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It is what it is

Home Sweet Home-- Montague County,TX

Being an oilfield gate guard, you have certain givens that are not going to change.

  1. You will not be able to stray far from that sign that says STOP.
  2. There will be dust.
  3. It will be noisy.
  4. Every day is different, one day bleeds into the next.  What day is it anyway?

It is hard to establish any sort of routine.  Miss K and I struggled with the shift schedules for at least the first two weeks we were here.  We finally settled on a 3 to 3 shift. When we tell someone that, they usually cock a quizzical eye at us.  What can I say, it works.

Even though every day is different, we have still managed to settle into a routine of sorts.   Since I have a genetic handicap ( I am male.)  that prevents me from walking softly or closing a door quietly, Tuco the Dog and I head outside to sit in the cool pre-dawn hours.  No door banging or heavy walking.  Miss K can get her beauty sleep undisturbed and when she is happy, we are all happy. So there we were Friday morning –early; 4-430am. The generator was genning, the lights were lighting and the Wilson amp was beaming down some of that internet to the laptop on my lap. I had an unfettered mind; surf a little, watch Tuco the Dog snuffle and shuffle in the way of all dogs and check in/out a vehicle every now and again. Not rocket science by any means.

Then the generator died off a little and the lights dimmed. OK, WTF? Our generator was new when we came on site four months ago and it has been a healthy and dependable rascal. In just a beat or two, the lights went back bright and the generator exhaust note returned to normal. Ah! Just some sort of an anomaly, a burp, a minor hiccup. I just about had myself convinced when the exhaust note fell off again and the lights dimmed – again. No quick recovery this time — the generator struggled and wheezed and then all was dark. So I went from fat and happy to emergency management mode quicker than Tuco the Dog eats a dog treat. What to do first?

Hmphh! Easy one there. The bedroom on the Old Girl would turn into an Indian sweat lodge in about 15 minutes with this heat and humidity… and Miss Kathy was in there sleeping. I had no desire to incur her wrath before the sky even got light outside; that gal can strip the meat off the bone when she is of a mind. It took me about 5 minutes to fire up the Generac propane generator on the Old Girl. By the time I got the various electrical umbilicals ready to swap over, it was warmed up and ready to work. I beat the 15 minute deadline by 5 minutes and I was pretty danged sure Miss K did not have a drop of sweat on her pretty little head. Hoooaah! High Five! WTG dude!

Generator Triage

I still had a dead generator but it could wait until daylight for diagnoses. I settled back into my chair for some more internetz and Tuco the Dog went back to her dog-important things. An hour and a half later, I had the doors open and a mental flowchart of dead generator hypotheses working their way through my brain path.   I had taken stock of generator spare parts on hand.  One fan belt, one oil filter, one primary fuel filter (it takes two) and a quart of oil.  Like most oil field gate guard companies, the outfit we work for sends a guy around every 12-14 days and he services and replenishes everything on the service trailer.  In our case, it is a 220 mile round trip for him to come all the way up here.  I saw no need to wake him up right here at the dawning of the day for what (I hoped) was a simple problem.   I had already reasoned out that I probably had a stopped up fuel filter and it was starving the engine.  Sounded logical to me as bad fuel or trash can stop up a filter PDQ. This setup takes two fuel filters; one on the engine block and another one in the fuel supply line right beside the fuel tank.   The filter I had was the one for the engine location and I had it swapped out in a jiffy.  Well not exactly in a jiffy— I was constantly having to walk up to the road to check vehicles in and out while I was in the midst of this crisis.  Any other task which must be performed while you are actively ‘on the gate’  takes 6X longer than normal.  By this time rivulets of sweat had started running down my back and Tuco the Dog had lost interest and retreated to her shady/cool/damp spot under the Old Girl where the A/C drip maintains an inviting oasis.  This heat can ruin even a loyal dog.

I crossed my fingers and turned the key to start the generator.   No bueno!  Running a diesel engine out of fuel is bad juju.   I ended up having to bleed fuel/trapped air out of the bleed screw on the filter head and crack the injector line on #1 to get that bad boy started.   Once running, I retreated to the pocket of shade in front of the Old Girl to pat myself on the back, cool off and listen to it run.  The RV generator was still purring away.   I figured to let that diesel run for awhile to make sure everything was up to snuff before I swapped everything back over.

While I was up there in front of the Old Girl, two of the folks I most wanted to see came rolling in.  One of them was the propane delivery man.  Plenty of the big compressors and engines in the gas fields are run by natural gas directly from the well where they are sitting–which is a pretty cool set up if you ask me.   A few of our new wells had not ‘settled down’ yet and had too much nitrogen in the gas for them to use it onsite here.  They had the gas company come out and set some 500 gallon tanks in to run the big engines and the guy came around every other day to fill them.  I had talked to him previously about filling the onboard 40 gallon tank on the Old Girl which was down to 1/4 tank.  I might have to depend on MY generator for the weekend and I knew none of the places that fill the external tanks would be open on the holiday. He refilled it on the way back out for $2.75/gallon which I thought was fair for a delivered price.  The other guy I wanted to see was the one that serviced and fueled the multiple generators sitting around various work sites on this lease.  I reasoned he might have the fuel filter I was missing.  He woulda had it too– had I caught him yesterday.  He told me he had just used the last one he had on his truck that fit my application.  Can’t win ’em all.

Somewhere along about this time, I called my service guy and he agreed it was the fuel filters.  The plan that evolved was for me to remove the last filter (that I did not have) from the line if the problem cropped up again.  He would see me the next day and change out the filters and leave me a full set for future emergencies.  Good enough.  I liked that plan.  I went and plugged the diesel generator back into my grid.

Along about 1230, I was sitting out under the awning and just gettin’ through another day.  Traffic was moderate and the dust levels were at the merely miserable level -not intolerable.  Since I ain’t no puss and dust is part of the job, I wasn’t complaining.  Tuco the Dog had long since retreated to the Land of Conditioned Air inside the Old Girl.   Then the generator did the sputtering fuel starvation thing.  Dammit!   Miss K stuck her head out the door and said’ What was that?’ as I heard the generator rev back up to normal.  I went inside and told her about the pre-dawn goings on — she had just gotten up and still had that frowzy bed head look that makes me look like a scary old man and somehow doesn’t detract from her appearance at all.  She said ‘ I just turned the coffee pot on and the generator started making noise.’    Uh huh,right.  My nemesis — that f’n Keurig coffee maker.  The coffee maker that will dim all the lights on the grid within a 5 mile radius when you fire it up. That coffee maker that I have really never figured out.  I still use an old drip coffee maker because you have to be a Space Shuttle pilot to figure out that Keurig.  Lord knows I have tried.  I either get just a little sup in the bottom of the cup that is strong enough to stand the hair up on your arm till the next day or it makes enough to fill an urn at a church dinner.  I even turned it around once to look on the back to see if it had any marks of the Devil on it,  that would explain alot.

After my Keurig fit passed, the sequence of events made sense.  The generator was on the razor line of fuel starvation even with me changing the one filter.  The other filter was probably muy malo as well.  Firing up the Keurig and loading the generator just that much more starved it out.  I gave Miss K specific instruction to turn off the A/C  the next time she fired that Keurig up and we should be just fine until the cavalry rolled in the next day.

And we were fine…. until about 930pm.  I woke up to hear the generator dying away as Miss K slid the door open to the bedroom.  Not a happy camper,me.   I pulled on my t shirt and my camo shorts that were a size too big.  They were fine for lounging around before bed but were really not suitable for anything in public that involved bending or stooping because they tended to butt crack anybody in viewing distance.  I was past the point of caring.   My Red Wing ropers -roper boots with shorts and legs as white as a catfish belly- completed my ensemble and I am sure my hair was old man scary wild.   Took me five minutes to remove the offending filter. It was obviously the problem as the paper disintegrated in my hands as I screwed it off.   Elevated my pissed off level a notch as well, obviously it had not been changed in many months.  I kicked the tire as I walked past to the back of the trailer.  ‘You better start, you bastard.’  I had no patience to go through that intricate process of bleeding air out of the system that had been required that morning.  Miss K and Tuco the Dog were probably hoping that as well simply because I was being such a totally unlikeable human.

Well, the generator  fired right back up and ran like a top until the service guy got  here Saturday a bit after lunch.   A 220 mile round trip to deliver one $5 filter.  You better believe when he left, I had spares to fit everything.

You still wanna be an oil field gate guard????  Just be sure your partner is on the list for sainthood and your dog understands when it is time to go hide under the RV.   It is all gravy from there.  🙂



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2 comments to It is what it is

  • Mike Manning

    What more can you tell me and my wife about oilfield gate guarding? We want to give it a try, and being from S.D we are not sure where to start. Called a gal in San Antonio and she said to come down do all the necessary paperwork and if we passed the background check we would be placed on a location. That is as far as I’ve gotten. Would like to know the pro and cons from someone that has done it. We are in our 60s.

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    • Andy

      Hi Mike
      It is a job – not a winter vacation- in generally remote inhospitable locations. Pay right now is between $125 and $200 per day and the company provides electric, water and septic. Anything else you need to know can be found with a little effort on your part in my blog.

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