Thursday, September 27, 2007

I have to announce some progress with Deadly Enterprise this week. Lightning Source-Ingram have started producing POD paperbacks and the cost is a lot less than the Lulu PODs. Not only that but the novel is available on at

The Amazon price is $14.99 USD, which means that my selling price in Canada, with taxes, shipping, and currency exchange should be between $15 and $20. I’ve ordered some copies to take to book signings, through my publisher, and expect to receive them soon.

Beyond that I’ve done much less on the promotion front than I’d hoped. I have a full length novel clinic I’m working on, for a fellow writer, as well as the mountain exploits to complete the new fence line handcut before the winter snows arrive. That has been slowed because I managed to twist my ankle badly on Saturday when I was out cutting winter firewood. I’m not using the crutch as often today, but it will be awhile before I’m up to scrambling up and down mountain slopes again.


When I supervised saw crews cutting lines in the Canadian bush I met a lot of natives and Metis, as well as Newfies. The oil company clients were encouraged to hire local people for the work, and so it seemed I always had to explain what the men were allowed to do and what not when they went to work for the industry.

I had one job in the forestry just outside a Metis colony, and I could never convince them they had to abide by different rules whenever they crossed over the boundary. The whole crew and contractor were the colony’s own – and they were hoping to leapfrog from working in their own area to gaining contracts for jobs farther away. Even so, they didn’t take the regulations the company crews worked under seriously.

For access to their working area, the oil company was negotiating with the regulators to construct a temporary bridge across the small river running through the colony. The requirements seemed a bit excessive, extending as far as bringing in washed gravel for the bridge abutments and taking it away afterwards. The riverbed was already gravel and it still seemed safer to use it than import some. Maybe some deadly fish virus would be clinging to the underside of a stone. I guess that possibility wasn’t in the bureaucratic mind – washing was equivalent to sterilizing. No vehicles were allowed in the water either, so we were prohibited from fording the stream even though it was very shallow.

I dutifully drove the extra thirty miles every morning to take the appalling mud trail that avoided the river. And every morning I met my crews already waiting for me. They had forded the river and travelled the short way – of course. How could I convince them not to bring the quads and trucks through the river? They’d done it every day of their lives. I eventually quit arguing and became a temporary Metis every day.

The other rule they thought stupid was the prohibition against carrying a rifle in their trucks. Again, something they had always done. “You are not allowed to hunt during the time you are working for an oil company,” I reminded them almost daily.

They’d shake their heads. “Of course not. We aren’t.”

All the separate crews carried radios at work, and I monitored the traffic to pinpoint problems they were having – that they were usually too proud to admit. Part of my job was to add the survey input to their tree cutting, but they hated to ask for help. They usually used English on air, but sometimes they’d switch languages when they didn’t want me to know what was happening. Mostly the alternate language was Cree, but not all of them were fluent in it.

Whenever the radio burst out with excited transmissions in Cree, I knew they were up to something. Because not everyone could understand everything said, or couldn’t explain themselves fluently, they would use a smattering of English in the mix. By listening carefully, I could get some idea what they were doing – miles away on the other side of the job.

“You guys are not hunting that moose, are you?”

“What moose?” would be the answer.

“The one you’re all talking about on the radio. You are not allowed to hunt while you’re at work.”

“We don’t have rifle. You told us not to.”

“I know I did – many times. So what are you going to do with it – strangle it with your bare hands?”

The answer would be laughter and witty comments – in Cree – but I could read the tone of voice. I could always pack up what I was doing and drive, or quad, over to where I suspected they were. But this was rough country and getting from one area to another was a chore, likely they would be finished, hidden, or miles away by the time I’d managed the journey. I can’t help agreeing with the Taoist dictum – the more laws promulgated, the more thieves and bandits proliferate.

My northern crews were good guys to work with – except for the problem of keeping them within the rules we had to follow. I had to count vehicles and quads every day to make sure they weren’t charging for units that were broken down or away somewhere else – but that was an old trick in the business that not only Metis tried to pull.

They were hard workers and uncomplaining – always a bonus in an environment that was often miserable due to cold weather or dangerous terrain. One day two of them and I headed far south to where the Cats were working. I was on my quad and they shared another – against the rules, but if I enforced them I’d have no crew at all. The terrain was so steep the Cats had been reduced to winching one another up and down hills in places. The trail they’d produced had to be taken at a flying run uphill, and sometimes fast downhill to keep the back wheels behind the front. I used tire chains on the front of the little Honda and they would enable the wheels to bite periodically on those huge bounces as I rushed the hills. That helped me to steer, when each bounce aimed me into a different tree or debris pile. My two crew had no such luxury, and only the option of having the passenger jump off if their quad threatened to tip. Going home at the end of the day I complained to them about being sore from the rough rides. They grinned – and then told me they’d been thrown off three times that day.

On another job I worked on a native reserve with a construction company owned by the band. The manager was a cheerful scoundrel who adroitly spanned the conceptual gap between First Nation thinking, oil companies, and the tax man. Was there a need for an annual general meeting? Nothing wrong in holding it in Las Vegas, but half the band were shareholders and how could they get there? “You could charter a plane,” I suggested. A tax write-off.

Brilliant idea. Maybe this White-eyes isn’t so dumb after all.

The foreman of the saw crews was a chief’s son, who seemed to have the idea that operations could run themselves. One day he brought out a new worker to replace a man on a short handed crew. I was told he drove to a crossroads, waved a hand toward some trees and said, “They’re that way.”

The man had been on a similar job the year before and following an old habit started walking down the trail they’d used then. I called the crew several times that afternoon to see if he’d found them, and each time they’d said no. He carried a radio, but they said they’d not heard him for a long time. No one seemed put out. “He’ll show up eventually.”

Going home time came, and still no one had seen or heard from the new man. One of the saw men was a young fellow from another band who was living on the res with his local girlfriend. He grinned at me, when I started questioning everybody for ideas how we could find our lost man. “Don’t worry, he’s an Indian. A night in the bush won’t hurt him.”

“What if he’s had an accident and needs help? I said.

Another big grin. “The wolves gotta eat too.”

I sent the men home – except for the wolf sympathizer and his partner – and set out to drive as much of a perimeter as I could – given that half of my circle had no roads or trail access. In a search and rescue operation the first task is to establish the search perimeter – the line beyond which the missing person could not have strayed. I followed a new set of access roads to oil and gas wells near the river. At each well site I’d park and call the missing man on the radio. No answers.

At the very last well site I did the same and by setting the squelch of my radio down as far as possible, was able to hear a faint reply. I wasn’t sure if it was him, but I called my other crew of guys who had started walking through the bush in the direction they thought he’d gone, and told them to keep calling him.

After an hour, the radio reply was a little stronger and I was able to tell that this was my missing man and that he was walking back along a pipeline. I phoned the company manager but he was away in town. After another hour I was able to move to another well site and keep in touch with the man who had covered a few more miles toward us. As night fell I drove to the place where a pipeline crossed the road – the pipeline I guessed the man was following. I found the manager’s truck, the quad ramps down, and his children’s nanny who told me he’d quadded off to find the man.

I told the two walking searchers to go back to their truck and go home. It was dark when the quad lights returned. The manager rode in with the missing man riding behind – looking as unconcerned as it was possible to pretend. It was very late when I got back to my motel room that night and all the restaurants were closed.

The very next morning we sent out another new man called Jason in a six-wheeled all terrain vehicle called an Argo. These machines are like plastic bathtubs on wheels, prone to mechanical problems if used roughly but otherwise valuable load carriers for the saw crews. Jason took a short cut while I went the long way by road – and he didn’t show up. We did a short search for Jason in the Argo – me all the while regretting that the classical Greek education in the reserve was too weak for anyone to get my wisecracks about Golden Fleece, and Jason’s Argo. Oh well, he showed up after an hour and claimed he’d never been lost at all. I bet the ancient Greek hero always claimed the same thing.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

This posting is late again. I've been crawling up and down mountains working with the landowner of a beautiful mountain ranch to mark where the new fence lines should go. The old fences wander a bit; even though I started with an offset line to avoid them we've crossed two twice. The terrain is best described as rugged. We took the quad out several days, but one place has such a steep sidehill the quad needs a crew person hanging off the uphill side to keep it from rolling down the mountain. The family and the hired man generally get about on horseback.

I must own to have been quite pathetic climbing the grades – which stop me breathless every thirty or forty feet gain in elevation. However we are almost halfway through the job – certainly in distance, and hopefully in difficulty.

Deadly Enterprise will soon be available as a paperback on Amazon. It has been available as a large print paperback from Lulu, but the cost is such in Canada that I can only sell them to the very rich. I'm yet to find out what the cost per copy will be when I order a batch directly through my publisher, but I'm very hopeful that it will be low enough I can sell a few at book signings.

If any of you have been over-awed by the Lulu price, I'm hopeful that my novel will be available from Amazon at a bargain price. Of course the e-book instant download, my publisher's primary method of operation, has the novel in many formats for $5.99. All at

And now to more tales from the Oil Gypsy.

OG 9

I have an earlier story here about blowing up an unexploded bomb in the Libyan Desert, and it doesn't reflect well on part-time bomb disposal teams. Actually the professionals could be quite squirrely as well.

I found three thermos mines laying on the surface . . . maybe that's not exactly true. I walked unseeing between them and Old Man Salah, my head Libyan survey helper, began waving his arms at me. Thermos mines were nasty WWII devices that became live once the Luftwaffe dropped them from an aircraft and they hit the ground. Then the trembler switches activated and merely walking past them could set them off. Obviously, the ones I found . . . or Salah found . . . had become a mite sticky in the fuse after 25 years.

So we radioed to town to have someone come out to deal with them. In due course an expert arrived, a German national who had experience with mine clearance. We chatted all the way from camp as I drove him to the mines – finding plenty of interests in common.

When we arrived at the site, I parked a short distance away and we walked over, still talking. We hardly quit jawing the whole time we stood looking at them; my expert looking at them from all directions and then crouching down to look even closer.

I don't remember quite what I was gabbing about when he reached out and gently lifted one of the mines into the air. What to do? Turn and run? Obviously flying shrapnel could travel quite a bit faster than I could. Since I was already as good as dead, I might as well carry on with my conversation. Expert raised the mine in his hands until it was above his head and scanned the underside.

I felt quite proud of keeping a stiff upper lip the whole time the mine was in the air, but I felt a lot better when he set it gently back on the ground. Nothing else was said about the mines until we were driving away. Expert looked at me and said, "I don't believe in taking chances in this business."

I don't know what I answered, but that was a motto I would have been quite pleased to see carried out.

The crew I worked on had once had a mine clearance crew attached but the oil company took it away from us when they decided we wouldn't meet very much unexploded ordnance. That was a pity as Paul, our head mine clearer, had served in the Hitler Youth in WWII as part of the crew of an anti-aircraft gun on the Russian front. He was widely experienced in treating all kinds of nasty injuries, and almost as good as having a doctor on site.

One time the crew came across a blown up ammunition truck. Actually, they drove past the strange dust-covered hump for several days before investigating it. When they found a great pile of live artillery shells lying in the wreckage they called for Paul to take care of them.

It so happened that Paul's brother-in-law was visiting him at the time and quite interested to see him in action. The artillery shells were carefully excavated and piled in a dynamite primed heap, a long firing line stretched away several hundred metres to the blasting machine, placed behind the Land Rover. Paul and his brother-in-law crouched behind the vehicle's cover and set off the explosives.

A wonderful succession of booms and blasts followed – like several 4th of July firework displays going off together. Then there was a slight pause in the explosions. In the relative silence they heard a strange thumpety thump approaching, like a one legged runner. Looking up, they saw an artillery shell bouncing across the desert toward them – a remarkably intact artillery shell, but probably one quite agitated inside.

As the shell bounced along to land beside the front tire of the Land Rover, right under their noses, the quiet time in the explosion ceased and all the shells that had had their internal fuses activated by the explosion began going off.

Bits of flying metal came whistling past and several metallic clanks sounded as the Land Rover collected a few hits. What to do? Stay behind the Land Rover with their puppy dog shell, or run away out into the open – where more shrapnel was flying? I suspect they were too frozen with alarm to do either – just lay flat until the din of explosions ended. Then they jumped in the Land Rover and dashed away before the shell reached its fuze setting.

As the tale was told, the errant shell didn't explode. It just wanted to be blown up on its own pyre, which was done as soon as the mine clearing crew's nerves settled down.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Deadly Enterprise hasn’t had much promotion this week, until yesterday when I started another blitz of review sites to get more takers. The early part of the week I was busy finishing up the last of the last novel clinic, and then went out to begin the annual firewood collection. The forestry has been closed because of the drought and extreme fire hazard, so I collected a load from along the CPR track. It was harder work that usual because I couldn’t drive to the wood and had to drag it out by hand.

I spent another day on my GPS survey project for a local landowner who wants to replace two and a half miles of fences – into the mountains. I checked the location of a replacement survey corner pin that had been installed by a pipeline company’s surveyors, and after most of a day of calculating and estimating – these hundred year old surveys in the mountains were not perfect in the first place – decided they were as close as it was possible to be. It means some of his fences are not as far off as he suspected, so the next thing is to discuss the project with him.

The dogs and I surprised another bear at the beginning of the week. I never did see it, just heard it crashing away through the berry bushes. The dogs ran out into the open field barking and stood where they might get a good head start if it turned to come out after them. I continued walking to where they were, listening carefully for the location of the sounds in the brush. It didn’t come out or go away any farther, and dogs and I continued our walk.

Now for another couple of tales from Oil Gypsy, that I call --
Fun in the snow.

I worked across Deep Valley Creek, where it flows into the Simonette River, on two occasions separated by nearly twenty years. The first time I was crew surveyor, and had to lay out the line and then survey it; the second time I was catpush – in charge of overseeing the crew sent to clear the lines.

Deep Valley Creek has to receive one of the biggest snowfalls in Alberta, below tree line anyway. I say that based on my two experiences there.

In 1981 we were re-shooting an old line as well as cutting a new one. While Rudy, my chainsaw man was cutting the new handcut line across the creek, working on snowshoes, the rodman and I chained the open line we’d snowploughed with a Cat. We ended one day’s work at the end of the snowploughed line, peering over the huge pushed up snowbank into the creek below. “We’ll do that bit tomorrow morning,” I said. “Park our truck on the other side and walk across the creek to pick up the chain and carry on.”

It was a good idea, but I should have taken a tip from Rudy, who was a local guy and worked on snowshoes because he knew what to expect. We started our trek across the creek quite confidently, until we plunged off the snowbank into the undisturbed snow. It came up to our necks.

Luckily, the rodman was a strapping youngster, so I sent him ahead to break trail. We wallowed, shoved, pushed, and damn near swam through that snow for two hours to get across the half mile of creek bottom to the other side. Snow found it’s way into every gap in our clothing and melted there. We were soaking wet and the air temperature that day was about zero, but we weren’t feeling cold. We sweated like pigs.

At least we didn’t feel cold until we stepped out onto the cleared line and looked at our chain laying where we’d left it the evening before. Somehow it didn’t seem too smart for two wet and exhausted guys to set off across that creek again right away. We walked up the line and found Rudy.

He obliged us with a pile of logs high enough for a beacon to warn of invasion. A few splashes of chainsaw gas and we had a blazing fire. We stripped down to our underwear and draped all our wet clothes on branches before the fire. We hopped about in our bare feet, drying our skivvies and keeping ourselves warm as we drained water out of our snow boots and dried the linings. In a half an hour or so we were dry enough to dress again and set off to continue our chaining.

Even though we had made the crossing once, and could use our beaten path, the return was almost as exhausting as the first trip. By the time we reached the truck, we’d been at work for four hours, had chained a measly half mile and were beat. We drove back to town and told the party manager we’d go back out to work again in the morning – as long as he bought us some snowshoes.

Working on snowshoes proved a new trick to master. Rudy’s helper, an out of work truckdriver he’d hired in the bar, proved remarkably proficient at cutting into the snowshoes with his chainsaw. We had a good laugh when we found him tromping along on snowshoes repaired in several places with sticks and twine. We surveyors got to be fairly competent snowshoers after three days – we didn’t fall off into the snow anywhere near as often.

Surveying from snowshoes proved a novelty. At my first instrument setup I pushed the tripod with theodolite attached down into the snow until it met solid ground. Then I looked down at the eyepiece – on a level with my big toe – and wondered how I was going to look through the telescope. Only one way – unstrap myself from the shoes and jump off into the snow. Climbing back on at the end of the survey was another new art to learn.

We got a laugh out of the drillers when they arrived. “You’ll find a lot more snow here than the last prospect,” I told a driller’s helper as he climbed the snowbank with a permit tag to affix to a tree. “So we were told,” he answered as he stepped off the bank into the piled up snow.

“Bloody hell!” were his next words. We peered over the bank, and all we could see was his toque on top of the snow.

It must have been around 1999 when I returned with Cats to snowplough the existing lines for a new job and with a crew of Newfoundlanders as my chainsaw guys. For some reason best known to the God of Confusion, the saw contractor had teamed up two guys who despised one another. One was tall and gaunt and the other a short, fat roly-poly fellow. The only disadvantage I found as their boss was that I couldn’t understand a word they said if they broke into Newfie – an accent with only a passing acquaintance with English. But they were good and generally, uncomplaining workers.

I drove them to the far side of Deep Valley Creek and pointed them to an old handcut line crossing the valley. Telling them they had to cross on foot and clean up all the deadfall and snags as they went, I handed them a handheld radio and said I’d drive around and meet them on the other side.

Tall and Gaunt started his saw and climbed over the snowbank; Roly-poly picked up the saw gas, supplies and radio to follow. The snow seemed only waist deep where they started, but I knew it’d be a lot deeper when they reached the valley bottom.

I drove over to the place where the handcut line emerged from the creek and waited. And waited.
I called on the radio after an hour or so. I couldn’t understand Roly-poly through all the panting and Newfie. Ah, well – they were still down there and working. I could hear the saw periodically.
Another hour passed. At last, Tall and Gaunt emerged over the snowbank, dropped his saw in the back of my truck and climbed into the cab.

“Where’s your partner?”

He shrugged and jerked his thumb toward the line. “Back there, somewheres.”

We waited some more, and then I decided to call again. I had been carefully instructed in permissible radio calls for Newfies. If you don’t want to be baffled by a barrage of incomprehensible dialect, you ask, “Where you be at, boy?”

The answer to this was muffled and indistinct, but he spoke for quite awhile, even though I couldn’t understand a word. I looked at Tall and Gaunt. He shrugged.

I then asked the other allowed radio question. “What you be doin’?”

At this I received another long transmission, punctuated by panting and strange Island swearwords. I did catch the word “snow” quite a few times. It turned out that snow up to Tall and Gaunt’s armpits was way over Roly-poly’s head. He eventually emerged but averred that he’d be damned if he’d ever go back down there again.

I couldn’t argue with that. Deep Valley Creek had affected me the same way nearly twenty years before.