Kiplinger: You took early retirement?
Richard Rynearson: In 2009, my employer, Halliburton, "retired" me at age 59. I felt as if I had been fired. I had worked in information technology and project management for 34 years.
How did you get into seasonal work?
I recalled visiting with some older workers at Yellowstone National Park when my wife and I vacationed there the summer before. I retrieved a business card that one of them had given me. The card was from CoolWorks.com, which posts job listings for seasonal work in great places. I went to the Web site and picked out a few jobs.
SEE OUR SLIDE SHOW: 6 Great Part-Time Jobs for Retirees
What was your first job?
In Yellowstone, I worked as a clerk for a private concession company on Yellowstone Lake. I put in 40 hours a week from May through September 2009. It was one of the best summers of my life.
What made it special?
I made it a point to see the entire park, and it's huge! It's like unpeeling an onion. In several months, you can go down many more layers than you can in just a few days of vacation. And although many people visit during the season, you can get away from all that during your time off and be out in the wilderness pretty much by yourself.
Was there a downside?
When the posting calls accommodations "rustic," it means they're run-down. At Yellowstone, I lived in a men's dormitory where you had to get up early to get a hot shower.
You've also worked as a park ranger?
I've worked two summers, in 2011 and 2012, as a park ranger in Mesa Verde National Park, in Colorado. After my first summer, I realized that if I worked directly for the National Park Service, I would receive better pay, benefits and housing. But competition for the tour-guide jobs is fierce. I didn't have the training in natural sciences, so I went after a job collecting fees.
What does your wife think?
Irene trusts me to go off and be on my own for a few months, and I feel the same way about her. She works as a substitute teacher at a school in Houston.
Can you make a living?
I do it because I enjoy it, not to make a lot of money. The best you can do in these seasonal jobs is break even. Concession companies generally pay minimum wage, but they offer inexpensive room and board. As a GS-4 with the Park Service, I earned $13.41 an hour, but I paid higher rent at a government-owned apartment and had to shop for and cook my own meals. I did receive paid sick leave and vacation.
Do you have other income?
Yes, I started taking Social Security at age 62. Until I turn 66, I must pay back the government $1 for every $2 I earn above the limit, which is $15,120 for 2013. Six months of work fits the bill pretty well. I also have income from retirement savings. (See our story: The Social Security Catch-22.)
Where will you go this summer?
I'm short-listed for a Park Service job in Seward, Alaska.
Do you like your new life?
I've found my niche as a park ranger. During the season, it's just pure joy to go to work every day, and it doesn't feel like work.