Under Construction - When the changes are complete this paragraph will go away. So keep coming back :-)
Last worked on September 9, 2018 - Added some words, labelled some pictures - more words to follow
When we booked our tickets for Nicaragua, we chose a return date to Canada at the end of February. We kept the option of extending our stay for another month if it turned out there was no work for me at the Regina refinery annual turnaround (maintenance shutdown) this spring. There had been some management changes there at the end of the year and my job status was still up in the air near the end of February so we decided to take a chance and return to the frozen north. Once we got back I heard more and started the police check process locally. It turned out that should be the last time I need to do that. The new process does it on line.
Once I knew I could have the job there if I wanted it, I was offered the choice of two other jobs by another former employer. Going back to last summer’s job until early May (no living out allowance and a two-hour daily commute) or running 1” stainless steel hydraulic tubing in Regina. Both the alternatives were expected to end in early May. Officially, we never are promised more than “about four weeks” at the annual turnaround but one of my ten terms there lasted six months. Scuttlebutt said this was a big shutdown and would “last until June” so it seemed the best economic choice. As the work progressed a number of planned jobs got cancelled. My lay-off date became April 28th. Two days before that I tore a hamstring muscle 50% in a non-work related ill considered move. My universe shrunk to a four inch square area and off I hobbled for imaging and ultimately physiotherapy. The doctor said the leg would feel fine enough in a month that I would then do something stupid and have a set back but by six months it should be mostly back to normal.
Our pad rental at the RV park was paid until mid May and my leg was not up to a seven-hour trip towing the trailer so we stayed in Regina for a few weeks more. In between physio appointments we went back to Meadow Lake, got the summer tires on the car and went to Nebraska to visit Leonard and Karen Cook we have retired from SOWER projects after doing more than a hundred.
The day after I tore the hamstring in my right leg, I tried driving the truck around the loop in the RV park. It could be done by using the left foot for braking, but it was pretty choppy and definitely not pain free. By May 13th things were better enough to manage the drive home with the help of a few rest stops and lots of vitamin I (Ibuprophen).
We (mostly Juanita) drove to BC for my sister Sydney’s surprise birthday party in Burnaby on May 19th. I don’t know why it was a surprise. She has a birthday every year and last year she turned 79. A good time was had by all. We stayed in Airbnb’s for the first time, both in Burnaby and the following week in Powell River. Normally we stay with my other sister in Powell River, but she and her family were in Las Vegas while I was trying to contact them about whether it would work. The Airbnb’s were really good experiences. We’ll probably try them again on future trips.
Then it was back home to putter around the property. Rebekah and her family left for a 53 day road trip (four kids and two adults) and we went and stayed in their house in Edmonton for a few days and bought new tires for the truck and trailer. Then back home to lick those financial wounds while puttering carried on and reading got caught up on. It has been nice to be home this summer. Not too exciting to write about but pleasant.
Back To The Frozen North
While we cavorted in the sun and warmth of Nicaragua, winter prevailed in Canada,
That is an abstract concept while one is in Nicaragua but reality intrudes when you arrive back in Canada. Son-in-law Nick picked us up at the airport with our winter coats in his car. We needed them. They weren’t frozen. They were warm from the car.
I still remember the look on the faces of a family fresh off a cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale that morning arriving back to minus thirty Edmonton. Dad ran out to the car and got it started and left it warming up. He retrieved the winter coats from the truck of the car and brought them into the park and ride building and distributed them to the wife and kids. The kids recoiled in horror at the unyielding outerwear frozen into grotesque shapes like crushed earthquake victims. When the dad deemed the car warm enough the family trooped out, the kids clutching their arms akimbo jackets to their tee shirt clad chests.
Our wait in the pick-up zone for Nick’s arrival was relatively brief, but we lost no time putting on our flexible coats. No grotesque shapes for us.
After a brief stay in Edmonton we headed to Meadow Lake. We arrived home and Willie MacAmmond had plowed the driveway. All that was left was to pick up the police check form for the refinery job, clear the snow off the top of the trailer and enough snow around the trailer to hook-up and pull it out of the slot and we were ready to go to Edmonton. There were some staff changes in the hiring process and it took a little time for the team to get up to speed. But they caught on quickly and improved the process quite a bit. It can be an advantage in not being locked into “well, that’s the way we do things”. They implemented an on line process for the pre-employment police check. That meant I ended up being double checked this year. However, if I work future shutdowns, it eliminates the hassle of leaving copies of my i.d. at the at the police station in Meadow Lake in the Fall. Also saves Deborah going to town hall, paying $25 and taking the receipt and my pre-signed form into the police station two weeks before we get back in the spring.
The other change the new team did was to co-ordinate the training schedule so all the instrument mechanics did their safety training together and ended a week or less before their start dates. This meant for us that rather than sit in Regina for a couple of weeks between training and job start we could spend it at home. I put it to use clearing a swath around the house so the three foot layer of snow was at least ten or twelve feet away.
By the time we headed south the roads were a little bit better. There were still drifts across the highway in a few places between Glaslyn and North Battleford. The truck and trailer tried to go sideways travelling through the first snowy section and I managed to regain control but wouldn’t want to see what my pulse rate reached. Juanita was following in our car and she said it was a bit dramatic to watch. The Michelin tires are not a true winter tire and they are reaching the end of their useful life. Not bald, but obviously not grippy enough. For subsequent patches I slowed right down and threw the truck into four wheel drive. That seemed to work for that trip, but new tires are on the menu before next winter.
The trailer park in Regina was not answering calls. Their voice mail was full. I managed to get the former manager on his cell phone. He said he was selling jewelry now, but gave me a cell phone number of the new manager. Eventually we managed to connect once he came back into the country. On the day we arrived in Regina he gave me a number of a cleared site and said to park there. We arrived. That site wasn’t going to work for anything as long as our rig. The park handyman told us to park in another site that he had cleared. A few weeks later somebody showed up in the office and we paid up to date and beyond. There was only about a foot of snow on the ground. A lot less than some other years. We topped up the propane and I settled in for training. Juanita hooked up with her friend and went back to her volunteer job at the thrift store.
Juanita went back to Meadow Lake for Sonja’s birthday in April while I was working at the annual spring turnaround (maintenance shutdown). My tenth on that site. Everybody said the turnaround (maintenance shutdown) at the refinery would be a huge one and “would last until June”. As it progressed it was obvious that was not an informed opinion. Two days before my scheduled lay-off I blew out a muscle in my leg (see above) and elected not to uselessly hobble around for two days even on double time.
The car still had the snow tires so between physiotherapy appointments we went back to Meadow Lake and had the summer tires installed. Then back to Regina for more physio and off south to Morrill Nebraska to visit Karen and Leonard Cooks. After more than a 100 SOWER projects Leonard and Karen hung up their tool belts and paint brushes and bought a house in Morrill, Nebraska which is few miles west of better known Scottsbluff. They had been working steadily on the house since November. Our visit sort of threw a stick in the spokes and work came to a brief halt. I think and hopefully am correct in thinking that the interruption in work on the house gave them a well needed and well deserved break. Hey worked so hard on SOWER projects, going off the road may allow them to slow down but they had working much longer hours than a SOWER project schedule and it looks like they were a little over half way to where they wanted to be on the house.
Leonard grew up in the area. We benefited from his knowledge as they took us to the Scottsbluff park and museum that chronicles the Oregon Trail. You can still see the wagon tracks. Form the mid 1800’s. We dined at a fast food place that serves a sandwich that is only found in that area. Sorry the name escapes me. Perhaps when I have an internet connection I will remember to look it up and update this.
We went to the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and checked out the museum. Some grandparents were there heading out to burn off the energy of their hyper active eight-year-old grandson by hiking one of the loops out to the fossil beds themselves. My leg dictated that hiking on the bluff at Scottsbluff was enough of that for one day.
As we drove around the area Leonard told stories about his youth and the history of various buildings and businesses.
On the way to Morrill we drove through North and South Dakota, overnighting in Rapid City. South of Rapid City we visited the town of Hot Springs with its Mammoth Park attraction. This was discovered by a developer started to remove overburden for a sub division. The bulldozer started turning up mammoth tusks and skeletons and he stopped work. Eventually it was started to be properly excavated and then a building was built over the site and excavation and preservation continues. At some time in the distant past there was a large pond of geologically heated warm water in a sinkhole. Mammoths and other animals would try to drink from the water by standing on the slippery clay and ice sloped edges of the pond. They would slide in and be unable to get enough traction to get out. The water was too deep to stand in. They would eventually tire of swimming. Their lesson in slippery slopes being complete they would drown and sink to the bottom.
A lot of the mammoth skeletons are those of adolescent males. They would have been run off from the herd by the dominant bull and in the way of adolescent males would have either blundered around on their own engaging in risky, unwise behaviour or clustered with other similarly experience-challenged buddies. The only dynamic that was probably missing was there were likely to be no young females to try to impress. They were back with the herd.
On the way back from Morrill we drove through Wyoming and stopped at Devil’s Tower for lunch and a few snapshots.
We overnighted at Rapid City on the way north and then passed through Sturgis. It is the home of a massive motor cycle rally each summer. Large crowds sound awful to me, but to each his own, I guess. We stopped and took a few pictures of an old tow truck and a large metal sculpture on a post in front of a biker bar, but things look pretty quiet in May. The parking lot was empty. Just my speed.
Near the middle of May I finished up with physio Regina and we headed north to Meadow Lake.