September Swan Song of Sorts

September means big changes.

When you’re a kid, or parenting kids, the hazy lazy days are gone in favor of new folders and new clothes and new routines. When you’re old like me and living in sweltering southern Texas, it means that for the first time since April, you can look forward to the weather improving! We’ve broken 100 degrees 40+ times this summer and we’ll continue to (according to Channel 4) for another week or so, but the 90’s are beckoning and there’s even a distant promise of 80’s in the long-range forecast.

September also means other changes here at Fork. When I began writing 3 years ago, I felt as if I’d traveled through some weird worm hole and landed on an entirely different planet. I knew nothing about Texas, nothing about the oil field, and not as much about myself as I’d thought. Every day was well … weird, so I had a lot to write about.

We worked with a lot of Cajun speakin’ Louisiana boys for the first year and a half and I couldn’t understand about half of what they said in the beginning. When I did get it right, it didn’t really matter because I didn’t know anything about the oil business so I had no idea what they were talking about anyway.

I didn’t like getting dirty. I hated hot weather and I was jumpy about things like spiders and javelinas and coyotes and scorpions and rattlesnakes and wild hogs.

Three years later, I’m not at all surprised when someone wants to show me their pot-bellied pig or pet tarantula.

I’m not even surprised when, like yesterday, I wake up to find a rattlesnake adorning our gate.

It’s just another day in the oil field.

I can not only talk the talk. I can even code it with a flash light…

to our derrikman through the tiny kitchen window!

We follow a rig so apart from an occasional ornamental snake and Coyote Catering, one day is very much like another. That doesn’t leave me replete with fascinating material (clearly, as I’ve now written about tearing my meniscus 3 times).

I’ve made multiple mistakes as a blogger.

I didn’t know anything about blogging so I let other bloggers tell me how to write:

  • If it isn’t 1000 words long, it isn’t worth writing about. Now that was BAD advice. I read a fair number of blogs, and unless the writer is a professional blogger or exceptionally gifted, when I see 1000 words, I move on down the road. That’s just way to long for me.
  • Never write about politics or religion (or anything controversial). I’ve followed that principle for all this time. Things are changing. My blog – my topics.
  • Stay true to your readers. People started reading Fork because it was about Gate Guarding so you have to stick with that. Well, as a general rule, that’s probably true. You build a readership that’s content based so if you change your content, you alter your readership.

However, here’s my problem. I set out to write about my experiences but after 3 years (and the NDA) it’s become more of a blog about me than a blog by me. As a result, I rarely write because I’ve lost interest in it and I can’t imagine it’s interesting to anyone else either. Some of you are just in too deep to quit I guess!

It’s September and it’s time for a change. I love my job – weird, I know, but I do love it – however I’m tired of reading and writing about it.

You know that Yogi Berra quote:

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

I’m at a fork. I’m not sure where this Fork will lead but I have to either put the blog to bed or take a different path. So I plan on trying another path for a while. If it leads us somewhere, I’ll keep going and if not, then it’s been a fun ride!

The Day a Star Danced

Happy 4th of July!



If you work on an oil rig, or any night job, or just don’t like loud noises, you likely won’t be seeing fireworks tonight so I’m including some. This is a lovely version of The Star Spangled Banner performed by Sandi Patti and The Boston Pops (click on bottom right corner after starting for full screen).



Today there are celebrations going on all over the country and for a very, very  l o n g  time, Heidi thought they were all celebrating her! Talk about a kid with great self-esteem! If you know Heidi at all, you know how appropriate it is that she was born on the 4th of July!

There was a star danced, and under that was I born.                  ~ William Shakespeare



Happy Birthday, Heidi!



It takes a long time to grow young. ~ Pablo Picasso



You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. ~ C S Lewis



God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well. ~ Voltaire

Be Prepared

This gate guarding business isn’t a complicated job. The environment is our primary challenge.



Given that, it pays to be prepared. I’ve already gone through all of the weapons in our attack and conquer closet but there are also practical, everyday ways to be prepared – or so I’m told (by Heidi).

I was in Brownies. I liked it quite a lot. (I’m the one on the left w/o glasses.) This picture was taken in 1966 as you could probably guess from the car across the street. It was the summer before I turned 10. I think we were marching in the 4th of July parade (there were more than 2 of us – the rest of the troop must have been somewhere else). 😀



I can’t remember why I only was in Girl Scouts for 1 year but I apparently it wasn’t in long enough to fully absorb the always Be Prepared Scout motto.

Heidi, who dropped out of Girl Scouts after 1 week because they wouldn’t let her light her own Bunsen Burner, was born with Be Prepared tattooed on her brain. She was the kind who would start her term paper the day the assignment was announced and have it done weeks ahead. She used to be an English teacher so you get the picture.

Heidi has a system for everything. She asked the Safety guy to redesign the log sheet, despite the fact this oil company has a standard form that everyone uses. He did! I guess her constant supplies of baked goods are persuasive. 😀

She Velcroed a pen and a clock to the clipboard. It couldn’t be easier.



And in case of rain, she has a separate, waterproof  container to keep the log sheet and pen in.



Rain has been a new thing this year. We didn’t have any last year. As y’all know, the drought in Texas was terrible.

It’s been raining lately. A lot in the sense that it’s rained a lot of times, not a lot at a time (with a couple of exceptions). One minute the sun is shining and the next minute the sun is shining (it refuses to give up down here) but it’s also pouring.



Anyway, when we’re anticipating a weather event, which is what locals call rain, Heidi get’s everything ready. She bungees down the lights. She has a dozen boulders anchoring down the fake grass carpet to keep it in place. She keeps her rain coat in the closet, right inside the door, and an extra set of dry clothes and shoes ready to change into.

All day long, even during weather events, she works while I sleep and things go seamlessly.

Heidi goes to bed early – 7-ish.

Then I have a weather event, like yesterday. I’d forgotten to get dry clothes. I have a jacket but I didn’t take the time to put it on. I forget about the special blue case. All the ink ran and the page was so wet the pen ripped right through it.



I have no explanation, really.



I blame it on being a Girl Scout drop out.



This is the last portion of the English translation of  Robert Burns’ poem To a Mouse which could also be rightly be retitled ‘Ode to an English Teacher’:

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

That was then…

The move, which was scheduled for Tuesday and changed to Thursday, took place on Wednesday. We’re still on the same ranch, between Yoakum (population 5400) and Cuero (population 6500).

We were at a gate right by a major highway. The definition of a major highway in southeastern Texas is a road that has two lanes instead of one and has asphalt instead of caliche or hard pack.

In our auspicious career as gate guards, we’d only worked with two companies. We spent almost a year following a rig with an oil company until they stacked last November. We subbed for a vacationing couple for two months.

Now, we’re once again following a rig and so is the caliche with another company.

For those of you who aren’t a part of the gate guarding community (which isn’t remotely like a gated community) there are a variety of jobs. Working with a drilling rig is all that we’ve done, with the exception of our first 3 1/2 weeks, guarding a water tank in Tilden.

If you’re assigned to a drilling rig, you stay with them through one hole. Some folks stay on location from drilling through fracing. Some follow the rig. Following the rig isn’t a given. If the Company Man (Men) like you, they may ask you to stay with them when they finish drilling and move to the next site. If you like them, you may want to go. If it isn’t a good match, the rig moves on and the gate guards go back to the yard to wait for another assignment.

This is our second hole with 441. It seems like it’s going to be a good match. At the first gate, we were about a mile from the site.


We couldn’t see the rig, even at night, through the tangle of mesquite. I drove back once to pick up dinner. I went into the Safety Trailer by mistake, but I guess if you’re going to go in the wrong trailer on an oil rig, the Safety Trailer is probably the best one to stumble into. 😀

We’re on a 200 acre ranch that has multiple activities going on. Being on the gate, on the highway, meant we handled the traffic for all 6 sites. It was crazy busy. I was really happy it was March instead of July!


For 5 weeks it was kind of like those videos you see of traffic cops standing in the middle of the street, blowing their whistles and wildly waving their arms. That was then…



We moved about a quarter of a mile on Wednesday, and into an entirely different world.


This is now…

I think you’ll have to double click on this photo to get a perspective.



The white trailer in the right hand corner is where the drilling crew stays (12 guys, two weeks on, two weeks off). You can sort of see the our big green septic tank just in front of the tree on the right. We’re maybe 8 yards from the actual pad. It’s an unusual location. We’re sandwiched in between the guys and the rig. They walk on and wave.

It’s certainly quite a view! We’ve been close before, but never this close. If we were any closer, they’d have to issue us hard hats and protective clothing!

For those of you who read Fork for stories of pigs on pokes and cows on the carpet, there will be more of those to come. In this business, it’s pretty unusual to be quite this close to the action, so I’ll likely do another post with just photos, then it’s on to the tale of the three tails.

Lessons From a Laundromat

We made the big 1/2 mile move today. Technically yesterday. My days are really afternoons and nights. I went to bed at 10 instead of 5 a.m. and I’m oddly off kilter tonight. The move went without a hitch  (or rather, the hitch worked just swell) and we only had one minor mishap. I’ll write about that when I can think in whole sentences again.

This shot clearly was not taken anywhere near Cuero, which is our closest city (pop. 6500). I wrote this a while back on a short-lived blog I started in Oregon.

The lessons continue, even if I no longer have to go to the laundromat (oh, and I am 55 now so I hope I’ve done some changing). 😀


I made my weekly trip to the Laundromat. Surprisingly, I was the only person who choose to spend their sunny Saturday afternoon soaking and tumbling at the Duds and Suds. Since I forgot my book, I resorted to my typical fall-back mode of ‘straightening things’. It’s actually a pretty clean laundromat, so all I could think of to do was organize – maybe even alphabetize- the magazine rack.

Shuffling the magazines, I found quite a variety of reading materials:
The Holy Bible (KJV)
Our Daily Bread
The American Legion
Allen Brother’s (The Great Steakhouse Steaks)
ACLU: At War with America
Freedom 1st
The New Yorker
Popular Science
Handy: The Handyman Club of America
Cigars International
The Progressive Farmer
Voice of the Martyrs

My first thought was: I’ll bet the folks who donated these wouldn’t much like each other. I’m afraid the reason I thought that will become too clear in another paragraph. It’s always easy for me to make obvious, or even profound life applications for others.

There are those whom I know that read The Daily Bread that think the ACLU is the devil’s spawn (literally), and believe AARP is almost as evil. I also know folks who order from Cabala’s and have nothing but scorn for anyone who would read Popular Science.
I don’t know anyone (as far as I know) that reads The Progressive Farmer, so I have no idea how they might feel about Allen Brother’s Steaks.
But the small-minded, bigotry just jumps right out at you, doesn’t it?

And there I stood, thinking that exact thing. I started thinking about whether or not I would like the people who donated certain selections. Really, Debbie? Based on what magazines they read?

I found myself drowning in the misconception that other people should share my enlightened views. And if not, well, possibly they wouldn’t make very charming dinner companions.
Funny that I remember feeling that way at 15 and 25 and 35 and 45 and since I’m not 55 yet, maybe this is the time for a change.

Change doesn’t come as easily to me in the rest of life as it does at the Laundromat. There my old currency is converted into something shiny and useful and helpful with the power, along with just a tiny bit of potion, to cleanse and restore.

I’m ready to change. I don’t want to read a bumper sticker and think: Doubt he’d be my cup of tea or form opinions of people based on their yard signs. The rush to judgement that I have to keep in check is the sign of a very small heart  in a very large world.

Change. It’s time for some. The old still has it’s place, there’s room for so much new.

Any time I think I have the corner on the truth, it’s probably time to take a different fork in the road!

Just For the Joy of It!

Sprinkle joy.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Texas is nothing like Canada… nothing.

I never need a hoodie or tie a blanket around my shoulders. I haven’t seen a single glacier or worn plaid pants.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Banff – as you can see from the photo.

But here I am on Easter weekend in HOT southern Texas, working on (well. almost on) an oil rigl, posting a you tube clip that’s essentially a visit to Alberta, Canada.

Easter on a rig means we’ve have a heaping baskets of candy for the guys and we’ll be feted with a steak dinner Sunday night. Otherwise, we’ll work, just like we every other day of the year.

As a matter of fact, this looks to be our busiest weekend ever as fracing is starting today on one site and a new drilling rig is scheduled to move in on another.

In the midst of all the dust and grit and 90+ degree temps, I thought you might like to sit back with me, take in some beauty and breathe.

Earth is crammed with heaven.  ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If you’ll click on the bottom right corner of the clip you can enlarge it to fill your whole screen in High Def. A stunning reminder of the amazing bits of joy and beauty of in our world!

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood as we continue to wait for a gate.  The neighborhood is ever growing. Our already full lot is now overflowing with RV’s hooked to electric only, out in the middle of the yard, and along the fence line.
I think we’ve managed to catch up on all the things gate guards never quite have enough time for while working. We’ve done the massive mandatory Walmart restock, serious grocery shopping, and gotten overdue haircuts. We’ve gone to the lumber yard twice (what joy!).
The first lumber yard outing was to replace the boards that bounced off the service trailer when Junior was making serious time on the Farm to Market Road. I spent most of  that one in the parking lot visiting with the turkeys. They didn’t fair well at the fair, but they were very conversational in the lumber lot. 😉
The second lumber yard trip was to buy a lock for the tool box that sits on top of the ever handy 52 gallons of diesel in the back of the pickup. It has a built-in lock, but since we don’t have a key, Heidi thought she’d add a lock of  her own.
This was a grand idea, in theory, but a bit harder to implement than she’d hoped. We’re a little stymied when it comes to muscle. The neighbors two doors down, John and Linley, are from New Zealand. I think they get the prize for traveling the farthest to work a gate!  John kindly installed the lock.
Lin entertained us with tales of the most isolated gate I’ve heard of yet. It was so remote that Larry, their FS, had to get their grocery list via email and deliver their groceries. They washed their clothes in a bucket with a plunger. Hmm… Nope. I’m not that hardy.
 They’re much better sports than we are. The flower pot potty probably stretched the outer limits of our roughing it! I love the job, but not that much.
Our next door neighbors, Joyce and Bobby D are true Texans. Bobby by birth and Joyce, I believe the saying down here is, Texan by the grace of God. I don’t really get it either, but anyway, they’re waiting for their first assignment. Such a sweet couple!
Those of you who are gate guards know the extensive training program we all go through for our first job. It’s like the line from It’s a Wonderful Life: Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry.
Except at your first gate it’s: Here’s your vest and clipboard, gotta go, I’m in a hurry.
I spent a couple of  hours with them the other night. They had a lot of questions and I tried to cheerfully give them an idea of some of the more routine things to expect. I don’t think it went as well as I’d hoped since Joyce said she had to take an anxiety pill after I left so she could sleep…
And I didn’t even mention the real interesting things like the crock pot full of tarantulas or the pig’s heads on the fence posts.
I’ve re-written my story of the fence post pigs but Heidi says this is already too long so I’ll save it for tomorrow. 😀

Year in Review Part 7 – Country Must Be Country Wide

I don’t listen to the radio a whole lot but I heard this song the other day and I have to say, it pretty well sums things up down here in southern Texas. The video is spot on: from the boots, to the truck that looks like all of our caliche covered vehicles, to the tattoos. I’m adding the video at the end.  I know some of you can’t watch it, so I’m including the lyrics with a bit of  my commentary.

Country Must Be Country Wide  by Brantley Gilbert

Grew up south of the Mason Dixon
Workin’, spittin’, huntin’, and fishin’
Stone cold country by the grace of God

This speaks to my first observation in Shiner – everybody, and I do mean everybody was spittin’. I’ve never seen anything like it, even in the movies. Spitting is a natural thing – natural as in nature.  A walrus spits out a jet of water from it’s mouth into the muck at a clam to blast away the mud. After dinner, the walrus spits out the shells: that’s double spitting.

There are spittle bugs. The babies ones cover themselves in spittle. They don’t just spit, they cover themselves with it. The trajectory of the spit of a grasshopper is legendary. Llamas, which are famous spitters, normally don’t spit at people. They do spit on other llamas when they’re perturbed. Well… baby llamas will spit at people if they’re raised in pens, but otherwise its more llama to llama.

Spitting cobras technically don’t spit. They just squeeze their muscles which sends venom flying from the tips of their fangs. Still, it seems like spitting to me.

I have known a few great spitters. I had a neighbor who used to spit in a coffee tin and an uncle who was a spittoon spitter (hit and miss). I’ve read about the lose 10 pounds in 10 days diet where you chew gum and spit a lot, which I think basically just means you dehydrate.

But in Shiner, with Lantern 16, you couldn’t look out the window or have a conversation without seeing a lot of spitting. There were guys there that chewed and spit, guys that drank and spit, guys that spit sideways and some that spit a yard straight out. There were guys that spit at the end of each sentence and some that waited until the end of the paragraph. No kidding, everywhere you looked, the spit was flying!

I was gasin’ up the other day
An old boy pulled up with a license plate
From Ohio; thought “Oh, good Lord, he’s lost”

I can’t tell you have often someone’s said: Say, y’all come down hair (here sounds like hair) from one of them vowel states up north, dent ya?  Not being able to  remember if we’re from Iowa or Idaho or Indiana or Illinois or Ohio, we’re now from a  newly organized  region of the country called Vowel States.

From his Wranglers to his boots
He reminded me of Chris LeDoux
And that Copenhagen smile
Yeah, country must be country wide

Until I came to Texas, I thought of Copenhagen as the capital of Denmark. In Texas I learned that Copenhagen was the key reason for the excessive amount of spittin’ and the blue plastic cups ( I know the song is Red Plastic Cup, but blue must have been on sale at the Walmart in Gonzales because all the cups were blue in Shiner).  The blue plastic cup also goes a long way towards explaining my need for so much spellin’. Take the average southern guy with a drawl and add a jaw full of chew and find a Yankee who has a clue what he’s sayin’!

I know, no blue plastic cup.- you'll just have to take my word for it. I don't seem to have any in pictures.

In every state, there’s a station
Playin’ Cash, Hank, Willie, and Waylon
In foreign cars and four-wheel drives
There’s cowboys and hillbillies
From farm towns to big cities
There ain’t no doubt in my mind
Country must be country wide

Foreign cars? During our 40 days and 40 nights in Shiner, we may have seen a half a dozen vehicles that weren’t white Ford pickups. You can forget the TV commercials touting Chevy or Dodge as the official truck of Texas. It’s definitely a white Ford!

It ain’t where, it’s how you live
We weren’t raised to take, we were raised to give
The shirt off our back to anyone in need

I’ll come back to this one in a later post. We had no idea, when we began working with the wild guys of Lantern 16, just how true that would prove to be.

We bow our heads before we eat
Before we start our day, before we fall asleep
‘Cause in God we trust, and we believe

Swearin’ and prayin’ frequently came with equal sincerity from the same lips. The guys were always quick to apologize for bad language around us, which I think was their southern way of being respectful.  They seemed both surprised and grateful to know that we prayed for their safety every day.

And we see what’s wrong
And we know what’s right
And ol’ Hank, he said it all
When he sang “Country Folks Can Survive”

These guys were immensely proud of their survival skills, and I have to tell you, they had them. If you were to leave half our crew in a Texas cactus patch for a couple of weeks, I guarantee when you came back, they’d have made cactus jelly and cactus wine (well, maybe it wouldn’t be quite wine in two weeks) and would be roasting a wild boar or rabbit or squirrel over a mesquite fire that they started without matches.

In every state, there’s a station
Playin’ Cash, Hank, Willie, and Waylon
In foreign cars and four-wheel drives
There’s cowboys and hillbillies
From farm towns to big cities
There ain’t no doubt in my mind
There ain’t no doubt in my mind
Country must be country wide


I have a few more stories to tell, but it’s Christmas Eve (morning) and expect ya’ll are busy fixin’ things for the festivities. I’ll add more soon and close wishing you a very Merry Christmas!