WILLISTON, N.D. – Kurt Wensmann is an oilfield truck driver with a dream on hold.
The 26-year-old artist is working long hours now so he can be debt-free by 27 and open a ceramics studio.
“To make it as an artist, you have to have flexibility,” said Wensmann, who spent some time as a resident potter at a New Zealand community clay center. “If you owe a bunch of people money, you don’t have that flexibility.”
Wensmann, a 2010 graduate of the University of North Dakota’s ceramics program, began working in the oilfield in March of 2011. He spent four months working with a crew that serviced oil wells, but decided that wasn’t the job for him.
“I had no desire to do it in the winter,” Wensmann said.
Then Wensmann worked to earn his commercial driver’s license. He grew up on a dairy farm near Richmond, Minn., so learning to drive a truck wasn’t much different than the equipment he’s operated.
Wensmann hauls crude oil all over western North Dakota, typically working 12- to 14-hour days. He prefers to work a schedule of two weeks on, one week off, sleeping in his truck during his work weeks.
He recently began blogging about his experience, posting photos of scenes he encounters during his travels.
If he works three or more weeks in a row, that gets long for Wensmann, who once got so bored he measured the size of his sleeper cab using his body lengths.
“It gets crowded, even with one person,” Wensmann said.
Wensmann has a small house that he’s fixing up near Leeds when he’s not working. He bought it to be close to his girlfriend, who works as a middle school art teacher in Devils Lake.
His plan is to build a garage or shed with a loft for his girlfriend’s art studio and space for his pottery on the main level.
Wensmann enjoys the subtle beauty of the North Dakota landscape, and he expects that somehow it will influence his art.
“Some of the sunsets are just magical,” he said.
Wensmann expects to continue to working as a truck driver for another year so he can pay off his student loans. By then, he’ll have two years of truck driving experience and could use that commercial driver’s license to supplement his income down the road.
“I’m not out here forever,” Wensmann said. “It’s a way to get ahead.”