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.


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!

Civit, Oklahoma

Civit Cemetery sits just off Hwy 19 about a half-mile past the junction of Highways 19 and 133.

The community of Civit is a forgotten relic of days gone by on the Oklahoma prairie. Clayton Edwards’ 4E ranch trucks with their Civit, OK, address on the side are just about all that remain of the once thriving town located about halfway between Pauls Valley and Stratford.

According to Jim Etter’s article in the Sunday, May 24, 1987, edition of the Sunday Oklahoman, Civit was once a thriving trade center. He interviewed Frank Poindexter who had lived in the area since he was 10 years old. At the time of the interview, Mr. Poindexter was 92.

The overgrown tombstones in Civit Cemetery

The story is that it was named ‘Civet’ due to Robert Parsons, an early settler who was a trapper, tacking pelts on the outside walls of his store. Civet is another name for the spotted skunk and Mr. Parsons trapped plenty of them in his day.

Today, it is a quiet rural area home to several large farm and ranch operations. The people here are great neighbors. In the early days, the town boasted a cotton gin, sawmill, train depot, school, doctor, barber, blacksmith shop, a few stores, and several houses.

Mr. Poindexter recalled once getting a $0.25 fine for running his horse up the street. He also talked of making many dollars playing his fiddle for local dances.

The Triangle M Ranch is located in Civit in my new book series. In the book, the town is again a small town with several houses, a store, and a police chief. I hope I can share my love for this area with my readers. Step back to a quiet, peaceful time through the pages of Treasure at Fort Arbuckle.

Had a GREAT time!

Before yesterday, I had never attended a book signing. I had certainly never been the author at one! So thankful to the Friends of the Library and my mother for helping arrange this event. Kristi Brown took some amazing pictures during the event – thanks, Kristi!

Three Men and a Barrel cookies! Thanks to Rhonda Davis!
Getting Ready…
Barry Porterfield with the local newspaper.
Betty McGee, the “boss” of Friends of the Library. Great lady with a heart to help the library succeed!
Two of my favorite nephews and one of my favorite nieces…They came to see the “best” uncle!

So thankful for all the support for my books! I am humbled by it.

Want a preview of my novel?

Chapter 1.

Sounds in the Night

         What was that?

I awoke with a start, knowing I had heard something. There! It was the faint rustling of crunchy leaves. The bright red numbers on my bedside clock showed 3:07.

I rolled out of bed and scurried to the window. The moon shone on the yard. Every shape looked spooky, but with some effort I focused until I decided they were the usual trees, shrubs, or Mom’s rosebushes.

          The sound came again. In the fall, Cooper and I slept with our window cracked open and our fan on. The cool Oklahoma air smelled clean and fresh. A cow mooed in the corral nearby. Again, I distinctly heard the leaves rattle. I listened closer.


          I scanned the darkness, scanning to find the source of the sound. At last, I spotted movement down toward the shop. It looked like a small, slow-moving person, but in the darkness, I could not tell for sure.

          I slipped on my house shoes, which were next to the bed, then moved quietly out my bedroom door and down the hall to the side door.

The door opened with only a muffled creak and I was outside. The cool October air magnified every sound. A distant train whistle sounded hauntingly through the dark night.

Our walkway was damp from the recent rain and I was very careful to step over the missing steppingstone. I sure didn’t want to trip and give myself away!

          I paused at the end of the walkway and peeked around the big oakleaf hydrangea shrub. Mom loves rosebushes and shrubs, so our yard is full of them. I breathed in the floral scents mixed with the earthy smell of the recent rain shower.

I could just make out the form of the small person moving near the shop. I could see Gigi’s kitchen light that she always left on shining through the window above her sink.

Suddenly, it dawned on me. That was Gigi walking out there!

          “Gigi!” I said rather loudly.

          “Shawn is that you?” she replied. Her voice was a bit higher than normal, and she sounded surprised. I started jogging toward her. The Bermuda grass brushed against my bare ankles, tickling me as I passed.

          “Yes, ma’am. I heard you walking and came to see what was going on. I didn’t know it was you,” I said, “and I was afraid it might be someone messing with our cows.”

           “It’s just me, son. You really shouldn’t have come out by yourself if you thought it might have been someone you didn’t know.” She didn’t sound cross, though. She knew I often acted before I thought about the consequences.

          “I didn’t even think about it. I was out the door and by the hydrangea before I started wondering what I would do if it was someone I did not know. I’m glad it was you!” I replied. “What are you doing out here at 3 o’clock in the morning?”

          “Well, son, when you get old, you’ll understand it better,” she laughed. “I couldn’t sleep. Too many things on my mind, so I thought I would walk a bit. Walking tires me out and helps me relax. I walk a lot of nights, but usually I stay in my house. Tonight, though, it seemed like a beautiful night to walk and talk to God under His stars.”

          We were walking together back toward Gigi’s “house”. Gigi is my mom’s Grandmother. She lives in our shop, in what Dad calls the “Mother-in-Law Quarters”. When we first purchased our land, we lived in the shop while the house was being built. It is a very nice area for Gigi, but much too small for our family of five!           

          We are the Masons. Our little farm is the ∆M, just south the little community of Civit, OK. My dad and mom, Randy and Anne Mason, are two of the best people you’ll ever meet. Dad works hard as a salesman for a local construction company and Mom is a stay-at-home mom.

I am the oldest child at 13 years old. My name is Shawn. I love fishing, working with our herd of 15 cows, and spending time with my friends at school.

Tonight is not the first time I’ve done something without thinking it through. In fact, I have earned a reputation for doing it often.

My younger brother, Cooper, is 10. He has never done anything without thinking it through. We get along well, but he constantly frustrates me with his laziness.

Sometimes, though, he saves us from trouble by taking time to analyze the situation and helping me see the best way to handle ourselves.

Cooper and I are both protective of our 11-year-old sister, Amanda. She is a lot like our mom – always trying to keep us out of mischief!

She reads a lot and knows a lot of interesting things. I am often surprised by her knowledge of things I have not even ever heard about.

I opened the door for Gigi, and she stepped into the shop. The living quarters is on the east side of the shop and I could see the soft glow of the kitchen light shining through the glass of the “front” door. Gigi’s front door opened into the shop near where we were standing.

“Gigi, do you have anything to drink?” I asked. “And I’m kinda hungry.”

“Shawn, you are always hungry!” Gigi said merrily. “You know I have something to eat and drink here. What would you like?”

“Well, I’d sure like some of that pecan pie, if you have any left,” I replied. “with some milk.”

“You just have a seat there, son. Give me a minute and you’ll be fixed right up!”

Gigi was not nearly as picky about what we ate as Mom. Sometimes, I would slip down to Gigi’s after supper for dessert. Mom didn’t seem to think dessert was a necessary part of a meal, but Gigi understood.

I sat at Gigi’s small round table. My chair at Gigi’s was the one with the scratch down the right side, a reminder of one of my mishaps from a few years ago. I had only been seven or eight years old at the time.

We were working on building our house and I used the chair as a stool. The chair was not high enough for me to reach the ceiling, so I had stacked books on the floor and set the chair legs on them. I then climbed up to start smoothing the drywall mud Dad had spread on the ceiling before stepping out on a call from a customer.

I was stretching to reach a rough spot when the books shifted under the chair. The next thing I knew, Dad was standing over me with a cold glass of water. Somehow in the fall my putty knife had scratched the side of the chair. Thankfully, I recovered soon and was back to normal – for me.

Gigi served a nice piece of pie on a well-used saucer and handed me a mug of cold milk. She sat next to me with a glass of milk of her own.

“Thanks, Gigi,” I said, “are you going to eat?”

“No, son. I’m going to save my appetite for breakfast here in a couple hours,” Gigi smiled at me as she answered.

“I’d really like to hear a story, then. Your stories are the best!” I told her.

Gigi had lived eighty-seven years and it seemed she had enough stories for two lifetimes. We all loved to hear her tell of her childhood. She had been a small child when Pearl Harbor was attacked, a young mother when President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, and a grandmother when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been bombed.

Those stories came alive when she told them, but most of her stories were simply everyday happenings that sounded absolutely fascinating when she shared them with us.

By this time, it was 3:30 in the morning. I knew Dad and Mom would want me to go back to bed, but I hoped maybe Gigi would agree to tell me a story. If the story were short, I could still get back to bed by 4:00 and be ready to eat breakfast with the family at 7:00.

“A story, huh? Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt. I have been thinking about a story my grandmother used to tell me. Her dad, my great-grandfather, was a soldier in the Union army during the Civil War. He served with Colonel William Emory. They were stationed at Fort Arbuckle, just a short distance from here when the Civil War started in 1861,” she answered.

“Your great-grandfather?” I asked with amazement, “I cannot imagine that long ago!”

Gigi laughed at my amazement. I finished up my pie and drained my glass of milk while she talked. I took my dishes to the sink and then moved to the couch.

Gigi’s couch was our old sofa. The arm on the right side was broken down from a wrestling match between Cooper and me. The old cushions showed their age but sinking into them was as comfortable as I imagined a big, fluffy, cloud would be.

“His name was Elisha Browne. His father and mother had moved to Virginia from Ireland in the late 1840s because of the Great Irish Potato Famine. Elisha was born in 1844 in Ireland but became a United States citizen when the family moved to Virginia. At that time, Irish folks were treated very poorly in America because so many of them were Catholic. Many Americans refused to hire Irish immigrants and so Elijah’s family suffered greatly the first few years they were here.”

“Elisha’s father, Thomas, found employment working on the railroads, but the life was very hard. The family moved often. There was never enough food for the seven children. Elisha was the second oldest, and he felt the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings.”

“He decided at age sixteen to join the military. He went to the recruiting station but was rejected because of his age and his Irish nationality.”

“He waited a couple months, then visited another recruiting agent. This time, he lied about his age and told the agent he was Scottish. He was allowed to join and assigned to the E Company of the First U.S. Cavalry under the command of Colonel Emory. This assignment brought him from the railroad to Indian Territory, right near where we are today!”

“Where?” I asked.

“Fort Arbuckle. It was located just a few miles from where Davis is today,” she replied.

“Wow! I never knew there was a fort there! Is it still standing?” I asked excitedly.

“I haven’t been over that way in a long time, Shawn, but when I was young, we went over there to look for the money Great-Grandpa Elisha left buried – “

“Buried treasure!” I interrupted, “Really? Did you find it? How much was it?”

Gigi laughed heartily at my enthusiasm. I knew I was not supposed to interrupt people, especially not adults, but sometimes my mouth got the best of me.

“I’m sorry, Gigi. I did not mean to interrupt. Did you find treasure?” I asked a little more calmly.

“No, Shawn, we didn’t find treasure. We did find quite a few neat old things, though. A few old spoons and forks, some old cartridges, and a belt buckle. Might have been another thing or two, but that is all I remember now.

“I had just about forgotten about it until I spotted an old fork at the antique shop a few days ago. It looked like one of the ones we found back then. My Great-Grandfather told of leaving a few things buried as they hurriedly abandoned the fort before the Confederates arrived.”

Her voice had changed into the tone she uses when she is thinking about long-ago happenings. Gigi looked off into the distance and it seemed as if time stood still.

When she spoke again, it wasn’t like hearing a story – it was like I joined the story. Her voice carried me into the past until it seemed I could smell the stable and hear the voice of Captain Carr as he commands us to prepare to evacuate.

Staying with Sheds

Originally published in the April/May issue of Shed Builder Magazine.

Those of you who have read my column since its inception back in April 2016 know that I began building sheds in 2003 at the ripe old age of 17. I’d like to share the story of how I became a shed builder with you.

I didn’t grow up planning to be a shed builder. Growing up, I visited my dad in the hospital lab where he worked and dreamed of being a Med Tech like he was. All those machines analyzing people’s blood to determine what was wrong with them so that doctors could save their lives interested me greatly. They also took swabs and put them on petri dishes so they could see what kind of stuff would grow. That was really cool!

Then, in high school, I decided I wanted to be a CPA. I enjoy working with numbers and could enjoy staying alone in a cubicle all day crunching data. I planned to attend a local college, graduate with a degree in accounting, then go to work for an oil company making a good salary.

The summer between my junior and senior years in high school I was languishing at home with nothing to do. My friend, Vance, had started building sheds in his dad’s (Dallen’s) front yard. He was the builder, salesman, delivery guy, bookkeeper, and janitor. They built a 50×100 shop building to house Dallen’s stuff and build sheds.

Me when I still had hair

At this time, the only place I knew of in our area to buy a shed was at a local lumberyard. They took cull lumber and pieced together small sheds. The sheds were cheap because you got what you paid for. It didn’t take long for Vance’s high-quality sheds to find a market. He got busier than he could handle and needed a little help. I fit the bill perfectly. I wasn’t much help.

He called me to help him on an onsite in Purcell, OK. We worked that together that day and then another. Then, he needed me again. Within just a few days, I was full time. It took me quite some time to learn how to build a shed from start to finish. I had no background in construction at all. I stayed with it, though, and after a while I was churning out sheds at a reasonable rate.

I fell in love with the work that I do. The work of starting with a freshly swept floor and finishing a day or so later with a beautifully finished product fascinated me then and still does today. I love working with customers to design the shed they’ve been talking about building for the last five years. When a new shed slides out the door, I still smile.

I don’t know if I could have made more money as a CPA. I really don’t care. Shed building and the work that surrounds providing storage solutions for customers here in Oklahoma makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. The people I work with inspire me to become a better person. The team cares deeply about our customers and coworkers.

The Better Barns team at our 2018 Christmas party. Ten of those pictured are still with the team and we have added quite a few more.

The decision to stick with sheds has allowed me to reap a lot of joy and contentment. I hope the same is true for each of you in the shed industry. Enjoy your day, shed builders.

Selling books is hard work!

I had no idea what I was stepping into a few months ago when I decided to charge into the world of wordsmiths. Writing is easy to me. I have written for many years and I find storytelling therapeutic.

However, actually selling stories is a whole ‘nother matter!

These comments from one of the aspiring authors Facebook pages I am a part of demonstrate the struggle authors face after publishing. Self publishing comes with its own set of challenges. One of those is that you spend more time marketing your book than actually writing!

However, those who attempt to publish through a major publisher often wait years as they search for an agent willing to take a chance with them. Then, they may wait more years before the agent can find a publisher who will actually publish the work.

After seeing the struggles so many other authors have endured to even sell 5 books with one or two reviews, I am humbled by the overwhelming support my first two books have received!

Three Men and a Barrel has sold over 50 copies and has four reviews (all 5 stars!). Treasure at Fort Arbuckle has sold over 20 copies in the first week and has five reviews (also all 5 stars). Several people have messaged me and are planning to purchase a book from me when I receive my author copies of Treasure at Fort Arbuckle.

This amazing result has not made me feel proud. It has actually been very humbling. Thanks to all of you who have been a part of this journey so far! My main goal is to author God-honoring books that my children and others like them can enjoy. I hope you enjoy the ride along with me!


I just wanted to take a moment and thank everyone for the support this week. I released my debut novel, Treasure at Fort Arbuckle last Sunday. The response has been gratifying.

Thanks to my mom, Priscilla, for her efforts to promote my book! She is my biggest fan and is a great ally. She certainly is not shy about promoting me!

Thanks to my Aunt Naomi, for sharing so many of my posts. She was also a member of my launch team and has been very helpful.

Thanks to the Nora Sparks Warren Library in Pauls Valley. They are hosting an event for me on May 20. Hope to see all of you there!

Thanks to the many people who have read and reviewed my book. Reviews are like gold for an author!

Thanks to Jesus Christ, my Savior. Without Him, I am nothing.

Book Reviews

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to review my new novel, Treasure at Fort Arbuckle. As you all know, reviews sell!

Melanie Rockett has a nice blog post about my book here.

Melanie’s work!

Your support is very much appreciated! Please share with your friends that have middle grade children. I hope to help parents shape their children’s character in a Godly manner through my books. Let’s work together to make a difference!