Year in Review Part 5 – Oh Shoot!

It’s time to finish up my Tilden tales. I’ll keep it short since the rancher just came by to ask us when the storm is supposed to hit? We typically have no internet when it storms. Our rancher also proudly shared the news that we’re on Lightening Hill. He’s had 5 cows get struck by lightning! His neighbor’s had 6 hit but that was cheating because 5 of them were lined up along the same metal fence!

If you live in certain parts of the country, you talk a lot about weather. As a matter of fact, the weather is a pretty significant topic wherever you live either because it’s just right or just awful.

A year ago, if you happened to be two women and a Schoolde,  living not terribly far from the border in southern Texas on a remote 1500 acre ranch, you’d talk a lot about safety. We spent a little time with the sweetest gate guard couple that were just down the road a ways from us in Tilden. I’ll call them John and Mary.

They felt strongly that we should have a gun, which we didn’t and which we couldn’t  buy in Texas since we weren’t Texas residents.  This isn’t a story about whether or not gate guards should have guns or are allowed to have guns (both are mildly controversial in gate guarding circles). This is a story about what happens when generosity backfires.

I’d been down  looking at John and Mary’s little hatbox satellite dish. We’d been in Tilden for two weeks and still had no internet, cell phone or TV. As often happened, the conversation turned to our safety. They again expressed their alarm at our lack of weaponry and decided the solution would be to loan us their 12 gauge shotgun, since they also had a rifle and had recently shot a 5 foot rattlesnake out in front of their RV.

While I thought this might be a good idea, I didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to be the one handling the gun or getting the instructions, since I do my own stunts and had been rather stunt prone of late.  Heidi headed over to check it out. She grew up hunting and is certainly much more comfortable with guns than I am. Heidi said she’d take a look and go with her gut.

It was about a 4 mile trip on a wash board road to John and Mary’s, so it takes about 15 minutes to get to their gate and back. 20 minutes after she left, Heidi came barreling up to the fence, spraying rocks and laying on the horn, which is SO not like her. I rushed out to open the gate, and she jumped out of the Jeep, wide-eyed, and raced straight into the RV. I was thinking that maybe she was hiding the shotgun under the seat and that Border Patrol was coming?

Turns out, she was hyper-ventilating. In the process of showing Heidi how to use the gun, John stood in the middle of their living room,  released the safety and pulled the trigger to show Heidi how it worked. It worked real well. Mary had gone to Pleasanton, which I’m sure was a good thing since the load shattered their large living room window, passing on through into the Texas tangle of mesquite and cactus.

Neither the discharge of the gun or Heidi’s scream rattled him a bit. John stated in his usual, laid-back fashion: We’ve been needing a new window anyway.

Just then, the bell went off. Mary was back. John looked upset for the first time as he said to Heidi: How am I going to tell her I did it again!?

At this point Heidi’s gut told her that this was a sign we maybe should just lock the doors, keep a watch out for rattlesnakes and see if we could teach Henry how to bark.

Year in Review Part 4 – The Dump Chronicles

Our 3rd day in Tilden,  it was decided that Henry and I should take a drive into town to find the town dump (in addition to not knowing who we worked for, or where the rig was, or now  how to open and shut the RV door, we had no way to dispose of our garbage).  Rather than try to retell the events of that unfortunate place, I’m just going to cut and paste portions of my original posts here.

December 30, 2011

Always game for an outing, Henry settled in the back seat in his bed and off we went to find the city dump. It was a scorcher – 89 degrees! We set out with the windows up – air conditioning full blast.

My directions were to go into town and turn right at Hill Top Cemetery Road and go to the new cemetery. Tilden also has an old cemetery, Boot Cemetery, which is something of a historic landmark. To be buried in Boot Cemetery, it was necessary to not only be dead, 😀  but to be buried with your boots on. As fashions changed, a new cemetery, Hill Top Cemetery was established for the bootless.

Henry and I drove the 5 1/2 miles out our road to the hwy and then around 4 more to the crest of the hill. As we rounded the final corner, I was inexplicably surprised to find out that it was a Port-a-Dump. I jumped out with my camera to take a quick picture! A dump, hooked up to a pickup, now that was something!

It was hot and the flies and bees were buzzing so I threw my camera and keys on the front seat and manually unlocked the back door to grab the trash bags. I kicked the driver’s door shut while reaching for the handle of the back door, almost simultaneously.

Clearly not quite simultaneously since the door slammed and the Jeep locks clicked as I stood, staring at my camera and keys, resting inside. I made a quick, futile trip trying each door and the hatch, in case of malfunction. But no, all locks had latched appropriately. No extra key hidden and no cell phone, all I had was $20 in my pocket.

With a brief explanation through the window to Henry, I set off to begin my 10 mile hike back to the RV, hoping to find someone in town I could pay to take me home. I walked past the cemetery cats and the small herd of cows and grave markers in the shape of cowboys and the great state of Texas.

After about a half a mile, I came to a house with 2 men in the driveway. I sputtered out my story, waving my money and pretty much begging for a ride to the RV for the other set of keys. I nearly cried with relief when Cliff, who’d just returned from deer hunting and was sipping his first beer, said Sure, hop in.

15 minutes later, we made it to the RV. Another 15 and Heidi (she insisted on going because she was sure Henry would be dead) was back at the dump with Cliff to find a man there calling the county sheriff because Some fool has left a small dog locked in a Jeep with the windows shut in the sweltering heat!

In typical fashion, Henry remained unperturbed while Heidi gave him an abundance of water to drink. He was happy to sit in the air conditioning in the front seat but was less impressed with the pint or two of water she poured over his head to lower his body temperature. He pranced into the RV, tail  stump wagging in greeting when he saw me, completely unaware of the peril I’d left him in. I felt awful and gave him lots of extra attention which he  took full advantage of.

December 31, 2011

I was given a second chance to go to the dump to take the garbage I forgot yesterday. Much to my surprise, the dump was gone altogether today. That would have really confused me yesterday but would have been much nicer for Henry! I guess it was time for the pickup to dump the dump. I tied my bags a little tighter and headed back home.

January 14, 2011

Honestly, after 19 days I was beginning to feel a little dump desperate.
I drove out Hill Top Cemetery road to the dump. But, once again, the dump was gone, even though it was 2pm on a Friday and the posted hours are Monday- Friday 10-5.

I made it back to the highway (4 miles) when the dump passed me, going back up HTC road. I turned around and followed until the dump passed it’s parking spot and pulled way back into the landfill, where the dump, dumped. There were 4 pickups waiting back there.

The temperature was 42 and it’d been raining off and on all day, just enough to make the clay/caliche roads really slick. I decided to wait for the dump to return to it’s resting place and began reorganizing the glove box.

I was deeply contemplating whether or not anyone puts gloves in the glove box, when I was startled by a sharp rap on my door. A middle-aged man in all black: hat, jeans, belt, boots, except for his wine-colored shirt, the exact shade of his pickup, signaled for me to put my window down, which I did, just a bit. He said, gold front tooth shining: Is there something we can do for you ma’am?

I answered that I was just waiting to throw away my garbage. He told me to go on back to the spot where the dump was emptying. I said I was afraid I might get stuck in the mud. He assured me that when I got stuck, the guys would pull me out.

That didn’t sound very promising, so I declined and said I’d wait. He told me I was in the way and to pull over by the fence. Maybe 10 minutes later, the dumped sped up the road, mud flying and parked in the usual spot. The gold toothed man drove up next to me, put his window down and said: Just between us, I’d wait to get out til we leave.

Feeling a little creepy I asked if I wasn’t suppose to put my garbage there? He just smiled and said again: I’m just saying, if I was you, I wouldn’t get out til we leave.

At that point I took my leave and decided there are worse things than the smell of  garbage in the back of the Jeep.

So there you have it, the Tilden Dump Chronicles! I never did go back to that special spot. Another gate guard took our garbage back to the dumpster near their rig.

Henry would like to me to add that after being left alone in the RV on Interstate 10; left and lost in the Catholic church parking lot; being locked in the Jeep at the dump in the sweltering heat; being terrorized into constipation by the 19 long-horns and bulls; and finally, being passed in and out of the RV window to do his business, he’s learned to keep his people on a short leash!

Year In Review Part 3 – Cement Sucks

Cement sucks, literally! At least the caliche they use on the roads  here in Texas does!

By now, even if you aren’t a gate guard, if you’ve read any of our blogs, you know most gate guards live in a caliche covered world. They mine caliche right here in Texas. It’s a significant ingredient in cement. During the months and months of drought it covered every surface and swirled about, filling in everything, including my eyes and ears and floating it’s way into my sinus cavities. But in December, last year and this year, the caliche became confused by the rain and began to think it’s supposed to be cement!

The third day on the job, there was some confusion among the truckers. I apparently spent too long at the gate waiting for them to decide whether to come in or not. When I tried to move, off came one Keen (a great beach sandal for Oregon, not quite as appropriate in Texas), followed by the other. Then the greedy grey sticky caliche took off  my right sock. I was a bit off to the side so I nonchalantly rushed (if it’s possibly to rush in a nonchalant way) back into the RV, retrieving my buried footwear after the traffic cleared.

As the days of whine and caliche continued, we took to rotating pairs of shoes. As soon as a pair got dry, one of us would take a hammer to it and dislodge all the caliche and enter that pair back into the rotation.

The hostile cattle continually straying to our gate, caused a problem for the ranchers. They announced it was round-up time. Yippee! A round-up! Now I felt like I was really on a ranch (even though the ranchers drove 5th wheelers)!

But no, they didn’t use cowboys. Cowboys run $75 an hour and it’s another $100 an hour for the horse (I thought they came in sets).

It would take quite a few cowboys and horses to accomplish the task. A helicopter, on the other hand, is only $200 an hour and could get the job done in less than 2 hours! So we had a round-up, helicopter style.


In addition to no cell phone service, no TV reception, no internet and no dry shoes, our 6th day in Tilden meant no RV access. We’d been having a little trouble, from time to time, with the door latch randomly locking itself. But on this particular January morning it was like a poltergeist swept through.

Heidi was at the gate. I started to go outside to find I was locked in. I mean locked, latched and there was no budging it, in! I hollered out to Heidi to see if she could open the door. Nope. She couldn’t get in. Henry and I couldn’t get out.

We started passing things through the kitchen window: keys, a screwdriver, tea, advice. After completely disassembling our door mechanism and finding it still stubbornly locked, we migrated to the front window. First came the step-ladder; then the pricey Camping World leveling blocks that we don’t use for leveling but that have come in handy several times for other things, like making them into a giant yellow Lego platform that day; and finally the little collapsible step which usually serves as a seat but converted into was a much-needed step.

Next in the window was Heidi, who examined the door, made a sweep through the RV, evaluating, and then like Santa down the chimney, back out the window she went. She made a few practice runs in and out in case we had to keep using that option for a few days.

We called the county sheriff’s office to get the name of a locksmith, but the sheriff was ‘in the field’ and didn’t have a phone book. He thought the only one was Pop -A-Lock in San Antonio – not open on Sunday. We called the mobile  RV repair guy in the area and  got his answering machine  – also not open on Sunday!

So, after passing Henry in and out of the window to go to the bathroom, Heidi sat outside in her Gander Mountain chair with a book and some tea and opened and shut the gate. A couple of hours later, Bob, a fellow gate guard from down the road, stopped by to see if we needed anything from town since he was headed in. He took a look at the door and made an attempt to let me out or Heidi in but he couldn’t figure it out either.

When he  got home, Bob called to Larry, our field supervisor, who came roaring in a few hours later. Sugar, why didn’t you call me for help? Larry calls everyone Sugar but it never seems inappropriate. Of course I call everyone Honey, so what do I know. Sounds like the lyrics to an Archie’s song, doesn’t it?

Anyway, Larry crawled in and out of the window for about an hour and a half with his wrench and screwdriver and one of our butter knives. He finally just busted the whole kit and caboodle.


By night fall, we had a nice square hole where the door latch used to be, a crack in the door, a very bent butter knife we used as a temporary latch and a dishcloth to keep the flying things out. It had been an interesting first week. Oh, and I forgot about the disappearing dump. I’ll add that tomorrow and finish up the Tilden Tales.

By the way, I’ve added two more Gate Guard blogs  this week – The Razz Chronicles and RV Texas Gate Guard, which bring the count here to 10, including Fork. Happy reading and  Happy Trails, folks!

Year In Review Part 2 – Tilden and Tall Tales


I’d passed through a Texas a couple of times. Once as a little kid, and once in 2002 for work.  I didn’t come to Texas with many preconceptions. Those first 3 1/2 weeks in Tilden went a long way towards shaping my picture of the state.  A year later I can say that Texas is a big state with a whole lot of variety.  But for now, I’ll just stick to what I learned about Texas in Tilden.

The first thing I saw in Tilden was the grocery store. Joe’s Food Market was a one of a kind store, not just in the sense that it was unique, which it was, but also because it had one of each kind of thing: 1 jar pear cactus jelly, 1 roll of paper towels, 1 slab of pickled pimento loaf, 1 bag of dog food, 1 string of dried red peppers etc… It was kind of pricey but a very friendly little place.

We didn’t stop at Joe’s that first night. We hurried on down the pocked road to our first assignment. A fella I’ll call Bubba, who was the Field Supervisor subbing for Larry, was sitting in his pickup, wearing a cowboy hat, cowboy boots propped on the service wagon, waiting impatiently when we finally rattled and bumped up to the gate just before sunset. Yep, we weren’t in Kansas , Iowa,   Oregon anymore!

Bubba did our initial gate guard training which consisted of handed us a clip board with log sheets, containing the 5 entries he’d made while waiting for us to 1. get a new Jeep battery, 2. find Henry and the lost RV and 3. take the 175 mile short cut.

He said: Y’all just needa do it like I done it and don’t let’em catch you with thar gate open and lockerup anigh  fer your own sakes.

That was it for training. Then he gave us a rather unusual speech about how we’d have to pay a very large fine if we quit the job without giving 2 weeks notice and if we did quit, we’d never work for the government again (kind of odd since this isn’t a government job).

Bubba hooked up the  electric and water and promised someone would be out with the septic in a day or two. We didn’t find out his water pump wasn’t working until after he left. We also didn’t know who we were working for, what we were guarding (frac tank), or what exactly we were supposed to do, except to do it like he done it. I’m not really the just wing it type, so I felt pretty unsettled. More so after Bubba described our ranch.

Bubba was a man of tall tales. He told us we were on an exotic animal ranch with zebras and albino deer and other ‘large game animals’. OK, nothing he said that first evening proved to be true, but it made for an interesting first few days, since we were a pretty afraid of walking more than a few feet from the RV for fear of being eaten by something or shot by someone. Turns out the only exotic animals were cows.

Our “exotic animals”

They weren’t particularly friendly cows though. It was in Tilden that Henry and Heidi developed their Bovinophoia which remains with them to this day. Bubba was right about it being a hunting ranch. The owner, an attorney in Austin, had a $30,000 buck that he kept for breeding. The hunting lodge was just a little ways behind us.

It was a private hunting ranch, for his friends and family. By invitation only, they would come, and for $1500, they would get 3 set shots at a buck. If the shooter missed all 3 shots (unlikely since the deer were fed in designated areas right beneath the blinds), it was up to the discretion of the owner, whether to give them a ticket to return and try again.

I have friends in Iowa and in Oregon who hunt. They eat what they shoot. But to be honest, this Texas type of hunting doesn’t seem very sporting to me. However, I’m a Yankee and I know that hunting ranching are a way of life in parts of Texas. It was  just new to me.

There was only one restaurant in Tilden and eating there meant eating among the trophies. It was a little intimidating. I only ate there once and I didn’t look up much. There were things on the wall, I didn’t even recognize. I’ve become real familiar with Texas wild life since then. But back in Tilden, they were just scary dinner companions.

Most of folks we met on the ranch and in town, drove around with a shotgun on their dash. That was new to me, too. Everyone seemed alarmed that we weren’t armed. After a while, so was I!

Texas! I felt like I’d just crossed into an old Twilight Zone episode.

So began this Yankee city gal’s adventures in Texas. I won’t write any more about hunting. I don’t mean to cause offense or make a political statement. The point is just to highlight how entirely out of my element I was since I used to cry if I ran over a squirrel with my Camry.

Tomorrow, if the internet allows, it’s on to caliche that’ll suck your shoes off and the Disappearing Dump.

Eminent Domain:Is It Unpatriotic To Fight For Your Home?

Things are heating up in Southern Texas, and it’s  not just the temperatures that are rising. The debate it hot!

Tilden, a small, unincorporated community, is the county seat of McMullen County.

McMullen is among Texas’ least-populated counties with only 707 people according to the 2010 Census.

That gate we were guarding south of Tilden was at a salt water disposal well.

We were on a lovely hunting ranch.

We never met the owner, never met The Company Man, never met our Gate Guard boss and didn’t have a clue what we were guarding until after we left.

We knew it had something to do with water. The gate closed out after 3 1/2 weeks.

When we were in Tilden, we also had no idea that there was a battle brewing.

As with any post here at Fork, I’m writing only about my experiences and observations. I’m neither a Texan nor a student of the law, and I certainly don’t own a ranch. I’m just a gate guard, learning as I go. I don’t pretend to know what the outcome of this dilemma should be.

A fierce battle is being waged between The Texas Army National Guard and four McMullen county ranchers.

The National Guard wants to buy 22,232 acres in the county to build a new South Texas Training Center for several nearby battalions, allowing South Texas Guard members to train closer to home.

About five years ago, the Texas National Guard published a study regarding their intent to acquire land in McMullen County, near the Navy-owned Dixie Bombing range.

That was before anyone was tapping the riches of the Eagle Ford Shale! Unfortunately for all involved, the land is right over the hottest oil/natural gas field in the US.

If you remember from the post I wrote earlier about The Eagle Ford shale, it covers a swath about 50 miles wide and 400 miles long. Texas is a big state. The Eagle Ford shale runs through a relatively small portion.

The National Guard wants to acquire a total of 100,000 acres statewide for training sites. About one-quarter of the total proposed land acquisition involves these four ranches in McMullen county. The land includes a 2,500 acre ranch, a 2,292 acre ranch, a 3,077 acre ranch and a 14,230 acre ranch.

The ranchers are fighting to keep their ranches. They speak out passionately about their love for their land. I would expect they also would love to keep their mineral rights.

There are still studies to be done and battles to be waged. Right now, four ranchers are afraid the Texas Army National Guard will be allowed to purchase — or take their ranches under the Texas “eminent domain” law.

The US government has used eminent domain since the Colonial days. Although I usually think of the 5th amendment as something you claim in a courtroom to protect yourself against self-incrimination, it also was written to address eminent domain.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Eminent domain is the right of the government to seize private property for public use in exchange for a payment of fair market value.

I have to wonder how it would be possible to calculate the fair market value of this ranch land, sitting above the Eagle Ford shale?

Texas U.S. Representative  Henry Cuellar helped get funding for the training area through congress. The land will be purchased by the U.S. Army and turned over to the Army National Guard.

Rep. Cuellar has stated he hopes to have the National Guard train at the facility 63 days per year and to use the facilities to train law enforcement and possible military personnel from Mexico.

According to last month’s article in The Progress (Three Rivers Texas newspaper), Congressman Cuellar was asked, “If the ranchers are forced to sell their land, are they allowed to keep their mineral rights?”

Cuellar replied, “The first question is, do all landowners have the mineral rights? I don’t know if they do or not. That is something the National Guard will have to work out with them. The only thing I have told the National Guard is, you all need to work with the landowners as much as you can. I am sure they are all red, white and blue patriots that support the military and they will work with them to the best extent possible.”

Red, white and blue… Is it your patriotic duty to give the state your land and go quietly into the night?
It happens all the time. I suppose it’s like cutting government spending, everyone’s in favor until it touches their lives.
I have no idea what this outcome will be, or should be.

All I know for sure is that things are getting heated down South and the Army National Guard is not considering any other land for their South Texas Training Center. It may be a long hot summer.