As we left things at the end of the February update:
“The last working day of the project was the 21st . There is a further week of free parking available after that. Some years we have taken advantage of that opportunity here and other times we have left as soon as possible. This year there was some indication I might have work at the Regina refinery and some indication I wouldn’t. There are pros and cons either way, but at the end of the month we were still waiting for an answer.”
Normally the title for this section would say SOWERS Project, but I don’t know if that is technically correct.
When the time we had to leave approached and we had no word on work at the Regina refinery we looked at options. One option was head north anyway, on spec. Not with those weather forecasts. Not me. Maybe compelled by greed or duty or some other higher purpose, but not just because maybe.
We could go sit in some RV park and wait with the meter running. No. Too cheap and too easily bored.
We could sign up for a SOWER project, but what would we do if got a call to go north? That wouldn’t be fair to the host and besides I am sure there must be a rule somewhere.
Turns out there is a rule. I asked the host if he had any work that we could do in chunks so that we could finish them up and leave on short notice. He did. I phoned the SOWER office and was told that being a winter month a SOWER had to commit to being there the whole three working weeks, BUT since there were no other SOWERS assigned here in March the host could e-mail the office and say he was good with that.
So we have been here at Victory Camp with its Christmas Train on a day to day basis for the whole month. I don’t think I am getting a call this year. I guess that last year, my tenth time working that turnaround, was my last year. Well it was good run while it lasted. Now we don’t have to come back for a spring turnaround we just have to figure out how to arrange things so we don’t come back until May in future years. Somehow I think April 7th is the latest practical date for us. This year it is March 30th when our travel insurance runs out.
So I worked on replacing some water damaged drywall in the gym entry way and textured it and painted it. This had a knockdown texture. That is the third time I have done knockdown texture. This month, last month and a closet in our matrimonial home in 1975. Then I went through the fluorescent lights in the dorms replacing lamps and ballasts. Then did emergency lighting and exit signs in six of the building on site.
Juanita helped move food out of the portable freezer, clean the freezer thoroughly and put food back. She helped with cleaning and office work. And she helped me with some of the lighting. Things happen faster if you are not up and down a fourteen foot ladder with tubes but can just hand the old ones down and get the new ones handed to you.
One of the things the staff this month did was to take down the martin houses and clean them for the new resident insect eaters. These houses were built by SOWER Rick Young four years ago. It is good to see them still in use.
So we have put in all the hours of a SOWER project, but I can’t say we are assigned to it. This third work week rolled around and it is when one would normally submit a Group Leader’s Report. We talked about it, but it didn’t seem necessary. So I didn’t.
We plan to leave here on Friday morning and get above the rain and wind on Saturday and Sunday and then hunker down or plod northward as it seems appropriate. Our most usual route north is flooded and that highway shows closed on the map. It looks like one of our older routes might work.
I’ll let you know. Probably not in a timely manner.
Texas Independence Day Celebration
After it was part of The United States of Mexico and before it was part of the United States of America, Texas used to be its own country.
On March 2nd, we drove to Washington On The Brazos to help celebrate Texas Independence Day. We called Juanita’s nephew but neither he or his wife was up to a day trip. Or maybe it was tactless to suggest celebrating Texas’ independence from Mexico to somebody born in Mexico. Nobody has ever accused me of being overly sensitive of others. Not in real time, anyway. Didn’t think of the implications until later.
Not sure of the value of introspection except to produce guilt. I worked with the least introspective person I ever met for several years. It was like being around a large, muddy, friendly (with the occasional display of mean streak) puppy. So lack of introspection is not the answer either. Maybe there is some value in sensitivity to others, though.
We drove the route we planned to go through Houston later in the month with the fifth wheel and paid careful attention to the best lanes on Interstate 45 to minimize lane changes. Lane changes are bad enough towing a fifth wheel. They are worse in Texas. Those overly polite people you meet in person either don’t drive or turn into Mr. Hyde behind the wheel. They aren’t about to let you into their lane and will take it to the brink of a fender bender to cut you off.
North of Houston the freeway carries on with multiple busy lanes it seems forever. Along about the time things started to calm down we exited at Conroe. After a cinnamon bun stop at a Whattaburger we carried on to Navasota and then to the the museum grounds at Washington on the Brazos.
We got there about noon and were directed to overflow parking and a shuttle bus took us to near the visitors’ complex. Once we had a map we grabbed another shuttle bus to the Barrington Living History Farm. We admired the old buildings and looked at the blacksmiths at work. Then we settled down in a tent to watch an old time snake oil salesman give a background in the history of medicine shows and do a re-enactment. His act was followed by a mid 1800’s style magician. I was enthralled. Juanita was patient.
We toured the President’s house. People sure lived more simply, then. We walked back to the main complex past the cannons we had been hearing and checked out a few more displays before grabbing a shuttle to the parking area outside the park. All of this was free for the weekend and we just scratched the surface. There were lots of activities to mark the special occasion, but you could easily spend a day here with the normal exhibits and get good value for the usual admission fees.
We drove back to Houston on sort of a circle route passing through Brenham (drove past the Blue Bell ice cream plant) stopping in Sealy for supper before going through Rosenburg and past the Brazos Bend State Park before arriving home after dark.
Karz for Big Kidz
Every Saturday around sunset cars start showing up at a Home Depot a couple of blocks west of Kemah on FM 2094. It’s pretty random who brings what but there is usually a good variety of classic and muscle cars and a few oddities. One Saturday we showed up too. Juanita happily read in the truck while I perused the arrivals and handed out curved illusion tracts. On the way home on FM 518 we stopped at the Dairy Queen in League City for a BOGO 99 cent deal on Blizzards. The owner was an East Indian from Cambridge, Ontario. It was too busy to visit with him other than a curved illusion tract and that little bit of information.
The Trip North
We planned to leave and go north on March 22. On March 21st, the official first day of spring, Juanita wrote our daughters, “Today is the first day of spring. It is the next to last day of summer and about a week until winter.”
Thursday, March 21
We had reached a natural break point in our volunteer duties and racked up the hours that completed our term. We spent the morning doing what we could to get ready to leave the next day. In the afternoon we ran some errands, took a pile of dead emergency light and exit light batteries to be recycled at a battery store where we bought some batteries for the tire pressure monitors.
Juanita’s sister wasn’t up for a visit so we said goodbye over the phone and walked through some big box stores looking at camping gear and miniature camp stoves. I almost bought a “solid-fuel” stove one for thirty dollars until I came to my senses and realized it was essentially a tin can. For thirty bucks! United States bucks! With taxes it would be over forty Canadian pesos. For a tin can. A stainless-steel tin can, but a tin can nevertheless. I think the can purchase can wait. I’ll make one out a tin in the recycle bin.
Looking around at the other things offered and their prices generated some pessimistic prognostications about the certain demise of the consumer economy. Does the world need thirty different models of hiking headlights? Certainly we must have reached some sort of plateau of diminishing returns with a cliff at the other end of the mesa.
Then it was off to La Casita for a last taste of Tex-Mex for a few years and a fuel stop for the truck.
At the trailer we did as much as we could in preparation for tomorrow and then to bed early.
Friday, March 22 - Alvin, Texas to Ardmore, Oklahoma (707 km.)
We got up at the usual time and ate and surfed and then started puttering around finalizing things for departure. Chairs strapped down, tanks dumped and flushed a few times, sewer hose flushed and stowed. I didn’t winterize the water system. I can do that on the road when the weather gets cooler but before it gets too cool.
The trailer has two thirty-pound propane tanks. There is a lever that selects the one that supplies propane and when that tank goes empty the valving automatically switches and a red indicator lets you know that that tank is empty. It had done this once while we were at Victory Camp and I had switched the selection to the other tank and taken the empty to be filled. It had been a while and I kept checking the indicator daily on the tank currently supplying propane. Overnight it had delivered its last gasp of propane. The red indicator was on. Oh well, we’ll deal with that at the first Flying J. Not going to rip out the tank and take it to the feed store on the other side of Alvin. That would take an hour at the speed they operate and who knows when they open in the morning.
After a final pit stop and some good-byes we rolled out of the camp around 9:15. That’s a good time to roll when you are near a city. You want to hit downtown around ten. You end up travelling through the city after the morning rush of people getting to work and before the hordes of shoppers and errand runners get active. That would take care of Houston. Dallas would be another matter. We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.
All that said we didn’t head for Houston. After two months of not towing I just couldn’t summon the courage to take highway 528 to the Gulf Freeway (I-45) and head downtown at seventy miles an hour. Who knows what quirks and shortcomings had developed in the trailer running gear? I had done a crosstown trip in a hurry to get to the Apple store before its nine p.m. closing the week before. I handled that with some stoicism ignoring the erroneous advice from the GPS and Juanita’s nervous tics and got us there in time to get a replacement iPod Touch. And that was just the truck.
Wasn’t ready for towing a trailer on freeways yet. In the past we have headed west and then north, tying in to highway 59, but that is being rearranged right around where it connects to I-45. It changes from day to day and we are not terribly nimble.
We snuck west out of Alvin on the highway to the Brazos Bend Park and skirted our way around Houston on backroads. Backroads! It is to laugh. This is Texas. Many of the “back” roads are four lane. All of the two lane roads have better pavement and wider shoulders than any Saskatchewan two lane highway. It does mean you go through a few towns that you wouldn’t on the freeway, but those are not too bad and there is hardly any traffic outside of towns.
By the time we had travelled north far enough to connect with the Interstate highway going to Dallas at Waco I was back in the groove as far as driving goes. Two years ago when we had passed through Dallas going north we did it on the east side. There were a lot of delays due to construction. I figured we should miss that this year on the west. And we did.
Instead we spent a lot of time creeping along while emergency vehicles wove in and out of the nearly stopped cars to get to numerous accidents. Tell me one more time why people live in cities. Is it still called living?
Google maps said it would take us two hours longer to get to Oklahoma City than if we had gone through the middle of Houston. It was probably right, but my sanity such as it is, still thanks me for going around not through.
Looking at the map of Flying J locations, Ardmore in Southern Oklahoma looked like a better bet for us for access than anything around Oklahoma City and it was approaching sunset. We stopped at the Flying J in Ardmore. I fueled up and got on the hot line for propane at the RV pumps. Nope. Nobody available tonight.
Thousands of grackles covered the trees, bushes, buildings and wires at the Flying J. They’re are on their way north. The waitress said they show up every year at this time for a week or two. Noisy things.
We spend a relaxing, extended time eating and surfing in the restaurant attached to the Flying J before retiring to our rig for a pretty peaceful sleep despite the serenading grackles. Weather radar future casted heavy rain in OK City in the morning but pretty much over by ten. Liars.
Saturday, March 23 - Ardmore, Oklahoma to Sioux Falls, South Dakota (1,287 km.)
Really took our time over breakfast, wanting to avoid getting OK City too early.
I asked again about propane and was told the propane person was off for the weekend but the Love’s down the road had propane.
I winterized the water system. It could get below freezing tonight if we made good time today and I was stalling to avoid the rain.
Did normal circle checks. Found spare tire bracket was half broken. The tire was pretty floppy. Only one weld holding the tire on. That would be nasty to be following us and have a nearly one-hundred pound tire drop off and start bouncing toward you while we drove blissfully away. Some spring breaker was killed this year at a rest area by a pair of tires flying off a passing semi-trailer. Scary stuff.
Well, that’s what circle checks are for – look at things, rattle things and catch problems before you are on the road. I pulled off the tire covers, got out the tools, removed the tire and Juanita and I wrestled the tire into the truck bed and strapped it down. Fixing the bracket will be on the summer to-do list.
Eventually we got on the road.
As far as missing the rain. Well, that didn’t go so well. On the way into Oklahoma City I was catching the odd flash out of the corner of my eye. Lightning or my retina acting up? Random flashes have been an ongoing side effect of extreme near sightedness. The retina gets stretched near an edge and peels just a bit. The brain interprets this as a flash of light until it adapts to the new condition and the problem goes away for a month or a year or whatever. Until the next time.
The brain is like that. It adapts and tells you there is nothing to see here, move along. Or it tells you there is something to see when there isn’t. There is a blank spot in the middle of your vision where the optic nerve connects to the retina, but the brain fills in the blank. Likewise, the dizzy rush that non-smokers get when they inhale tobacco smoke is said to be present with long-term smokers as well, but their brains have adapted and compensated so they are no longer aware of the effect.
But while I worrying about my eye and we were mid metropolis (if one can call OK City that) the jury was in. It was lightning.
The rain was a downpour requiring full wipers and there were regular lightning strikes all around. I just hoped for no serious wind gusts and followed the GPS’s instructions. If it led us astray we would deal with that later. I updated its database two years ago which means the data is about three years old. That may make problems with downtown Houston which is in the midst of massive changes but here’s hoping things have been more stable in OK City. Next time we come south I’ll buy a GPS for half the price of a Ram/Garmin upgrade kit, but in the in the meantime we’ll trust what we have. Can only keep so many balls in the air.
We made it out the other side and carried on to Kansas, the Kansas turnpike, lunch and fuel and then off the turnpike at Wichita and due north through Kansas into Nebraska. We did a two-hour detour around some flooding in Nebraska before crossing the Missouri River At Yankton into South Dakota after dark. Where we crossed the Platte River on the detour the river level was down, but you could see mud all over the buildings, houses and streets of that little town.
It was later than we wanted to be driving but I carried on in the dark to get to the Flying J in Sioux Falls.
We pulled into an empty RV parking slot next to a couple of motor homes, had a quick meal and went to bed. Enough for one day. We can fuel in the morning.
Sunday, March 24 - Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Carberry, Manitoba (906 km.)
We stalled a bit so temperatures had a bit of chance to rise and get above icy road conditions.
After breakfast I did the circle checks on the rig and drove around to the RV pumps. Normally we fill up when we arrive somewhere, but it was late and dark and I was tired and whine. Besides I knew we not going to get on the road until the predicted temperatures had risen in the morning.
I called for propane on the phone provided and set the tank on the curb. Then filled the truck with diesel. Juanita went and paid for the use of the dump station. Ten bucks! Used to be free at Flying J. Then it was free for point cardholders. Then it was half price for point cardholders. Now it is full price for everybody. While she was there, she asked about the propane again.
There is a solenoid locking the cover on the dump station. Your ten bucks gets you a number you punch into a keypad, push a button and then you have so many seconds to open the hatch and get your hose end into place which holds the hatch open.
I got every thing in place, punched the keypad Pushed the button and stepped on the hatch and placed the hose. I got Juanita to put her foot on the hatch so the hose didn’t snap out and the hatch snap shut and the hose flail around spewing stuff. There wasn’t much stuff to spew, but still. I opened the valve on the black tank and about two gallons came out. Five bucks a gallon. Would have been cheaper to dump diesel. When stuff stopped coming out I closed the valve on the black tank and disconnected the hose and put the cover on the trailer connection.
I went to rinse the hose, but the hydrant was dry so just held it vertically for a while then removed the end from under the hatch and stowed the hose in the bumper mentally adding “rinse the sewer hose” to the summer to-do list.
Still no propane guy. I phoned again. He showed up. We visited while he filled the tank. He tried to write Saskatchewan for state on the form but settled for “Canada”. I gave him a curved illusion tract and we prayed together briefly. Juanita went and paid for the propane while I hooked up the propane tank. And away we go!
The road was clear and dry until we got into fog. We missed the exit for Summit and carried on until we were out of the fog and stopped for fuel a couple of exits later.
In Grand Forks we fueled up for the final push to the border and I updated the voice mail message on my US phone. Juanita’s US phone works in some Canadian cities so she uses it a bit in Canada.
The border crossing went well. Well over our duty limit for out of country purchases, but we were told to carry-on. Yay! Saved about a hundred bucks and at least half an hour.
I called an anonymous source who works at the Regina refinery and confirmed I would not have work there this year. Oh well. Had to be voted off the island sooner or later. Fewer old guys there each year. This year I am one of the ones no longer there. I worked there for ten shutdowns. I was pretty sure there was no year eleven for me, but certainly didn’t want to make an assumption and drive through Regina and go six or seven hours north and find out I had to tow everything back to work there.
We stopped at Flying J west of Winnipeg, fueled up and bought a couple of slices of pizza. I updated my Canadian voice mail message.
We checked the weather forecast. Minus thirteen tonight predicted. Decided to carry on with the setting sun in our eyes. We pulled into Robin’s Nest Motel in Carberry well after dark. The room was already warm. Juanita was pleased. I guess last time we stopped here it wasn’t and took a while to warm up. The things we remember. I am just glad to not be driving.
Café opens at seven.
Monday, March 25 - Carberry, Manitoba to Meadow Lake, SK (1,000 km.)
Up before seven, showered and dressed and out circle-checking the truck and trailer. Their café opens at seven but just about on the hour we were ready to roll and did, vowing to pick up something to eat at a fuel stop.
When we passed over the Saskatchewan border the time rolled back an hour. Funny how the mind works. On the road at seven worked okay. Six would have seemed horrific.
The drive through Regina was fine. The Lumsden hill north of Regina was a non event. That’s the difference of being at the start of the trip after a couple months at the refinery versus in the middle of the fourth day of a 3,900 kilometer trip. The times we leave out of Regina after being there for a couple of months the Lumsden hill is approached with fear and planning. Today? Meh.
Likewise, Saskatoon was a piece of cake. We stopped at the Red Bull in Radisson for a piece of pizza and fuel and then back on the road for the last push home.
The grid road into the property was a bit squishy but not too much of either snow or mud. I think we hit the sweet spot. A week later it was not nearly so heavy vehicle friendly. Willy McAmmond plowed our driveway and parking spot the day before and it was in good shape. Not enough room to turn the rig around for a quick departure, but there will be in a couple of months.
We unpacked what we needed, started the wood stove, dug a bit of snow out for a parking spot for the car and headed over to our daughter’s house for supper and a visit and to pick up our car. By the time we came back the house was warm enough the memory foam had forgotten its Alzheimer’s.
The next day weshocked the well, purged the water system of antifreeze, installed new filters, shopped for groceries and so. In the evening we went back to our daughter’s place for dinner and more visiting.
The rest of the week we settled in, opened up a winter’s worth of mail and puttered around.
I called my usual sources for shutdown and construction instrumentation work. One confirmed there officially was no work for me at the Regina refinery. Everybody said there was not much work for anybody anywhere.
I started work on Income tax and applied for employment insurance. I don’t think I have enough hours unless they go back two years, but no harm in asking. I didn’t apply last year when I was done at the refinery because I was eligible but only if I looked for work and I already had enough for the year.
The first Sunday we got back we went to our home church in Meadow Lake. It was good to be back and see some people we have not seen since October. In the bulletin was the notice for that afternoon for a talk and book signing by somebody who used to live in our town. The author is the wife of my former boss. We went and listened to a fascinating and funny talk by his wife and visited with them and several other people. Here's my review on both Amazon.com and .ca:
“I have known the author, Wendy Roste, for thirty years and worked closely with her husband for a number of years. I bought the book at a talk she gave and read it in two days. It was a surprisingly good read for a first book.
She describes her life with mental illness in a humorous and compelling way. The Christian viewpoint may be a turn-off for some, but hopefully not enough to prevent them from receiving the underlying message of how we can have a serious and life-threatening condition and not know it. She makes the case for the value of seeking help and in finding a treatment regimen that works for you specifically.
I saw firsthand some of the negative consequences of her actions before she received the help she needed and applaud Wendy's courage in telling her story with the goal to help others.”