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2014- Heading down South to the Land of the Tacos

Who are you and Where have you been?

We have been silently absent for awhile on the blogosphere.  I admit part of the reason was due to an incredibly busy work season this year with Young Guns Wild West Fun Park.  This season we ended with 15 contracts at fairs.  Compare that to last years 9 contracts and you might understand how crazy it was to work  in 10 weeks 15 fairs in 7 states.  By mid September- we were exhausted!

We lucked out and found a SUPER DUPER GREAT assistant for Hil on the road to help with the Fun Park AND the two kids.  Christina is a fun and friendly woman who is very capable and we are thankful she worked out so well this season.  She’s already stepping up and wants to run her own rig for us next season-and I think she can do a great job!

What else is new on the McDowell home front?

We did the unthinkable!  We bought real estate.  Six months later, I question why we did such an impetious thing, but at the time it made sense.  Emma entered kindergarten this year.  We have been searching for a small community that we can base out of for part of the year and send the kids to school and homeschool the rest of the year on the boat.  Last year we spent two months in Darby, Montana and really enjoyed the winter activities and the small community at the south end of the Bitter Root Valley in Montana.  This year we spent all of June around the Darby area prepping for our work season and hunting for seasonal lodging and storage for the fall and winter.  We were shocked at how tight the rental housing market was in such a small community.  Despite the lack of any major industry providing a base for jobs in Darby, the rental market started at $660/month for a month to month apartment and rocketed up over $1,000 per month for a home with a multi year lease.

I have been diligently trying to avoid paying for housing on an annual basis because we are either on the boat or on the road for 7 months a year- and I am violently opposed to giving up our boat time.  Why have that fixed expense for a house every month when you aren’t using it?  We were more willing to pay for storage and work space for the trailers and equipment than for housing annually.  It made more financial sense to spend the money on items that are part of bringing in more money than to store our unused crap for more than half the year.

After nearly a month of hunting we found a commercial building two blocks off main street and one block away from the public library in Darby.  It was about 1 acre of land with a 32’x47′ building and another garage sized building with a pole barn attached.  It had a sign “FOR SALE/LEASE”.  We called.  Literally less than two hours later we had an agreement for owner financing with agreeable terms to purchase the property.

Fast forward through the work season, we returned in September to close on the property and I started renovating the garage/pole barn into a funky-not-completely-square-or-level dwelling unit (as defined by the town of Darby).  From a shell and no utilities, I got the “building” sheathed/wrapped/sided/framed/decked and rough wired this season.  Depending on finances, I’ll try to finish it up pre work season or post work season this (2014) year.

Here’s a link to a Facebook photo album

You’ve been busy!

That’s not the half of it!  I’ve been concerned that Young Guns, while having been an incredible enterprise for us, may suffer from random annual income swings.  This November we found that to be true. We attend three marketing conventions in November to market and sell Young Guns to fairs for the next fair season.  Thus far, each season has shown increasing growth.  This year we decided to add a 2nd attraction to diversify our offerings and hopefully mitigate market burnout.  We also adjusted our pricing strategy for the 1st time in 4 years.  In 2013 we ended up with 15 contracts from July through mid September.  Several fairs having contracted for three years in a row.  This year we were rotated out of two regular fairs.  It is to be expected but it still hurts when you can’t fill that slot.  For the 2014 season, we currently have 7 contracts with fairs for a total of 3 weeks of work this summer.

Time to diversify.

Since we are hanging around the same place for 5-6 months while the kids attend school, I might as well start another seasonal business.  What to do?

In a wild card moment- I decided we should start a microbrewery in the town of Darby, population less than 1,000 people.  The property zoning was ok, the location wasn’t bad- all I had to do was learn how to make beer.  So, in between building our “dwelling unit” and marketing Young Guns, I’ve been brewing beer like a mad man!  The good news, you can drink the result.  More good news- not a single bad beer yet.  In the last three months I have brewed about 70 gallons of beer and built/modified two brewing systems.  Besides being anal retentive and detail oriented, I can also be seriously single minded and obsessive.  The good news, you learn a lot in a short amount of time.

With minor hiccups and financial obstacles ahead, we “might” be open for business winter of 2014. Don’t hold your breath though.  2015 is probably a better bet.  But sooner I can get the doors open, the sooner we can see some positive cash flow.

You have Regrets about being anchored to real estate again?


I like being un-tied.  I like the flexibility and the diversity of experiences we encounter living the gypsy lifestyle.  That being said, we want the kids to experience group sports and dynamics, winter activities, and ‘some’ structured learning.  I also recognize the need for a ‘shop’ with tools and space to flex my creative muscle.  Being the serial entrepreneur, I really stepped into a lot more stress and financial burden by committing to the micro brewery in Darby (which word of mouth spread like wildfire.  Complete strangers are approaching Hil in the schools asking about the brewery.  What did I get myself into to?).

ON THE OTHER HAND, Hil and I have often joked that by staying on the road you ONLY meet the nicest people. Why?  The A$$holes don’t have time to track  you down.  While joking, you’d be surprised how close to the truth that really is…

Why No Posts in Awhile?

Believe it or not- Darby, Montana has about as good internet access as Mexico.  The town of Darby doesn’t have mailboxes- everyone gets a PO BOX at the post office.  There is no natural gas, you have to have a propane tank installed.  If you want cable, you have to get a dish.  We have limited internet service from our cell phones- and that really eats into the data plan.  Forget about uploading photos or YouTube videos.  We’re lucky to have 2 bars of cell service.  So even if I had the time, access to the internet is severely limited.

What Now?

We are in Tucson.  I have about 2 weeks of work to do here while Hil takes the kids to Florida to visit her parents.  Before we cross the border I need to file tax returns and work on a bunch of metal work since I have access to more suppliers than the local ACE hardware in Darby.  It will be a short Mexico season this year.  I probably bit off more than I could chew when we committed to a new attraction and a 3rd Young Guns setup this coming summer.  So we will come back early in May to prepare for the coming work season.

I feel bad our season is so short, but then I have to remember 3 months is about 6x longer vacation than most people take per year!  I refuse to give up our Mexico time, but I can see that it will likely shrink to 3 months per year versus our initial 6 months.  With the kids in school and us starting a new business- I can’t do much about that.  With two children just starting their academic career- we have a LONG way to go.  Things can change, we have talked about homeschooling the entire year instead of just the winter quarter in Mexico.  Emma is doing so well in school we don’t want to deprive her of that experience.  She has good teachers and is progressing at a great rate.  Mom and Dad also look forward to having 6 hours a day when we can pursue adult activities without little ones around.  As it is now, Hil is still full time Mom because Charley (4) is two years away from Kindergarten (fall babies start a year later than summer babies).

One door leads to the next.

I have often discussed that the fear of the unknown keeps most people from exploring their dreams.  Without the first step, you are guaranteed your life will not change.  In a sad way, people are comforted by this knowledge.  We are not in control of our day much less our lives.  At best we can snatch opportunity when it presents itself and take advantage of the experiences that unfold before us.

You know an ICE COLD draft beer in Mexico is a very affordable price of approximately $1.25! Click Here to Buy Us a Beer.

1 comment to 2014- Heading down South to the Land of the Tacos

  • Mike Vogdes

    Just thinking about you the other day and wondering how you and yours were doing.
    Glad to hear things are moving in the right direction and wish you the best with the micro brewery, if you need any help with taste testing I am a very experienced guzzler of fine brews.. Hope you guys have a good time in Mexico this year..
    Mike V