Faces of the Boom: Tattoo artist roving the N.D. oilfields

Dan Golebiewski works on a tattoo Thursday, June 26, 2014, from his mobile tattoo shop near Williston, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – Tattoo artist Dan Golebiewski is drilling ink in the Bakken to pay the mortgage back home.

As business at his tattoo shop in northern Idaho slowed down in recent years along with the economy, Golebiewski kept hearing about North Dakota from friends who moved there to work in the oilfield.

He took a trip to the Bakken in 2012 and saw the potential. The husband and father of two then spent his days off for the next two years turning a used RV into a professional mobile Dan’s Tattoo Shop.

“I pretty much exhausted my life back there financially,” said Golebiewski, who’s been working in North Dakota for about a month. “This is what I need to do to survive.”

Golebiewski’s plan is to travel where the oil workers are and cater to their busy work schedules.

“I could be busy all day, every day, and not even affect the shops in town. Age-wise, this is our target audience,” he said. “It’s a wide-open market.”

Developing a mobile tattoo shop for the Bakken required meeting guidelines of health departments in both North Dakota and Montana. The RV’s clean, white interior features a separate tattoo area, hand-washing station and customized lighting. Golebiewski uses disposable tattoo tubes to eliminate the need to have an autoclave to sterilize the equipment.

“We’re doing everything totally legal, above board,” he said.

Dan’s Tattoo Shop is approved by health departments in North Dakota and Montana. Owner Dan Golebiewski also drives the “Danbulance” to haul tools and equipment. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

After getting certified by health departments in both states, Golebiewski’s next challenge was finding places to operate. He hired an attorney two years ago to investigate Williston’s rules, but since then the city has implemented a moratorium on mobile businesses.

Golebiewski found a land owner outside Williston in Williams County who has a lot that is zoned commercial and has given him permission to operate there. He’s actively looking for other sites in the region where he can operate.

Occasionally, Golebiewski will run into someone who wants him to do a tattoo at a location where he doesn’t have permission.

“I would love to do the work, but I have to turn it down,” he said. “I put so much into this, so I don’t want to blow it at all.”

Business is so far slower than Golebiewski expected it to be, and he’s had several clients fail to show up for appointments after he spent time doing drawings. But many customers he has seen have become repeat customers.

“What I like out here is the guys do have a little bit more money than back home,” Golebiewski said. “They’re doing a little bit bigger designs, they’re giving me a little more freedom.”

Most of his clients are oilfield workers, but Golebiewski said he’s been surprised at the number of female customers. He also sees some familiar faces.

“Because there are so many Idaho people here, I get people coming up to me saying, ‘You tattooed my mom 10 years ago,’ ” he said.

Golebiewski said he is fascinated by the stories of his diverse clientele and hearing about the various oil industry jobs. He started a YouTube channel called Ink Drillers featuring interviews with customers about life in the oilfield “with a tattoo twist.”

“Everybody likes the tattoo guy,” Golebiewski said. “They open up and tell me stuff.”

He also posts photos and videos on Dan’s Tattoo Shop page on Facebook, and he can be reached at (208) 771-1717.

Golebiewski still owns his tattoo shop in Hayden, Idaho, that a manager is running for him. He plans to work in North Dakota during warm weather months and visit his family in Idaho when he can. He lives out of the cab of the RV, which is completely separate from the tattoo shop, sleeping on a fold-down bunk.

“I want to work like the oil rig guys, 10-12 hours a day,” he said. “I’m here to work and sleep, that’s it.”

Click here for a video tour of the mobile tattoo shop.

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