Sunday, July 25, 2010

We’re in cattle country

After we crossed the border we stopped briefly in Miles City, Montana.  The last time we were in Miles City it was 300 degrees below zero and the whole damn town was froze up.  We were headed home from our inaugural winter RV run dragging our old Rustler fifth wheel behind a woefully inadequate F150 4x4.  Its really amazing that we didn’t kill ourselves or somebody else with that rig.  The salesman that sold us the fifth wheel said “Oh yeah, it will pull that just fine.”  And it did, after a fashion.  We dragged that hulk all the way to Los Angeles and back to Nipawin in January.  I checked with Lloyd Holmen, the service manager at the local Ford dealer before we left.  He said “just pull her down into 2nd and let it rev up on the hills.”  Which is what I did.  And then when I got home I replaced every bearing from the transfer case back and then promptly traded it on a real truck, my first Powersmoke F250. 

But I digress – we arrived in Miles City that time in the depth of an unprecedented freeze and we only stopped because I wanted to buy gas, a regular occurrence with that overloaded rig.  As I was turning off the interstate I watched the trailer in the mirror and as I watched one of the trailer tires rolled itself off its rim.  We’d already replaced two rotten tires on that trip so I swiftly arrived at the conclusion that we would be replacing two more immediately.  I nursed it into Miles City Service where George was trying to deal with too much work on a too cold day.  Everybody in town was phoning him to come and boost their vehicle and his pipes were froze up and his shop was freezing cold.  As near as we could tell the only heat in the shop was a space heater next to the phone.  But he got us a pair of tires and mounted them in the parking lot to get us back on the road.

This time it wasn’t nearly as exciting although we did get a ripping good thunderstorm during the night.  We spent the night behind a fuel station along with a custom combine crew and then arrived at USDA Fort Keogh early in the morning.   Don’t tell anybody but we loaded up a shitload of stuff and hauled it from there down into western Nebraska.  I’m sure the teamsters union wouldn’t have approved but the stuff was supposed to have been shipped weeks earlier and yet there it sat when we arrived.  I didn’t really want to explain to two ranchers in western Nebraska that I had seen their equipment sitting at USDA and just left it there so I stuffed it into and onto the Exploder and got back on the road.

We arrived at Art Olsen’s ranch close to dark on Thursday night but I still had time to sort through the “stuff” we had hauled from Miles City to make sure I had more or less what I needed for the install.  Then I worked harder than I have worked for a long time to get everything in place and working by today.  They have something like 250 head of steers waiting to go into the pens where the equipment was installed and they have endured several failed delivery promises.  I told them when we arrived that I would have them ready to go today and I did.  The guy who is building the pens may be a bit behind his schedule but he was welding up a storm tonight when we pulled out of the yard.  We’re parked in the city campground at Gering, NE tonight enjoying the 50 amp power, running water, cable and sewer. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

With fear and trepidation …

….. we approached the border yesterday afternoon.  When Alison and Camiel asked me to do some work for them in the US my first question was how it would be possible for a Canuck such as myself to work in the US.  Not a problem they assured me.  But after our ordeal last November I wasn’t so sure. 

We’ve been in a mad scramble ever since arriving back in Saskatchewan.  We ran around the perimeter of the province, bought the famous house in Buchanan and then zipped over to Calgary so I could get in some training ahead of the Stampede.  Then I spent most of a day in the Growsafe booth at Stampede before we headed back to Regina.  When we got to Regina I had a vehicle safety done on the Exploder and of course they found a list of things as long as my arm wrong with it.  So we left it in the garage and headed off for our reunion weekend.  When we got back to Regina on Monday the truck was ready to go and I hung Saskatchewan plates on it again.  The bus still has BC tin and will have to stay that way until I figure out how to get frog glass from Quebec to Nipawin for some reasonable cost.

Meanwhile Alison had sent my “travel documents” by UPS from Airdrie to the UPS store in Regina.  Nothing could go wrong with that plan right?  UPS truck delivering to a UPS store.  Some nitwit in Calgary decided that they couldn’t deliver to a box number even when that box number was in one of their own stores so the package stayed an extra day in Calgary until Alison could get her hands on it to cross out the box number.  The little terrorist guy who runs the store in Regina is happy to receive my mail with or without my box number.  So that put us another day later leaving Regina which wasn’t all that big a problem because I have 30 Palliser files that I needed to at least get organized so I can start visiting them as soon as we get back from the US trip.

Then in the middle of Tues/Weds night I woke up worrying about whether the damncat had all his shots up to date.  He didn’t so Marilyn dumped yet another hundred bucks into his miserable furry hide in order to ensure that he won’t infect all the US of A cats with some dreaded CCD (Canadian Cat Disease). 

All that activity combined with a few visits to father and a couple of grocery runs left us leaving Regina around 2:00 yesterday afternoon and arriving at the Port of Regway/Raymond around 4:00.  We expected a minimum of a 2 hour crossing and likely much longer.  I was not at all sure that we would get across at all. 

Where you going? What are you going to do?  You’re going to work?  Where are you going to get paid?  Take your hat off.  (my beard was confusing him because my passport photo is beardless)  Then he read Alison’s letter and asked me to open the door.  I can’t recall a customs nazi ever boarding any vehicle with us in it.  I can remember standing out in front of the bus watching through the windows while they ransacked it but this guy just marched onboard and went directly to the fridge.  Marilyn had her list of vegetables in hand but he never asked her anything about what we had.  I think he spent longer rooting around in the fridge than he did reading Alison’s letter and then he said “have a nice trip”.  All in all less than 5 minutes.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Last night we got back to Regina in time to stop in for a quick visit with father.  Some days he’s pretty cute.  When we said we’d be back to see him today he said he didn’t know how well that would work out.  Evidently he had to get up early to go somewhere to pick up his car.  It wasn’t Nipawin – somewhere south of Nipawin – and he waved his hand dismissively as if to indicate that we probably knew where he meant anyway.

Today we showed up around 4:00 and took him for a walk to Wascana creek.  He was very concerned that we wouldn’t get him back home in time for supper but he seemed to enjoy the outing anyway. 

I’m constantly baffled and entertained by the way his mind works now.  He can’t reliably remember whether Diane has been to see him on any given day but often gets details like the fact that she is away for a period of time right.  He can’t remember that he can’t walk but last night when he got the notion that he was going to somewhere near Nipawin that thought kept reappearing in his conversation for a long time.  It amazes me that he can stay focused on getting out of bed for long enough to actually achieve his goal but evidently he can not only do that but does it regularly.

One thing is for certain, he is much happier in Wascana and he is getting much better care than he has received for some time now. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A fine looking bunch

We did the traditional guys-cook-breakfast thing this morning but it was more like brunch than breakfast because none of us seemed too interested in doing anything other than visiting this morning. 

This was easily the largest group we have ever attracted to one of these reunions.  Perhaps the central location helped the turnout or maybe we’re all just getting old and feeling the need to connect with our youth.  Whatever the reason it was a wonderful weekend made all the better by some truly excellent weather.  Finally I have a bit of a sunburn on my arms and forehead.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


There’s a group of Class of ‘79 agros that have been getting together annually on the same weekend since we graduated.  I don’t remember how it got started or the exact history and we haven’t been to anywhere near all the gatherings but every year on the 3rd weekend of July the same group gathers somewhere in Saskatchewan.  Over the years our families have come and gone.  Some of the group are now grandparents.  Some of us haven’t changed all that much and some of us don’t look much like we used to.  This is the first time we have been at one of these where there weren’t at least one or two kids hanging around.  Even long after they were grown and in some cases out of the house, some of the kids kept coming back because of all the fond memories they had of this weekend.

This year we’re gathered just outside Riverhurst, on the shore of Lake Diefenbaker.  One of our group has a cabin here - “the new cabin” according to the locals – the rest of us are scattered between the group camping area and the rental cabins.  Today the Roughriders are playing Edmonton in Regina so most of the group is in Gwen’s cabin watching the game.  I’ve seen the Riders lose enough games over the years so I don’t plan to go over until close to the end of the game.  Expectations for today’s game are pretty high so most likely that choking sound you hear in central Saskatchewan will be the Riders coughing up another one.

This morning the service mangler from Ukrainian Tire in Regina phoned to say that the truck is safetied.  A mere $2000 later, and less than 10 months after it last had Saskatchewan plates hanging on it, Canadian Tire has pronounced it safe for Saskatchewan roads again.  What a crock of shit!  But its all part of the cost of returning so we just have to suck it up and pay.  Not that its any consolation but the bus will be worse.

We’re likely leaving next week for Nebraska and Montana on a Growsafe project.  I wanted to have the truck switched over to a Saskatchewan registration before we left but I hadn’t planned on having to do (yet another) rebuild on the front end.

Friday, July 9, 2010


We’re parked in one of our regular spots, west of Airdrie in Alison & Camiel’s yard.  We hotfooted it across most of Saskatchewan on Monday, arriving here after 9:00.  We didn’t get out of Buchanan until 10:00 but we had expected to be later.  It turned out that the village office wasn’t open that day, nor either of the next two for that matter, so we couldn’t do any of our business there.  We were able to get a box number – 33 if any of you care. 

We’re here because I’m starting a contract for a company called GrowSafe Systems.  The company is owned by Marilyn’s oldest friend and her husband.  They have some really neat technology that will absolutely revolutionize how the livestock industry works.  They have been working away at developing the technology for over 10 years now and we have been following their progress.  Right now they need some mobile help with U.S. installations and apparently a Canadian can work in the U.S. if everything is done properly.  I’ll believe that when I see it.


This is Stampede week in Calgary.  The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is truly that.  We haven’t been to the Stampede for several years now and we probably won’t go to a bunch of it this year either.  Its a huge event for anyone in the livestock industry though so our friends are exhibiting and doing the party circuit.  On Tuesday I’ll be helping set up some of their equipment at the Stampede trade show as part of my training.  After that we’ll likely head toward the border and see how that goes.  Based on our experience last fall showing up at the border and saying “I’m headed into the U.S. to do some work” doesn’t seem like a really smart idea but we’ll give it a whirl and see what happens.

Yesterday Marilyn finally connected with the village administrator and got the straight dope on getting our lawn mowed.  It costs $180 annually and they will mow it as often as it needs to be mowed.  Can’t beat that.  That was always our biggest issue with property ownership – just when the weather turned nice enough to be at the lake was when the damn lawn went into overdrive and needed to be mowed more than once a week.

Last night Camiel and I flew up to Edmonton with another planeload of his buddies for what they called a club meeting but what was really just an excuse to go flying on a gorgeous evening.  We kind of broke the law coming home on a couple of counts.  He isn’t night rated and we ended up landing more than a half hour after sunset.  He also let me fly from the time he cleared Edmonton International airspace until we got back to the Airdrie strip.  Its been close to 30 years since I hung onto the stick in an airplane and it felt pretty good.  I didn’t do much more than keep the wings level but I did get to do our descent to get us under Calgary’s airspace.  Airdrie’s airport is inside the control circle for Calgary but as long as you stay under 4800 feet you don’t have to check in with Calgary control.  The ground level is somewhere around 3500 feet so you are getting down pretty close to the ground in order to stay under the controlled airspace.  All in all its been a pretty wonderful week.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Still not much of a house

We arrived back in Buchanan last night just before dark.  We would have been here a little earlier but the rainstorms have closed some local highways.  When we came up from Melville on Friday there was water running over the pavement about 3 miles south of Buchanan.  I knew it was risky coming that way again but I gave it a shot anyway.  And we likely would have got through if we had arrived even 1/2 an hour earlier than we did.

As we rolled up to the grid 6 miles south of Buchanan there was a Dept of Holidays truck sitting in the middle of the road and the highways goof was just pounding in the Road Closed sign.  He already had the barricade set up in the middle of the road.  After he got done pounding he came over to the ticket window and told me how dangerous the road was.  I doubt it was really all that dangerous but it didn’t much matter – it was closed and he was there so there wasn’t even any chance of ducking around the barricade.  We ended up going about 6 or 8 miles east to the Tiny grid and then north to Highway 5 where we could backtrack to Buchanan.  I suppose in theory there was some risk of travelling on a highway with water flowing over it – the grade could have been undermined and we do weigh a lot so it could have ended badly. 

At the time I was 3/4 pissed off though because I hate travelling on gravel roads.  We picked up two new stone chips last week on our cross Saskatchewan adventure and I don’t want any more.  One of the new chips promptly turned itself into a 10” crack before I even knew it was there.  I drilled three holes at the end of the expanding crack before finally getting deep enough to stop it.  The other one was a bullseye and I managed to get to it before it grew so it is pretty well invisible now.

There’s a lot of  water around this part of the world.  The trip north from Melville to here goes through a lot of unseeded ground.  In fact I’d say there’s significantly more unseeded than seeded along that route.  On the other hand, we’ve driven most of Saskatchewan in the last week and that is absolutely the only area where we saw that kind of unseeded ground.  There was one other stretch that I thought was bad – it must have been north of Watson but right now I can’t remember precisely where.  In general though I can’t remember ever seeing such good crops.  I know the following statement will piss off any farmers in the drowned regions but you can quote me on this:

Year in and year out, water is our most limiting nutrient.  Having a surplus of water may be a regional inconvenience but overall it is a good thing for the prairies.

They have a lot of underfed mosquitoes in this town.   I fed some of them last night while I was setting up the internet dish but I gave up when I tried to set up the TV dish.  They don’t seem to like the sunshine so I was able to get the TV dish set up this morning. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Bought another house

We bought a house yesterday.  Its not a great house but its a house nevertheless.  Our reasons for buying it are complicated but they come down to not being able to buy insurance.  The only real struggle we have not been able to resolve since we started living in the bus is how to buy insurance. 

We had some issues with ICBC around vehicle insurance but I think we could have resolved those.  Property insurance on the other hand is a whole different matter.  We could self-insure basic theft and loss, in fact we probably will continue to do that.  The possessions that we surround ourselves with aren’t really worth all that much when you get right down to it.  They certainly aren’t worth what the insurance underwriters think they can extract from us in premium income.

The boat is a whole ‘nuther matter.  You can’t buy insurance for toys without a physical residential address or at least we never figured out how to do it.  All of that type of liability is covered by a rider on a residential policy, either a tenant package or a home owners policy.  Again, self-insuring the basic value of the boat wouldn’t be such a big deal but the kicker is liability.  There’s just too much personal liability when we run the boat.  All that needs to happen is some idiot (and there’s no shortage of idiots on the water) …. some idiot runs into us and then manages to convince a lawyer that it was somehow our fault.  In theory we should then be able to rely on the wisdom of a judge but in reality judges are nothing more than politically connected lawyers and usually sleazy, politically connected lawyers.  But I digress…..

We bought a house in order to be able to buy homeowners insurance which will in turn allow us to add the liability insurance which  is what we actually wanted to buy in the first place.  However we didn’t spend much on the famous house.  As it turns out it was so inconsequential that I didn’t even bother to take a picture of it and I have looked long and hard for a picture ad for it on the internet but I don’t think one exists.  We looked at it Wednesday on our way through Buchanan and tried to phone the owners but only got their cast iron secretary.  Thursday night while we were getting drowned in the Yorkton flood one of the owners called and we agreed to come back on Friday to have a look at the inside of the house.  We had looked the outside over fairly thoroughly but obviously couldn’t get into any of the buildings.

Before we arrived in Buchanan Marilyn and I agreed on a lowball number that we were prepared to pay for the house.  We have accepted that whatever we pay for this house is money that we will likely never see again.  Most of the small towns in Saskatchewan are dying.  Its sometimes hard to determine why and often its just an accident of fate but dying they are and many of them are long since dead but nobody has buried them yet.  50 years ago when Mom & Dad moved us to Shellbrook it wasn’t much of a town – it was maybe slightly more advanced than Leask and definitely ahead of Parkside which in turn was greatly ahead of Holbein.  Today Leask is “doing very nicely, thank you”, Parkside is dead but not buried but Holbein on the other hand has several recent new residences.  There’s still not much there but it is way too soon to predict its complete demise.  Through all that Shellbrook has grown steadily. 

Our new hometown, Buchanan, appears to be one of the non-survivors, part of the community of undead towns, a civic zombie.  There is no real reason for it to survive – it doesn’t have any critical mass of people, it doesn’t have any industry or government service and its not in a particularly prosperous area.  Which explains why we were able to buy a really cheap house there.  It doesn’t bode well for us when we go to sell the house but it will make it a lot easier to lock the door and walk away for most months of the year.

Having said all the negative about the house, its also a 20 minute drive from the beach at Goodspirit Lake which can’t be a bad thing for our boating future.  It has a huge yard which could be a maintenance headache but …….. wait for it ………… the village mows the grass.  We’ll plant some raspberries because my great regret about the Nipawin acreage is that we left raspberries behind that were ready to bear fruit the year we moved out.

The house is also part of a larger picture in that it enables us to officially move back to Saskatchewan.  We got sick and tired of the money grab that calls itself BC.  Somebody quipped that BC stands for “bring cash” and that certainly was our experience.  The management of ICBC should be jailed – if any business did what they do it would be considered fraud.  The healthcare cards that cost us $1200 per year delivered what ???   We seriously considered buying property in BC but then we looked at where we are currently working and decided that BC was just a huge fricking mistake and the sooner we turned it around the happier we would be.  So we did.

Along the way to buying the house in Buchanan we had a delightful trip around Saskatchewan.  We entered at Lloydminster, crossed the north through Shellbrook and I went as far east as Nipawin.  Then we went down through Melfort to Watson and across to Kamsack then south and into Yorkton from the east.  We arrived in Yorkton in the middle of their once in a century flood.  Then we went south and visited Grayson and Neudorf.  From there we headed back north to Buchanan and then over to Regina.  The constant theme in this trip was small dying towns with cheap houses for sale but along the way we saw most of the province and stopped for lunch at some really cute little rest areas.

Almost every town has one and nobody ever uses them.  The capital cost to construct them is significant but the cost of upkeep has to be huge.  Some of them are real gems, they’re often hidden in the town and they are a great spot to stop for a meal. 

I was a little concerned about getting whacked by an errant golf ball when we stopped for supper in Ft. Qu’Appelle but we got away with it.  The Ft. Q. goof course seems to attract a lower calibre of goofers than some and they evidently have no restrictions on how many family members can ride in or hang on the outside of a goof cart.

My guess is there’s a lot of places on the prairies where a lot of trails used to cross each other.  And wherever the trails had to cross a river they were more likely to come together at the natural fords.  I guess that’s part of our heritage but I’m not sure I’d have spent the money to engrave that information on a marker.  As a taxpayer I didn’t have any effective voice in the decision to do that so I’ll get my taxes back by stopping there for dinner as often as practical.