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Tips From a Veteran Oil Field Gate Guard

Some gates are not picturesque........

That first oil field gate guard assignment is scary as hell isn’t it?  You follow your supervisor out to the gate 5 miles down a rough caliche road on the backside of nowhere.  The gate guard you are replacing is all packed and anxious to go; your supervisor has 2 more pads to set up yet today.  It is a flurry of activity…

You are learning a new language on the fly  — rat hole, hot oil truck,  wireline crew, spudding in, skiddin’ over, trippin’ pipe while you watch a hopeless array of hoses and cords snake out across the ground that have something to do with your RV.   You try not to look at your wife ’cause you know you are gonna get that stink eye.  The one that eloquently says “What did you get us into THIS time???”  without saying a single word.  It seems it only takes the blink of an eye and your supervisor and the other gate guard couple are roaring off in a cloud of caliche dust and there ya are…. a shiny new clipboard and a brand new pencil in your hand.   You feel self conscious and a fraud in that bright orange vest……. You look down at that half filled sign-in sheet the other guards left for you and it makes as much sense as Chinese arithmetic.

Trust me it gets better.   You gotta remember checking people in and out a gate is not rocket science and what is the worst that can happen?  They can’t eat you, right?  If you are a responsible type person, hopefully you have read some of the other oilfield gate guard blogs so you got the basics, right?  Dust. Noise. Heat. Cold. Mud. Bad Laundromats.  Maybe I can help you step the game up a notch with some tips me and that Miss K have gleaned from our experiences over the last year or so.  The tips are in no particular orderIf the end result of any of these tips involves a ride in the back of a police car,bail money or sittin’ in a hospital emergency room;  I ain’t responsible.  Got it??  Ok, now that we got the legal disclaimer out of the way– on to the tips.

  • Mud-  If you are gate guarding in Texas in the Fall, Winter or Spring, you are going to deal with mud.  Summer; not so much.  The only way to deal with mud is to get up out of it.   Forget about those greeny-grass carpety things.  After a good rain they are going to be a liability.  Squish those things down in 4″ of mud walking across them and then see what ya got.   This ain’t the KOA. You need a mud porch and some walk boards.  They are basic construction.  Get some treated 2×4’s for the bottoms and some treated 1×6’s for the tops and some deck screws to put it all together.   Make sure it is transportable in the back of your SUV and not too heavy to lift!  The trick is to leave enough space between the floor boards that the

    Night on the pad

    mud falls through.  

  • Electrical–  I am a fool about keeping things lit up at night– just makes me feel safer.  You are going to end up with lights and dingers and septic lift tanks that all require electrical connections.  Your company supervisor should provide most of what you need but it does not hurt to be prepared.   So I carry around some heavy duty 25′ and 50′ extension cords and some multi-outlet ‘squids’.  One specific item I have is  the Tripp Lite 8-Outlet Safety Power Strip with Metal Housing and it works good.  Your outside lights are going to burn 10-12 hours a day through all weather extremes and you need to think about that.  Make sure your supervisor leaves you some extra bulbs  You shouldn’t handle those bulbs with bare fingers when you replace them–something about the oil on your fingers burns ’em up.  I just put a baggie on my hand and do it thataway.   Make sure you have those lights anchored!  A good wind will blow those rascals over and total them out!  I also try and get any of the plugs up out of the dirt and mud.  Lay ’em on a piece of 2×4 or concrete block, hang ’em off a fence etc.
  • Define your area–   While I am on the subject of lights, let me give you another tip.  Truck drivers are gonna grab every inch of roadway they can.  If they can go 3 wide in front of your RV; even if they have to drive down in the ditch;   they will.   I use the lights and stop sign to define our area.  I put them out far enough in the roadway to get a safety buffer for working and prevent the 3 wide scenario.  Sure, you are going to lose a light occasionally but the truck driver will be quick to replace it as long as you do not report it to his safety man.  Good way to get some new lights!
  • Learning the ropes.   Miss Kathy and I like to get along well with everybody and still be good at what we do.  Nothing gets you in good stead quicker with the roughnecks than learning their names.  A trick I use is to make note of their names when they check out to go to town.  I know they will be back in an hour or so and I make it a point to address them by name when they check back in.  A few times of this and you will learn the names.  Miss Kathy and I have name badges and business cards.  The name tags say “SECURITY”; first initial and last name; company name.   That covers us under DPS rules.   The business cards go to the company men and various management types that come on the lease.  Both of these things are cheap and were ordered online.
  • Look ’em over.  We give every vehicle entering or leaving the visual once over…..  I cannot tell you how many times I have chased a vehicle, arms just a-waving to tell them about a hose dragging, a valve open and leaking, an open tool box or a flat tire.   Let an oil truck leave your gate trailing a thin stream of crude 10 miles to town and see how happy the Safety Man is when he pays you a visit and wants to know how that truck got off the property without you noticing it.
  • Driveway alerts.  Our company provides pneumatic driveway dingers that are USELESS.  You cannot put them far away enough from the RV to give you much warning and a few hundred vehicles will destroy the hoses anyway.  I just leave ’em on the trailer.  We use the Mighty Mule Wireless Driveway Alarm. It uses a buried probe beside the driveway and it senses the change in the magnetic field when a vehicle passes.  No false alerts from dust blowing or deer ambling past.  They are good out to 100 yards or so and you will need two of them.  One for the inbound side; one for the exit side.
  • Directions.  You are going to have lost folks stop looking for this and that just because your area looks occupied.  Make it your business to know the names of other active pad locations in your area and what the names of the other drilling rigs are.   If you are on a gate that is the entrance to multiple pads, draw up a little map to give out to folks.  The Company Man’s trailer should have a copy machine.

    Miss K on the job. Notice the walk board.

    It sure does help the drivers at night when all pads tend to look the same.

  • Hats.   Miss Kathy favors a do-rag; mainly because she works nights and they look damned good on her,  keeps her hair from blowing around when the wind gets up.  A big hat is a 100% necessity during the summer to keep the sun off.  This is Texas.  Get you a Texas style BIG hat.  The local feed store is usually the best place to get a reasonably priced straw hat that fits the local  scene.  Got a hat you brought down from up north???  Leave it where it is and get a straw go to hell Texas hat like a rancher would wear.  That way they won’t be able to tell you are a foreigner until you open your mouth to speak :).    If you have to go up on the drilling pad for any reason, make sure and wear a hard hat.  Your supervisor should be willing to supply you with one of those.
  • Safety, Sanity and Privacy.  Keep the door to your RV locked especially at night.  For some reason , folks don’t make the connection that you are working and living in the recreational vehicle.  They will open that door without knocking — yep, they certainly will.   There will be untold idle hours to fill especially if you draw the night shift.  Most of us have satellite TV and internet via an air card but you need just a skoosh more to survive this gig.  To me a DVR on your satellite TV receiver is a must.  Invariably, a  show I like is on after I go to bed or it overlaps a show Miss K wants to watch.  I really like DWTS,  Miss K thinks it is horrid.  Just no accounting for taste, huh?   They are also good for recording those old movies that only you like so you can watch over and over at a later date.   Most of use an aircard for internet access.  I just cannot afford one of those Hughesnet satellite receivers.  At some point, you are going to be assigned a gate where the

    Start of a West Texas day

    phone/internet reception is horrid.  Face it, it will happen and you might as well get a good cell amplifier NOW.  Miss K and I have been using the same setup for years and it works well.  It is wireless and makes for a signal area ‘bubble’ for about 100′ around the Old Girl; boosting both the aircard and cell phones.  There is NO service here without it.  A common sight is to see one of the rig hands sitting here in his car using the cell phone; we are glad we can provide that service.  We recommend the Wilson Electronics SOHO Cell Phone Signal Booster Kit for RVs.  That is what we use; that is what I would buy again.  Are you a reader?  Maybe a little?  I guarantee you will be a voracious reader if you do this gate guard gig for a bit.   Miss Kathy went a few miles down the road over the weekend to visit a single woman gg’ing  a Nabors rig.  You know what she asked for?  Paperbacks.  Unfortunately, we haven’t had a paperback in the Old Girl for a year or so now.  They take up WAY too much space and are just a pain to deal with.  These days it is all Kindle; all the time.  I have one of the older Kindles and Miss K has the newer  Kindle Fire Color 7″ Multi-touch Display with Wi-Fi.  We ain’t going back.  Try one out and you will see what I mean.  The last little tidbit has to do with trash.  We take our trash up to the trailer on the pad most of the time.  If you have a rig drilling, they have a trash trailer.  Just make sure and wear your hard hat!  If you are sitting on an empty pad, the trash most likely will have to go to town.  We have found apartment complexes the best place to dispose of ‘alien’ trash.  Nobody questions your vehicle or what you are doing at an apartment building.  We put all of our trash in BLACK bags that you cannot see through.  Paranoid?  Maybe; maybe not.  I know positively of at least one instance when someone was on a company yard and some ‘contraband’ was spotted in a clear bag.  Not me; not ever.

  • Surviving a Oil Field Gate Guard Summer.  I can only say this one way.  If you only have one air conditioner unit or if you can only use one AC unit when hooked up to shore power, it will not be enough to survive a Texas Summer in the oil patch.  You have to have at least 2 air conditioners to be comfortable.  Make the provisions now for it to be so!  We rewired the Old Girl a few years back in order to use both rooftop AC units.  Now we also use a third unit too!  We can either slide a small window unit in or use a portable unit.  You gotta have the extra cooling capacity— period.

So now you know just about everything I now, right?   Fact of the matter is we all learn something new every day.  A great place to find out more about oilfield gate guards is the message forum Miss Kathy and I maintain in addition to the blog.

MyOldRV Oil Field Gate Guard Message Forum

End Note: Oil Field Girls by the Tom Russell Band from the Raw Visions CD.  If you are gonna be gate guards in Texas by golly you need to get in that Texas frame of mind.  This is a whole ‘nuther country.  Trust me.

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2 comments to Tips From a Veteran Oil Field Gate Guard

  • It’s also a good idea to talk with the company man when you first arrive. Introduce yourselves and find out who is not allowed onsite.

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  • Great post with great tips Andy!Wish I’d read this a year and a half ago! 😀
    Debbie

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