Faces of the Boom: Veteran trucker sees challenges of Oil Patch driving

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Darrel Harris is something of a Renaissance man.

The 62-year-old truck driver from Milton-Freewater, Ore., has worked as a teacher, commercial fisherman and for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He even managed an auto parts store in southeast Asia for five years.

“I get bored. I like doing new things,” Harris said.

Two years ago, he came to western North Dakota to work for his nephew’s trucking company, Williston-based Rawhide Trucking, as a truck driver, a skill he first learned at 19 or 20 in Northern California’s logging industry. For nearly a decade, he operated heavy machinery, with two of those years hauling logs.

“I enjoyed logging — liked the smell or trees and getting up early in the morning,” Harris said. “I liked the danger of it. … You had to be very alert.”

Being alert is paramount in the state’s Oil Patch, contractor Vernon Woodruff says. A veteran truck driver, he said the region is a “whole different world” and “takes very skilled drivers”  — like Harris — who are focused and safe.

The two met last fall when Harris was hauling heavy equipment for Bainville, Mont.,-based Craik Trucking.

“If I had 10 drivers like him, I’d be the happiest camper alive,”  Woodruff said. “Darrel is the type of driver when you send him out to do a job, he gets the job done. He always has a smile and is very positive.”

With his cowboy hat and boots, wire-rim glasses, goatee and mustache, Harris cuts a striking figure in the rugged landscape of prairie, dust, oil rigs and pump jacks.

The father of two grown daughters, Harris said hauling equipment requires a special skill called common sense — one he sees lacking in some drivers who have been lured to the oil-rich Bakken by high-paying jobs.

“It’s challenging around these parts of the woods. You have to be real cautious because of other people’s driving skills. People pull out in front of you and don’t realize how heavy a load you’ve got. You can’t stop on a dime,” Harris said.

In a region where dirt and gravel roads have sprung up to keep step with the demand by oil and gas development, finding locations like drilling sites and pipeline terminals can be challenging, too.

He said his territory ranges from the Canadian border, west to Montana and east to Minot, Bismarck and the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. And when there’s dense fog or snow and ice on the road, driving can be “treacherous,” he said.

Harris strives for balance in his life, maintaining his health with a vegetarian diet and reserving Saturdays for “my God,” he said. He sees North Dakota as a land of opportunity for those seeking financial reward.

“It’s a great opportunity for young people. It’s a good opportunity for older people, too. It’s just harder,” Harris said. “It’s a good way to save money if you’re smart.”

Faces of the Boom: Woman who moved from Tennessee ready to put down roots

Scale operator Megan English, 23, of Kingsport, Tenn., talks to fleet operations manager Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, N.M., before he scales out at Wildcat Minerals in New Town, N.D., Monday, Sept. 1, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

NEW TOWN, N.D. — Megan English was working at an automotive factory before she came to western North Dakota and more than doubled her hourly wage.

The 23-year-old from Kingsport, Tenn., along with her brother and sister-in-law, moved to the Oil Patch in May to make a better life for herself and 20-month-old daughter Regan, she said.

As a scale operator for Lakewood, Colo.-based Wildcat Minerals, she oversees the weigh scale utilizing a computerized program to supply trucks with silica sand used in hydraulic fracturing in the oilfields.

Wildcat leases a New Town grain elevator owned by Dakota Quality Grain Cooperative for its operations, said terminal manager Peter Kalligher of Duluth, Minn. He said the terminal loads an average of 40-50 trucks per day, depending on the number of oil wells being fracked.

English said she was only making $8 per hour at the factory in Tennessee. When her brother and sister-in-law found jobs in North Dakota, she decided to tag along, with Regan in tow.

“I came out here hoping I would find a job,” she said.

The four live in “the only place we could find” — a three-bedroom trailer on the edge of New Town, the largest community on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. New Town has seen its population grow from about 1,900 in the 2010 U.S. Census to more than 3,000.

English said she initially cleaned workforce housing, however, she jumped at the chance to work for Wildcat.

“I had to go into homes where men were living, and I didn’t feel comfortable about it,” English said.

Her 12-hour shift at Wildcat keeps her busy weighing trucks in and out of the terminal, communicating with drivers, and on occasion assisting in loading sand from a railcar.

English said many of the truckers are “very respectful,” but there have been a few who have been inappropriate, coaxing her to stand her ground.

“I find that my attitude’s changed a lot since I’ve been here,” she said. “I used to not care about what people said to me. Now I speak my mind.”

Kalligher described English as an employee who has “ears that work” and “above average computer skills,” which, he said, is important for a scale operator.

English said she is one of three female scale operators among a total of eight staff. The terminal runs 24/7, Kalligher said.

Regan is cared for by English’s aunt when she is working. She said she has a good support network that also includes two uncles and two cousins, and their boyfriends and children, who all came to North Dakota to work.

A 2011 high school graduate, English she said she hopes to become a surgical assistant one day because she loves to help people, she said. In the meantime, putting down roots has become her new chapter.

“Although it was sad saying goodbye to my parents, it was a new beginning for my daughter and I. … I don’t ever want to leave,” she said.

Short-term federal agents not a Bakken crime solution, officials say

WILLISTON, N.D. – Fighting drug trafficking in the Bakken requires more than two-week stints from federal agents, Oil Patch police chiefs and sheriffs said here Wednesday.

Western North Dakota law enforcement joined Sen. John Hoeven and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in urging federal agencies to establish a permanent presence in Williston.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation sends agents to western North Dakota on a temporary basis, but local sheriffs and police chiefs said they typically stay for two-week assignments.

“They start a case, they’re gone, and a new guy pretty much has to start from scratch again,” said John Fulwider, McKenzie County sheriff, during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement. “So nothing is getting done.”

Hoeven, R-N.D., and Stenehjem sent a joint letter this week to the director of the FBI and the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration asking them to dedicate full-time staff to the Bakken.

Drug crimes increased 19.5 percent from 2012 to 2013 in North Dakota, but that only tells part of the story, Stenehjem said. The cases are becoming more complicated with greater amounts of narcotics and weapons, he said.

Building cases against those drug traffickers takes a long-term commitment, Stenehjem said.

“You need people that are here permanently to get the lay of the land,” he said.

Drug trafficking in the Bakken is on the national radar, including a mention in the National Drug Control Strategy released by the White House drug czar.

“We know, based on everything that we’ve seen, that this is much bigger than a local problem,” said Watford City Police Chief Art Walgren.

Hoeven said he is optimistic about the FBI establishing a permanent office in Williston.

“I think we’re going to get this and I think we’re going to get there within months,” Hoeven said.

The drug activity also contributes to an increase in aggravated assaults and other crimes, Stenehjem said.

For example, Minot Police Chief Jason Olson said burglaries more than doubled in his city between 2012 and 2013, and most were related to meth.

Getting federal agents stationed permanently in western North Dakota will help improve the quality of life for those communities, said Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger.

“It’s really the war against narcotics that’s going to play a huge part,” Dassinger said.

Faces of the Boom: Ex-Marine feels at home in male-dominated field

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps for more than eight years, Emily Gathje now works as an airport operations manager at Sloulin Field International Airport in Williston, N.D., Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Emily Gathje is used to working in a man’s world.

The St. Charles, Minn., native served with the U.S. Marine Corps for more than eight years before coming to North Dakota’s Oil Patch to work as an airport operations manager at Sloulin Field International Airport in Williston.

“It’s no different than a military town. Instead of Marine Corps cammies, the men wear Carhartts and muddy boots,” Gathje, 29, said.

At just 18 — one of 76 high school graduates in her hometown of about 3,000 — she became a Marine, looking to get out of “small-town USA” and a chance to do something big.

Her early years on a dairy farm, one that had been in her family since the early 1900s, shaped her love for the outdoors and for challenges. From age 8 into her teens, she developed an interest in mechanics.

At the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., Gathje worked as a motor transport mechanic, a job that matched her interests and skills, she said.

Four years later, Gathje was stationed at nearby Marine Corps Air Station New River, where she applied her passion for aviation to her role as a crew chief for MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, doing mechanics and inspections, and assisting the pilots.

“A man’s world: It’s never bothered me, never thought anything of it. I’ve always been that way since working on a farm,” Gathje said.

In April 2012, enrolled at the University of North Dakota, where she received a degree in air traffic control.

Six months ago, Gathje landed in Williston, immersing herself in duties ranging from snow removal operations and wildlife control to aircraft rescue and firefighting at the airport, where traffic has soared with the oil boom and now includes direct flights to Houston.

Gathje said the job is a good fit for her, offers subsidized housing, allows her to be near her best friend, who lives in Watford City with her family. She the airport staff is a close-knit group.

“We all get along great and spend a lot of time together. We’re a family,” she said.

And if life isnt’ busy enough, the self-described tomboy recently started her master’s in aviation science through a distance-learning program.

Although Gathje is only one of two women in airport administration, Airport Manager Steven Kjergaard said he views her as just another staff member.

“Aviation is a male-dominated environment. Emily brings the ability to do her job extremely well. She has very good attention to detail and very good interaction with customers,” he said.

Gathje says gender isn’t an issue.

“There’s opportunities for women everywhere, as long as they’re willing to do the work and have a good attitude.”

Faces of the Boom: Oil services manager values North Dakota’s can-do attitude

Richard Cloy, district manager for MMR Constructors Inc., poses in front of the company’s new Williston, N.D., facility, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Richard Cloy was just 16 when he got his start in the industrial instrument and piping business at the Exxon Baton Rouge Refinery.

Now a district manager with MMR Constructors Inc., a subsidiary of Baton Rouge, La.-based MMR, Cloy recently hosted a grand opening and ribbon cutting for the company’s Williston, N.D., operation, the culmination of a business plan conceived two years ago.

A leader in electrical and instrumentation construction, management and technical services for oil and gas production facilities, MMR began working with Hess in 2008 on the Tioga Gas Plant.

Cloy said he first came to western North Dakota two years ago to survey the potential of the Bakken and saw a tremendous opportunity for MMR to do business in Williston. What started as a business plan has morphed into a vision realized through teamwork and support from the entire company.

“It’s absolutely amazing to see how far we’ve come in such a short time and how much potential there is,” Cloy said. “Just being here with a facility means a lot. We’ve established a lot of friendships in the community, and they’ve embraced us.”

MMR recently served as a contractor to Hess on its expansion and modernization of the gas plant, which was completed this year. Cloy said that at the peak of construction, about 275 craftsmen were working on the site.

The company’s expertise, he said, is targeted to industrial instrumentation and electrical work. It offers state-of-the-art safety and quality assurance and quality control, something that differentiates MMR from other companies.

Its history, expertise and financial track record have helped MMR forge ahead, collaborating with some of the largest oil and gas companies working in the Bakken.

“The company has nearly $1 billion in annual revenue with 5,000 employees in 23 locations. That gives us the strength relocating people to this region. … We have the depth to be able to put the right people in the right spots,” he said.

His grandparents were dairy farmers, but Cloy’s family history in industrial instrumentation and construction is “long and deep,” including his brother, who is an MMR project manager, and two sons, who work in the instrument controls business in Dallas.

Cloy and his wife, Christie, will celebrate 38 years of marriage in November, and he credits their strong family values in weathering “this very challenging business.”

MMR’s four-acre Williston facility north of Sloulin Field International Airport includes a 6,000-square-foot shop with radiant floors and a 6,000-square-foot office building, all designed to proclaim it’s open for business and ready to tackle any project.

Cloy said he likes North Dakota: the warmth, friendliness and the can-do attitude.

“Williston has a pulse, and I like that. I like the fact that most of the people here are hard-working and taking the opportunity to get ahead in life. This is giving a lot of people opportunities to advance their careers,” he said.

Faces of the Boom: Energy boom keeps operating room’s chief nurse hopping

Operating room manager Sue Erling supervises a team of nearly a dozen staff at busy Mercy Medical Center in Williston, N.D., Aug. 6, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — The day that Sue Erling arrived in Williston in September 2010, she was surrounded by trucks.

No longer the sleepy outpost she remembered as a young girl, the native North Dakotan was fresh off a year working as a nurse in Fairbanks, Alaska, and ready to meet the challenges at Mercy Medical Center.

The first seven years of Erling’s nursing career were spent on the neuroscience floor of what’s now known as Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck. But then the operating room called, and the money was especially enticing for a single mom.

“There weren’t a lot of financial opportunities in neuroscience. In the OR, I could make a little more money,” she said. “Neuroscience wasn’t fun anymore, same old thing.”

Erling said it took her nine months to learn how to be an OR nurse — from heart to head — and she didn’t realize what she was getting into. In time, she learned the key difference between the two specialties: In the OR, one patient is the sole focus vs. six to eight for a floor nurse.

Now, she oversees both the outpatient or day surgery and the main operating room.

Four operating rooms can be run at one time with two to three staff each, and Erling said she can scrub in “if a surgeon needs help or we’re short.”

“The integrity of the OR has got to be maintained. We have an extremely low infection rate. We have to be on guard for any break in sterility because that’s the best thing for the patient,” she said.

Cindy Hansen, a native of Wildrose, N.D., works as a nurse in the ambulatory care center. In her 14 years in the OR and nearly three decades at Mercy, she has seen the hospital weather one of the region’s most tumultuous periods with the energy boom.

In 2011, Mercy had eight surgeons. Three years later, the number has climbed to 13 with the recent addition of a plastic surgeon.

Erling’s flexibility and ability to listen, Hansen said, have made a real difference.

“She brings a level of compassion for our work environment. … We loved when she came; we were in a crisis. She’s really stepped up,” Hansen said.

The hospital also has seen the number of babies delivered by cesarean section nearly double in the past three years. It is projecting to set a new record of births in fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30, marketing manager Dubi Cummings said. Birth rates are high in comparison to other critical access hospitals.

“We have walk-ins (pregnant women) who come to see their husbands, or are in the area, and go into labor on a monthly basis,” Erling said.

She credits vice president of nursing Lori Hahn for encouraging her to join the Mercy team. Hahn’s mentoring is a big reason why Erling has made her home in Williston, and for that, Hahn said she’s grateful.

“We’re so very blessed to have her, and she’s so receptive to learn leadership,” Hahn said.

Faces of the Boom: Female trucker proves herself in the Bakken

Tasha Tarrell won’t back down from a challenge. The Nuverra Environmental Solutions trucker is one of six female semi drivers for the company, and she says any woman can do it too if she wants. Katherine Lymn/Dickinson Press

By Katherine Lymn
Forum News Service

DICKINSON, N.D. — Tasha Tarrell wants women in boomtowns to know there’s more than McDonald’s or Walmart for work. The oilfield is their oyster.

As one of six female truck drivers at Nuverra Environmental Solutions, Tarrell has proven herself and has grown to love her job along the way.

“She’s a great employee. She works harder than a lot of the guys here too,” dispatcher Tony Swanson said. “She’s always there when we need her to get the job done.”

She works a rotation of six days on with one off, then five on with two off. She leaves the yard earlier than most each morning — by 3:30 a.m. — to avoid the dangerous traffic on Highway 22.

She’s lived in southwest North Dakota for more than 20 years — formerly in Mott and now just south of Dickinson — and used to haul grain, but that got old, she said.

About five years ago, as the boom was hitting its stride, Tarrell took a job driving a truck for Nuverra, then Power Fuels.

She now hauls saltwater at wells around the Killdeer Mountains.

“I’ve been driving truck pretty much for as long as I could drive,” Tarrell said. “… Hauling grain got kinda monotonous, with the grain dust. Just wanted to try something different.”

Tarrell is starting her sixth year with Nuverra.

She acknowledges that her thin frame — she’s only slightly heavier than the chains she puts on her tires — means she can’t always lift like the men she works with.

It’s not an obstacle for her, though.

“When I need help, all I have to do is ask,” Tarrell said.

As for being a woman in a male-dominated workforce — and region — it’s not like it used to be, she said.

“When I first started here, it was do or die. You either did your job and you did it well, or you didn’t make it,” Tarrell said.

“It took a while. You have to prove yourself, you do,” she added. “… Now it’s a little bit more relaxed, now everybody’s more receiving of women coming in. Back then, it was a little more like, ‘Oh, wait, maybe this is, maybe it isn’t.’ It was, it was tougher back then.”

At truck stops Tarrell used to get a little trouble, but set a tone quickly.

“I’m tiny but I’ve got a rule: Nobody jumps on my truck steps, and I enforce it,” she said. “… I had to be that way.”

And it worked.

“Actually, I’ve not had very many problems at all. A few, but they were handled,” she said with a laugh.

Five other women drive for Nuverra out of about 110 drivers at the company, based a couple of miles north of Dickinson on Highway 22.

And Tarrell wants other women to know they can do this, too.

“I’m just a normal girl, and I can do it,” she said. “There’s times I need help, but I want women to understand that. Look at me. I’m not big, I’m not burly, it doesn’t matter what I look like. But I can do it.”

They live south of town on their own little seven-acre zoo, with — among other animals — three horses, about 20 cats (one indoor) and a peacock that loves blueberries.

“Pretty much anything that wanders onto my place has a home,” she said.

Tarrell has an attachment to her truck, and even gave it a name.

“When I got her she looked so bright and shiny and silver, like a bell,” she said. “I thought Belle and then I thought, nah, that’s too Disney. Isabella.”

The next day she works, she’ll be back early, ready to give Isabella another day on the roads.

Tarrell said she doesn’t listen to music while she drives, because she listens to her truck to make sure it’s running healthy.

In the yard behind Nuverra’s offices, she hops off the steps and says goodbye until her next shift.

“I’ll see you in the morning, girl.”

The trucker married Darin Tarrell, a district manager at Nuverra, in 2011.

She said the wives of oilfield workers have options when they come here with their husbands.

“You can do this too. It’s a great life,” she said. “I really want women to know that you can do it.”

Faces of the Boom: Visiting doctor still makes house calls

Dr. Frederick Gross and wife Joyce pose Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, outside the Trenton Community Clinic in Trenton, N.D, where the doctor is working a six-month position. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

TRENTON, N.D. — Eighty-nine-year-old Dr. Frederick Gross still makes house calls.

Gross is back for a second six-month stint providing medical care at the Trenton Community Clinic, about 15 miles from Williston in northwest North Dakota.

He and wife Joyce, 79, live in a nearby senior apartment complex where some of his patients are treated to a practice that’s mostly vanished.

“He makes sure to stop by their house in the morning, makes a house call and then comes to work,” said clinic CEO Cheryl Donoven.

She calls Gross an “old time doctor” that “hates” electronic health records because it takes away from his ability to talk to patients, and this, according to Donoven, is exactly what her elderly patients are craving.

“He sits and visit and makes them feel, so to speak, like they’re not run through a cattle shoot,” she said.

After 38 years practicing internal medicine in Virginia, Gross happily retired. By 2002, he was bored and itching to return to medicine, so when he saw a booth at a medical meeting seeking doctors to fill temp positions he signed up.

Gross keeps up his Virginia license, which allows him to work at federal health facilities.

“I can work at any government-supported clinic: (Veterans Affairs) or Indian. I like the Indians better than the veterans,” Gross said with a grin. “VA hospitals — there’s no freedom.”

His first assignment took the couple to the Spirit Lake Health Center in Fort Totten, N.D., where he and Joyce, a former teacher, spent six summers.

While Gross spent his days taking care of patients struggling with hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and drug addiction, Joyce said she was drawn to the “golden gem of North Dakota” — the historic fort where she volunteered as innkeeper of the Totten Trail Historic Inn.

Gross said his older patients were “mostly appreciative,” and both he and Joyce came to understand that it is a “sign of respect to not look directly at you.”

The couple has since been stationed in the Navajo Nation in northwest New Mexico, the Cherokee Nation Vinita Health Clinic and the Northeastern Tribal Health System in Oklahoma and Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Poplar, Mont.

At Trenton’s clinic, the Grosses are well-liked and respected, so much so that one staff member has deemed them honorary grandparents.

“It’s been very good. The people who work in the clinic are very helpful,” Gross said. “I like to practice (medicine) because it’s great to make someone well or make a difficult diagnosis.”

Gross said his patients range in age from 40 into their 80s and come in with a variety of ailments including diabetes, hypertension and heart and lung disease.

Because she likes to stay busy, too, Joyce volunteers at the Salvation Army store in downtown Williston where she uses her artistic eye to create window displays.

The clinic, affiliated with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, serves three counties in North Dakota and three in Montana, Donoven said. Because of the energy boom, she said more Indians have come to the Northern Plains seeking work, more than doubling patients served from 2,600 to 6,000.

Gross said he likes the wide open expanse of North Dakota.

“This seems like real America. The people are hard-working, church-going and community- and family-oriented,” Joyce said.

Energy secretary to tour N.D. sites

WASHINGTON – U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will tour Dakota Gasification in Beulah and oil and gas sites in Tioga while visiting North Dakota next week, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp announced Thursday.

Moniz and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will be participating in a U.S. Department of Energy policy meeting at Bismarck State College on Aug 8.

After the meeting, which is part of President Obama’s Quadrennial Energy Review, Heitkamp plans to host Moniz on a tour of the Great Plains Synfuels Plant in Beulah.

On Aug. 9, Hess Corp. will host Moniz on a tour of the Tioga Gas Plant, a drilling rig and a hydraulic fracturing site, Heitkamp said.

It will be the first trip to North Dakota for Moniz, Heitkamp said.

“We’re really excited to show off what we’re doing in North Dakota,” Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., announced earlier this month that Moniz and Foxx will participate in the Aug. 8 energy review in Bismarck, which will focus on infrastructure constraints with an emphasis on the Bakken.

The meeting is open to the public and there will be a public comment period.

The public can submit comments prior to the meeting by visiting the Department of Energy website, http://energy.gov/epsa/downloads/qer-public-meeting-bismarck-nd-infrastructure-constraints

Other speakers include White House Office of Science and Technology Director John P. Holdren and Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management Janice M. Schneider.

The Quadrennial Energy Review includes a series of meetings across the country to examine critical energy issues.

“North Dakota is on the forefront of energy development and we’re doing it all – oil, gas, coal, wind, and biofuels,” said Heitkamp, D-N.D., in a statement. “We have a great deal of insight to offer as the administration seeks input from communities across the country about energy transportation, infrastructure, and development, and I hope many North Dakotans will offer their thoughts.”

Hoeven, R-N.D., pushed for an energy review as part of legislation filed in July of 2012. The goal is to help the federal government better meet its responsibility of providing affordable, clean and secure energy services to Americans.

“We included it in the Domestic Jobs and Energy Act, a bill that will help create a ‘states first,’ all-of-the-above energy plan for our nation similar to the Empower North Dakota plan we built for North Dakota from 2002 to 2010,” Hoeven said in a statement.

Faces of the Boom: Ranch hand and poet has seen oil booms come and go

Day hand, cowboy poet and songwriter DW Groethe takes a break from fencing north of Bainville, Mont., Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

BAINVILLE, Mont. — If you give DW Groethe a subject, he can give you a poem and a song.

It might be about cowboys, true love or the oil boom.

“Words, once they get inside your head, they end up creating a whole new world,” Groethe said. “They’re just wonderful to work with. It’s innate.”

He was just a boy when North Dakota saw its first oil boom in the 1950s. The parents of his two best friends worked in the oilfield.

The Williston native was working on a fine arts degree in theater at the University of North Dakota when the second boom hit. He remembers “a lot of fun and a lot of people.”

From Groethe’s home across the line in Bainville, Mont., this boom is “massive.”

“It’s beyond belief. I run across a lot of ranch kids building a stake for themselves (in the oilfields),” he said.

Writing and music were his passions since before age 8. After college, Groethe said he played in a couple of bands and worked at a photography studio, as the “boom was going bust then, not much for work.”

By the early ‘90s he said he heard about people looking for guys to fix fence and work cows, and he thought it might be a good fit.

So Groethe headed west, just across the state line into Montana, bought a house on a handshake and became a ranch hand.

“The smartest thing I ever did was leave Williston, move to Bainville and went working cows, because my poetry and my songwriting — my level of creativity — went from a two to a 10 plus,” he said.

In 2003, Groethe was invited to the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev., which highlights the cultural heritage of the American West. This year marked his 10th year as a participant.

“It’s occupational poetry because it’s about our way of life and what we do. Historically, we swapped stories around a campfire,” he said.

Chuck Wilder, owner of Books on Broadway in downtown Williston, said he’s known Groethe since the early 1980s. Wilder attended Williston High School with his two youngest brothers and said the elder Groethe “ran with” an eclectic group in the arts community.

“He’s a good poet, a good writer. He’s just very talented in the arts,” Wilder said.

Groethe, who worked as a ranch hand for nearly two decades, now works as a freelance day hand. The days can be long because “cows don’t take a day off,” however, he still finds inspiration in the people, the animals and the land.

“My heart’s in Montana/where the first rays of dawn/rustle grasslands from sleep/then for hours sweep on till the tips of the Rockies/are swallowed then gone in stardust…in Montana,” Groethe wrote in his poem, “My Heart’s in Montana.”

His poems have been published in four chapbooks (a small book or pamphlet) and five books including his latest, “Prairie Song: A Meander of Memory.” Groethe has recorded some of his songs as well.

Organizations like the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry have helped spread the word about his poetry. His two gigs per month at folk festivals, ag banquets and cowboy poetry gatherings allow him to showcase his repertoire of poems and songs, Groethe said.

“Somehow or another it changes their perception or reality of the world. You can’t put a price on that.”