By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service
RAY, N.D. — What’s yellow and black, has six tires and a custom-built smoker?
It’s Tim Oldham’s school bus-turned-food truck in which he rustles up Southern-style
barbecue seven days a week on the outskirts of the small town of Ray in North Dakota’s oil country.
The 45-year-old from Mulberry, Ark., arrived in the Oil Patch last spring to earn enough money to put his kids through college.
His wife Teresa and their four boys, ranging in age from 12 to 23, stayed in Mulberry. Oldham said “it’s hard” to be without his family, but technology like Facetime and a huge data plan eases the distance.
The former paramedic supervisor was hurt on the job May 2 012 and out of work for two years. Oldham’s food truck, or “the BBQ bus,” is steadily making up for the loss in income.
It is also fast becoming a destination for locals who have limited dining options in a town that has seen its population likely double from about 590 in the 2010 U.S. Census.
“I wanted to do a food truck for several years. I always wanted to own and operate one. I love to cook,” Oldham said.
The self-described foodie started cooking when he was 11 or 12. Oldham, the “baby” of six children, was raised on a farm in western Arkansas.
He bought the 38-foot yellow and black school bus from a seller in Billings, Mont., who had posted it on Craigslist, an online forum for classified ads.
After retrofitting it with two refrigerators, stainless steel sinks and counters, and the essential custom-built smoker, as well as the necessary state and county licenses, Oldham opened T-n-T BBQ in July.
Jeff Simpson, a native of Ray and owner of Simpson Welding, rents a space to Oldham in front of his business on U.S. Highway 2 just west of Ray.
It is a win-win for the two men. Oldham can operate his business and Simpson gets to sample everything from barbecue brisket pizza to gumbo, pulled pork and ribs.
“I think it’s awesome. Everyone in the town loves it,” Simpson said. “There probably isn’t anything that I haven’t tried. I’m the guinea pig.”
“He ain’t led me astray yet,” Oldham quickly replied.
He said his 15-hour days start at 8 a.m. with food prep, emphasizing dishes are homemade. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Oldham is in perpetual motion, serving up tender meats and sides including smoked beans, cole slaw and corn on the cob. Tamales and tacos have been featured, too.
“The smile that comes on people’s faces when they taste it — that’s what makes it all worthwhile,” he said.
Oldham’s catering business has picked up and come Nov. 1, he will add breakfast items to his menu such as biscuits and gravy and breakfast burritos.
He keeps customers informed via his Facebook page — The BBQ Bus — and relies on word of mouth from devotees of good food, especially the many truckers who travel the region’s busy roads.
“Good food spreads fast with truckers. Bad food spreads 10 times faster,” Oldham said.