Thursday, August 23, 2007

Another tale from Oil Gypsy and a brief note on Deadly Enterprise promotions for this week.

I went to a local copy shop and had some posters made up to publicise the book and future events that I intend. I left enough space under the picture of the cover to write in whatever event I intended to publicise. I also had a paragraph about the story, a small paragraph on me as ‘Local Author’, and two quotes from reviews. My wife, who had been in advertising when we married, was impressed with the finished posters.

I have also sold two of the few copies I bought to local libraries and discussed possible dates for doing readings and book signings. The dates will also depend on my publisher making arrangements with another POD company that will offer publisher (and author) discounts on quantity orders. I won’t try to place any books in local stores until I can deal on the price. Later this Fall, he says.

I have almost finished the full novel critique I have to do for my online writing group, so am beginning to see my way to get back to online promotions. And getting postings for this blog back on schedule. Let me know if you are finding the Oil Gypsy stories interesting – I’d love to hear from you.



Today, it seems that no one can take a lid off a jam jar without consulting some expert or other. I don’t remember our getting much expert advice when I worked in remote locations in the oilpatch – we learned from our misadventures and from the accidents to others.

I had an early lesson on the unforgiving nature of the Arctic soon after we began working there in the winter of 1970. The company chartered a light aircraft out of Inuvik, at the mouth of the Mackenzie River, to fly supplies to our two crews in the area. The crew I worked on was an hour’s flight west along the Beaufort Sea coast, while the other one was an hour north near Tuktoyaktuk The company placed an expediter in Inuvik to collect the supplies and ensure they were sent to the right crew.

I’ll call the expediter Kevin, he was from Oklahoma and had a limited experience of Canadian winters. On a fine, sunny December day, perhaps only -20 Celsius, he met the aircraft as it returned from our camp and loaded it with items for the other. He’d not visited the crews this winter, so decided to accompany the pilot for the ride.

He wore his usual town garb, sufficient for the drive between town and the airport, rubber overshoes and a parka thrown over his city clothes. The aircraft cabin was heated, and he’d be back in Inuvik in two hours.

Half way to the Tuktoyaktuk crew, they flew into a storm. They pressed on but failed to find the camp under the blowing snow of a ground blizzard. The pilot figured he was in the right place, so descended to low altitude to look for the airstrip. While they were flying in the storm, peering out through the blowing snow, they crashed into a snow covered hillside.

The pilot was the only one of the two injured in the crash, having both legs broken. Kevin, the expediter, was uninjured. But the storm raged all night and it was about noon the next day before a driver on a nearby oil company road saw the wreckage and rescued them. They were rushed to Inuvik and then flown to the University Hospital in Edmonton that had the best frostbite facility in Canada.

The pilot had been dressed for the Arctic and had mild frostbite as well as the broken legs. Kevin was different – lightly dressed, he had severe frostbite in all his extremities.

The doctors tried to save his feet, but had to amputate them to save his legs. Then they had to remove most of both legs to save his life. They tried to save his hands, but had to amputate them to save his arms. It turned out that they couldn’t save much of his arms – or his ears, or his nose.
His wife collected him to take him back to Oklahoma, what was left of him.

After that I was adamant about my crew venturing out of camp without adequate protection. We subsequently moved to a new job in the Arctic Islands, and the oil company provided a snowmobile as fast transport for any quick jobs out of camp. I would not use it myself, nor allow any of my survey crew to go out of camp on it. I was mindful of a reply given by an Innu hunter to a question why he still used a dog team instead of a snowmobile. With a long Innu history of hunters stranded alone for weeks by storms the hunter replied, “Can’t eat a snowmobile.”

People often asked me which was the most dangerous place I worked in – The Sahara Desert or the Canadian Arctic. If someone were to be wrecked and lost in the desert they could die of thirst and heat prostration in two or three days. They could be lying in a wreck in the Arctic for two or three hours and not survive.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A slow week on the promotion front as I've been busy critiquing a fellow writer's novel on a crit group. I was able to sell a copy of Deadly Enterprise to the local library and so am on the way to being listed on library catalogs. So today's post has more room to reveal some of the rural eccentricities the Oil Gypsy has lived with.


The surveyor on a seismic crew in North America used to be charged with getting permission from landowners before unleashing the crew across private land. Even when companies came into existence to perform this service at a cut rate, and less competently, the surveyors still had to mediate between angry farmers and the oil company.

We worked near Smoky Lake for most of one summer, and the company had a permit man who had done most of the work, but I still needed to meet one landowner. He objected to our working past his property on the road and I had to show him where we had adjusted our operation to accommodate him. His bargaining chip, which he told without the hint of embarrassment was that he owned the public road past his house.

Never in a million years, I told him. No municipality could sell an occupied road allowance – it was hard enough to have them part with one that climbed over a mountain, crossed a lake, or was otherwise unusable. He still maintained that he was special, he was involved with a religious charity, so I was supposed to accept divine intervention. We worked past on the road anyway – his house didn't fall down, his well didn't go dry, and no one on the crew was struck down by a bolt of lightning. Not even a surveyor.

Down the road from Noah lived Farmer North, who wouldn't sign a permit for us to work cross country over his land under any circumstances. Permit man signed up his neighbour instead, and Farmer North threatened to sue the company for the geophysical information we were stealing from him under his fence. He was furious that we were able to continue by working on Farmer South's side of the fence.

He must have understood eventually that he had no legal recourse to bar seismic waves from travelling into the earth under his land. The farmer is the owner of the surface rights only in most of Western Canada, and the people of the Province collectively own everything underneath. It didn't prevent Farmer North from hooking on to a mile of our geophones and cables with his tractor – on Farmer South's land – and dragging them away. We patched the repairs, re-laid the line and did the work as planned.

Every district has it's weirdos and crazies – truly – and some are crazy enough to certify. The mistaken idea that the land belongs to them, instead of them belonging to the land – the long term view – seems to turn their minds.

I permitted some land adjacent to the Rocky Mountains so that our heliportable crew could shoot a line over the mountain and into the valley beyond. A heliportable crew travels either on foot or in the air to get over otherwise impassable terrain. The drills that make our holes in the ground to shoot the dynamite that creates the seismic shockwaves are moved in three loads underneath a helicopter. A working crew of four or five drills are set down at intervals of a hundred yards or less of the line and spend anything from a few hours to a few days grinding away into the rock.

At the end of the job, I went back from guiding the line cutting crews to permitman to take around the release forms and pay off the landowners. One landowner raised the accusation that men on our crew had used a helicopter to steal an antique car from its restingplace in a pile of brush on the land next to his. "Hooked onto it and lifted it into the sky," he said.

I was skeptical, but I had to check this out. I would have disbelieved him entirely except the owner of some of the drills was an antique car buff, and not entirely straightforward in his dealings. I was lucky in that the lessee of the land in question was a friend of mine and went with me to check for signs that might reveal where the car had been allegedly moved from. As we walked around, seeing that a collection of five or six quietly rotting wrecks was still in place where they'd been abandoned in the 1930s, I learned why my friend was dead set on determining that no car had been stolen.

The owner of the land had taken a rifle to a pipeline crew when they arrived to lay a major pipeline across the mountains. Moreover he'd also declared war on his neighbours who had been so treacherous as to sign agreements with the company, and threatened to shoot them all. The RCMP came to quietly subdue and disarm him. At the time of this story he was certified and housed in Regina, with an injunction against his ever returning to the family homestead. My friend Mike said, "Even if a car is stolen, I don't want S to find out. He'll be back to make war on everyone again."

The cars were all there, although definitely a magnet for antique car buffs. As far as I know they are all still resting peacefully in their tangles of brush. I should be going past that land later this year; maybe I'll go and look at them again. I think S has passed away.

One winter working around Highway 22 north of Calgary, my brush clearing crew were local farmers. There wasn't a lot of cutting, but just off the foothills, each line had clumps of brush in every field. When the permitman came back with the permit and a story from one landowner visit, things looked to become exciting. It seems the man was the local eccentric who had set his own barn afire while drunk and then ordered a posse of neighbours who had come to help off his land at the point of a shotgun. Permitman reported that this honorable citizen had no less that two loaded rifles stashed around his livingroom, and never got more than a hand-stretch from either as long as they were in the room. Bill, my local farmer brush cutter declared that there'd better be no brush to cut on this guy's land or he'd desert.

When we got to the land, there was brush to cut, in two places. I set up my theodolite at the farm gate and was able to see past both patches to the next hilltop. Bill looked unhappy, but plucked up courage to go after the first patch. "I that crazy s.o.b. comes after me, I'm getting out."

I stood on my vantage point and guided them to place line marking stakes across the field toward the first obstacle. Things started well. Then a VW Beetle zoomed out of the farmyard and bounced across the field toward them. Oh, no. Now what was going to happen?

The Beetle skidded to a halt in a cloud of dust. The driver's door swung open, but no one got out. I watched through the theodolite telescope as Bill gingerly approached the car. A voluble discussion ensued with much waving of hands and pointing, but it was much too far away for me to hear anything. After several minutes the door slammed shut and the car sped away – leaving my crew still standing. It was an hour before the stretch of line was clear and I could rejoin them at the top of the next hill.

"What did crazy want?" I asked.

"Oh, he was mad about a plane. He asked if I'd seen the registration on a low flying trainer, because we wanted to phone and report it." Bill hadn't noticed any plane, and neither had I. Good job farmers can't buy shoulder launched guided missiles.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Books in my hands.

Hi All:

I received my order of six copies of my novel Deadly Enterprise this past week. Not enough to act as my own distributor and costly enough I'm not sure where to give them away. Some review sites will only accept printed copies to review, but which ones are worth the investment? Now comes the promotion aspect of being a writer and I'm still mulling over how best to go about it.

My local writing group want me to do a reading and book signing at a local library, and some date in September is best for them. I have to take my wife to town next week for blood tests at our nearest town in the other direction, so I'll try to arrange an appointment with the librarian there and ask her advice. No booksellers around here for miles, and I need a different printer if I want to put books and a big poster – "Local Author", picture of the cover, etc etc – in some friendly outlets on consignment.

I was notified that the first review of the novel had been done for TCM Reviews but it's not posted on the site yet. I'll check to see when it's going up. So far I have the kind words of Lea Schizas, who runs the Muse Online sites (check the next free conference details at as my best quote:–
"Gisel's character is so refreshing, not only because she is a woman and can defend herself, but the situations she finds herself in and how she eludes the enemy, well, you just have to read to understand why I loved this novel."

I finally made it to a different computer this week and signed up Gisel on Facebook. So my protagonist has her own page there, with her network as Toronto (the largest in terms of membership). I will get back to advertising the book on the site next week – this time I'll splurge and pay for exposure. Gotta drive those readers to look and buy. Word of mouth is the most sincere form of advertising, so Gisel and her accompanying characters have to make friends with enough readers that the word goes out in reader-land.

Now for the light entertainment:–

Oil Gypsy – episode five.

I doubt if any oil exploration crews have worked on the Canadian muskeg for twenty years. In the past, they used to work on tracks every summer. Canada then had several manufacturers of muskeg vehicles, including Nodwell and Flextrac. I've used both in the Arctic to travel over snow. They are large cab-forward trucks that look like tanks, on wide rubber tracks running over lots of rubber tired wheels.

Perhaps you're not familiar with muskeg. The last ice age left millions of scooped out holes in the northern bush that filled with water. Over thousands of years plants have slowly invaded these ponds and lakes and built mats of floating vegetation across them, bound together by tendrils of sphagnum moss. I've worked on them in winter, when the surface is frozen, and they can hold up trucks and tracked dozers over thirty tons in weight. You can drive on them if you don't mind the surface undulating beneath you like the skin of a waterbed. If the vehicle breaks through – you have to hope it's not deep.

In summer time, the Nodwells crawled over and through these swamps of floating muskeg like alligators pulling themselves out of a swamp, leaving huge scars in the surface behind them. That's the reason no one does it any more.

Crews roughed it in those days. No air conditioned trailers and hot showers – they lived in tents. They were generally isolated for weeks, since even a ten mile trip to civilization could take three hours at Nodwell speed, and evening relaxation consisted of sitting outside the kitchen tent amid the mosquitos, yarning and drinking beer. And on every crew, someone would have a dog.

Dogs didn't mind the hardship, the mud, and the strong tea-coloured water, stained with the tannin from the sphagnum – it was all great fun to a dog. Especially chasing bears that wandered periodically into camp to investigate the garbage dump. Mostly the bears were blacks, who would generally prefer to run off than get into a fight.

Not all blacks would run. One evening on PM's crew (PM standing for party manager, who told me this tale) a small group of guys sat drinking and chatting when a new bear arrived. The dog launched into his act – running at the bear, barking and growling. The guys laughed at the antics, especially a French engineer out from head office on a visit. Better than a reality show. But this bear didn't want five minutes of fame on camera – he turned and growled even louder – putting the run on the dog.

Now, where would a frightened dog – tail between his legs – run for safety? You guessed it – right behind all those big tough guys.

The party broke up rapidly as bear and dog arrived. The nearest cover was a Nodwell parked nearby where the mechanics had been repairing it. Half a dozen men took cover behind it.

Left alone amid the spilled beer cans and upended chairs, the dog ran after his unwilling protectors – and the bear followed. Within a few seconds, a race developed around the Nodwell, the dog easily in the lead and the bear, who couldn't make turns very gracefully, in the rear. The guys who made up the pack in between jostled and hoofed it in order not to be last but one.

Each guy in turn put on a sprint for the lead, in hopes of gaining enough distance they could leave the race and find safety elsewhere. Usually the dog would get under their feet and slow the whole procession. PM was lucky enough to find a clear stretch on about lap five that he could peel off and make it to camp. That left five guys and the even angrier bear in the race.

The French engineer took a chance as he came past the cab again, to leap onto the track and dive through the open door. Not wanting to invite bear in behind him, he leaned out to yank the door closed. Pity he wasn't more familiar with Nodwells, as the door had been latched open and his frantic heave almost pulled him out into the bear's path. A horrified yell signaled they'd come nose to nose. Luckily for the engineer, the roof hatch of the Nodwell (the escape hatch for sinking crew members) was also latched open and so he reversed direction and flew through it like a Space shuttle leaving the ground.

When PM got back to the scene with the camp rifle, three men were perched on the cab roof and two more were hiding among the tents. The dog and bear were on lap twenty-two and dog was beginning to panic. As he scampered around the rear of the machine he escaped by diving under the rear differential.

Bear saw where he went and tried to follow. Being a lot bigger than the dog, he didn't fit. His head hit the steel case with a loud clang. First time in his life something hadn't given way for him – bear fell down with a thump. As he rolled over, PM said he could visualize the cloud of stars orbiting bear's head like a cartoon drawing. He didn't shoot. He just watched him stagger erect, put one massive paw to his head, and totter away into the bush.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Hi All:

I’ve ordered a few POD copies of Deadly Enterprise, but they’ve not arrived yet. To order the large print paperback off the Double Dragon website (at ) you need to click on the link at the top right hand corner of the page. BTW, large print doesn’t mean the almost Braille copies produced for the vision impaired – these are 14 pt that are easier to read than the ‘cram in as much print as possible to save cost’ PODs that some others sell.

I will have a new review of Deadly Enterprise appear, tomorrow the reviewer thinks. Eugen Bacon reviewed the novel at TCM Reviews for me. She and E. Don Harpe have an exceptional story in Twisted Tales II, volume 2 from Double Dragon.

I’ll remind you of the other sites that have posted promotions for my novel release.
My interview with Rachael Byrd is at
My interview with Cheryl Maladrinos is at --
Novelspot has a great resource page for me at

So now it’s on to the latest tale from Oil Gypsy.

We had plenty of trouble from white-outs and ground blizzards in the Arctic Islands when I worked there. Ground blizzards consisted of all the snow picked up by strong winds into a blinding storm; as distinct from a regular blizzard of fresh snow coming down on the wind. The Arctic wasn’t short of winds, but snow was actually scarce – the place is properly called an ice-desert – and the little that fell was blown back and forth all winter until it took refuge in some gully.

White-outs are more bizarre, the air fills with minute ice crystals to make a white fog. The white ground and the white sky merge into a single continuum that allows no perception of depth and barely a sense of up or down. When traveling under those conditions I was always on the lookout for steep drop-offs, which in the varied places we worked could be as little as ten feet or several hundred. I fitted my tracked survey unit with a halogen spotlight mounted in a swivelling tractor mount beside the roof hatch. In white-outs I pointed the lamp at the ground just in front of the tracks and watched the faint spot like a hawk as I drove. If the spot vanished it meant the ground had fallen away.

I would climb down from the cab to check what was ahead, feeling like a swimmer in a tank of cottonwool. I’d take baby steps forward to try to distinguish an edge beside my foot. Snow sculpted into a cornice creates a faint shadow outline against the empty space below it. I’ve even crawled on hands and knees if I suspected I could be at the top of a big cliff. It was always safest to inspect even a shallow depression before driving off the edge into it.

One morning I ran into trouble when climbing upwards. I had been surveying in an ice fog, a strange experience having the accurately leveled instrument tell you that the completely contourless fog in front of you is actually a moderate slope. The rodman had faded into the distance, turned to see I had vanished, and returned to give me a shot on the last visible terrain. I took my turn there, packed up the instrument into the Nodwell and climbed in to drive forward to a new set-up spot.

I knew the ground was uneven, a group of gullies fingered out of the hillside toward Satellite Bay on Prince Patrick Island. I nosed into what appeared to be the widest of these and then aimed at the slope in front of me, judging that I was aimed perpendicularly up the slope. It was a steep climb but all started off well. Then the Nodwell tilted to one side, the tracks lost their grip and the machine tobogganed sideways. At this point I still couldn’t distinguish the ground clearly – it felt like falling in an out-of-control plane.

Machine and I slid sideways about twenty feet before hitting the bottom. It lurched heavily but didn’t tip. I climbed out and the rodman appeared at the top of the slope, peering down. The scuff marks on the hill showed I had started up fairly well but then driven sideways off the spur I’d been climbing. I realized I had a completely mistaken idea of where I was going in the fog. But I wasn’t going any further – two wheels had been smashed and a track partly torn off. We walked back to camp.

Some of our guys had worse experiences in the Arctic. A rodman of mine had one that was a split second from becoming fatal.

I was at time off when the crew finished work on Brock Island and needed to move to the next job on Eglinton Island. Most moves at that time were done by air – load all the equipment into Hercs and make 15 or 20 trips needed to convey everything to the airstrip cleared on the next island. On this occasion they didn’t have the strip prepared and decided I could lead everyone over the sea ice and islands between to our new jobsite when I got back from the city.

It actually worked quite well, but I mustn’t get ahead of the story. While they were waiting for my return, the rodman, Don, made a couple of simple sun compasses of the pattern I had sometimes used in the Libyan Desert and he and the helicopter pilot decided they would begin the move by getting the survey Nodwells across Ballantyne Strait to Prince Patrick Island, about 50 miles away.

Don drove my Nodwell across over the sea ice one fine day and parked the machine on the low sand cliffs before being flown back to camp in the Jet Ranger. The weather closed in for a couple of days but on the next fine day they decided they’d better fly a barrel of fuel across to refill my Nodwell’s tanks. You don’t want a big diesel running out of fuel and stopping in minus 40 or 50 weather.

By this time there were several empty fuel drums out on the strait because the pilot had set them to mark the route that Don had taken to Prince Patrick. They flew over with the full drum slung underneath and the pilot set it down beside the Nodwell. Then he moved away enough to land on the cliff beside it. As Don climbed out the pilot, who had been watching the weather, said, “Better be quick – there’s a white-out building up.”

Don cranked the hand pump as fast as he could but long before the drum was dry, the pilot shouted and gestured. “Better get in, or I leave you here.”

If that seems a bit harsh, you might be interested to know that the Jet Ranger wasn’t licensed to fly on instruments. The pilot needed to have a clear view of the horizon and ground to keep flying straight. If it was eerie walking in a white-out and not being sure where the ground was, it was damned scary in a helicopter.

The pilot took off with his eyes on the approaching cloud of ice fog and dashed off in the direction of camp less than a hundred feet above the ice. They flew fast into the cloud, always picking the thinner fog where they could still peer down at the sculpted sea ice below.

Then, as Don told me later, he looked up out of a higher part of the windshield to see an oil drum floating in the air above them. That was weird. He pointed it out to the pilot. The man shrieked and hauled on the controls. The helicopter swerved and rolled . . . and the oil drum sank back below them where it was supposed to be. They had been flying almost upside down and diving at the ice.

Oh, yes. Those white-outs can kill you.