Michael Carter, owner of G.A.P. Tree Services, gets to work early to avoid the afternoon heat. When he has to keep plugging along in higher temperatures, he paces himself. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
Four Highland Lakes residents offer tips on keeping cool while working outside during the hot Texas summers.
Michael Carter of Marble Falls
Landscaper, G.A.P. Tree Services
When it comes to dealing with summer heat in the Highland Lakes, it’s all about timing for Michael Carter, owner of G.A.P. Tree Services in Marble Falls.
“During the hot summer months, you have to get up as early as possible,” he said. G.A.P. (God Answers Prayers) offers tree care, landscaping, and gardening services. For all-day jobs or those lasting into the hottest part of the day, Carter has a plan.
“You try to do the hard parts as early as possible,” he explained. “Then, you do the easier things in the afternoon or when it’s the hottest.”
He doesn’t take chances if he’s working hard in the hottest temperatures.
“You have to pace yourself,” he said. “When it’s hot and you have the ability, take some breaks.”
Another piece of advice, which almost sounds counterintuitive, is wear long-sleeved shirts in light colors and made from light materials. The sleeves actually protect your skin from the sun and keep you cooler.
“If you start wearing the long-sleeved shirt early in the day, your body gets used to it and you do stay (a bit) cooler than if you wore short-sleeved shirts,” Carter said
More important: stay hydrated.
“You have to respect the heat,” Carter said. “Don’t think it’s not a big deal because it can get you if you don’t take care.”
Marble Falls Police Officer David Jackson dons about 40 pounds of equipment before he reports for duty. That includes a taser, a gun, a body camera, an equipment belt, and a 20-pound bulletproof vest. No big deal when behind the wheel of his air-conditioned vehicle, but when called out to a car crash, things begin to heat up.
“When you have to work a crash, you’re out there with the sun beaming down on you,” he said. “It could be 20 minutes or an hour and a half, depends on what took place.”
A fairly new recruit, Jackson has three years’ experience. He prepares for the physical hardships of his job by running in the heat and wearing a hoodie in the gym for his daily workouts.
“I work out and stay hydrated — that’s how I deal with the heat,” he said. “I drink water constantly all day. I don’t count how much. I just drink water all day.”
He will add an occasional Gatorade, but sodas are a no-go.
He does drink coffee.
“I’m a cop,” he said. “We live for caffeine.”
On the pavement, hydrated and trained to take the heat, Jackson also resorts to silent pleas for a breeze. He demonstrates how that works by grabbing the top of his vest and pulling it away from his chest.
“You grab your vest like this and hope a breeze comes along and cools you down a little,” he said. “When you’re out there in the heat, there’s no way around it. You hope and pray for a breeze, and when the crash is gone, you go to your car and turn on the air conditioner.”
Maintenance Section Supervisor, Texas Department of Transportation
Jeff Low has been battling the heat from Central Texas blacktop for 18 years. As the maintenance section supervisor for the Texas Department of Transportation, Austin District, he runs road crews in Burnet, Llano, and other Central Texas counties.
“We’ve been lucky this summer,” he said. “We’ve had a little reprieve from the heat with so much rain and cloudy days.”
The worst he’s seen in his career were days of 110 and 112 degrees.
“That’s bad, but the pavement temps are worse,” he said. “It could reach 150 to 160-plus out there on the road.”
Low knows his Hill Country weather. Born in Cherokee, he has always lived within 15 miles of Llano. He learned what ranchers have known for centuries: To help beat the heat, start early.
For Low, that can mean preparation 24 hours in advance.
“Start the day before by staying hydrated,” he said. “If you ever get behind on that, you can get in trouble.”
He suggests drinking plenty of water the day before a hot job and to continue hydrating throughout the day you’re working.
“It’s hard if you’re out there every day,” he said. “You can get busy and forget to drink throughout the day. That’s when you get in trouble.”
Road crew members look out for each other to prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion.
“We keep in groups and keep an eye on each other,” Low said. “Some people don’t realize they’re in trouble, but you can tell it. We look out for our coworkers.”
Personal protective equipment also helps, including cooling towels, hats, neck shades, and lots and lots of sunscreen. Crew members also wear lightweight, loose clothing.
“We pick and choose what is going to work best for our guys,” Low said. “If it’s something labor intensive, we try not to do that stuff in the heat of the day. As long as we take breaks and take care of ourselves, we can handle that better on the really hot days.”
Welder Shannon Buchanan, 44, slips on a pair of jeans, boots, and a long-sleeved Wrangler shirt every morning as he prepares for work at Hill Country Boat Docks. No matter the temperature outside, he dons a pair of heavy-duty gloves and a welder’s hood once on site to protect him from flying sparks.
“In the summer, it’s hot, hot, hot,” Buchanan said. “I’ve gotten used to it over the years.”
The Granite Shoals resident began welding when he was 10 after learning the basics of the trade from his father. Buchanan has been professionally welding for 28 years.
Most days, he works on site, welding together pieces of metal to create boat dock structures and moving heavy materials between locations. Working in a welding shop without air conditioning on slow days can sometimes be hotter than working outside, he said.
There is little relief from the hot summer sun. For safety reasons, Buchanan and the other welders must avoid heat-relieving practices such as placing wet rags around their necks or spritzing themselves with water between jobs.
“I could go jump in the lake to cool down, but then I’d be soaked and that can be dangerous,” Buchanan explained. “Any bit of wetness and you can get shocked. The only way you get a break (from the heat) is when you’re so done that you have to take a break and go sit in the shade.”
Previously, Buchanan would drink large amounts of water to balance out the heat, but he’s now limited to drinking only 64 ounces a day as a result of health complications. So he chews on ice chips to supplement his water intake, which is an effective way of cooling off anytime, he said.
Over the years, the heat has become a peripheral issue for Buchanan. He can’t imagine himself pursuing any other trade or career.
“I love (welding),” he said. “I absolutely do. I like keeping busy, and this job requires that.”