Gate Guarding Work Kamping Overview

For those who aren’t interested in our daily descriptions of gate guarding we have provided an overview. If you would like to read our daily account you can start here.   It is important to note that there can be significant variations from gate to gate, but most are scaled to pay more if the traffic is higher and/or the weather and gate conditions are more difficult.  The pay also varies significantly based on the current oil prices.  This account is based on a singular experience in South Texas working a brand new gate with three wells on it that were not drilled when we got here. The more wells, the more traffic, and in our case there was additional traffic initially to build the lease road which leads to the oil pad, and the fracking pond, which would already be done at an established gate.  We also did not experience the fracking process, which is a high volume activity that occurs at the end right before the well starts producing oil. These numbers are a summary of our 79 days in the position between January 11 and March 30.  The hourly wage depends upon how you look at the position.  Since it is a 24/7 gate, you can look at all the hours in the day, or just the hours between when the first truck comes and the last truck leaves, or only hours where a truck came or left.

 

By The Numbers

  • We worked 79 days, which was not the complete cycle of time between drilling the well and oil production.  Wells can be dug and oil flowing in less time, but due to a shortage of resources in the area there were delays to the schedule.  One of the downsides to the job is you never really know how long a position will last.    There is a project plan and an overall schedule, but this is rarely shared with the gate guards or the gate guarding company.
  • We opened or shut the gate a total of 5,722 times.  Each passage was logged into the computer and the entire process takes approximately 2 minutes. The only exception to this would be when a truck wasn’t in the system and all the information had to be added, or when gravel trucks came through and we only needed to capture a check mark on a sheet.  Those were the exception though, so for simplicity’s sake we will estimate 2 minutes.    Using this logic pure task time was 191 hours.  We had to be available 1,896 hours so that works out to we were opening and the shutting the gate roughly 10% of the time.  
  • The busiest day we had 422 trucks (the bulk of these were gravel trucks) and the slowest day we had was 0.
  • Our average work day (if you look from when the first truck came until the last truck left) was 12.5 hours.  Our average number of trucks per hour was 6.  The bulk of the traffic was between 6am and 6pm, but there were several days where we had trucks all night long. 
  • For the 79 days we made a total of $9,750.  We did take off a partial day for our anniversary and they deducted $31.26 for those 7 hours.
  • The site and services are also covered, which some people include in their wages.  We don’t, so I didn’t include that here.  I will say our costs were the lowest they have been on the road, because our schedule and location made it easy to keep costs down.

Hourly rate is interesting.  If you count the 24 hour period, the rate was $5.21 which is below minimum wage.  If you look at the rate between the first and last truck it was $8.09 an hour, which is above minimum wage in Texas, but because it is a contract position no taxes were taken out and their might (depending on your deductions) be an extra tax burden.   If you just look at hours we got trucks the rate is $9.95, which is better but still under $10.

More details 

  • In Texas you do need a state license to do this work, but not all states with oil activity require one.  Our company worked with us to complete the application, test, and background check, and made it extremely easy.  The cost for both of us was under $100, although Lee got a military discount for his past military service.  Once you get the license it is renewable online. Not all companies help with this though, and it does take some time, so if you are thinking about doing this I recommend starting to work on that in advance.  You do NOT have to be a Texas resident to get a Texas security license.
  • Some positions have guard shacks, but most allow you to work from your rig.  This is a huge benefit as you can watch TV, read, complete personal chores, etc during your down time.  You could even work a second job, if the job was virtual and  allowed tasks to be completed at nonspecific times. Since you never know what the schedule will be from day to day it would be difficult to have a job where you were required to complete tasks at a certain time of day.
  • We were allowed to split the day however we wanted and both work a 4-4 shift, which is somewhat unusual.  It worked for us because Lee is an early riser and I was able to go to sleep while it was still dark outside, which made working nights much more pleasant for me.  We were individually able to take time and run errands, but neither of us did anything fun away from the RV during the time period.  Partly because we couldn’t go together, but mainly because there wasn’t much to do in the immediate area.  Lee went into San Antonio a couple of times to buy things we needed, but I never felt the desire to drive that far on my awake time off.
  • There is minimal supervision and the people we have met have been very nice. Sure, you get the occasional cranky person, but nothing particularly obnoxious.  The oil business is a small community and few people want to cause an issue for someone else because you never know who you will be working with down the road.  It’s also important to note that the contracts are written so your job responsibilities can be changed.
  • The positions come with a water tank, a generator for power, and weekly dump services, and no fees are paid by us.  You certainly can boon dock cheaply in the winter, but the cost for full hookups in a winter friendly place is generally not cheap.
  • The work is mostly easy, but it is outside and elements can be at play.  Extreme heat, high winds, thunderstorms and tornadoes can all be a factor, and vary from day-to day.  Rattlesnakes are also a concern in the more remote areas along with illegal immigrants in some areas.   Also your house WILL become extremely dusty if you take one of these positions, as the constant traffic and dry conditions make dust clouds a near constant element.
  • We were issued safety vests, two chimes (which worked poorly in general and particularly poorly on windy days), a cell booster, and two tablets. Safety was  a major concern and stressed to us from Day 1.  We were encouraged more than once to wave trucks through if they started to stack up on the road, which made the job much easier.  The only safety issue we had was initially the gate did not have drop rods and while I was struggling with the gate in the wind I fell into the cattle guard and banged my leg up pretty bad.  Once we reported the problem they did fix the issue and our company does provide workers compensation, although not all do.  It is recommended that you take off your rings if you are working one of these positions because they can get caught in the gate and hurt you. We’ve heard stories of people losing fingers when the wind grabs the gate and a finger gets caught in it.
  • The location of the jobs is usually pretty remote and cell/internet services can be limited.  Grocery stores, and laundromats can be far away and since one person needs to be onsite at all times, errands must be done by one person during their “off” time.

What We Thought

We both liked it, although we did have a few rough days when the volume was particularly high.  The slow days though are extremely pleasant, especially if you have hobbies or side projects you want to work on.  I like the fact that unlike most work kamping positions there are jobs year round, although I would have to be hard pressed to take a position down here in the summer, because we don’t handle extreme heat well.  The winter weather was really great.  It can be windy and the dust can certainly get annoying, but after we started we mostly kept our rig closed and ran our two air conditioners which kept the dust down. Now that we have experienced it start to finish we would both definitely do it again. We would be careful  though to ask questions regarding traffic volume, whether we could work out of our rig,  and internet availability.  Using my triangle scale to determine if we liked a job or not it was great on time, and OK on quality and money.  If we were on a busier gate, or the work conditions/weather were extremely unpleasant this would change for us significantly.

 

 


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First Time Gate Guarding – Days 65 – 68

Day 65

The weather was absolutely stunning today. 74 degrees, no clouds, and a light breeze.  I decided to go to the grocery store and it was nice getting out.  Everything is very green here and as of yet the “hordes”of mosquitoes that we’ve been warned about haven’t appeared.  When I got back I downloaded Google Hangout and tested it with my youngest daughter, Kay.  She helped me worked through the interface and we discovered it didn’t work very well on the IPad.  Since this is what I am using for my upcoming call with my favorite author I wanted to work out the bugs before I started.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the frack pond lining guys have been working pretty hard on the pond and told me when they left they have one more day of work to do.  I’m not sure how that will impact the fracking schedule since the work-over crew is still going, but they are making progress. (The way I look at it, every day brings us closer to our April 1st departure, so they can feel free to take their time. – Lee)

Since we know things are going to get busy soon I have been spending quite a bit of time at night writing.  Last night I wrote about our final days in Keene, and the first few months we were on the road.  As exciting as things were back then we had a pretty rough start, and dredging all that up was kind of tough.  Still, it was good to be able to write about it without being concerned about my job, or how folks would perceive us.  I worried a lot more about that sort of thing back then.  When I woke up this morning and looked at the blog comments from yesterday’s post I had the past firmly in my mind.

One of our readers, The Wandering RVer (who coincidentally lives about 30 minutes from where we used to live, and is facing 18 inches (Better her than us! – Lee)  of snowfall today ) asked, “How would you compare your “happiness meter” now with your “happiness meter” 5 years ago?” That’s a really good question.  My happiness meter is way higher, but the scale has changed.  It is not lost on me that we are very lucky to be enjoying 74 degree weather and not dealing with the crazy snow anymore.  I know many people are anxiously awaiting being in a position where they can experience the same thing.  But I can be grateful for the parts of this lifestyle I like and still want to tweak it so it is better for me. When we first started out I was acutely aware of how lucky I was. We were financially stable because I got to keep my job, we were in Florida during the worst snowstorm in New England in many years, we had our families blessing  for our lifestyle choice, and we had many friends who were close by and extremely supportive.  I was grateful for all of that and felt lucky, but that didn’t mean the adjustment wasn’t very difficult.

I tell my girls that most things in life worth having are hard.  I completely believe that.  Childbirth was hard, parenting is hard,  and marriage is absolutely hard.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful, but it does mean you have to work at them. Being full timers, at least for us,  isn’t always easy.  It requires compromise, some sacrifice, and lots of communication.  And that doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that it is real life.  I know that  in the beginning I fell into the trap of seeing the lifestyle like a vacation.  After a couple of months I knew that wasn’t true, but I still thought since we struggled we must be doing it wrong.  If we could just find the magic combination of travel and work it would be like we had envisioned it in our heads.  In the last two months we have gotten much better at talking about the reality of what it is.  I think that’s a good thing.  It doesn’t mean we aren’t committed, and it certainly doesn’t mean we are doing anything wrong, it just means we haven’t got it all figured out yet. And that’s OK because we will keep plugging away until we figure out what works best for us.

In the meantime, to answer the question,  I am much happier than I was living in New England. My relationship with my husband is much better than it was prior to us going on the road, and I have more deep and meaningful friendships than I ever have in life. Plus, it’s 74 degrees, and not snowing, and that doesn’t suck.

Day 66

Busy day today.  First we had our meeting with the accountant and found out what the news was there. Keep in mind I am not an accountant, and am passing along what I heard him say.  I could have gotten some of this wrong.  We have to pay $3700 this year, which is almost the same as we got in a refund last year.  That really wasn’t that bad, because we had to pay taxes and a penalty on a 401K loan I let expire right after we went on the road, and we ended up paying $1K penalty because we didn’t have ACA compliant health insurance for 9 months out of the year.  Since the compliant insurance was going to cost me $1K a month, I was OK with that.  And in case you were wondering (I was) the executive order that President Trump signed did not stop us from having to pay the penalty.  First, it is only for 2017 forward, and second, the order he signed said the IRS has “the right” to attempt to collect the money but “must” accept the tax return as is.  We could have filed that way and rolled the dice that no one would make a fuss later, but that’s not really our style. Thankfully we are now ACA compliant in 2017, so regardless of what happens with legislation it won’t be an issue going forward.

That amount also included $48 in interest because we didn’t pay 90% of our taxes in the calendar year.  Since the 90% is calculated off the prior year earnings, that would have been impossible for us anyway.  $48 is not a big deal, and going forward we could avoid this interest by paying tax periodically to the government.  Or we may not, since it’s still hard for us to guess what our net income will be.  What Lee would like to do is set aside the money into a savings account as we go so we have it at year end, and I am fine with that.  The good news was we went from a 25% tax rate down to a 15% tax rate because we made so much less money.  The bad news was we had to pay an additional 14% on all business/1099 money which took us to an overall tax rate of 29% for a portion of our funds.  Since this year most of our money came from W-9 jobs, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it is important to take into account going forward.

We also spent a big chunk of today planning our route and stops when we leave here. Originally we were going to Padre Island and Big Bend, but we had an opportunity to see our friends Deb and Steve, who we have not seen in over a year.  It’s been a long time since we had to coordinate a trip with multiple people and I had forgotten how complicated it could be.  They are headed east at almost the same time we are headed west, so we tried to find a place that worked with both our routes, had things to do, had cell coverage (Steve is still working his corporate job), and had availability.  Not as easy as you would think.  Ultimately we found a place and both booked it at the same time, so we are super excited.  We were also talking to Cori and Greg who will be with us for a couple of days and even though they are on vacation in Mexico found a way to book their spot as well.  Really, really excited about seeing them. (Lest anyone’s feelings get hurt, we not more excited to see one couple than the other. One we are apparently “really, really” excited to see, but the other we are “super” excited to see. We love everyone equally, except those that we love more, and you know who you are. – Lee)

Once we had those dates locked in we went ahead and booked more of our route.  I wanted to visit our friend Sherry in Cottonwood and see Sedona, and when I saw the State Park only had two spots left we went ahead and booked that as well.  Then we looked ahead to Flagstaff but that got a little trickier.  Most of the campgrounds there don’t open until May 1st and we will be just a little earlier than that.  On the plus side there is tons of Forest Service land in that area, so we are going to check that out.  By the time all of that was done several hours had actually passed.  Part of the reason it took that long was we had moderately heavy truck traffic.  The people doing the pond liner finished up today and that just leaves the work-over rig crew.  Not sure yet how much longer that will be, but trying to find out. (Once again, no rush, take your time, guys. – Lee) 

Day 67

I didn’t sleep well at all last night and had a slow start to my day.  Lee worked more on editing (he has completed 171 videos to date) and I looked in a recipe book for a chicken marsala recipe.  It is one of Lee’s favorites, so I would really like to learn how to make it, plus it has Marsala wine and mushrooms in it which works for me.  In the past I always avoided cooking with alcohol for some reason, recently I am finding I really like it. So I am going back and re-looking at some recipes I skipped over in the past and giving them a try.  I’m not nearly as interested in cooking meals though, so Lee and I are largely eating “whatever”, and I am just cooking the items I like.  Tonight I am trying crawfish tail stuffed mushrooms, and that may be my entire dinner. I have always been a person who could mostly eat “whatever” for meals, but Lee has always liked a full meal, with some kind of meat, starch and vegetable. Thankfully he’s fine with cooking his own meals, and I am eating an odd mixture.  Something about working nights has my eating schedule kind of screwy so yesterday I had four small meals; toast/bacon, leftover steak/green beans, a hot dog, and a bologna sandwich.  Works for me.

The mushrooms by the way turned out great.  Over the years Lee and I have tried to duplicate Red Lobster stuffed mushrooms numerous times and were never successful.  These weren’t quite the same, but were definitely in the ball park, and the closest we have ever been to duplicating them. The trick apparently is to make the stuffing first, then saute the mushrooms, without stuffing,  until they are tender.  Once the mushrooms cool you stuff them, top with cheese, and then place in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes to finish off.  Perfect.  The stuffing was close, need to tweak it a bit with a little more salt and maybe a pinch of garlic, but I am thrilled the technique was mastered.  That’s one of the reasons I continue to try new recipes.  Even if the particular recipe isn’t exactly what I want, I often master a new technique in the process. That’s often the fun part.

Day 68

Didn’t sleep well again last night, maybe I am just tired of working nights  When I woke up the company man was leaving and I asked when he thought the fracking would start.  He said they had a couple of days left on the work over rig and it could be a couple of weeks before the fracking began.  That really surprised me, because I thought it would be somewhat immediate, and he saw this and then quickly said it could be sooner, but he really had no idea.  It’s important to note that this particular company man has been our account manager’s point of contact through the entire process.  When I fell into the gate, he is the one who got them to come out and put the drop bars on it.  I figured if anyone would know it would be him, but once again I was told he only knew his part of the process.

In our case that’s OK.  We have 13 days left and if there is a delay in the fracking that is no problem for us.  As much as I would like to experience that so I can report on it, I also would be just fine at this point if we skipped it all together.  From what I have read the traffic is heavy 24/7, which we have not experienced.  Our heaviest traffic days so far have had the volume occurring mostly in the daytime, but from what we have heard the sand trucks come around the clock.  The interval in which you get truck traffic can vary significantly though, depending on where the sand is coming from.  We read one account where all the sand came at once and the gate guard had 20 trucks lined up on the road.  In other accounts the trucks can comes as frequently as every 5 minutes if the sand pile they are pulling from is close by.  I am sure it isn’t solid busy all day, every day, but since we have established the slow days are the good days, we’re not looking forward to it in any event.  If there is a two week delay, we might actually miss it all together which would be just fine with me.  To prepare for leaving Lee made a trip up to San Antonio.  He had to return the speaker bar he bought, get a haircut (he is super shaggy) and make a Costco run.  As tempted as we were to buy enough for two months at Costco that has never worked out well for us in the past.  So he will be buying some things this trip and then we will need to go again when we are near Phoenix with our friends. Hate going twice, but buying huge amounts there always blows our budget and then we never get that money back by buying less the following month.  Best to just stay in the food budget month to month. (I cleverly designed this trip so I ended up arriving on the southwest side of San Antonio at rush hour on a Friday, and Costco was on the northeast side. It took me 90 minutes to go 23 miles. So I ended up not getting a haircut, which is kind of a drag, because my last haircut was November 1st. I’m pretty sure I’ve never gone nearly 6 months without a haircut. And I really don’t want to drive back SA before we leave April 1st, so I will either need to wait until Phoenix, or go the little place here in town. Tracy needs to learn how to cut hair. – Lee)

While he was gone, I spent some time looking at my PMP credentials.  In 2008, I took a class and an extremely hard test and received my Project Manager Professional certification.  In order to maintain this certification I need to earn 60 Professional Development Units (PDU;’s) every three years.  In the past this was easy, and I was working in the field, going to school, and a member of my local Project Management Institute chapter.  This last year I have pretty much blown it off and when I went to pay my annual membership fee was a little concerned to see I  needed to earn 35 credits in the next 406 days.  Since I want to keep my credentials up to date, I need to find a way to earn those credits and I have a couple of different routes I can take.  While I have been out of the field Agile Project Management has become all the rage and they are now offering a separate certification in that methodology.  I could easily earn the credits if I took the classes and got that certification, but that would be a major undertaking.  I had to study every day for 6 months for the last one. Plus, Agile is primarily used for IT projects and although I have managed those in the past they are not my favorite types of projects.  They are lucrative and there is always plenty of work, but I am much more interested in less technical projects, in particular the “soft skills” of team building, process improvement, and change management.  If I am going to re-enter the field I would like to be choosier about what types of projects I work on. In my past I largely had to accept whatever I was offered because I needed the practical experience and of course it was my full time job.  Now, hopefully, I can be choosier.

So this leaves me with volunteering my time and completing some online education.  Thankfully there have been huge improvements in the virtual offerings available and many of those classes are now offered for free to PMI members.  Basically for every 1 hour online course you earn 1 PDU so at worst I need to carve out 35 hours worth of time to watch these seminars. And  if possible I would like to do some volunteering.  There are some virtual positions available through the international network of PMI chapters and it seems like a great way to get my head back in the game and do some networking.  In particular I am interested in working with some overseas chapters to bulk up my international experience. I am really kicking myself though for not looking at this sooner, because we will be traveling soon and I am leery about signing up for anything until we see how the internet connection is in Oregon.  There is a good chance we will not have internet at our site which would make volunteering more challenging.  At least though I can start doing some of the online courses now.  It’s great that we have unlimited data because I don’t need to worry about data usage.  I know that is quite a bit of detail but I am mentioning it for those whose game plan is to maintain a professional career on the road.  There is nothing wrong with taking a break, I actually encourage it, but keep in mind in today’s world skill sets can become outdated very fast and it is certainly something to keep an eye on.

On a completely different note I keep forgetting to mention our “pet roadrunner.”  We have one particular road runner that hasn’t gotten more used to us over time and he/she likes to hang out in the ditch that runs right by the RV.  We haven’t gotten any pictures, because he will come up when we are sitting outside but if we try to go in the RV he takes off.  He’s been getting closer and closer and today he walked up and picked up a bug less than 10 feet from me.  They really are beautiful creatures and I am enjoying getting to see him/her closeup.  I was talking to one of the truck drivers about it and he said some gate guards nearby had one that was really fat.  Every night they put a wooden board out and when they flip it over in the morning it has bugs on it.  They eat their breakfast outside and the road runner, comes every morning and eats the bugs off the board.  Very cool.


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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!

 


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First Time Gate Guarding – Days 36 and 37

Day 36

Thanks for everyone who reached out.  I am feeling OK.  My knee is still a little sore, but not too bad so I’m good to go.  Thankfully it was pretty slow last night because it stayed windy, but I do have to shut the gate at night, and I was of course extra careful.  I had a wonderful conversation with my oldest daughter, and we talked about the home movie videos she’s been watching.  I think it is a real gift to be able to see so much of your childhood.  I wish we had movies from when I was a kid, but there are only a couple short ones that I know of.  Anyway, Kyrston reads the blog and mentioned how much we talk about the gate.  It’s true.  The gate is somewhat omnipresent in our lives, because we look at it all the time, deal with it all the time, It’s our view and our work

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I can definitely see how the gate could take on a personality in a situation like this.  I mean you might either love your gate or hate your gate.  In our case that hasn’t really happened yet, but I am 100% sure that I will be able to picture this gate for the rest of my life.  I’ve spent enough time looking at it.  Now that I have set all that up, of course I am going to talk more about the gate!!  I was sitting here writing the blog when Lee came in and told me the company man that our account manager had called last night just drove through.  We don’t see a lot of this particular guy so I asked Lee if he had said anything about the gate being opened, since it was once again very windy and Lee had opened it about an hour before.  Lee said he didn’t say anything, but I watched for his truck to come back out because I wanted to try something.

There is a technique for conflict resolution that I have used very successfully in the past and that is to personalize an issue.  This doesn’t work for lots of people, mainly because they don’t like to show weakness, but I never had much of an issue with that.  When I saw the truck on its way out,  I walked outside and started with apologizing for needing to keep it open on windy days.  I said I didn’t want to be an exception, but was not physically strong  enough to manhandle the gate in high winds and the accident I had yesterday had really scared me.  That last thing,  if nothing else, seemed to register with him and he asked if I was OK, and I said I was, but I also made it clear I felt I had been lucky. Then I mentioned that the construction company was supposed to solve the problem but got pulled for another job, and we weren’t sure when it would be completed, but I really felt that would solve the problem.  He drove off without saying anything and I walked inside thinking “Well, at least I  tried”.  Less than one hour later the construction company was onsite with a welder and some rods.  In less than 30 minutes they had the two drop rods in place and problem solved.

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These guys had welding equipment and pipe cutting tools right on the truck

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The rod “handle” swings over and can rest on a hole in the gate to keep it in the up position

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Finally found the sweet spot of where to put them, and now the wind never pushes them

 

So there you have it, and hopefully this is my last blog post about the structure of the gate!!  I did want to talk a little bit though about the blog, and it’s current format.  In general, I am not all that crazy about having to do a post every day, but since we are trying to really capture the spirit of working here, skipping days doesn’t seem like the right way to approach it.  Showing what happens every day shows progression, and I think that will be especially useful because this was a brand new gate, and things change as we enter new phases.  I do worry that it will be too tedious though, and  I am looking forward to getting back to posting based on experiences rather than days.  Lee, who thinks I worry too much about this stuff,  made a good point though when we were talking about it this morning, and quoted a Facebook post he saw.

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He has a good point.  Lots of blogs, mine included, sometimes read like a highlight reel.  There’s nothing wrong with that, indeed it’s much more fun to write about the highlights and leave the more mundane out of the picture.  We did that most of the first year on the road and I largely used that format in Alaska. The problem is it presents a somewhat  skewed idea of what this lifestyle can really be like for some people, and even I fall prey to looking at other people’s blog posts or Facebook pictures and feeling incredibly jealous of their life.  The reality of course is they still have to clean, make dinner, hitch/unhitch, do laundry, and all  of the other myriad of tasks that make up a life.

So I am trying to strike a balance; show the relevant detail without sharing what I consider trivialities.  For example, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch today.  Now if there was something interesting about the peanut butter, like I made it in my Instant Pot, I might share that, but otherwise, honestly, who cares?   Sharing too much trivia I think we lose the experience just as much as if we only talk about the highlights.  I am looking for something in between.  And that’s always been much easier when lots of things are happening.  Either way, this blog has always been (for me) a good indicator of how much balance we have in our lives.

Day 37

It was cold and windy last night, dropping down into the low 50’s.  Luckily traffic is still pretty light so mostly I was inside nice and toasty.  Oh, and I forgot to share last week’s tracking sheet.  (I could hear people clamoring for it. You damn near had a pitchfork-and-torch wielding mob on your hands. Close call. – Lee) As you can see, traffic was very low for almost every day except one, but the spread of trucks is still over most of the hours of the shift.  When there are only a few trucks an hour though you still have lots of  downtime, which makes the low hourly rate more palatable. Oh, and I also forgot to mention yesterday that one of the guys who works here gave me what was left of his Pizza Hut pizza.  6 slices of  pepperoni and mushroom (my favorite) and it was a really sweet gesture and appreciated.  I’ve been wanting Pizza Hut for a while, but  we already spent our eating out money on the anniversary dinner, so this was a nice little gift.

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After I woke up I went to the grocery store and got everything I would need to finish my last few remaining recipes for my recipe book.  I have two new ones left, and one more to remake to get the picture, and I am pretty excited about that.  Then I need to check all the formatting, spell check, order them, and figure out how to publish.  The last bit will be some work in and of itself, but I am happy to be close to moving towards those last steps.

Lee on the other hand has been deep in editing and working around a much higher truck volume the last couple of days.  We are pretty sure we have entered a new phase because there are lots of new types of trucks that need put into the database.  At one point he had a convoy of 10 flatbed semis, each with about fifty 50′ long drill bits on them, but for safety he just waved them through.  All that traffic was making us both a little cranky.  Several of the new drivers didn’t want to wait to be put in the system and were trying to creep through the gate.  Finally I got tired of that so I stopped opening the gate until I had their license plates in the system.  I do find it interesting though that these experienced drivers would try that.  All I hear from the gate guard community is how anal they are about gathering information, but these guys all kept trying to blow right through.  If everyone was stopping people every time you would think they wouldn’t even try.  We’ve been through this a couple of times with new people though, and once they are in the system and see how we handle the gate things usually get back to normal, but transitions are always a bit stressful.

I was also cooking while running the gate in the evening and the starting and stopping was driving me nuts.  This is absolutely the wrong attitude for this job, so I had to keep reminding myself that trucks weren’t interrupting me, but I was doing something in the slow times.  It’s largely a state of mind, but it matters, at least for us.  Plus after 35 days with no full day off I think we are both a little weary.  The job isn’t physically demanding but you are sort of always “on” unless you are sleeping, even when it’s the other person’s shift.  Well, actually, if one person is sitting outside you can mentally tune it out, but when we are both inside you are both kind of on alert.  It’s tiring. And it’s the little things.  Like we love The Walking Dead and want to watch the newest episode without interruption, but unless we watch it separately that can’t happen.  Or that I would really like to go see my friend Cori who is two hours away, but there isn’t enough time for me to get there and back during my 4 hour awake-but-not-working time period.  Most things we can do, but those few we can’t sometimes bother us.

Towards the end of the day during a rare slow period  we did have a nice moment, when Lee noticed a hawk sitting right on the right side our gate closest to the rig.  (See? You thought she was all done talking about the gate. She lied. – Lee) He very slowly opened the door and I got to take several pictures before it flew away.  First time I have seen one that close here and he posed for me very nicely.  It was really cool since he was so close to the rig and we both really enjoyed that moment. (There’s also a GIANT roadrunner that lives behind the rig in the “woods” and I see him at least twice a day bopping around the generator. But as soon as he sees me he takes off, and he is FAST. I’m going to try to sit in the truck some time in the next few days and use it as a blind and see if I can get some shots. – Lee) 

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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

First Time Gate Guarding – Day 33

We had a really good day today.  The weather was really nice again, and the traffic was very light, pretty common for the weekends.  The guys who have been working on the water well are actually one ranch down this weekend, so that made traffic even lighter.  So lots of downtime, and the perfect time for Lee to finish a big project he’s been working on as soon as I woke up.  While I was asleep though he finally manged to capture a picture of the road runner who has been hanging out in the scrub area behind us.  Since I worry about snakes back there we are thrilled to have him, but he’s a bit camera-shy.  He’s a pretty big guy though, as large as a young chicken.

It's hanging out back by the generator

It’s hanging out back by the generator

Lee got this shot before it scampered away

Lee got this shot before it scampered away. (They’re very fast. They also do not respond to “Meep Meep”, in spite of what cartoons would have you believe. – Lee)

Once I was up and showered and Lee had lunch he started working on finishing a project.  As much as we love our front living room desk, it’s been a bit of a pain point that you sort of have to hunch over it.  (When we selected our rig, we knew we would make some changes. As built, the front living room has two equal slides out across from each other. In each one is a foldaway queen size air bed, which in folded up, is a medieval torture device disguised as what could loosely be described as a “couch”. Here is a photo taken at the RV show where we first saw it. – Lee)

as-built

We knew when decided to buy it that we would be either ordering it without the right hand couch, or removing that couch, in order to put in a desk, because we knew that we would need an actual desk to work at, instead of the makeshift desk areas that full timers often have. Little did we know that that was going to be a much bigger problem. If you look at the right hand couch, where the couch meets the floor what you can’t see is that the slideout bottom is not level with the floor. It’s actually up about 6 or 7 inches. That’s much better illustrated in this picture taken when our rig arrived, without the couch. – Lee

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I won’t bore you with all the details of the desk build, but here’s a picture of it after it was finished.
If you like, you can read all about it here.

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And here’s a picture of Hobie on the desk, just because.  

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So the problem with having the desk in the slideout and having the floor under the desk 6 or 7 inches higher than the floor where the chair sits is that when you sit at the desk, and belly up to the front edge of it, your feet have to be up that high, which is really uncomfortable. If you don’t believe me, try it sometime. Sit right up against a desk, and get your feet flat, but up 7 inches. Incredibly uncomfortable. If you want to have your feet on the same level as the chair, then you can do that, but then in order to be close enough the desk to use it, you have to swing the chair sideways and it at a 45 degree angle to the desk, and then there’s nowhere to rest your left elbow, and your head is turned to the right. I know it might sound like a big deal, but imagine doing that for 4, 5, 6, 8 hours. It’s brutal. As illustrated in the image below. – Lee) 

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Long hours of editing do cause him some back pain and he’s been trying to figure out a solution for some time

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Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Why not just get a keyboard drawer?”. Well, sure, that would allow me to sit back away from the edge of the desk, and be oriented correctly, and all that, but those things are flimsy, and usually just big enough for the keyboard. Nowhere to rest my wrists or elbows. Why would you want me to live like that? What did I ever do to you? No, I needed to extend the entire desktop back to allow me to sit under it and have enough room for the keyboard (a large old school buckling spring keyboard) my giant mouse pad, and my wrists and elbows. Originally I was going to build a light aluminum frame and have the entire desk top on a sliding rail that I could pull back, but that turned out to be way to be much build, because of the weight. Instead I finally decided to just build a desktop extension, in the style of a keyboard drawer, but bigger. 33″ wide by 20″ deep. What was bugging me the most was what to use as the “desktop”. I didn’t want to try to match stains, so I thought I would just go with a solid black, or white. But pre-made shelving material would be too thin and would bow, and I didn’t want to have to build any supporting framework. AND I doubted I could find it in the dimensions I was looking for. Plus I was concerned about the front edge being sharp and uncomfortable, and I don’t have a router to round off the edge. So I went to Home Depot in Laredo to wander around and see what I could find. I toyed with the idea of oak stair tread, because it has a nicely rounded nose, but it was really heavy, and still not deep enough. I was almost ready to give up when it occurred to me that I might be able to use counter top, as I did with the desktop. Not only did I find the exact same color and pattern counter top I used for the desk, but it was also on sale for 25% off since they are discontinuing it. I was able to get everything else I needed, and the next day I cut and primed the pieces and let them dry overnight so today I could finish up.  

The filing drawer boxes I use as desk pedestals are plastic, and while they are designed to hold a LOT of paper and stack up to ten high (!!!) all of their strength is for downward pressure. And it’s a pretty soft plastic, so I wasn’t wild about the idea of putting screws or bolts in them to hold the slides. The slides are 50lb capacity (I have very heavy elbows) and I didn’t think that plastic would hold up over time.

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So I used 1/2″ sanded plywood panels that I primed and painted black and bolted to them by just drilling straight through and using fender washers to spread out the pressure on the wood and the plastic inside the drawer boxes. I used 1/4″ hardware. Pretzel piece for scale.


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The shape of the drawers themselves allowed for plenty of clearance between the drawer and the box for the washer and nut. In the picture below you can see the panel already attached, and the line of dust inside the drawer shows the space between the drawer and the box itself, allowing plenty of room for the nut.  (The dust is so you can see how dusty it is here in oil field land.)

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He attached a wood piece to the side of the filing cabinets

I only painted the visible parts of the side panels. Reflective vest for safety. 

And bolted them in

Bolted left panel

Then he taped the piece of counter top

I used gaff tape on the surface of the counter top because I read somewhere that it helps keep the laminate from chipping and/or cracking when you cut it. It worked, except for the rounded front, where a little piece chipped off, but I can glue it on.

And cut it to the size we needed. Just big enough to fit the keyboard and mouse with pad

Notice I am wearing safety glasses. Always safety first.

He attached these medium duty sliders

These are the medium duty slides. You can see a little sloppy primer paint on the work surface, but Tracy can easily peel that off.

And then slid it in

With both side panels on, and the slides attached, the desktop extension slid right in. The slides are soft close, which is nice, because all you have to do is give it a push, and they suck the extension back in and hold it in place so it doesn’t slide out while traveling.

He was so happy it worked!!!

So happy it worked!!! And the chair arms slide just under the extension perfectly.

So here's the before

So here’s the before, with the awkward angles.

And the after

And the after

The monitor slides on this bar in the back and can be adjusted

The monitor mount is an Ergotronand allow the monitor to be placed anywhere I want, including pan, tilt, and rotation.

And the final result, a strong, large, functional desktop extension that either of us can sit at for hours without back, neck, or shoulder pain. Look how happy I am. 

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Here’s what it cost:

4′ section of counter top          $ 42.00
Drawer slides                             $ 16.98
2′ x 4′ sanded plywood             $ 15.95
Quart primer                             $   7.64
Quart black paint                      $ 12.97
2 paint brushes                         $   6.96
Nuts, washers, bolts                $   5.12

Total cost                                 $ 107.62

Here’s what I used:

Measuring tape
Circular saw
Speed square
Yardstick (as a straight edge)
Phillips screwdriver
Cordless drill with 1/4″ bit
7/16″ ratchet wrench
Torpedo level
Gaff tape (duct tape is for amateurs)

 

This project took several hours, and when he was outside working I edited a short video.  Lee taught me how to edit many years ago on a program called Pinnacle, but now he is using Adobe Premier Pro so I need to learn the new interface.  Editing is quite a bit like playing music and I am good enough to play Mary Had A Little Lamb, but not much more than that.  Still, it was enough that I was able to take an 11 minute video down to 5 minutes and from there Lee took it down to 3.  I wanted it because I thought I should show you a little bit about what my life was like before.  I have no intention of sharing those videos, mostly because other people’s home movies are pretty boring, but this particular video, which is of me cooking dinner really spoke to me in several ways.  Before I get into all that though, take a look, if you are so inclined.  If nothing else you’ll get to see the “old” me.  This is from October of 1999 so it’s really going back.

 

So why this video? Well, first I think it’s interesting that I am doing something as mundane as cooking dinner, and cooking a meal that years later had made it to my recipe book.  Sirloin tips and noodles is my own creation and was always one of the kids favorites.  (I am not a fan. I think it’s icky, and she used to make me eat it all the time. I shot the video to use as evidence in her commitment hearing. – Lee)  My middle daughter Kate, who was setting the table in the video, loves it to this day, and feeds it to her husband all the time. (Proof that she doesn’t really love him, and only married him because he’s funny. Because as she herself says, “All the handsome and smart ones were already taken.”  Which is a perfectly acceptable reason to marry someone. – Lee)   That’s a bit surreal.  Also, I love how I say in the video “I’ll be fascinated by this when I am watching it when I am old and grey.”  I think I was being sarcastic at the time, but it turns out I am fascinated. (In accordance with prophecy. – Lee) 

I’ve talked quite a bit about how I have loved rediscovering my joy of cooking, and this video shows me at least how I lost it.  Cooking for a family is nice, and obviously they were appreciative, but doing something a million times and with all that going on, it wasn’t really always fun.  No time to get creative, just get the food out and as efficiently as possible.  (And in large quantities. All of our girls ate like football players. – Lee) And to broaden that point a little I can’t help but think how different my life is now.  It’s not just the physical, although eye surgery and a short haircut were no small thing.  It’s not just the place, although I had forgotten how much I loved that house, we left it when we moved to New Hampshire.  It’s how different my life is, but how similar I am in many ways. I didn’t realize how much of my personality had formed at 35.

I do realize some of this we would have gone through normally without becoming a full-time RVers.  Empty nest changes things for sure and having three kids in three different states would have made for lots of two people meals.  We definitely would have eaten out more and “family dinners” would have largely been a thing of the past.  Boy, I am having a hard time explaining this. The major difference is the lack of obligation.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved my kids and feeding them was part of the job, but there wasn’t always joy in it.  Now I make a meal and it’s fun and there is usually joy, even when things don’t turn out that great.  I’ve talked about this before, but it’s definitely worth saying again, my life didn’t always have much joy.  I was satisfied, I was even happy, but pure joy…well there wasn’t a lot of time for that.

I was doing a whole lot of “checking off the boxes” in my life. Make the dinner, clean the house, go to work, raise the kids.  They were all part of my job, a job I knowingly signed up for, but a job nonetheless. Mostly I felt good about the job I was doing.  I thought things were going well, and they were.  But that woman in that video could no more have imagined this life than taking a trip to the moon.  Actually that’s not true.  Since I was an avid science fiction reader I could have pictured going to the moon!

So how does it make me feel? Incredibly blessed.  I am grateful for that life, and extremely grateful for the beautiful children I have, but this lifestyle (despite its challenges) is such a gift.  I wouldn’t go back, by the way and tell that woman what was going to happen.  Some things just need to play themselves out, and I think every moment of that life, made this one possible for me.  Even making a dinner of sirloin tips and noodles.

Oh, and by the way, the cow plate was this special plate we had that didn’t match any of our other dishes.  Whoever did something nice that day, or had something special happen to them that day, got to use the cow plate for dinner  My decision making process was a little arbitrary, to be sure, but I think it’s interesting I never gave the cow plate to myself except maybe on my birthday.  My whole life is the cow plate now 🙂


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

First Time Gate Guarding – Days 31 and 32

Day 31

No one showed up to fix the gate in the morning, but that’s OK because we had our handy dandy Jim Jamb in place.  Plus, I can’t stress how much of a game changer opening just one half of the gate has been.  So much easier!  Plus the heat broke and it’s a beautiful 75 degrees as I am writing this with a nice wind and just wonderful to be outside.  The weather really has been mostly great.  As New England is getting pounded with snow and school closures it is not lost on me how big of a deal it is not having to deal with that kind of weather anymore.  I spent many years driving an hour plus each way to work in crazy weather.  That’s all gone and I am truly grateful for it.  Being able to mostly follow the weather has been a huge benefit of the lifestyle and one which has a day-today impact on the quality of our lives.  It’s also not something we ever take for granted, so I wanted to take a moment to mention it.

I also wanted to talk a little bit about the videos.  Lee has managed, despite everything going on, to keep creating family videos and the responses from people have been great.  We have lots of footage (going back to 1982) that our friends and family have never seen and needless to say they are having a good time watching it.  He just finished Halloween of 1999 and I think that is my favorite video so far, because it has lots of the kids just playing and ignoring the camera.  Kids are kids and tend to ham it up, but he was able to get some great moments where they were just doing their thing, and it is so fun to watch.  Plus at Christmas that year there is a wonderful moment where I present our oldest (Kyrston) with her first Harry Potter book.  She was skeptical (she was a big Goosebumps fan at the time) and it’s interesting watching me talk her into trying it knowing now what a huge part of our lives it would be later.  All of my girls loved those books and my youngest in particular has practically memorized them.  That moment started what would become some wonderful parenting moments involving reading and talking about the books, watching the movies together, and ultimately visiting Universal Studios with my youngest and watching her get tears in her eyes as a teenager as she saw what was in her imagination come to life.  Amazing.

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Kay standing in front of the Hogwarts Express

Lee got to experience it a second time with our middle daughter

Lee got to experience it a second time with our second daughter, Kat. Can’t put a price on that smile.

I love books and I married a guy who loved books also, but it wasn’t a sure thing that our kids would also be avid readers.  It takes some work getting kids to read in an electronic age and you need to find something that really speaks to them and then feed that interest until eventually it expands into other things.  First Goosebumps, and then Harry Potter helped us do that, and it was one of my proudest moments as a parent when we were downsizing to become full timers and the kids took so many of our books. These videos are helping me remember those moments, and it’s really been wonderful to watch many of them. In all fairness it’s a somewhat sanitized version of things as Lee usually takes out those moments when we were not at our best, but at this time in my life I am totally fine with that.

I’m mentioning all this because it’s an important benefit of gate guarding that I don’t want to get lost.  Our contract specifically states, “When not logging in vehicles, Contractor may engage in personal activities including sleeping, eating, reading, watching television, household chores, or other legal personal activity.” and even goes so far as to say “such personal activities may comprise the majority of the contractor’s time”. That’s pretty specific and I think it makes it clear that we are not “getting away with anything” by doing this personal stuff, but the understanding that that  is how it works is built into the job.  Generally, from what we have read, the less personal time the higher the wage.  For example, our friend down the road is on a very busy gate and their rate is much higher than ours. Rates also go up if the weather is particularly inclement.  The Oklahoma jobs for example pay higher, because they get snow up there, and of course tornado season.  So we definitely get that the rate and the weather/activity level is linked and as independent contractors we agree with the approach.  The problem, as we recently discover, is what happens when the rules change?

The contract is very specific about that as well, stating that we need to perform our duties to any safety or quality specifications set by the landowner or oil company.  That’s totally fair, and since this is a new versus well established gate we recognize that to some extent we are running into normal start up issues.  But what if they told us we needed to pick up trash around the gate because it was a quality issue?  In some cases we have heard folks are forced to wear full PPE gear in the hot conditions and this is definitely a factor that leads people to not take these jobs.  Many people absolutely refuse to take gates in West Texas at all because of issues with illegal immigrants. These are all factors, and as newbies we are learning what we are willing to do and for what money.  That’s not only normal but also healthy, in my opinion, and understanding what a big deal the “free time” is to us, especially at this rate, is a good thing.  It was a little painful getting there, which is more a function of our personalities than the nature of the events, but that’s OK too.  Personal growth is always a little painful.

Tonight ended up ending the busiest I have been in a while.  Lots of large sand trucks coming in and out about every 15 minutes starting at around 2:30 am.  I still had time to get lots of work done on my recipe book though, and I am very close to getting the pictures loaded.  There are a couple of recipes I never took pictures of, so I will have to go back and remake those, but not a huge deal.  Also, no one ever came to fix the gate, but the guy from the construction company did stop and tell me he had put in a work order for some guys to come out, but they had been sent on another job.  I’m just glad that Lee found a workable solution.

Day 32

The day started off nice with a cool breeze but a little sun and almost perfect temps.  The wind kicked up a little though and since no one came to fix the gate, I was happy the Jim Jamb was still operating well.  Lee has also added a piece of rebar on the  side so that you can swing that portion of the gate open and stand closer to the RV when the big trucks come through.  I like that a lot.  The ranch owner stopped by around lunchtime and made a point to come over and talk to me.  He saw what we had done and apologized for not finishing  the conversation with us  yesterday.  That really surprised me, but I also appreciated it.  He also said that it was obvious what we were doing was working and to go ahead and drill holes in the gate if we needed to.  I told him that was OK, they would come out and give us a permanent fix eventually, but this would definitely work with the clamps in the short-term.  I did appreciate what he said, but I am also very glad we have a solution that didn’t involve spending money or doing anything permanent to the gate.

When Lee was done with his lunch, I finally went and got a haircut.  As you can see from the video yesterday my hair was pretty out of control so I went to the only local place in town.  It was interesting because the only person who worked there spoke very little English and despite the run down look of the place from the outside, it was very nice inside.  This is the third time I have gone and there is always so much of a wait I leave, but this time I absolutely decided to stay.  There was a handwritten sign on the door that said out to lunch for 30 minutes, but I had no idea if I was in the beginning or end of that cycle.  Thankfully it was a very short wait and I was second in line once she started again.  Part of why it takes so long is she really takes her time, which is nice, and I was very pleased with both my haircut and the price of $18.  You might think getting your hair done by someone who speaks little English is risky, but I have done it a few times and evidently my haircut speaks for itself.

I wanted to take a moment and talk about that actually.  Before we went on the road I got what I think of as my “adult hair” and boy this has been an easy haircut to maintain.  It wasn’t easy to come by though.  In 2012, I actually spent $250 on a hair transformation experience in Vegas to get to this place and I am very glad that I did.  I never, ever came close to paying that much for a haircut, but when I went short I wanted something that would look good on my face, so I was willing to pay for a high end salon at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.  It was worth every penny as I only had a general idea of what I was looking for and the stylist cut my hair 5 times to get it exactly right. Let me just show you.

The hair I had for 20 years. It never loked the way I wanted and I was always fighting with it

The hair I had for 20 years. It never looked the way I wanted and I was always fighting with it.

The salon and VERY attractive stylist who did my hair

The salon and VERY attractive stylist who did my hair.  He had done Reba McIntyre’s hair the week before and the guy was really good.

The finished product

The finished product

Now of course it would never look like that again, because I am just not that good with hair, but I told him that and he showed me some easy techniques to make it manageable.  Paul Mitchell Extra-Body Styling Foam  is awesome.  Throw some in, and a quick brush and go.  Lee and I were both worried though that the Super Cuts I used in Keene would not be able to maintain the style, but it turned out that was really easy.  And ever since, I have been able to maintain this haircut with relative ease.  I have had my hair cut by male barbers, in Mexico, Super Cuts, Great Clips, and small town places all over the country and it’s never been an issue.  Even easier once I gave up worrying about the dye and just let it be the color it was.  So hair doesn’t have to be a big drama when you got on the road, you really just need to find the right cut for you.  And I love, love, LOVE this hair because it’s easy to manage and almost always looks good as long as I keep it trimmed.  After 40 years of being unhappy with my hair, what a gift it was, and worth every penny.

Today's version!

Today’s $18 haircut!

On the way home I also stopped at the store and picked up a couple grocery items I needed to take pictures of some food for the recipe book.  One recipe was Deb’s Olive Oil ice cream which is essentially vanilla ice cream lightly drizzled with olive oil and a few flakes of sea salt on top.  I know it doesn’t sound good, but if you have never tried it, oh my…so good.  In order to recreate the dish I had to take one for the team and get the ice cream and then of course I had to taste it and make sure it was as good as I remembered.  It was actually better.  Check out my food photography below.  I am getting pretty good at it I think, but I may have to buy some more and take some more pictures just to be on the safe side lol.

Deb's Olive Oil Ice Cream

Deb’s Olive Oil Ice Cream

It was a nice day and was capped off by a lunar eclipse around 6:42.  It didn’t look like an eclipse so much as a shadow across the moon but still, pretty cool. It wasn’t that dramatic, but since those things often happen when we are in the wrong spot or on a cloudy night I was really glad we got to see it.  I’m very excited we will be in the solar eclipse path this summer.  I haven’t seen one of those since I was a little kid.

ymoon


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First Time Gate Guarding – Day 30

Day 30

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday that was a pleasant surprise was we found out they had instituted a change with the water vendor, I’m assuming at least partially  based on what happened with us.  Going forward they are going to have the company scrub and sanitize the fresh water tanks quarterly (they changed their contract with them) and it will be done onsite so the gate guarding folks can watch it being done.  Very cool and so nice to know we were heard.  We also got a visit from our company support person and he brought us some donuts when he brought the water and said thanks for doing a great job.  That was really nice.  Speaking of water, we did really well this week only using about half a tank.  The X factor appears to be how many sinks full of dishes we do, and because we went out one night, and I cooked less, we didn’t do dishes every day.  Also the new popup canopy Lee bought for $50  is working great.  It extends our shade coverage during the hottest part of the day, which is much needed.

You can see the shde square it throws

You can see the shade square it throws

If it's not windy we can have both the tent and the awning

If it’s not windy we can have both the tent and the awning which gives us even more shade

And the new tent was up just in time, because the day started out pretty hot, and by 2:00pm it was 93 degrees with a cloudless sky.  I worked outside between 1:00pm and 2:45pm and got so hot Lee had to make me take a break and come inside in the AC.  It’s fine in the shade, but this new policy forces us into the sun for longer periods and the gusty hot wind didn’t help as I was struggling with the heat.  Pretty soon I was sweating and feeling pretty flushed.  On the plus side. my legs will be getting that sun I was looking for, but I may need to bust out some sunscreen as this sun is quite intense.  Thanks for all the great suggestions on how to solve the gate problem by the way! (We think we have a winner, but I’m going to test it first before I make the big announcement. – Lee) Lee has a call in to the ranch owner to get permission to make this very minor modification to the gate, and our Account manager seemed pleased that we were trying to help solve the problem.  I am also glad I took my rings off because my hands got caught in the gate a couple of times.  The combination of heavy gate, gusty winds, and sweaty hands isn’t the best.

Right as I was typing that last sentence, the ranch owner stopped by and I went outside to handle trucks while they talked about the gate.  Lee was just starting to explain it when the oil company man coincidentally showed up.  The ranch owner immediately turned away from Lee and started to talk about the problem with the company man, who said he would put drop bars on.  Lee and I were both completely cut out of the conversation.  The ranch owner did ask why the new policy, and the company man stated that it was easier for all their gates to have the same rules.  The ranch owner, to his credit, said he didn’t care if the gate was shut all the time, but was concerned for me since the gates were heavy in the wind, which was nice.  The downside is now we are at the mercy of when/if the company man gets around to it and their solution is not our first choice.  It will actually increase the work load even more. This will require lifting the drop rod, walking each gate over to it’s open position, then dropping the rod before going back and doing the other side.  That will increase the time we spend wrestling with the gate even more on non windy days.  It will probably be the same or a little less on windy days.  Well, it is what it is, but I got to experience first hand what it is like when people make a change to the job you do every day and don’t even ask your opinion.   Not that pleasant of an experience, for us at least. In the meantime, Lee found he can use the chain to hold one side of the gate.  It  involves some bending down, but works in a pinch when it’s super windy.

yimg_0199

yimg_0203

Its hard to get the hook on the rings but its better than nothing

The ranch owner  had said he would stop and talk to us on the way out, but instead he used the ranch gate, watched me struggle letting a truck in, then took off. No discussion, no update.  Boy, I got mad.  And really, really fast.  And let me be clear, the ranch owner is a nice guy and has been very polite to me, but apparently he had more important things to do and I didn’t need an update.  And that’s what made me angry.  There is a pattern here with these jobs we have been taking (camp hosting aside) where they are hard work, low pay, and the expectation seems to be you will accept the conditions as is and shut up about it.  And for those of you who are perfectly fine with that, more power to you. I finally realized in that moment that I am just not.  I’ve worked plenty of low level positions in my life (security guard, waitress, monitoring station operator, secretary) under way more dire financial circumstances than these and I still felt I had a voice. In these temporary jobs I mostly don’t feel that way.  And you  have to understand that by nature I am a rule follower.  I have to force myself to stand up for myself.  I am much, much better at standing up for others, but generally when it’s me I let things go, and let things go and then blow.  So when I do get worked up enough to say something  I want to be heard. I don’t expect to get my way, but I want my concern acknowledged, and if possible addressed.  I think that’s pretty reasonable, but apparently in this world it’s not.  And I never signed up for that.

Lee of course has no problem at all speaking up for himself and I end up often being the “voice of reason.”  But I am getting pretty tired of that and standing out there in the hot  sun fighting that gate I was really tired of it.  And before I go any further I feel the need to kind of prove my case.  I almost got knocked off my feet a couple times today so let me show you what I am dealing with here.

This is the size of the walkway I use to bring the pieces of gate together

This is the size of the walkway I use to bring the two gates together

 

Around that are these cattle guards and as you can see my foor can easily fall in so I try to stay on the walkway

Around that are these cattle guards and as you can see my foot can easily fall in so I try to stay on the walkway

Running back and forth AND trying to stay on that walkway is tough, plus these gates are heavy for me and when the wind was gusting I almost got knocked off my feet a couple of times.  The scampering back and forth doesn’t help as I really try to be deliberate in where I step.  Basically it’s like walking a balance beam holding something heavy with the wind pushing at you.  And it was very hot.

So I was upset, which made Lee upset, and we started talking about finding another gig.  Work is picking up in the area and since we are at the lowest wage we are pretty confident we could make more money.  Plus, we now know the questions to ask and could make sure we had a gate that fit our needs better.  I was close, I mean  really close, and the only thing that stopped me from calling one of the numerous job opportunities we have seen on the Facebook gate group was the young woman we initially interviewed with.  I like her very much and she has really tried to take care of us and I just didn’t want to do that to her.  So I took a deep breath and went back out to the gate.  I had three or four trucks lined up and  was struggling with the wind when Lee came out and said “Shut the gate”.  Since there were trucks in the general area I didn’t really understand but he quietly said “The company man he needs to  see it.”  (The company man was one of the vehicles waiting. – Lee)  So I brought the gate to center and of course it swung open with the wind, so I ran over to it and the company man saw me struggling.  He pulled up immediately, lowered his window, and said to Lee “The guy behind us is fixing this tomorrow.”  OK then.  And “the guy behind” was one of our favorite guys from the construction company so we got to talk to him a little and ask him if the drop rods he was going to install could be locked in both the up and down position.  No problem.  To his credit he looked pretty upset and he is fixing it first thing in the morning.  Well of course that made me feel better and in the meantime Lee rigged together our “Jim Jam” named after our friend Jim who had the idea.  Pretty awesome, and he even shot some video to show the difference.

Lee fixing the gate for me

Lee fixing the gate for me

He later used two of the smaller clamps

He later used two of the smaller clamps.  The Jim Jam is flexible so I can push the gate but it’s rigid enough that it also keeps it in place when I need it to stay

As you can see I look pretty wrung out, but at this point we had a solution

As you can see I look pretty wrung out, but at this point  I was happy we had a solution to get me through the day

 

So here’s the thing.  The wind problem is solved and more importantly the work associated with opening the gate is somewhat solved because Andy, one of our readers who is a long-time gate guard, suggested we only open half the gate for pickup trucks which honestly never even occurred to me.  We have been doing that all evening and it is waaaaay less work than opening and shutting the full gate.   So I have to ask myself was getting upset worth it?  Would this all have worked itself out if I would have just sucked it up and sat on my feelings? I think the short answer is “no”.  They wouldn’t have put rods on the gate.  Lee wouldn’t have reached out for alternative solutions.  We would have just suffered along and knowing us that wouldn’t have gone well. I think getting angry is OK.  I think not being satisfied with the status quo is equally ok, as long as either state isn’t all the time.  Great change comes from discontent. Almost every invention ever made came from someone being unhappy about something.  So again, it’s totally OK if you’re not a person who gets crazy about these sort of things.  And it’s even OK if you think we are wasting our time or making ourselves unhappy for little gain.  I don’t believe that, and it’s my life and my time.  To the contrary, I think I have to agree with Lee that a little more discontent is called for.  If I was OK with the status quo we would still be living in New England freezing our butts off right now.  The fact that we are not is a good thing even if everything else isn’t perfect.

This is actually the absolute best solution because only opening half the gate is half the work The little trucks (the bulk of our traffic) can drive through this and it forces them to go slow

This is actually the absolute best solution because only opening half the gate is half the work! The little trucks (the bulk of our traffic) can drive through this and it forces them to go slow.  So thanks Andy!!!

Thirty days into the job by the way, and new policy aside it has been fine.  We still have tons of projects to work on and the hours seem to be working OK for us both.  The key for us has been both of us to go to sleep when it’s dark outside.  We did discuss changing that to make the workload more equitable, but neither of us wanted to try to go to sleep when it was light out.  Both of us  have worked third shift a time or two in our past and it never went well.  Our current sleep schedules of 9pm – 4am (Lee) and 4:30am – 12pm (me) are close enough to our regular sleep schedules to make it work. We are really leery of messing with that.  The money is fine as long as we are getting a reasonable amount of downtime and with very few exceptions that seems to be the case.  Hopefully once this gate problem is solved we can go back to things being comfortable.

This wasn’t all we had to do all day by the way.  While all this was happening we were also getting the paperwork filled out for our summer job, which we are pretty excited about.  Because the job is for a large electric company the HR process is pretty involved.  We had to agree to a credit and background check (they said they don’t actually do the credit check, but we don’t care, our credit is great) , coordinate a drug screening and a physical, send three additional references, one of whom needs to be a former supervisor, and sign a non-disclosure. I read the last pretty carefully and it relates mainly to computer programs, processes, and company proprietary information.  I will need to be a little careful when I blog about the job, but it seems pretty clear this language is universally used for the power company employees, which makes sense. Nothing in there about pictures thankfully, because that would be a bummer, so I should be fine as long as I continue  my new policy of not mentioning the company by name. Since we have to print and mail this information (their policy) we are also printing out all the tax information.  All we are missing at this point is one form from Fidelity, but I think I have enough to get started.  Update:  Lee found a free fax service online and “faxed” our email so it was all done before we woke up!!  Nice.

And I found time in the day to read a really outstanding post by our friend Howard from RV-Dreams about balance in the lifestyle. (Howard and Linda are at the big RV show in Columbus, OH, this weekend, by the way, doing free seminars on full timing. If you’re in Cbus you should go to the show. Attend a seminar. Meet Howard and Linda. Buy an RV. Sell all your junk, quit your job and hit the road. Or just tell them we said Hi! – Lee) He talks about the need to really look at work/life balance and the fact that even after 12 years they need to keep an eye on things.  The post reviews their balance history and spoke to me on many levels and as is often the case with his posts they come at a very good time.  We need to remember that we are only a couple years into this lifestyle and obviously we still don’t have it figured out.  (Not me. I have it all figured out. – Lee) And that’s OK, because even people who have been doing this a lot longer still make adjustments.  It’s comforting and I really appreciate the fact that he wrote this.  And finally, just to show the day wasn’t all pain and misery here are a couple pictures of some lighter moments.  When the sun went down, things were much, much nicer.

I ,made Lee a new recipe ham and bean rollups. His response why are you serving me prison food lol. They weren't that bad

I made Lee a new recipe;  ham and bean rollups. His response “Why are you making me eat me prison food?”  lol. They weren’t that bad, but his reaction made me laugh. (This is her idea of “lighter” and “not pain and misery”. – Lee)

And we had a beautiful sunset

And we had a beautiful sunset


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