Last winter, Flynn Mauthe, Operations Director for the DPW, spent a significant amount of time securing real estate for Burning Man. In January 2001, our tenancy at the Work Ranch was threatened, requiring a quick response to secure a new property. All of the physical building, set up, and removal of Black Rock City had been directed from the Work Ranch during the crucial 60 days surrounding the event, and the property itself had served as off-season storage and housing, so the potential loss of this site posed a major threat to Burning Man. Clearly, the Project needed to acquire its own rural property near the event’s location.
DPW contacted ranchers, realtors, and landowners daily in hopes of finding such a property to purchase. Of course, money was a significant limitation. After previewing 26 parcels of land in three different counties, none of them affordable, research uncovered the name of the family who owned the 200-acre parcel adjacent to the Work Ranch. Within 24 hours of making contact, both sides agreed to a contract with closing scheduled 20 days later. The property, newly named Black Rock Station, cost $70,000, and the tract included a much needed domestic well. After this purchase, additional negotiations with the owner of the Work Ranch resulted in the Project securing a 10-year lease after all.
During spring 2001, DPW also secured a 5-year lease on a 320-acre parcel locally known as “Frog Farm.” This lease includes rights to use the property’s extensive water resources, and it creates an opportunity to improve and restore an awesome piece of neglected property. The most obvious changes made so far are the installation of a couple of gates and repair of some fencing, both intended to keep people from driving all over the site and destroying its plant life. At one time, this natural spring or oasis in the desert attracted abundant waterfowl and other types of wildlife. Proper management of the land may restore those days.
During the event, water trucks can pump directly from the pond DPW recently installed at the south end of the Frog Farm property. Access to water for dust abatement is vital for Black Rock City; 3 million gallons were used for this purpose in 2001. The new pond at Frog Farm recharges as fast as pumps draw from it, so the withdrawal is hard to detect at all.
After the closing of the three real estate transactions, DPW undertook capital improvements on Black Rock Station, beginning with the erection of a 4,000-square-foot, fully enclosed, metal quonset hut to serve as a shop building, complete with concrete floor and a 28 kW diesel generator. This enormous building allows the DPW crew and others to build and prepare most of the Burning Man infrastructure indoors, protected to some degree from the harsh desert elements and away from the event location, reducing construction mess and therefore clean-up after the event. This shop housed construction of the Man and other art projects, including the Temple of Enlightenment. It also produced all Project-sponsored shade structures, spires/lamp posts, burn platforms, burn barrels, and gate kiosks.
The old DPW shop on the Work Ranch then became a very functional artist’s shop consisting of three shipping containers, two large shade structures, and a 70 kW generator. Now, several artists can build their pieces simultaneously in Nevada, eliminating the complicated logistics and expenses involved in transporting large projects.
The old Lovett Ranch House on the Black Rock Station property was another renovation project partially completed by midsummer. The building retains the feel of an old ranch house. but it now houses computer-equipped offices upstairs and the sign shop and radio station downstairs. The building has become the center of DPW operations, with plans to conduct shipping, receiving, and purchasing activities there that were previously conducted from the shop building and Gerlach office.
Development of the properties last spring included cutting in over 2 miles of road, topped with 6 inches of decomposed granite then graded to form a permanent road base on both the Work Ranch and Black Rock Station properties. This important dust-control measure was much needed to keep Work Ranch folks healthy and happy. An insulated pump house was constructed around the Black Rock Station wellhead and a holding tank with capacity of 40,000 gallons was plumbed in and pressurized. This improvement eliminates daily trips to Gerlach for potable water, an incredible savings on gas and time. The agenda for the spring of 2002 includes construction of a bath house/ toilet/laundry facility at the Work Ranch (permits pending). Sounds a little extravagant? Living and working in high-desert conditions for several months would change your mind.
By August 1, 2001, the DPW crew was 100 strong and operations shifted gear. Construction of Black Rock City had begun. From this point on, the DPW machine rolled fast and furious: surveying the site; installing the perimeter fence; constructing the café; erecting shade structures, spires/lamp posts, street signs, and the Man; erecting communication towers; burying 35,000 pounds of underground electrical cable; transporting shipping containers; placing mobile office buildings, dumpsters, generators, heavy machinery, the airport, the commissary, the outposts, medical tents, and porta-potties; plus fuel distribution and SO MUCH MORE. All is completed in about 18 days. To track this chaos, DPW instituted a daily job list to be coordinated with roll call. Each night, every crew member is matched with a job and this list is posted before 7 A.M. the following day. Next year, DPW managers will conduct their own roll calls and create their own daily job lists in order to spread out these responsibilities.
This year, DPW experienced a major problem with manager burnout. Some leaders simply dropped away, mostly due to long, stressful workdays with virtually no time off in combination with harsh living conditions. Unfortunately, those unattended responsibilities fell straight back onto Operations. Other staff picked them up and plowed forward, despite the birth of a baby girl in mid-August. It’s the DPW way. Did someone say “till you drop?”
On August 15, 2001, the DPW roll call was 211 names long. Everyone came willing to work under the blistering sun and torturous dust storms. When Black Rock City’s gates opened, DPW reduced this crew to about 40 people, enough to maintain the city during the event. Radio dispatch, fuel distribution, golf cart maintenance, vehicle repair, and material transport are just some of the myriad tasks DPW handles during the event. The highlight of the week for the staff is the DPW parade on Saturday, the group’s own unique form of the traditional Labor Day parade.
By September 3, 2001, volunteers returned for the massive load out/playa exodus. All Project resources must be off the playa within 15 days to make way for the Playa Restoration Team, who hand pick the playa so Black Rock City can pass the BLM’s inspection. Burning Man 1999 marked the beginning of a whole new standard for clean-up, with restoration work unsurpassed by anyone, especially after an event of this magnitude. Clean-up is an extremely exacting job, but every year the participants leave the playa in better condition than the year before. The BLM inspection for the 2001 clean-up effort took place on October 4. The site passed, and both the BLM and Project staff agree that it was the best clean-up ever.
By October 10, 2001, most of the DPW crew had headed home. Those that remained worked to prepare properties for the high-desert winter. This process includes covering lumber, draining water from all living quarters, winterizing all DPW motor vehicles and art cars, and tying everything down to withstand 80 mph winds and huge snow loads. A few crew members, including the DPW Director of Operations, live in Gerlach or on Black Rock Station year-round, caretaking the property and preparing for the coming year’s event. Although activity seems limited after the winter, there is much to do, enough to occupy more people. However, Gerlach is a bit dismal during the winter, and volunteers don’t flock there as they do throughout the summer months. For example, the day after the DPW Thanksgiving gathering this year, Black Rock country received over 1 foot of snow, making all activities difficult for about 10 days. Still, DPW staff work without complaining. Many love the high deserts of Nevada and enjoy working with the Burning Man family.
Flynn Mauthe lives on Main Street in Gerlach, Nevada with Lisa Nigro (Ze Dragon Lady) and their 4-month-old daughter, Tymberline.