have a “yard” with full hookups so we could park there and wait until a gate became available, so we headed south of San Antonio.

We knew it would be a long driving day, and since we were essentially going in a diagonal we had a couple of choices.  Take Texas State highways through a variety of small towns, or take the interstate and skirt Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio.   Neither choice was great for a long driving day, but ultimately we decided to go the interstate and thankfully we timed it so we missed quite a bit of traffic.  We also spent a bunch of time on a toll turnpike that bypassed Austin, which which was good, since we hit that area right around 5pm on Friday. It’s definitely not the way we like to travel and we really don’t like arriving at our destination in the dark, but in this case we just wanted to get there.  We switched drivers at every stop, which is one of the advantages of only having one vehicle, and rolled into the yard at 8pm.

Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy to find the entrance gate, and then Lee couldn’t get the lock to open with the combination we were given, but thankfully another guard rolled up and showed him how to open it. Since there are only three rigs back here, that was pretty amazing, and we thankfully backed into the spot and sort of collapsed. The only exciting thing that happened the rest of the night was Lee got up from his chair at one point and almost stepped on a mouse.  Lee said that right before that he saw some quick movement near a tire out of the corner of his eye while he was outside smoking, so he’s pretty sure it just came in to check us out after we got here, and hopefully it has left since the trap he set was empty this morning, and we haven’t seen or heard the little guy since. It’s 52 degrees here at 7am, which is like a heat wave compared to up north, so hopefully he will go back into the field he came from. (There’s also a cat that lives on the property, so we’re not too worried. Lots of people we know have had mouse issues over the years, and we’ve been very lucky with only two in all the time we’ve been on the road, and both of those were only in residence for a short time. I find that a little peanut butter on these works really well. – Lee) 

Parked in the yard

Lots and lots of extra tanks sitting around. These trailers are what they park on the remote site for water, electric, and sometimes sewer. The orange-ish tanks are diesel fuel, the short blank tanks are water, and the large green tanks are sewer. The tiny white tanks are treated water, part of the sewer tank system.

Thankfully we didn’t see the mouse again…Lee scared him I’ll bet, and we did have a full day to get some errands done.  We were initially told someone would be onsite to do our paperwork, but when no one showed by 2pm we called and learned they wouldn’t be coming until Monday.  That was fine, since Lee still had time to go to Costco and along the way he stopped at a couple Half Price Books Stores. We knew we would have lots of time on our hands and books are a great way to fill that time, so we had stopped and picked up some books in Columbus.  I was missing a few to complete a couple of series and luckily Lee found exactly what I needed.  I was pretty excited about that, and even more excited when we picked up all of the network affiliates with our antenna, because finally I was going to get to watch a game the following day.  I haven’t watched a football game all year because we couldn’t get TV in either Oregon or Campbellsville, and was pretty excited about just chilling on Sunday and organizing the RV.

That was not meant to be, because at 9am we received a call from the Gate Guarding company.  They had a placement they needed to fill immediatetly because of a last minute cancellation and wanted to know if we could head to West Texas.  She was very clear that we didn’t have to accept the position and felt pretty bad about making us drive so far, but we figured we would end up in West Texas anyway and the $175 daily rate was what we wanted. Last year we only made $125 a day for South Texas, and that extra $1500 a month is significant.  So we packed up quickly and were on the road within the hour and headed towards Odessa, TX.

Because it was Sunday and New Year’s Eve the roads were pretty empty, but Texas is a big state and things just take time.  We knew we wouldn’t get there until after dark, and talked about stopping somewhere close, but after talking to the company rep and the folks we were replacing we decided to head directly to the site.  We were a bit surprised that they were going to pull right out, but it made more sense when we got there.  The pad is small, as in we weren’t sure we would fit small, and no way could we both be there.  Plus it got colder and colder the farther north we went and by the time we got to the site it was 17 degrees, snowing slightly, and the wind was really bitter.  They helped us back up and get hooked up to electric (water was frozen, but we learned from last time and came with a full tank of fresh water) and gave us a brief overview of the gig.  Each gate is totally different, and this one seems much busier than the one we were on last year, so this should be interesting.

Unfortunately I wasn’t dressed for the cold at all.  I was shivering as we talked it through and finally ran inside the rig to get some ear muffs, which helped a little. Needless to say we got set up as quickly as possible and then said our goodbye’s and they headed down the road.  So here we were in the freezing cold, barely sure what we were doing, but hey we were in it together!  I was feeling like things would work out OK, when Lee casually mentioned that I shouldn’t be afraid if a coyote came to the door.  What?!!???!??  Apparently the guy we took over for has been feeding the coyotes at night and according to him he was feeding them out of his hand.  Since I work nights, that means they might be looking for the same treatment from me but that is absolutely not going to happen.  At first I thought he was kidding Lee, but Lee said nope he was dead serious, and I think the coyote story kind of put me over the edge a little bit.  Eventually I calmed down a bit but I’ll be honest it was touch and go for a minute.

This won’t be the worst thing we have done in the last three years.  It is going to be cold for the next couple of days, but we held onto our beet harvest clothes, and more importantly it is supposed to warm up significantly later in the week. so if we can just get through the next couple of days, we should be fine. Did I mention I didn’t have a chance to adjust my sleep schedule so I’ll be pulling an “all nighter”? Well there are worse things.  The woman I am replacing is 72 years old and she was standing out in the cold getting on with it so I definitely can as well.  And along those lines there are a couple of good things I wanted to mention.  First Lee found a warm spot by the generator.  The side of the generator cabinet has an grill where the air filter is, and nice hot air comes out of it. If you look closely at the picture below, you can see Lee’s hat next to the driver’s door of the truck, he’s standing right in front of that “heater”. It’s also less windy there, so that’s nice. Also the lighting is very good, which I appreciate, and best of all doesn’t completely light up the back of the rig where we sleep.  Lastly, we have an old fashioned hose and bell chime which is what used to be used at gas stations back in the old days when someone would come out and pump the gas. What’s great about it is that’s operated by air pressure in the hose, so no worries about “falsing” due to cats, birds, hungry coyotes, wind etc.  That was a huge problem for me at night on the last gig and I was really happy they provided us this kind.

Settled in for the night at least. Need to unhitch and level but that can definitely wait until tomorrow.

 

Our lights are across from us so one side of the rig is dark which is nice.

 

Old fashioned bell

 

And this is the hose that stretches away in both directions so we can hear if anyone is coming in or out. Working great so far!

 

Lee taking advantage of the heat.  You can tell by the smile he is happy about that.

So it isn’t all bad, and I am sure we will get acclimated quickly.  The good thing about doing this for the second time is we have a much better idea of what we are doing.  Stay tuned for future updates and Happy New Year to all of our readers.  If I don’t say it enough, we really appreciate your following along and all of the support!  We have a strong cell signal here at the gate, so as long as you keep reading, we will keep the posts coming.


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.

First Time Gate Guarding – Days 56 -59

Day 56

 

It was another slow day in gate guarding land.  The only folks we have seen were the guy who brings diesel for our generator, which does not require us to open or close the gate, and some guys who are coming to finish the fracking pond. They are still figuring out the job though, and haven’t actually started the finishing work, so I think we still have a few more days of this peace and quiet.  Oh, and to give you an idea of exactly how slow it’s been, here are last week’s numbers.  Initially we logged all the “wrong gate” traffic, but we got pretty lax on that this week so this doesn’t include every time we had to direct people to the next gate down, but as you can see it was amazingly slow. And yes we get paid the same regardless, which is nice! (I have never logged a a wrong gate vehicle. It just seems silly to log a vehicle that I turn away. It’s one step away from logging vehicles that just drive by without even slowing down. – Lee)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 57

The guys who are putting the liner in the pond stopped by, and I tried to get a feel for when the liner would be put in.  They were extremely noncommittal about the timeline, but one guy did say that they couldn’t do it when it rained and it was supposed to rain all week.  Hard to complain about having another week of all this free time and getting paid for it, so we’ll take it.  The unlimited data is working out great so far, by the way.  We are 10 days in to the new plan, and well over 240GB on the WiFi hotspot and no throttling so far.  Of course we are in a remote area with an under taxed tower so that helps.  Lee has been taking advantage and uploading all these home movies he has been working on to You Tube, hence the huge amount of data we have been using. We will continue to see how it goes and I’ll let you know. So far it’s been awesome. (Awesome doesn’t even begin to describe it. After two years of watching our data usage every day and carefully thinking about whether or not to download things, now I just don’t. It’s delightful. – Lee)

Day 58

It’s funny how the volume of trucks makes all the difference in both of our moods.  Last week when it was so busy I couldn’t wait to be done, but now it’s been very pleasant.  I think that shows, at least for us, that it’s less about having to stay in one place or even being “on call” 24/7, but more about how much down time we have during the day. Lots of down time and it’s an OK gig.  Under those circumstances we don’t mind the negatives so much.  Minimal down time and those restrictions start to bother both of us.  I actually think that’s pretty normal. Things were a little more active today with several of the folks who are laying down water piping coming in this morning.  Nothing too major, but enough activity Lee put his yellow vest on!  We also finally saw the company man and were told what the schedule will be.  For the next 9 days they will be doing “workover” (3 wells – 3 days each).  Workover will only involve a few trucks per day and then once that is done the fracking will start, assuming the frack crew is available to start immediately. It’s great to know what is happening, but a bit of a bummer because we were really hoping we would get out early so we could meet friends in Apache Junction, but I doubt that is going to happen now.  It depends on how long fracking takes, of course, but I am guessing with three wells that might take a while as well.  We do have some extra time set aside to just relax, but we can extend our time a bit if they still need us.  Not sure how we will feel about that at the fracking pace, but if it was like this that would be hard to turn down. (My understanding is that the fracking process involves a more or less steady stream of trucks all day and night. I am happy to stay until the end date we gave them, but I’m not interested at all in extending. We need a break before we settle in for a whole summer of work on May 9th. – Lee) 

As a side note,  I received several comments from folks that they didn’t know how to view the recipe book preview.  Thank you for your interest.  There are two ways.  Either click on the “Look Inside” link on the upper right hand side or “Send a Free Sample” on the right hand side.  I took a screenshot of Amazon and have highlighted both of those places in a red box. Unfortunately you don’t get to choose which pages get previewed so perhaps my idea of starting each chapter with the simplest recipes kind of backfires here.  Because the preview only shows a few recipes and all of the beginning ones are very simple, it might give the idea that they are all that simple. It would be nice if the preview allowed for picking out specific pages but that doesn’t seem to be an option, which makes sense I guess in a novel.  If I could go back and change that I might start with a mix of recipes from different sections, but then again that would be confusing if you purchased the book.  Ah well, I am learning here.  Who knew all this would be so complicated and I still feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of it?

One last thing, then  I promise to move onto other things going forward.   I was invited to be a guest on a talk radio show back in Keene, New Hampshire where we spent the fifteen years prior to going on the road.  A restaurateur friend of ours read about the recipe book on Facebook and invited me on his weekly radio show, so I will be doing that after April 1st.  I think that will be fun, to talk about full-time RVing, and since it’s a small town and it feels like everyone knows everyone else,  I can’t wait to tell the story of how I met someone from Keene that I didn’t know in Tuscon, Arizona at a dump station.  Liz,  I think I will need to change the story a bit though, and just say I met you checking out of the campground.  I don’t think I want to explain dumping poop on the radio lol!!

Day 59

Well we had some excitement in gate guarding land this morning.  Lee took over for me about 4:15am, and right about the time I was falling asleep the power went out.  It was obvious because I lost the air conditioner, but I thought it was one of the temporary power fluctuations we get occasionally.  I was right at that point where I was falling asleep, so I didn’t get up, but my sleep was restless and then at some point it got really hot so I got up and turned on the Fantastic Fan in the bathroom, opened a window and went back to sleep.  I should have just gotten up and talked to Lee at that point, but I was pretty out of it so just fell back into bed. Big mistake because I woke up several times from that point, but never enough to find out what was going on.

Lee was dealing with the problem.  Unlike the power fluctuations we have had that impact the rig only, this power outtage also took out the floodlight tower, which also runs off the provided generator trailer. The generator was running fine and he restarted it several times, but no power was going from the generator to the lights or our rig.  Finally he sent a text to our coordinator and then just waited.  He thought about turning the inverter on, but was concerned about how long the outtage would last so he just read, looked at his phone, and tried to stay awake.  Around 6:30am he heard back that a tech was on his way and the service guy from the generator company was onsite by 9am.  At this point, it was clear it was going to be a muggy, but overcast day so Lee still just hung out with no power.

The service tech spent about an hour diagnosing the problem and eventually stated he had never seen this particular issue before and they would have to replace the service trailer.  Unfortunately, that also meant a new water tank since those two items are on the same trailer.  He did state that he would make sure and scrub the tank out since he knew we had issues with the water before, but obviously this was a concern.  Still, the guy was very nice and since they were jumping on the problem Lee just let it play out.  Around 11:30am they were back with a new generator and a new tankful of water.  We were both pretty impressed by their turnaround time, especially considering how long things took in the beginning, and I am happy to say everything is working great.  We have power, the water is flowing just fine, and things are back to normal.  The only negative is Lee spent his whole 8 hour morning of quiet time dealing with this and I didn’t really get any decent sleep. But truly, it was handled beautifully and we couldn’t ask for more responsiveness.

I wish I was the kind of person who could change her sleep schedule easily because for the next 8 days I could technically sleep in the night-time and since I was up most of the night now would be a good time to do it.   But Lee and I both think that is a bad idea, so I am going to continue staying up all night even though there is no traffic at all.  I am trying to take advantage of the time and have started writing the book about how we became full timers.  I am viewing it as sort of companion piece to the blog and the format allows me to go into more detail, especially about the early stages.  To that end  I have spent some time trying to remember the sequence of events and have reread journal entries and forum posts.  One of the problems is that we kept it a secret in the beginning, so although my early posts don’t lie, they definitely do not tell the whole story.  I was able to be much more honest in the RV-Dreams forum though, and have gone back and found some very interesting posts from the early days that have helped me put together a mental picture of where I was at back then. (I have to say that that entire year was really unpleasant and awful. Here we had made this huge decision and were excited about a whole new life, and we had to keep it a secret. That’s no small task in a small town. Our kids knew, and I told two people that I trusted completely, but other than that it was like the Manhattan project. I do not like lies, or people who lie, and that entire process made me very unhappy and miserable. – Lee)

Oh, and on a completely different note, I am dying to get some Pizza Hut pizza.  Sometimes you just want to order in food, and doing that on the road usually requires pick up.  The closest Pizza Hut is 30 minutes away, and of course they don’t deliver.  When I get these cravings (usually for Pizza or Chinese) I try to tell myself not to spend the money but it’s hard.  I’ll usually hold out for a few days and then after obsessing usually break down and go ahead and get it.  I always feel very conflicted about these food purchases, because unlike an “experience” dining event they feel pretty wasteful.  Plus in a case like this where we are making $125 a day it’s hard not to translate $25 worth of pizza into 5  hours worth of work.  That way lies madness though, at least for me.  If I looked at purchases like that I would never buy anything.  It’s important to remember that we are working off a larger budget and we do have money set aside for this. Of course that needs to be balanced with not overdoing it in any spend category, but sometimes you just have to give yourself a little treat.  My feelings about this particular budget line item surprise me more than any other because not so long ago I lived a life where I routinely spent money on convenient food.  When I traveled for work, that is all I ate.  Now every purchase has to be really considered and sometimes to be honest it bugs me.  I can be honest enough with myself though to recognize that I blew a ton of money on this in my former life, which I wish I could have back.  (I used to spend a ton of money on Chinese food, and I still have the result of most of it. I carry it with me everywhere I go. Physique by General Tso. – Lee) I have to find a way to separate out when I am being lazy and when I truly have a craving, because there is a difference.  And yes, I know these are “First World Problems”, but it doesn’t change the fact that it can be a struggle. So today I choose to get the pizza and enjoy it.  Lee said he will eat something in the freezer, which will actually make is closer to $15 and only 3 hours worth of work.  See, it’s crazy!


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

First Time Gate Guarding – Day 44 – 46

Day 44

Well, unfortunately we did not get the break we were hoping for.  It started out great, as I didn’t have any trucks past 9:30pm last night, and was even able to fall asleep on the couch at 1:30am, which was nice because I needed some extra sleep.  Unfortunately, the next day for Lee was not so good.  It certainly wasn’t at the levels of the rig move, but he had plenty of trucks, and almost all big ones.  Several tankers of them were going back and forth between us and the new location down the road and when I finally asked why was told they were moving drilling fluid from the tanks at this site to the new location down the road.  OK then.  And again, I know you probably get tired of me saying this, it isn’t so much about the volume but being mentally prepared.  No one mentioned that step to us, and Lee really could have used a light day.  And the heat didn’t help.  It was full sun, 91° today, and it felt much more hot than that.

I had a nice conversation with my mom today and explained it like you knew guests were coming over to your house, but weren’t quite sure when they were coming.  So there is a level of mental alertness required that makes you tired after awhile.  At least that’s been how we feel, but then again we are never off.  So for us I think the 24/7 nature of this gig continues to be the biggest problem. It’s not so much never having a day off, we have done that before, but not ever having time off, unless you are asleep, is just tough. And the effect is cumulative.  People do this year round and that must take quite the mental adjustment.  Others will only work a 12 hour shift, but we haven’t been seeing many of those.  And I know I keep saying the same things over and over, but honestly these feelings keep catching me by surprise.

And I know what that is about…it’s not knowing what’s going to happen from day to day.  It doesn’t really help asking people either, because almost everyone really understands their little piece of the process and not anything else.  There are separate people and companies who specializes in the different stages and even the company man is mostly conversant with just the drilling process.   It really is not so bad once we make the mental adjustment, but we keep having these blips where things are not so great and every time it is because we are surprised.  I suppose we could just assume the worst every single day, but I think we would have a hard time getting through the assignment if that was the case.

Thankfully, the traffic died down after 7:30pm and I at least had some quite time.  I totally left Lee alone between 4pm and 8pm and spent the time mainly outside so he could have some down time as well.

Day 45

Today has been much slower with most of the traffic being people who are lost and are going to the wrong gate.  Their instructions say the rig was moved to “farther down the road” but they thing they need to enter our gate and travel farther into the ranch, not go down the county road to the next ranch.  Understandable mistake, but requires walking out and asking the question almost every time.  A few folks are coming here.  Right now they are finishing a fracking pond which is essentially an 800′ x 600′ hole, 20′ deep, with a liner in it.  This pond will provide water for the fracking process.  Temperatures unexpectedly reached their highest for us today at 99 degrees. Lee was wearing a coat in the morning but by 2:00pm it was hot.    It is a dry heat though (9% humidity) so if you stayed out of the sun it’s not too bad, but just a few minutes out in it is hot!!  I spent the time working on taxes and Lee kept chugging through the videos.  He started a few weeks ago where he left off several years ago, which was 1996, and he’s currently working on 2004, so that’s awesome.  And last night I got 20 more recipes formatted so I am halfway done!

Plus before I woke up Lee finally got some pictures of our resident roadrunner.  He hangs out back behind the generator and takes off as soon as he sees us, so Lee had been trying to get some shots for days.  He finally cooperated though and they are really great.

Posing

Posing

Lee thinks they look like velociraptors when they run

Lee thinks they look like velociraptors when they run

Playing hide and seek with Lee

Playing hide and seek with Lee

yimg_0891

Standing at attention with one leg up

The back view

The back view with crest feathers up

And my absolute favorite.!!

And my absolute favorite!!

 

Day 46

Another pretty slow day.  Lee had a group of three gravel trucks that came through throughout the day. The same three trucks would come in in a convoy, stay about 20 minutes, and then leave for about an hour. The nice thing about the convoy is that he nly had to open and close the gate the once each time. This gravel is part of the cleanup process and is used to “pretty up” the area around the drill. It’s also used to fill what they call “mouse holes”, which are the vertical holes they drill to connect the horizontal pipes that are below ground. By the time I took over at 12:30pm I was told it was the last truck, which was great because although it wasn’t nearly as hot as yesterday, the wind was back.  And the wind had lots of grit in it, which is my least favorite.  Up until this point the windy was usually dusty and powdery, but today it had little chunks of rocks which were hitting my legs. (If you’ve ever been on a beach in really heavy wind, that’s what it feels like. – Lee) 

Lee went to the library and to Walmart and I worked on taxes.  I spent some time yesterday getting the papers organized and printed, but today was all about filling out the workbook.  I use a company called Travel Tax which specializes in mobile workers.  Because they do quite a bit of work for traveling nurses they are familiar with the tax codes in every state.  They are also familiar with small business deductions and since they are a small  company they are reasonably priced and very nice. The way it works is you go to their website, download their extensive workbook, fill it in and email it to them.  Then they set up an appointment with you and it takes about an hour to review over the phone.  I had a free consultation in 2014, used them in 2015, and I am using them again this year.  I’ve been very happy with the results, although because they are a small company, communication back and forth can take a little while.

The big thing I did yesterday was categorize all of our expenses.  We have our video business, RV repair business, consulting business, and I just added Camper Chronicles.  All four of those are under the parent company of Open Road.  I could file a separate Schedule C for each one, but since the dollar amounts are so low I group it under one for tax purposes, but I do have it broken out on my Income and Expense Statement.  We use Quicken so it’s pretty easy at the end of the year to run a statement as long as all of the items are categorized correctly.  My goal (aside from making money) is to show progression with the company overall.  I never want to be in a position where the IRS calls my business a “hobby” and fights the deductions.  So I was pleased that this year we had $13,212 in income and $4972 in expenses for a profit of $8,240. We made more than that, of course.  Both Alaska and the Beet Harvest were jobs where taxes were taken out and I had three months of severance from my corporate job that carried over into 2016.  But for this year it was enough to show growth.  2017 will again be a mix of 1099 jobs and W-2 jobs so we just need to make sure that enough of the work is 1099.  Since gate guarding falls into that category that’s a good way to start off the year, although our other two jobs; camp hosting and Amazon will both have taxes taken out.  We will have to see how much side work we pick up this year.

And let me be super clear here.  I am in no way a tax expert.  I am not even 100% sure I am headed in the right direction here, but it feels right, and to a certain extent I am relying on the tax advice of my accountant to help me stay out of trouble. In 2018, this will all change as I am absolutely planning on doing some consulting, but for right now we will just have to see how it all plays out. Overall the day was going well.  I got the workbook done and then I saw a truck pulled across from our RV.  Since it wasn’t facing the gate but someone got out I put my head out the window and said “Can I help you?”  The guy, whose back was to me, then peed on the ground.  He was facing away from me, but wow, was I mad.  He then got into his truck and left. I desperately wanted to ask him his address with the thought I could return the favor and go pee in front of his house, but cooler heads prevailed and I went back inside.  Lee was still gone and obviously the guy was rude.  Craziness, especially since because there is plenty of place along this road to pull off AND there is a port-a-John right down the road at the entrance to the neighbor ranch where he was headed.  Lee didn’t think it was that big of a deal when he got home because he was facing away from me.  Men!

 


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. Thank you.   Search Amazon.com here