I Haven’t Always Done Brilliant Things…

I had a great time at this year’s Shed Builder Expo in Grand Rapids! Thanks to each of you who took the time to visit with me on the floor and at my book signing. Special thanks to those of you who purchased a book and support my work. If I could put Julian in charge of my book sales and marketing, I would retire soon!

                I have been writing this little column since April 2016 and, to be honest, sometimes I struggle with inspiration. I have not built sheds in about six years due to moving into a management position and so it seems I have shared all the stories I can recall. However, while visiting with the friendly folks at the Expo, I remembered why I started this journey. It is because I believe shed builders are fascinating people who have important stories to tell. My goal is to represent those fine men (and women, if applicable) through my own experiences.

My guess is that the reason many of you flip to the back and scan this page is because you can relate. You may have never shared the exact experience, but you probably smile and nod as you read along. The adventures I have experienced here in southern Oklahoma are similar to things that shed builders encounter all across the fruited plain.

So, thanks to each of you who shared your stories with me. Thanks for telling me how much you enjoy my scribbled stories. Your encouragement motivated me to keep on writing. Never underestimate the power of your encouraging word!

Now for the story. This tale took place in a very distant time, long before my brain fully developed. One of my fellow shed builders and I were making our merry way toward our on site location for the day with a fully loaded truck and trailer when the truck began to hiccup. After a few minutes it was evident that we would not be able to continue traveling in this rig.

We were on I-35 just a bit south of Purcell, so we found a good spot to pull off the road and park. Since we are not the type to give up after hitting a little obstacle, we called another builder to bring us a truck. Since we were still trying to build a shed by the end of the day, everyone was in a hectic state of mind. It was decided that they would bring another truck and trailer.

While we waited for reinforcement to arrive, we got busy unstrapping our load so we could quickly transfer all the materials onto the new trailer. It did not take us long to get the load ready to move. Then it was time for a quick nap.

Our backup rig arrived, and we worked feverishly to move the entire shed worth of lumber to the new trailer. We repeated the work we had done the previous day to ensure the load would ride safely to our destination. All the tools were pulled from their resting place on the onsite truck and reassigned a new location on the spare truck. Our friend agreed to wait on the wrecker so we could continue on to our on site destination.

I honestly do not remember if we finished our shed that day or not. What I do remember is Robert’s reaction when we told him what we had done. He shook his head incredulously.

“Why didn’t you just unhook the trailer from the onsite truck and hitch it to the other truck? Would have saved a lot of effort.”

None of us had a good answer. You may notice I did not use the names of my two fellow shed builders in this story. Let’s just say it was not one of our brightest moments. Not every day in the life of a shed builder showcases our brilliance.

Thanks for All the Kind Words!

I have been overwhelmed by how positive the feedback has been for my first two books. The latest review was given by my friend, Anne Ryan. I appreciate her candid assessment of my book.

I am finding that many folks who support my book are looking for books that tell a good story while affirming the foundational truths of honor, love, and kindness. I hope my stories are interesting, but above all, I hope that each reader finishes the book resolved to strive to be a better person. The lessons that I want to teach are timeless, so I hope that each generation can learn from these books.

As I have said before, reviews are the lifeblood for a self-published author. If you have benefitted from my work, I would very much appreciate a review!

Fourth of July

I love the Fourth of July! Grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, playing volleyball with my friends and family, then enjoying the beautiful fireworks display that my hometown of Pauls Valley puts on every year is something to look forward to annually. Also, Independence Day is one of my paid holidays!

                Every year we celebrate our freedom that we enjoy as Americans. I get those patriotic tingles when I hear our National Anthem. I’m very thankful for all we have in this blessed land of plenty. God has richly blessed our nation!

                Now, enough of the feel-good stuff. That’s not what you flip to the back page of the magazine for, now is it? Let me tell you a little story about a Fourth of July prank that happened a couple years back at our plant.

                I’m not one to spend a lot of money on fireworks. As I mentioned above, our town puts on a pretty impressive display at the local football field. The park is packed full of sweaty citizens as local crooners belt out tunes for a couple hours before dark. It seems that most of our 6,000 residents find their way into Wacker Park to enjoy the show. Our church is just right across a field from the park, so we gather at our church to watch the show without fighting the crowd. So, I very seldom spend much at all on any fireworks.

                However, this year I stopped by one of the many firework stands to see what I could find. I bought a couple little fountains, and a few other small items. Then, I saw a huge roll of Black Cats. You know what happened next. Into the little bag they went!

                Now is a good time to explain a little more about our shop. When you come in the entry door on the south end of our shop, the bathroom is right there on the left. The bathroom door is a standard interior door. Not much you can do to prank someone, other than the standard leaning something on the door to fall when they open it.

                The neat thing about the bathroom, though, is that the top of it doubles as a storage area. So, above the bathroom is a dusty area with old stuff that we’ll probably never use, and our children will wonder what to do with it when we die. Also above the bathroom is the vent pipe for the water heater. Now, our water heater is a gas water heater. Or, at least it was. It quit working quite a while ago and we have just never put forth the effort to fix it. Instead, there is a 5-gallon bucket sitting on the pedestal where the water heater was before. 

                I got to work early on July 5th and climbed up to the storage area. I stowed away my roll of Black Cats and a lighter. Later in the day, a coworker of mine made his way to the bathroom. I don’t know if you work with anyone who lives in the bathroom, but I do. I knew I had time to climb up to the top and tiptoe over to the vent pipe.

                I lit those Black Cats, and quickly dropped them down the pipe into the bucket below. They went off like crazy, the sound magnified by the bucket. You should have heard the commotion! Not only were the fireworks making racket, but my fellow shed builder made some noise himself! We don’t have a camera in the bathroom (thankfully), but I’m convinced it would have been a sight to see. Just another day in the life of a shed builder.

Gone Fishing

                Back in the “good ole’ days” of Better Barns, when things were simpler, and I didn’t have a family to support, there were a lot of things done that had nothing whatsoever to do with producing storage sheds. Vance and I were both young. I was in my teens, and Vance in his early twenties. Neither of us were married. Life was good!

                I could tell you many stories (and I may someday) about being called upon to help Vance haul a deer out of the woods, or chase cows out of the yard, or fight nearby fires. We worked hard and played hard and enjoyed every minute of life. Well, almost every minute.

                Our favorite pastime was fishing. The production facility at Better Barns sits on a family farm with over 300 acres to roam. There are several ponds. One of them lies just to the North of our shop. It wasn’t uncommon to find us there on lunch break or after hours…Or sometimes during work hours.

                Vance and his family moved to Oklahoma from Hobbs, New Mexico. Hobbs is a good-sized city and is the county seat of Lea county. In all of Lea county, there is only one bridge. Just one. If you lived in Hobbs, you had to travel a pretty good ways to find a decent fishing spot. So, Vance felt like he had moved to paradise!

                One day, Todd – Vance’s best friend – came to see Vance. Todd was from Hobbs and also liked to go fishing. We worked a little bit and then set out to catch some fish. We fished a little while without any luck. Todd and Vance circled around the pond one way while I went the other. I settled in a spot under a shade tree and sent my lure whizzing out into the pond again. No luck.

                As I reeled in the line, the hook from my little rooster tail lure hung up in the thick moss about 10-15 feet from the bank. My rooster tail was my favorite and most effective lure. I did not intend to lose it! I worked my line back and forth with increasing violence. At last, it popped loose! The line whipped to the left, then back to the right.

                I felt something smack me in the face. I thought it was just a wad of moss. I reached up to brush it off. It was not moss. It was my rooster tail! Two barbs of the treble hook had sunk into my face at the left corner of my mouth – one just above the top lip and one just below the bottom lip. They pinned my mouth partway shut. I tried to just pull them out, but they were in past the barb.

                I tried to get Vance and Todd’s attention by waving at them across the pond. They saw me and yelled across the pond to see what I needed. Well, my mouth wouldn’t open all the way, so I couldn’t yell very loudly. I did communicate to them that I needed some assistance. They headed around the pond and I headed toward them. I had cut the line and left my pole by my shade tree.

                We got together, and Vance helped me by cutting my rooster tail lure loose where only the treble hook remained. Vance tried to pull the hook out with his pliers, but it just wouldn’t come out. Finally, we trekked back to the shop. Vance found a new razor blade for our utility knives, and washed it thoroughly. He made a little slit for each barb, and out came the hook!

                Thus ended our fishing escapade for the day. It went down as the largest thing I have ever hooked while fishing! We still laugh about the day that Tyler went fishing and caught himself.

Our own Triangle M Ranch!

The biggest fish we have caught so far at our pond!

We closed on our land Friday, June 11, 2021. The “ranch” is 55 acres a little east of Pauls Valley, OK, and south of the forgotten community of Civit, OK. The characters and setting of my Triangle M Ranch series books are based on my family and our wonderful life. It has been our dream to own enough land to run some cattle, raise chickens and hogs, plant a huge garden, and allow our two children the opportunity to grow up on a farm.

The pond is muddy! Brooke got stuck and I had to help her out. Snapped this picture first, though… Carter was trying to be the hero, but wasn’t strong enough.

We are so grateful for this new chapter in our lives! We have already been blessed in so many ways and certainly don’t believe we deserve such a nice place. I never imagined that I would have so many material blessings to go along with the more important things God has given me and my family.

Carter casting a rod on OUR pond for the first time! This little guy loves fishing.
Brooke’s style of fishing. It was very hot and she decided to keep this chair from walking off.

I hope that you will enjoy reading about the Mason family in the Triangle M Ranch series. Their struggles, triumphs, and daily life are a reflection of my own little family. My heart is full today as I consider all we have been blessed with. Looking forward to sharing the journey with you!

Sneak Peek

My next novel in the Triangle M Ranch series is titled “You Gotta Dig Two Graves”. I am hoping to have it published by early August, for sure by the end of August. Here is a taste of chapter two:

Clarence spat on the ground and glanced at the guard house that lay a dozen paces away. Involuntarily, I glanced over there myself.

          Standing self-importantly just outside the door was a guard that the prisoners unanimously despised. His name was Conway. To Conway, every day was an opportunity to bully the prisoners surrounding him.

          Conway was a large man with an imposing bulk. His broad shoulders rippled with enormous muscles. The muscles continued down the sinewy arms until they reached his huge hands. Each hand seemed to be the size of a frying pan.

          His bulk was not his greatest weapon, though. Cruelty was. It seemed that nothing bothered his conscience and there was no depth to which he would not stoop.

          Conway carried on a conversation with another guard and had his back to us.

          Clarence spat again. Then he turned to us with a grimace.

          “I hope he does not come over here today,” he said seriously, “Just last week he beat a prisoner to death. Claimed the prisoner attacked him, but everyone knows that is not the truth. The warden in charge knows that Conway is terrible. I guess he turns his head because everyone fears him, and it keeps folks from acting up.”

          None of us replied. We all agreed, but it was almost too hot for conversation. The sweltering air seemed to stifle all talk.

          A few moments later, Conway turned on his heel and walked toward our small group. I stiffened unconsciously and noticed that Herman seemed to shrink a little.

          “What are you Yanks doing?” he snarled as he approached, “Y’all ain’t conspiring up some trouble, are ya?”

          “No, sir,” Steven answered politely.

          Steven was one of the few prisoners who did not openly express hatred for Conway. I had heard him several nights as he prayed for Conway and the other guards. I could not bring myself to pray for them as he did.

          “See to it you don’t!” he said. The heavy thud of his boots vibrated the ground as he passed us. A putrid odor followed him. It was rumored that he never bathed, and it certainly smelled like the rumor was true.

Want to find out more? Stay tuned!

Belle Isle Prison Camp

Share your story!

The importance of stories cannot be overstated. I know that my little column does not have the same instructional value as the rest of the content in this publication. However, stories connect us in a unique way. Jesus Christ, history’s greatest teacher, used stories to connect to his audience as he expounded deep truths to them.

                Throughout my years of selling sheds and related items to the public, I have found one of my most important tools was to simply tell the story of Better Barns. Our story is used in our marketing in several ways as well. Here is our story:

                Back in the fall of 2002, Vance Wright and his father, Dallen, were looking for a way for Vance to earn more money. Dallen had moved his family to Pauls Valley from Hobbs, NM, so that he could pastor the church we attend in Pauls Valley. While living in Hobbs, Vance had built a lot of sheds for his dad’s company. He built his first one at age 12!

                Since Vance had so much experience building sheds, it seemed natural to build a few in his spare time to see if they would sell. Dallen and Vance decided they would start a business venture together and called it “Better Barns” and Vance built his first few sheds in their front yard. They partnered together with Vance doing most of the day-to-day operation and Dallen operating as the “silent partner” in the early years.

                Soon, his sheds had found a market and demand outpaced his ability to just build on the side. He quit his other job and started building, selling, and delivering sheds full-time. By the summer of 2003, the business had grown enough to warrant adding a helper. That is where I came in. I joined Vance in July/August and soon we hired another employee, Robert.

                I joke that I was “Employee of the Month” for the first several months I was employed at Better Barns but have never earned that honor since we added more help.

                In 2005 I married Vance’s oldest sister and became more than just an employee. Now, I was family. Robert married Vance’s other sister in 2007. Vance joked that he was afraid he would not ever find any more help since he ran out of sisters.

                Our company is truly a family business. Dallen operates as CEO. I am General Manager, a title which sounds much more important than I actually am. Vance now manages our construction division building large metal buildings and other structures. Robert is the Sales Manager of one of our two corporate sales yards. Dallen’s youngest son, Dakota, manages another wing of our operation that is too complex to describe in my small space here.

                We have about 20 employees at any given time and about that many more contractors. Our annual sales have grown four-fold over the past 5 years. God has blessed our team and we are delighted to continue to serve south-central Oklahoma with integrity.

                This is a condensed version of almost 20 years of history. I have found that sharing bits and pieces of this story seems to resonate with people. They want to do business with people, not faceless entities.

                Whatever your story is, share it with your audience. Tell it on social media. Let folks know who you are. Be vulnerable and share things that may even highlight your imperfections. Connection with customers is key to success!

Lightning and The Jet Hilton

This column originally appeared in the Shed Builder Magazine December 2018/January 2019 issue.

                Over the last few years Better Barns has undergone several changes in strategy. As a small shed manufacturer, sometimes the market demands we find creative solutions and stretch ourselves from our comfort zone. This has been especially true during the last couple years. We have begun constructing large shop buildings and other weld-up units as a main product line. Our tagline is “Storage Solutions since 2002”, so we still consider barns, shops, and garages as part of our offering. This next story involves the construction of a 50×140 barn/shop, so not actually a shed story, but I thought it would perhaps be interesting to some of you.

Getting started! This was a daunting task for a guy accustomed to building 8×16 sheds…

                During the summer of 2018 we landed a job to build a 50x140x16 implement barn and shop for a repeat customer who we’ve done work for on multiple occasions. There were some problems with the contractor we hired to do the work, so Vance and I rounded up a crew to go straighten up the situation. This job was located about 3-1/2 hours from home, so Vance booked some rooms at the nearest motel. The nearest motel was about 20 minutes away from the job site in a little town, Jet, with one gas station which also functioned as the only source of food.

                First, a little side story about the motel. It was a regular old roadside motel run by one of our customers who used the building we built them for the town’s only other establishment – a liquor store. The lady who ran the motel/liquor store also worked at the gas station. I lovingly refer to the motel as the “Jet Hilton”. The rooms were okay, although you could feel the gritty sand in the carpet as you walked. Also, there was a dead cricket in the bathroom floor the whole first week we were there who became part of the family.

The motel and liquor store in Jet, OK.
My room I shared with Josiah for 3 weeks.

                The first day we were there, I got the feeling that I was out of my league. This structure was huge! We got to work quickly, and seemed like we made good time, but by the end of the day it didn’t look like we had done much at all. For a guy who is used to finishing a shed rather quickly it was somewhat discouraging. We worked from daylight to dark every day we could. However, there were days when the weather interfered.

In Northwest Oklahoma the sky feels huge! We could watch the storms coming for quite some time before they arrived. This is probably my favorite photo. Kyler Cottrell used my phone to snap this by the side of the road as we were on our way to the job site.

                Late one afternoon Vance and I were on the roof trying to finish the second side before dark when a storm moved in. We could see the storm moving in for a couple hours before it arrived, and we were racing to beat it. The wind was blowing like crazy! The 33’ sheets of metal were almost impossible to keep down in that driving wind and I was expecting to die any minute.

                Vance and I are very brave. At least that is the nice way to say stupid. We continued to fight the wind along with our helper Josiah. I’m quite sure at least one of us would have been badly hurt if God hadn’t hurried the lightning along. The lightning was the last straw for me. I told Vance that I would not stay on top of a metal building on the highest point for miles around with lightning.

Our ladder praising the Lord 🙂 That is Josiah climbing down off the roof.

                So, we hurriedly swept the shavings off the roof as wind gusted and lightning flashed in the much too near distance. The rain was already pouring on us and the wet metal made things a little more interesting as we quickly tried to finish the task at hand.  We climbed down soaked to the gills.

All the rain we dealt with during this job made the place a mess.

                After seeing that everything was properly put away we bade the jobsite goodbye and headed back to the Jet Hilton. I was glad to be alive that evening as I slipped into my gritty sheets for a night’s sleep after another exciting day in the life of a shed builder.

Gigi

A few of the comments about my Grandma

I asked folks on Facebook to share stories or comments about my grandma and got quite a lot of input. She is the inspiration for the character “Gigi” in my Triangle M Ranch Series of books.

Part of my goal with this series is to teach children good character and morals. It seems our culture puts such little value on the wisdom of our elders. I thought using a great grandmother to dispense life lessons would be a good way to pay homage to all the wise gray-haired folks in my life.

While she may not be trendy or up-to-date, my grandmother embodies so many of the character traits I hope to teach through my stories. I hope you will give her a hug when you see her, take a few minutes to visit and listen, and help her to her car.

If you don’t know my grandmother, or live too far away to be a part of her life, find another elderly person whose day needs brightened. Listen to them and learn the things that truly matter!