Musings on work or how I became the Panhandle Rancher

I learned the value of work by working beside my father. He ‘employed’ me in some capacity or another from about nine years of age through a mature 16 going on 17 – until I left home in pursuit of a future. I had for an inheritance the greatest legacy for which anyone could wish; Christian parents who raised me with love. My parents are long in the ground but I still reflect upon their high standards and what they tried to impart. Their lives were fuller and more successful than mine ever will be.

Our society today is not the society I was born into. We may be richer in technology and toys here in this 21st Century but I fear most are sadly poorer in moral virtue. To protect our children from big city sweatshops, we have enacted legislation prohibiting them from working until age 16 and then usually only if in possession of satisfactory grades in school. We produce latchkey children who spend so little time around mom and dad they never learn how to become proper ladies and manly men. We are so firmly in pursuit of more and more material goods that not only does dad have to work but so does mom (and I confess that my only daughter told me recently one time when I came home from overseas, she didn’t know who strange man with mom was).

As Christians we are taught that it is those things we cannot touch that are of the greatest value: honor, integrity, charity, love…, yet most of our waking hours are in pursuit of the venial. Our society even has its very own ‘Material Girl.’ Our collective obsession with ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ is closely tied with ego and has been the ruination of generations of children and more than a few adults. Quick, turn on Sponge Bob so we won’t have to entertain our precious offspring and in the mornings we rush them off to day care or to public school. If school closes unexpectedly it is a calamity because someone may have to miss work. God forbid!

Crime and organizational misbehavior is as high as I can remember; individual accountability is as low. So is the proportion of Christians in today’s society, low and getting lower. Might there be a connection? The nastiest people I have ever met were atheists. Wait, they called themselves agnostics which is a nicer word but doesn’t change the fact that they don’t believe in God – who ultimately sets in judgment at that higher court.

You may intuit from other scribblings, that I was raised during the Great Depression. I was (in effect if not in fact). My parents never recovered from the paradigm shift caused by those very hard times. Frugal my parents were to the extreme and they never trusted banks. Mom was raised on a family owned wheat farm in Kansas. During WWII, she worked as a Rosie the Riveter for Boeing in Wichita building the mighty fleets of bombers that literally reshaped the landscape of the Axis Powers, one bomb at a time. She was teaching school when dad came into her life. He had just returned from the European theater of WWII with a lifetime of new experiences and like so many other servicemen – wild with desire to build a new life based upon high expectations.

Dad and some his generation achieved those expectations in oil fields of West Texas and elsewhere. I was born down near Odessa (Texas not Russia). Mom devoted her life to dad and to me such that by age four I was reading with some comprehension. I treasured the time dad spent with me. I tried to walk with his swagger, speak with his inflection, even hoist up my jeans in the same way. When I was a little older, I paid close attention to his friends as well. They tended to be tough independent men, as sure of themselves as surviving the Depression and WWII could make. Watching them I saw how real men of substance behaved toward their families and to one another.

We moved often and lived in trailer houses near where dad was drilling for oil. Young wives would complain when a gusher would soak clothes hanging on lines to sun dry. Dark oil would ruin all of the clothes on the line and coat cars and trailers alike. Blowout preventers usually keep that from happening now. Tasting the riches from that oil quelled most future complaints and I recall seeing older ladies rushing outside to dance as oil covered everything, themselves included. Mom washed dad’s work coveralls at the coin laundry, in washers clearly labeled, FOR GREASERS ONLY. This was not a racial epithet, greasers are what oil stained coveralls were known by in the oil patch. Dad was drilling on Navajo land by the Four Corners when it came time to attend kindergarten. An ‘Indian’ school was nearby. The first and only time I heard mom speak sharply to dad concerned that school. Dad prevailed and I started formal education at a Navajo school on an Indian reservation.

As one of the few pale faces, I learned soon learned to fight. I would come home with black eyes and torn clothes. Mom would look at dad and go to their bedroom, quietly shutting the door behind. Rather than give in and let me ride the bus to ‘white man’s school,’ dad gave me a roll of dimes and showed me how to wrap my fingers around that roll and make a fist. Such was his answer to school bullies and before long I would never ever again be afraid their like. Of course we all ‘know’ fighting in school is bad – ‘twas but a way of life in that place and time. Life on the reservation taught me about Indians and alcohol, and about a hate my years were too few to completely understand. I learned from reservation life. I learned that free handouts are ever damaging to initiative, soon wrecking any sense to self worth and before long, a sense of entitlement arrives. Makes no difference if you’re Native American, Black, White or any other ‘color.’ Handouts are ultimately corrosive to freedom and liberty. There is nothing quite like feeding a dog or a bear to make it stay around. Rather than lift Native Americans up to where they could compete on their own in our society, all too often the welfare of reservation life served to hold people down and ensure they could never compete.

Much is lately on the news about cyber bullies. My answer to being cyber bullied is simple. TURN OFF THE COMPUTER. The whole bully thing revolves around a sense of self worth, or lack thereof, on part of both bullied and bully.

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At an early age, I came to the understanding that be he rich or poor, there is nothing quite as honorable as a man living within his own means. More happiness comes from the reduction of ‘wants’ than does from a gain in possessions. The continual diet of free handouts, endless charity, and welfare will eventually convert any sense of self worth into a feeling self-loathing,

followed quickly by a sense of entitlement (which masks self loathing). Our society has even eliminated food stamps in favor of a supplemental nutrition program. Now that we’re all off of food stamps, we should feel better about ourselves...

Much of the work my father found for my young hands was boring, tedious, and labor intensive. Anyone who has hauled hay in a field of small bales stretching beyond the horizon knows of which I speak. In a good day after school, I would buck at least 200 bales and then do homework, wash, eat, go to bed, and then do it all again the next. Hauling hay made me physically strong and before long, I wanted to follow dad in more exciting work.

I started out that new work one summer as a Roustabout. Anyone raised near an oil patch know that roustabouts are the lowest form of unskilled oilfield labor. From plumbing oil field tanks to running shovels and picking up trash, such is the life of a roustabout. It wasn’t long until I graduated to worm status. A worm is the lowest form of a roughneck, a rookie. Roughnecks are those tough men who work on oil and natural gas drilling rigs. The life of a roughneck is full of physical labor, seven days a week, week after week, with no days off for as long as the rig is engaged in drilling for produce. When someone does something stupid this job can be dangerous as well, sometimes drilling is dangerous even when everybody does everything correctly. We would all ride the traveling block up to the monkey board but that was long before OSHA. I had dad’s walk and talk down quite well by then and now I was one of his ‘men’ doing a man’s work. Let’s see, no days off, hard labor, and for months on end. Sounds like a prison sentence. The pay was quite good however and in those days during summer vacation, in the company of roughnecks, age wasn’t an issue – doing the job – whatever it happened to be no matter how hard or difficult – and without complaint, that was the gold standard. Sometimes I would hear talk around the dog house (the metal shack where we changed into our greasers), that I might even ‘make a hand’ and my young chest would expand. I was going to be ‘just like dad.’

My young life wasn’t all toil. I found time for the girls and spent too much free time at a local airport watching those gray haired old men leave in their new Beachcraft Bonanza forked tail doctor killers. I made sure every airplane owner knew I would wash airplanes and degrease airframe bellies for a little flight time. A radio amateur befriended me and before I knew it, I was a both pilot and ham. It just happened. I was a Boy Scout for a while under the guidance of a WWII era Colonel cum Scoutmaster. Much I learned from him for he was a leader among men – and boys. I shot on a rifle team and came to know Camp Perry. I encountered him once again, decades later when home on vacation from DC. Shaking his hand, I thanked him for the time he invested in a little boy.

Too young, I left home to seek my fortune. Finding work was always easy because my parents had taught me well. I found a job working on the line of a Fixed Base Operator at Wiley Post airport in Oklahoma City. As an employee, I could fly the rentals sometimes for only fuel and oil and life was good. There was nothing quite like asking a girl for a date and taking her up to see the big city lights from the air. Wiley Post was an old tail dragger airport with runways forming a triangle. A parallel runway to one of the diagonals was added later. I had just landed on 31 when KWPA ground control announced in an unemotional flat dry and dusty Oklahoma twang, ‘Cessna seven niner six one, expedite crossing of runway one seven left.’ Expedite, expedite? An anonymous voice helpfully chimed in on the radio, ‘Get that thing across the runway before you get run over!’ I shoved the throttle to the firewall, having just realized a new way to say ‘get ’er done.’ Most everything was ‘expedited,’ thereafter.

I nosed around the FBO’s radio shop. Hitting the books in my free time, I studied for the old First Class Radiotelephone Operator License and then for the radar endorsement. Having those certificates in hand, I applied for work at the radio shop – and was hired on the spot. I learned the ins and outs of aircraft radio and radar and then one day I ran across an ad placed by the US Navy. Before long I was at NAVAIREWORKFACNAS rebuilding shot up avionics on the old F8 Chance Vought gun fighters. Viet Nam was winding down and all too often there were reminders left in the cockpits about the grim reality of war. Those old jets smelled like war birds everywhere. I learned from later experience that odor was the scent of fear.

A Navy Captain befriended me and encouraged college. I was 21. Taking his advice, I completed an undergraduate degree with two majors (the university didn’t grant three majors so I had major hours in a minor) in a very busy and short three years. ROTC was a great experience and I learned the thrill of marching men in formation and of military life…

A few years later, a job teaching on an emergency certificate at a small cow town found me once again, back in the Texas Panhandle. I commuted to college in the evenings and completed a graduate degree while teaching full time. An ad in Chemical Engineering News advised of a newly established hazardous materials department at an east coast railroad. I told a friend that I believed that job was intended for me. I was working for that road in that job when a federal organization came waiving the flag. Dad was unsupportive of this career change because he recalled that during the Great Depression railroader men were seldom ‘let go’ and kept their high paying jobs while others starved. I took a cut in salary and went back into government service, eventually working Soviet Foreign Counterintelligence. Regan had just been elected President and was determined to break the back of the Soviet Bear and bring an end to the Cold War. Great work at a time when the nation was engaged in changing the old paradigm of peace through mutually assured destruction. The old actor actually did what no president from Eisenhower could do – the Wall came down and that Union of Socialists was consigned to history.

I learned much about society and the world in the same way dad learned, by first hand experience. I learned the difference between working ‘for’ someone vs. working ‘with’ someone. Anyone should take rightful pride in an accomplishment wrought by their own hands, but seeing that which could be accomplished by many highly skilled hands and talent working in concert – my o my!

One of the many lessons I learned was the difference between leading men and managing women. In my opinion, men tend to sort out a pecking order and thereon keep it relatively invariant; women have to sort the order every day – and there will be tension until that order is sorted, every day. I was newly ‘in charge’ of an administrative group responsible for mundane things like mail distribution, operation of loading docks, and communications. Not a line or operational job for sure but I thought it would be a snap because that bunch of people were all older ladies who had long been static in their jobs and knew them well. The facility in which we worked was large enough to have its own cafeteria. I had a corner office with windows looking out over a scenic parking lot and my work ethic was such that I could see ‘my’ employees arrive for work in the morning and depart in the evening.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I was wrong wrong wrong about managing that bunch of old ladies. It finally came to me that if a women arrived with a new hairdo, there would be some sort of personnel ‘trouble’ before day’s end; if a woman came to work in a new dress, there would be trouble before noon; and if a woman came to work in a new car – well it was time for a day away from work. For a brief while, I enjoyed being able to dine in the cafeteria and it was a thirty minute commute for food elsewhere. Before long, one of ‘my’ employees (as if I owned them) just had to set next to me during lunch. Everyone could see us talking. There was a knock on my office door early that afternoon. ‘Come’ I announced and one of the ladies did. ‘I couldn’t help but notice you and so and so talking,’ she began…. Bag lunches in the office for me thereafter.

I mentioned these ladies were largely static in their positions and everyone did know their jobs to perfection but I began to hear complaints no one ever got promoted. Sure enough those complaints were correct. I called everyone to a meeting and announced I would make formal training available for those wishing to learn new skills. Of course the training would be scheduled on their own time and thus be unpaid. There were no takers, only complainers.

The place where we worked those days was on a US Marine Corps Base and my organization was but a tenant. One day I received a call from the Presidentially appointed leader of my organization. It was a terse call of a type I was unaccustomed to receiving. He was unhappy with me I sagaciously perceived for you see, he had just received a call from The Commandant (of the US Marine Corps as if there were any other). The base was flying flags half-mast due to the untimely, unexpected, and sudden death of a general officer. The flag in front of my organization’s building was at full mast. The administrative group was responsible for getting the flag up and down every day. I was presumed in charge so it was MY FAULT.

A really minor major had noticed that our organizational US flag was flying at full mast and rather than simply mentioning there was new flag status to our guard post, he run the word up his chain of command about how we were disrespectful. That word ran with feet of wings ALL the way up to the Commandant, over to the head of my organization and swiftly back down to me – and all before I had even thought about my bag lunch. Thereafter, I decided my most important duty, each and every day thereafter, was to drive over to mainside before work and check flag status at Main Post. I was a Grade 14 at the time.

One day I casually mentioned this administrative group should be broken up and reconstituted with a new mix of male and females. Threatened employees soon worked my off hand comment up to the head of the facility and I was summoned to expound on newfound organizational wisdom. The administrative group was long so constituted I was tersely informed. Its inception and configuration was the express brainchild of the facility head. He was proud of the position it held in the organization. This was not good news. Not welcome at all.

Turns out the group I was trying to lead, had been created with forethought and foresight of the problems it would generate for whomever was placed in its charge. I humbly learned that being placed in the lead of this troublesome administrative group was perceived to be an honor – at least by its Machiavellian designer. The whole thing was a set up. The personnel composition of this group was expressly designed to be a leadership laboratory rife with strife and personnel problems so that high management could have a real world metric to determine whom should advance and in whom the Peter Principal had maxed out. I was but a babe in the big time woods. Ask any charge nurse if what I say about the difference in supervising males and females is in any way incorrect.

With promotion came more and more work. One day I was at Woody’s (a DC department store similar to Dillards) looking at sofas for my office. I wanted one that would be a good sleeper because some days I couldn’t get through the in box and spent the night at work. The problems in that box were things subordinates couldn’t solve. More and more those problems weren’t simply about how to do something, but whether it should be done in the first place. I suspect there are some folks over at the BATF, DEA, and USSS that need to engage in this level of critical thought. There was always a smattering of resource allocation problems that had no good solution for anyone and no matter how hard I tried to do more with less, in reality one usually does less with less. I tried my best to never never pass something on to my boss that I could solve myself because his workload was greater than mine. Of this I was certain for on occasion when he was absent, I luckily got to run both his in box and mine.

By then I was a program manager traveling here and there to this national laboratory and that and all too frequently once again to unhappy places in the world. I learned first hand the challenges of running a world wide ‘program,’ not the least of which was the limiting role of logistics. I soon created a position for a logistics management specialist to well, ‘expedite’ things.

I did my share of traveling to the detriment of my family. One day I left home with a pistol and briefcase and came home months and months later. Praise the Lord my wife and kiddos were still living at our home and the locks hadn’t been changed. I was at that period of organizational life where I could think about attending the National War College at Fort Leslie McNair or work on a PhD in mundane things like policy development or public administration…

High management would regularly meet at an offsite location for executive conference to discuss emerging threats and resource allocation at the Congressional budget level. I attended enough of these conferences to make some generalizations about my peers, at least perhaps, peers to be. These were folks driven to excel. Most were of exceptional ability and keen intellect. Most had been divorced. More than a few were alcoholics. All had huge egos. See a pattern? In exchange for the responsibilities and difficulties of high office, many of these executives sacrificed the very thing that should have been the most precious, their very family.

This epiphany soon found my family and I back in Texas. I was still with my (original) wife and almost adult children and retired from the service of our Rich Uncle. We moved to the family ranch where we raised American Quarter Horses and Aberdeen Angus and in general run a shelter for whatever bedraggled stray beast my wife came across. Ranch Headquarters those days was a 100 year old 900 square foot house. Wife said it was cold in the winter and full of bugs in the summer. She was right and soon we were building a new house on the mesa. One day she came home with a donkey. ‘Look at that Democrat,’ I would tell visitors, pointing to the long eared pathetic beast most in that locale knew as a burro.

I followed dad’s steps once again and was determined to drill for oil. The wife and I literally wagered the ranch on that first well. Had it not came in we would have been destitute and likely homeless as well. Fortunately there was a large deposit of natural gas a couple of miles down. Success followed success. A college friend’s wife complained they should be allowed to invest. Too high a risk, I opined. As you might guess, the very well they invested in was my first dry hole, and so was their savings. To this day, I’m sure I stink in her nostrils.

We drilled out that pocket. By then I had become an old gray haired man like those of my youth at the airport I would see getting into their Bonanzas. So I bought a couple of airplanes and traveled some more. Joined the Dallas Safari Club and followed TR’s African footsteps. Was appointed to the Executive Council of the Boy Scouts and tried to do some good there. Some of mom’s friends put me up to run for judge. I did and to my surprise was elected. Tried that for a while and then quietly retired again back to ranch life in the Panhandle.

I write this from a home in the mountains (and there are no mountains in the Panhandle which sports cities with names like Plainview and Levelland), and can hear that ‘Democrat’ braying and a bull snorting. God has blessed my family and me with awesome experiences far exceeding any imagined by that small boy bucking hay bales under the hot West Texas sun. Turned out that the work I set my hands and mind at was really not work at all. Life certainly didn’t have to turn out the way it did. No one made me go to college, to ‘work’ hard for good grades, to show up on time for work and with a good attitude eager to meet the days troubles. No one made me become an outrageous runner of untold risk, albeit ever so studied and calculated.

Some of the successes I’ve enjoyed originated with attitude and expectations. I do believe God helps those who help themselves but I freely admit to having been richly blessed by the grace of His hand.

My CV/resume concludes with the following personal statement:

“Service to God and country, define and shape my life.

I have flown ski planes onto glaciers high in the Swiss Alps and landed in the grassy meadows on cliffs near La Dame Blanch; hunted lion and other dangerous game in the hot plains of equatorial East Africa, peered into a cradle of mankind at Olduvai Gorge in the Great Rift Valley, danced with Maasai, and walked with curiosity throughout much of the world. My children have their feet firmly placed on the path to becoming responsible citizens. My daughter is a medical doctor completing residency in internal medicine and the son runs an industrial equipment dealership.”

I close with a quote from the last page of LESSONS OF HISTORY authored by the famed historians Durant:

“If a man is fortunate, he will before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.”

To do such is all that any prepper could wish.

Sincerely,

Panhandle Rancher

Thessalonians 3:10


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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing, I am currently going through a life change. Great to read about your expireinces and how it turned out ok. Thank you for your time sharing your life story.

  2. Weasel, all go through changes. Success or failure often is in how we manage that change and the lessons we draw from difficult times. I always learned more from my failures than success, if only that I wouldn’t walk that particular path again. Unshakable faith in a loving God helped me hold sway in the face of adversity. I shall remember you in my prayers.

    Best of wishes,
    PR

  3. Great composition and very sad to lose the finest America produced. At, 66, almost
    all my true Christian Patriot and survivalist friends are with the good Lord. Our family
    also originated from deep Texas heritage from its beginning struggle for freedom. My
    father grew up on ranches, served in the Pacific-WWII, and taught at Texas A&M. I
    ended up in the Pacific NW, worked in timber 28yrs, and drive truck last 15yrs. Your
    post reached my heart-all of it true.
    Live Free Friends
    Jim

  4. Thank you PR for your story. I was so moved by it I read to my wife, she loved it. you are a rare breed in these days. I learned how to be a man from Grandfather, in many ways he was like you. born in 1900, fought in WWI, WWII and Korea with distinction. From age 6-13 I worked the there ranch and then later the farm when school broke out. it set the gold standard for me to walk by. My father didn’t, he showed me what not to be, being on the receiving end of beatings, I relate to the soccer ball or the punching bag.

  5. Thanks all. I mentioned to Rourke and will add, that the other day I read the current issue of Soldier of Fortune at my doctor’s office. There was an absolutely elegant article written by a SEAL about the warrior culture and how this society has created chronological men who will never become ‘real’ men. I had been thinking about writing similar but couldn’t begin to do as well as that article.

    PR

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