Detailed Rig Model Provides Next Best Thing To Being There

Jan Dodge, director of the Pioneer Museum of McKenzie County, says a new oil exhibit aims to educate people about the industry. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – If you can’t get on a drilling rig and want to see what it’s like, Watford City has the next best thing.

The Pioneer Museum of McKenzie County now features a model of a drilling rig that was meticulously designed by an artist who used to work in the industry.

Mitch Griess, owner of Mitchell Precision Replica Models in Bismarck, spent about 5,700 hours to hand-fabricate the replica, a 1/48 scale model.

“The amount of detail in there is insanely accurate. It’s meant to educate,” said Griess, originally from Sheridan, Wyo. “There’s not a whole lot of people that will ever get the chance to walk on a rig floor. Hopefully we can start really educating people.”

Griess relied on the knowledge he gained from working in the oil industry for more than 13 years doing jobs such as drilling, working as a diesel mechanic and a truck driver.

Museum Director Jan Dodge said tourists now ask her more questions about the oil industry than they do about the Badlands.

With grant funding and industry sponsors, the museum commissioned Griess to build the model.

“If you can’t get out there, this is probably the next best thing you can do,” Dodge said.

People from the industry who have seen the exhibit often remark about how accurate it is, Dodge said.

In addition to the rig itself, the model has all of the components that are found on a rig site, from the trucks to the skid shacks. Griess also built a model of a workover rig that is on display as well.

Mitch Griess

Griess made every part by hand with Polystyrene plastic and hand-painted the details. He made a similar model that is on display at the Heritage Center in Bismarck and has constructed other models that are used for both display and training workers.

The Pioneer Museum also features a video presentation that explains the drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes.

In addition, the oil exhibit has an 8-foot illustration that shows to scale how oil companies in North Dakota are drilling 10,000 feet to the Bakken Formation and how far away the formation is from groundwater zones.

In addition to tourists, the exhibit is geared to members of the general public who want to learn more about the industry or students who want to learn about possible careers, Dodge said.

The museum has historical displays about oil production in McKenzie County, which dates back to 1952.

“We’ve lived alongside of it for 60 years,” said Dodge, whose uncle owned the land where the first well was drilled.

The museum has the drill bit from the first producing well in the county, as well as replicas of modern drilling bits.

The Pioneer Museum of McKenzie County is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It’s in the Long X Visitor Center on U.S. Highway 85. To schedule a tour, call (701) 444-5804. On the web: