Ranch Hands

I like working at the DPW Work Ranch. Yes, it’s hot and the work is tough and usually tedious… yes, I’m adding a lot of electrolyte powder to my water and trying to squeeze myself into two-foot shade patches for a little relief… but I still manage to enjoy myself. There’s just something about it.
Maybe it’s the fact that the whole place is full of strange debris (and I use this word loosely) from past events: the giant metal heart sculpture, or the metal dragon, or the firefly. The narwhal. The three giant faces made of metal, driftwood, and earth. The bone tree, now consistently inhabited by screaming ravens… Too good to be dismantled, they are now on display along the entrance to the Ranch.

The place is a gold mine, to tell you the truth. There are cars all over – cars that look like boats, cars made out of boats, cars with guns and (fake) bombs and flamethrowers, cars that are also bars, just everything you could want. There are huge piles of burn barrels, cords of firewood, rows of trailers, and countless containers full of pieces of the City. There are two big hangars that serve as the auto shop and the metal shop –

And through this giant parking lot of weird art, roam the DPW. Punks welding burn barrels! Guys in ripped pants, building giant platforms for the Man to stand on! Beautiful girls driving trucks and Hysters! And me, today, doing a little grunt work.

I started out with Spoon, cleaning out a trailer that will be parked at the DPW Rodeo. We washed out years’ worth of grime, wheedled Little Matt into spraypainting the insides a nice clean white, and fitted it out with an Astroturf floor. Spoon plans to feed the entire DPW throughout the event, so it’s fitting that he should have a nice place to do his cooking. He promises he’ll serve me a Kahlua milkshake. I say, okay.

But we were done with the trailer in no time, which left me wandering around the ranch with nothing to do but look for feral cats underneath the extra trailers. There were plenty, but it gets kind of boring doing that – so I hit up Matt and Eli for some work. And boy, did they have work.

These are the panels for the walls of the funhouse that will be underneath the Man. Think of me when you’re in there, because just about every single panel was touched by my own hands. We painted 100 panels in one day, front and back, with the paint sprayer overheating in the 98-degree heat. The next 100 panels will be painted tomorrow, and after that, who knows? All I can say so far is that my once-black boots are now painted a lovely white.

Maybe it’s the remnants of past art at the Ranch, or maybe it’s the fact that I am working on this year’s art, or maybe it’s the influence of the tough, hardworking and creative people around me, but I have rarely felt so good as when I put in a day working for the Man.

Ask me again in a few days when my hands are blistered from pounding t-stakes for the fence, and I might not have the same attitude – but honestly, I doubt it. Matt and Eli, a couple of longtime DPWers with serious dedication to their work (and their cars), both agree: art is best when you have to work for it. Maybe not everything we do out here is art, but it’s all in the service of creativity.

The 2005 Art Theme is Psyche. What are you creating this year?

playa phone at burning man 2003 art festival

photo by Evrim D. Cakir

About the author: The Hun

The Hun

The Hun, also known as J.H. Fearless, has been blogging for Burning Man (and many other outlets) since 2005, which is also the year she joined the BRC DPW on a whim that turned out to be a ten-year commitment. Since then she's won some awards for blogging, built her own creative business, and produced some of the Burning Blog's most popular stories and series. She co-created a grant-funded art piece, "Refoliation," in 2007, and stood next to it watching the Man burn on Monday night during a full lunar eclipse. She considers that, in many ways, to have been the symbolic end of Burning Man that was. The Hun lives in Reno with DPW Shade King, Quiet Earp. You may address her as "The Hun" or "Hun". If you call her "Honey" she reserves the right to cut you.