We returned home from Ireland on January 20th, our hearts full from another tremendous visit with our sheep farming friends in Sligo. Lambing is an extraordinarily hectic but rewarding time in a sheep farmer’s life which we’ve been blessed to participate in several times. We love lambing sheep! We were also excited about an upcoming life change, as we’d been searching for a seasonal position that would afford us more time off and allow us to put our Florida beach condo on the vacation rental market. Our goal has been to own a couple of vacation rental properties that provide us passive income and the opportunity to live part-time in both locations, ideally one on the beach and one in the mountains.
On February 28th, right before the pandemic gripped the US, Sean and I accepted a summer private service position on a Wyoming cattle ranch. Our current bosses were on vacation in the Bahamas, so we didn’t turn in our notice for another week, but we planned to stay until April, as our new job didn’t start until April 27th. Unfortunately, our bosses unknowingly brought Covid-19 back from the Bahamas, and by mid-March, I had covid-19 with pretty rough symptoms lasting 10-days. Sean did not have Covid symptoms, so we assumed he was asymptomatic.
Several staff members were sick by mid-to-late March, so the office shut down, and we ended our employment a week early. Unfortunately, a week later, our Wyoming job was “put on hold” while the family figured out whether or not they would open their ranch for the summer. They told us that an August start date might be possible but understood if we needed to move on. We stayed in contact, but it was clear they would not be bringing us on at all by August.
We spent the spring and summer in isolated lockdown. Not having clear Covid-19 guidance or protocols from our local health department, we just did the best we could to keep ourselves, our neighbors, and our family safe. We kept busy by installing a shiplap wall in our condo, and we created a website and series of videos to market ourselves to potential employers. But all that summer, I was slowly losing my hair. Vast handfuls of hair–falling out from the root every time I showered or brushed my hair. It was terrifying and infuriating but finally subsided around Labor Day. And I’m happy to report it’s growing back, although I look a bit like a chia pet right now—a small price to pay for the regrowth.
By August, we’d been living off of unemployment and gifts from our family when we finally got a job offer. We were to be a Caretaker/Concierge Couple at a High-End Guest/Working Ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Although we’d been looking for seasonal work, this was a year-round position, but we were just happy to be employed with the pandemic’s uncertainty, even though we would have to put our goals on hold.
If you’re lucky, a year-round position in the US comes with 2-weeks of vacation, often unpaid and not available the first year. For us, that meant we’d have less time to manage our condo as a rental, and we’d have no time to vacation in Florida, so we decided to sell, and it was a good decision as we made a 20% return on our invest after a year of ownership.
We received the Steamboat offer right after back to back, one-week-long working interviews for private families, one in Las Vegas, NV, and another in Durango, CO. The Vegas job we did not want but the Durango job, well we wanted the job, and they said they were going to offer us the job, showed us the furniture they purchased for “our apartment,” and then changed their minds last minute.
So after a couple of interviews and a 1,600-mile move across the country, we started the Steamboat job in September. The ranch owners lived in FL and MN, had three grown children and grandchildren, and all-in-all visited only 6-8 weeks a year. The ranch management couple were midwestern, friendly, and short on specifics but easy going. Our skill set seemed to compliment theirs, and on paper, it appeared to be a good match for everyone.
We spent the fall busting our butts: cutting, collecting, splitting, and stacking cords of firewood, re-finishing log decking, painting, deep cleaning the home and cabins, and we learned to feed the 120 bison and 16 horses. It was hard physical labor getting ready for all that winter was to bring — we enjoyed it for nearly three months before the weather changed.
With the cold weather came a significant change in our job. The first family visit was upon us, and it was Christmas–it felt as if we were starting anew. Our job was to make their stays more enjoyable as the concierge to the family — so whatever they needed, nothing too big or too small. The family made requests, the ranch managers approved the work, and we worked eight, ten, and 12-hour days during their visit. In just 3-weeks, we wracked up a week’s worth of overtime. Contractually in the winter, we were part-time hourly employees and were told to keep track of our hours. Unfortunately, after the fact, they told us they would not pay us for the extra hours we worked and instead said we could take an extra week of vacation — at their convenience.
The feedback from that 3-weeklong visit was very positive. The family liked us, enjoyed the meals we prepared and were happy with the daily maid service and overall property upkeep. Over the next month, different family members visited with colleagues and friends and reported their visits were like being at a five-star hotel.
But we received a shock in mid-February 2021. The ranch managers called us into a meeting and said the various family members had discussed it and decided we were not the right fit. They gave us seven days to vacate the property and said the patriarch was adamant about not paying us for the extra hours we worked. I’ve spent hours trying to determine what we did that was so egregious or repulsive that they couldn’t bring themselves to pay us for those hours. We are shocked and disappointed as we thoroughly enjoyed working on the ranch, liked the family, and had received nothing but positive feedback in our weekly meetings with the ranch managers and glowing reviews from the family visits.
But in classic “ItsAGavination” style, we packed up our newly acquired furniture and moved… back into a storage unit in Denver. The position turned out to be seasonal after all. Now, after regrouping, we’re happy to report that we’ve acquired a summer position in southwest Alaska, and we’re thrilled.
Like so many others, 2020 was a real booger for us, with many ups and downs. But we learned a lot, had a good time working the Steamboat ranch, and are just moving on with that with all that new knowledge and experience.