Tuesday, January 30, 2007

junkyard rising

For the most part, the work we do in the San Juan Basin takes place in sparsely populated places, especially in the New Mexican portion of the basin. We end up on roads like this and with views from location like this (though not on the same day). The Colorado half of the basin is somewhat different. While it's hardly a high density area, a lot of the land is farmed and there are houses spotted throughout much of the area. That means rigs often end up in peoples' backyards. Or in this case, in the middle of a junkyard.

For the record, there are people who live in that junkyard. It's like some bizarre offshoot of carny folk.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

new boots!

Finally, I got some new work boots today. No more huge, water-friendly hole in this pair.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


It's been a long day, but now I'm home, all showered up in dry, warm clothes. The dry part is key, especially after traipsing about in wet boots all day.

Here is my car from this morning before I headed to work. As you can see, it snowed last night. We got two to three inches in town and maybe six or more out at higher elevations in the field. At least the roads were clear by the time I went to work around 1000. That beats the frac crew that was trying to leave at 0500 this morning. They had to put chains on trucks before they even left the yard.

We had the good fortune of going north towards Durango, though not actually to Durango. Going to Colorado is basically a guarantee that the non-paved roads will be in good condition which greatly lessens the chance of having to use chains. We also had the rare privilege of arriving on location around 1400 and leaving around 1830. I call it a rare privilege because that is not much more than the minimum amount of time we can rig up, perform a job, and rig down in on this particular style of rig we were on. It was also nice to see the snow give up its fight around 1500, giving the roads a chance to dry off in the sunlight before nightfall would have turned them all to ice. Of course, on location, a rig has a lot to it that gives off a great deal of heat and that melts all the snow. The result is understandably puddles, lots and lots of puddles. And when you have a hole in your boots, your feet get wet. And when the sun goes down, it gets really cold, really fast. That is part of what makes the whole process challenging, but also very satisfying when you know you've done a good job.

It's hard to explain to people who don't work in this industry what exactly it is I do. I suppose that isn't much different than my lack of understanding of what many friends I have who work in software actually do. Suffice to say, rising to the challenge of whatever it is I purport to do is what makes it so satisfying. It is hard, it is tiring, and it makes you very strongly engage the common sense part of your brain or else you're going to do something that costs a lot of money or even worse, gets someone, possibly yourself, hurt. Details matter. You start to pay attention to how equipment feels, what it sounds like, and what that awful smell is that indicates something is about to burn out. Perhaps if I had more experience, then I wouldn't feel the need to watch everything so closely. I would be better equipped to handle problems on the fly, but I'm not so I'm constantly moving around during a job, trying to watch about a half dozen really important things and many more less critical items all at once. And that's why it doesn't matter if it's cold and wet. You are too busy working to notice your toes feel like they're about to fall off until you're finally leaving location. That's when you get a chance to take a breather, but just for a moment, because a long drive in at the end of a day is about the most dangerous thing there is.

Friday, January 19, 2007

almost hitting things

It's Friday and once again, I'm not sure how it arrived so quickly. I was pretty sure that it had only been two days since I last posted on Monday. The earlier talk of driving and chaining up conjures up memories of how many times I have almost wrecked a pick-up at work and all the things I have hit or almost hit.

Places in the field have names like Ice Canyon (not that bad), Snake Hill (pretty bad), and Jackass Pass (the last place we lost an axle on one of our trucks). I slid a pick-up into a ditch on Snake Hill in icy conditions a while back. It's a pretty helpless feeling to have been going about five miles per hour and still lose any ability to control a vehicle. We've been in ruts so deep that the pick-up was basically dragging on the skid pan the whole way down Jackass Pass. I've seen us break all manner of chains and tow straps and lift straps trying to do things we're really not supposed to do because we got something stuck doing something else we probably weren't supposed to do.

Now, what is fun is getting to drive a smaller half-ton pick-up about a day or two after it's rained. There's almost no weight in the rear and you can get it to slide with almost no effort. It's fun to give it a little extra gas going into a turn and getting it to fish-tail just a bit and counter-steering your way through the turn. Now maybe I shouldn't be doing that, but if I'm ever out driving a half-ton pick-up in the field anyway, it means I'm running some errand that, in ideal conditions, I wouldn't need to be doing. Thus, I view the sliding out as my bonus for having to run said errand.

As for hitting animals, I haven't done anything too terrible. I haven't hit anything that could do real damage to a pick-up like a deer. I've seen what happens when a big truck hits a deer and it's not pretty. Suffice to say, the truck wins. By a lot. I have seen lots and lots of deer though and come pretty close to hitting one on a couple occasions. Always try to remember that most deer travel in groups so don't fixate on missing just the first one you see because there are probably others right behind it. Some of the animals don't spook too easily and you can get fairly close. I was about ten yards away when I took this picture. And then sometimes people are just herding cows down the road. Hitting a cow would probably get me into a lot more trouble than hitting a deer seeing as how the cow is actually owned by someone. As for rabbits, well, I'm not really sure how many rabbits I've run over by now. Some, not tons, but a couple handfuls. They just dart out in front of you on the dirt roads, especially at night. There was one that I subconsciously swerved into, but I'm pretty sure it was the killer rabbit from Monty Python.

Monday, January 15, 2007

chaining up

Just in case this requires an explanation, chaining-up is when we put tire chains on the trucks. Field work shuts down very rarely so we need to get to locations despite the conditions. Field roads vary in quality, which is mostly governed by applicable state or county rules. In this area, most dirt roads are middling at best and lots of them turn very bad, very quickly with just a little bit of rain or snow. Many of the roads have a clay surface that gets very slippery when wet. A few of the dirt roads have more sand in them and are actually slightly easier to drive on when damp. However, if you get stuck in sand, chains tend to dig you in deeper faster.

The roads being what they are, we often need to chain-up our trucks (big ones, not pick-ups) in order to have enough traction to still be able to move and steer them. It's actually not that helpful to put chains on our pick-ups. The pick-ups already have four-wheel drive. While adding tire chains on top of that would make for an effective combination, that's not the point. The point is to get all the trucks to location and not just the pick-up. The big units don't have 4WD, or more accurately, they don't have six-wheel drive. If we can't get somewhere in 4WD in the pick-up then it's very likely that the big trucks won't be able to get there with tire chains. In fact, we can often go places in the pick-up that the big units can't get too, especially up muddy hills. Hey, sometimes a fully-loaded unit weighing 80,000 lbs powers out and stops. At that point, it's time to call the client.

It's time to call the client and while you want to bitch him out about why they don't better maintain their roads, you have to calmly explain that you're stuck. Despite taking all the proper steps to make it to location, you're stuck and the client needs to send something with some muscle. Basically, we want them to send a 'cat', short for Caterpillar. Of course, Caterpillar makes oodles of equipment. When we say 'cat', something like this D7 would be effective. But when you say you're stuck and they send something like this grader instead, you start to wonder if it's got enough power to pull 80,000 lbs through mud sticky enough to pull your boots off your feet. The answer is maybe, but you might lose an axle in the process. See, that's not a 'cat'. It is what we call a 'blade' for what should be fairly obvious reasons. That type of equipment is really meant for grading roads, which is what they should've done in the first place so you wouldn't be stuck. If you're bottoming out a pick-up the ruts are probably too deep and it's time to work the road into a more drivable state.

Despite all that, with chains on, I think you'd be surprised by what you can get a truck through. That doesn't mean it's good for the truck, but you do what you gotta do to get there and get the job done.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

not nonplussed = plussed?

Taking a page from one of the better personal blogs I read, it might be time to start telling stories about the field. I've got some recent ones that aren't too terribly incriminating and then I'll probably jump around chronologically until I get caught up. Unfortunately, the more I think about them, the harder it is to convey what happened, or at least in such a way that makes it seem like a compelling story, unless you know what it's like. But what the hell, I'll try anyway.

Yesterday, I went with a couple guys to round-trip some trucks. In case I haven't explained it before, round-trip means we're taking trucks to a location before a job or bringing them back from a location after a job. This would not be immediately before or after a job, but anywhere from several hours to a couple days from the time of a job. Typically, this would be the day before and/or after a job. The reason for this usually has to do with being short-handed, though various other reasons come into play. Regardless (or is that irregardless) we were trying to get out there before we lost the last of the daylight. At least this particular location was relatively close, though we still needed to chain-up the trucks.

The fun began after we were done with the initial task. We decided to jump over to another location where we had left trucks the previous day. By the time we got there, the sun had already set and we were losing the last of our daylight. At least the trucks were out on Hwy 550, the main road to get down to Albuquerque from here. The problem was that a storm was rolling in and we were up over the 7000' elevation mark and had quite a ways to go before we'd be under the 5500' level where it does a whole lot less snowing.

Night driving in a snowstorm is pretty terrible. At least the storm had just started and there was no build-up on the road so traction wasn't a big issue. However, I could feel the crosswinds pulling at the truck. Driving the pick-up at the front of the convoy, I had a hard time seeing more than a couple car lengths anytime we crested a ridge. It wasn't that it was snowing especially hard, but that the wind was swirling and the flurries were maddeningly blinding. About halfway in, I was glad that a couple cars passed us, but then didn't go much faster than us. I picked up the pace and followed their taillights to town. My plan was that if any animal got onto the road between them and me, I was planning to hit it. It's pretty ill-advised to swerve for an animal when that carries a pretty good chance of losing control and crashing your vehicle.

The thing that nagged me during the drive in was the last time I was drove at night in a snowstorm a couple weeks ago. We were up in Colorado and there was a fair bit of accumulation on the highway. We we're climbing a hill and the road was turning slightly to the right. I'm still not certain what happened, but I think it went something like this. When the hill became steeper, the pick-up downshifted automatically. The extra torque caused the tires to slip and all of a sudden I was sliding across the road. At least I had the presence of mind to stay off the breaks and gas, but I didn't remember to de-clutch (or in this case, shift to neutral since it was an automatic). I doubt that would have helped because of how fast it went on me. In the space of about a second, I went from driving just fine to nearly crashing. (No, 4WD was not engaged, but you should know that that would not have helped. Please keep in mind that 4WD is not AWD.) What an unwanted rush. I got myself back together pretty quickly, but I can hardly be nonplussed about the whole matter.

Irregardless or all that, let's end on a lighter note and keep a little inside joke going for those who already know and those who pay attention when reading.

"Inflmmable means flammable? What a country!"

Friday, January 12, 2007

still busy

But very little news is still news. Hey, busy times in the industry. Bad weather makes everything take longer too. Just sucks the energy right out of you to work in mud.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

busy busy

All is well. I'm just really busy.

Remember, no news is good news.