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South Texas Living

‘Snowbirds’ stand guard in South Texas

‘Snowbirds’ stand guard in South Texas
Jay Cleveland checks his clipboard to ensure he has all the details for a visiting vehicle.

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Pascalle Bippert
WCN Correspondent
March 6, 2013
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Jay and Tric (pronounced Trish) Cleveland are called “snowbirds” by folks in South Texas, and they’re on a completely new adventure. They spend their lives in their RV, traveling north in the summer to places like Laramie, Wyo., and south in the winter to places like Florida. To date, they have been park hosts -- greeting visitors, giving broom-making demonstrations, wearing prison garb (at the Wyoming Territorial Prison), and keeping the boat ramps safe in Georgetown, Texas.

This winter, instead of going to Florida, they heard about a new kind of adventure. Instead of going to the next park, they heard about a job where folks guard gates located on oil leases. Jay and Tric thought that might be a good opportunity, so they took the written exams and submitted to background checks and fingerprinting in order to be eligible for this job. They got certified by the state of Texas to be security guards.

One day a phone call came from “SiteWatch,” inviting them to be “gate guards.” The caller asked if the two were available and they started the next day. That was back in November.

Standing guard

The gate is on a 10,000-acre property; it’s 6 miles from the gate on one side of the ranch to their gate on the other side. The Clevelands’ job is to stand or sit by the gate all day long and log drivers in and out. A clipboard holds forms to record driver information, such as name, company, tag number, and time in and out.

The gate guards endure rain, wind, dust, heat, and cold during the course of their daylong vigil. The truck drivers must stop at the gate to log in before being allowed in or out. Vehicles range from pickup trucks to semis carrying pipe to trucks pulling trailers hauling huge equipment.

Some days, the Clevelands complete three pages -- 21 lines each -- of drivers’ information. Some days, only two vehicles drive through. Regardless of the traffic, the gate guards must be available for gate access.

Heavy equipment

In the three months they have been doing this work, Jay and Tric have seen trucks hauling front-end loaders and Caterpillars, which are used to clear the fence line; trucks hauling machinery to dig the ditch to hold pipes; and a huge auger that drilled a 21-inch hole sideways under the road through which the 20-inch steel pipe was threaded.

That was an amazing process, Jay said. Pipe 20 inches in diameter and 80 feet long was welded together, then pressure tested. While I was there, they were doing hydro testing to make sure the welds did not leak. Crews lay 2 miles of pipeline each day. Once the work is done, the ground is reseeded with coastal grasses to return it to a more natural state.

In good company

These gate guards do not work for the oil company. They work for a company that provides security for the people who are installing the pipeline. They are provided with a uniform so they are easily recognized as authorized personnel at the gate. The distinctive red shirts have the company name, “SiteWatch,” on the shoulder; Jay and Tric also wear name badges. They provide a quality, safe service.

Back in November, the gate was just a strand of barbed wire. A portable toilet sat next to the fence for the drivers’ use. Since then, there has been a transformation: The gate is fully welded metal, painted white, and the portable toilet is gone.

Home comforts

SiteWatch provides state-of-the-art equipment to ensure quality of life. A 600-gallon tank of fresh water sits on a trailer behind the RV. A 500-gallon tank of diesel fuel powers a generator to provide all the electricity needed. The gate guards have free water and electricity.

Their sewage is also processed by state-of-the-art equipment. Two huge sewage-processing tanks sit on a trailer behind the RV. Each time the toilet is flushed, the “brown water” goes into the first tank and is filtered, aerated, and chlorinated, then sent into the second tank to be further purified. The clean water goes through a hose to water the surrounding area. A nice green patch of grass is testament to the fact that the water coming from the hose is clean. Each day, Jay and Tric read the meters and levels on the diesel to track their usage, in case they need a refill.

The security company representative said his company has been providing this service for 30 years and they know how to do it right and by the books. It would seem they have this down to a science.

Home on the range

Life is quiet on the ranch. Other than the drivers coming and going, the Clevelands’ only visitors are cattle. In fact, the only requirement of the ranch owners is that the guards ensure the gate is closed, so the cattle don’t get out.

Jay and Tric have solar lights around their RV steps, in case they need to go out at night. The cattle have knocked those over many times as they stroll by the RV.

Other ranch inhabitants include cottontails, a few jackrabbits, deer, roadrunners, several kinds of hawks, armadillos, and cardinals. Tracks from lizards and hogs hint at the presence of other ranch residents.

The ranchland supports mesquite, scrub, agarita, and cactus. Tric said everything on the ranch either pricks, sticks, or bites. On a neigboring property, several rattlesnakes have been killed, including one that measured 6-1/2 feet in length!

Long days, quiet nights

Gate duty starts at daybreak, usually 6:45 a.m., and ends at dusk, usually around 5 p.m. After hours, Jay and Tric watch TV, play cards, work crossword puzzles, and read books. They get the four major networks and several Mexican stations. At least one of them must be on duty at all times during the workday. They take turns going to get groceries once a week in Pearsall, 24 miles to the west, and do their laundry while they are in town.

Once, the ladies who are gate guards with their husbands got together at a local restaurant to share a meal and visit. It is a nice community of people living and working in a unique and interesting industry.

The sunrises are spectacular and the sunsets are blazing. The stars at night are undiminished by city lights and the lights on the oil derricks dotting the landscape look like Christmas lights.

Jay and Tric are enjoying this adventure.

Editor’s note: According to correspondent Pascalle Bippert, by Texas law, applicants must be at least 18 to be certified as for this work, which is very remote. The Clevelands provide their own accommodation. Some of this work pays approximately $100 per day; the pay varies.

About SiteWatch

SiteWatch, according to its website,, provides access control, security, and protection services for the oil and gas industry.

In its free downloadable brochure about gate guards, SiteWatch states:

“... we provide an unmatched combination of outstanding personnel and state-of-the-art equipment. ... SiteWatch is capable of providing gate guards for operators with a single-gate or multiple-gate operations.”

Based in Tyler, Texas, the company offers certified personnel, power supply generators, water and septic systems, and access control reports. The services are available to oil and gas operators, land owners, mineral owners, and surface owners.

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