Faces of the Boom: Tennessee family enjoying new life in Minot

Nick Vaughn, 34, of Gallatin, Tenn., moved to North Dakota in September and now tends bar at the Blind Duck Lounge and Casino in Minot. Kathleen Bryan / Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

MINOT, N.D. — Nick Vaughn earns in two nights what took him two weeks to make in his home state of Tennessee.

The 34-year-old Gallatin, Tenn., man uprooted his family  — wife Burgandy and four children — in September in hopes of finding a better life in Minot.

The former automotive factory worker who was earning $9 an hour now tends bar at the Blind Duck Lounge and Casino. His wife quickly found work as a licensed practical nurse in a retirement home, increasing her salary by $3 per hour.

Vaughn said his brother-in-law, a retired Air Force service member who has been working in the Oil Patch since July, coaxed the family to move, saying “There’s a better life here for you.”

Life in Gallatin saw “plenty of work,” he said, but the growth rate of the Nashville suburb that had a population of more than 30,000 in the 2010 Census has outpaced available housing, forcing buyers and renters to pay a premium for a place to live.

And for Vaughn and his family that meant staying with relatives, he said.

Vaughn said unless a worker wants to join the ranks of middle management, the most a person can make is $9 to $10 an hour.

As a bartender at the Blind Duck, it’s on Friday and Saturday nights where he earns the majority of his money.

“We’re actually able to save and pay off debt. We can provide the kids with necessities, things they would normally have to wait a while to get. We were barely able to make ends meet,” Vaughn said.

His 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift allow him to be the “taxi in the one-car family,” driving his wife and kids, ages 7 to 13, to and from work and school.

“I take everybody where they got to go,” he said.

A dyed-in-the-wool Southerner and native of Selma, Ala., Vaughn said he still roots for the Crimson Tide, the University of Alabama’s football team. On game days, every TV in the Blind Duck is set to the game to watch, and you had better not touch that dial.

Patrons “love” the bar’s karaoke nights, Vaughn said. The top three most popular drinks are Bud Light on tap or in bottles, whiskey or rum with Coke and Patrón tequila.

On a recent mid-week evening, a Christmas tree bedecked with sparkly lights welcomed patrons and festive garland and ornaments hung above the bar. Vaughn served up drinks with an occasional “Yes, ma’am” in his soft Southern drawl.

The Peace Garden State is home now, and Minot is just the fresh start Vaughn and his family were counting on.

“It’s a great town — good people,” he said. “The kids were ready to leave. This is something new, a fresh start. We love it here, the quality of life has gotten 10 times better.”

Faces of the Boom: Michigan woman brings acupuncture practice to the Bakken

Rebecca Lloyd of Marquette, Mich., opened her acupuncture practice in downtown Williston, N.D., in September. Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Rebecca Lloyd has had just one patient who says they get a good night’s sleep.

It’s likely because of the stress in western North Dakota’s boom town. But the 49-year-old from Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, who arrived in Williston in August and started her acupuncture practice a month later, is trying to do something about it.

She’s hoping to increase the quality of life in Williston and the surrounding area.

“I just wanted to bring something new and help them. I’ve only had one patient who says they sleep well at night. Nobody has a good night’s sleep, there’s a lot of stress,” Lloyd said.

Acupuncture is a complementary or alternative medicine that involves inserting thin needles into the skin to alleviate pain and various physical and emotional ailments.

Lloyd said her patients always think of the needles, expecting them to be “big hypodermic needles” and instead are surprised by their small size, and “they don’t hurt.”

She said placing the needles at specific points on a person’s body activates neural activity and stimulates healing. Through her practice, ND Acupuncture, Lloyd provides treatment for conditions such as asthma, muscle and back pain, stress and headaches.

She sees about 10 patients each week, but could “comfortably” see 10 a day. Men and women ranging in age from 20 to 80 make up an equal share of her caseload, however, the majority of the men work in the oil fields or in a support capacity, many logging a lot of hours on the computer or behind the wheel of a truck.

They struggle with numbness and tingling in their hands or pinching muscles, Lloyd said. Inserting needles along the neck and shoulders eases the symptoms, leading to results.

“I work with needles, not a magic wand. It will not give you miraculous results in one visit,” she said.

For acute back pain, a treatment plan may involve two sessions per week over a two-week period. She then monitors the pain and spaces out the treatments, she said.

Williston native and chiropractor Jackie Johnsrud met Lloyd soon after she opened her practice in the city’s downtown.

About 95 percent of Johnsrud’s patients are directly linked to the oil fields. She said truck drivers with back pain often come in for adjustments and relief.

She sees Lloyd’s practice growing with the influx of people, many who are “more accepting” of alternative medicine.

“I think she’ll help quite a few people. … We both can work at the cause of the pain instead of masking [it], instead of giving a muscle relaxant or pain killer. We try to fix the problem,” she said.

Easing the pain is something dear to Lloyd. The former lumber mill and flooring sales worker knew she wanted to do more with her life after her father’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death in 2009 inspired her to learn about easing nausea and pain, which led her to acupuncture.

Lloyd “followed her heart,” sold her house in Marquette and moved to Minnesota to pursue a master’s in acupuncture in September 2011.

Her graduate studies at Bloomington, Minn.-based Northwestern Sciences Health University included coursework in Chinese theory and ancient principles elicited confusion at times.

But when the time came for the practical application, the relationship between mind and body and its ability to heal, it began to make sense to her.

“I like making someone’s day better. … Acupuncture helps increase a person’s quality of life. It absolutely is not meant to replace Western medicine, but works beautifully side-by-side with it,” Lloyd said.

Faces of the Boom: At 72, man having fun working in Oil Patch

Former dairy farmer Clint Perry, 72, of Nampa, Idaho, poses at the senior community where he lives in Williston, N.D., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Seventy-two-year-old Clint Perry was seeking adventure and a bit of hope when he moved to western North Dakota in August.

“Every place else the economy is in a slump. If it’s not in a slump, prices are on the increase,” the Idaho native said. “For the elderly, the partially handicapped and handicapped, the only hope is to get on disability, but you can’t live on it.”

In Williston — Boomtown, USA — Perry said there are jobs even for senior citizens.

“Here, there is hope. … hope for something better,” he said.

As a part-time greeter at Walmart, Perry earns $17 per hour — nearly $10 more than the state’s minimum wage.

His skills honed during a decade of driving a taxi in Boise, Idaho, have come in handy, as he cajoles, injects humor and brightens a shopper’s day.

“Welcome to Walmart, the land of adventure!” is a typical greeting Perry says on shifts at the big-box store.

“You got to have fun with it. … You got to enjoy people just like in the taxi business,” he said.

Perry’s first trip to the Oil Patch in June gave him a chance to see for himself the prospects for work and housing. A nephew in Tioga, who works as a truck driver hauling water, put him up so he didn’t have to sleep in his car.

He applied for an apartment at an affordable housing community for seniors in Williston, a step that would bring him closer to making the move a reality.

The housing shortage coupled with a lack of reasonably-priced housing has continued to be a hurdle for the influx of people seeking to cash in on the energy boom.

“You really need to have your ducks in a row before you come here,” Perry said.

Prior to joining Walmart, he worked at The Salvation Army store in downtown Williston, a job he got through Experience Works. The national nonprofit provides training, community service and job opportunities for seniors.

“With the oil boom, one of the negatives is an increase in the cost of living. Vulnerable seniors can fall through the cracks,” said Holly Smith, a caseworker for The Salvation Army.

She said the young men who flock to the region can find jobs pretty quickly.

Even though Perry “loves seeing all the pipe and equipment, and marvels what it’s all used for,” he admits he’s too old to work in the oilfields.

For a man who claims to have been “highly unsuccessful all my life,” Perry’s career pursuits and his “tender heart” belie that notion.

The father of six adult children and granddad to 16 lost his 220-acre dairy farm during the farm crisis of the 1980s. His lost his wife as well, however, Perry said they are good friends.

After his 10-year stint as a cab driver, he owned a second-hand store until 2013.

But Perry’s true calling may be to help people. On the job at Walmart and in his daily life, he strives to be a light to the world.

“My actual prayer is to help other people. … You look them in the eye and smile at ‘em. You got to try to lighten them up a bit,” he said.

Faces of the Boom: Teacher welcomes new faces, diversity to reservation school

Camarilla Hunter, a sixth-grade teacher at New Town Middle School on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, poses in front of a mural in the school cafeteria in New Town, N.D., Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

NEW TOWN, N.D. — On a recent day in Camarilla Hunter’s sixth-grade class, rainbow-colored candy made math a whole lot sweeter and fun for her students.

“When can we eat the Skittles?” a boy interjected, as Hunter, 35, explained the goal of their

assignment was to find the fraction, decimal and percent for each color in their small bag of candy.

It was all in a day’s teaching for the third-year educator at New Town Middle School on the

Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in western North Dakota.

Earlier in the school day the students learned about the U.S. presidents playing bingo and practiced their English skills by writing pen pal postcards.

“She makes it fun. I’ve learned more than last year. I get things a lot more,” said Alli Brunelle, 11, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes — the Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa.

Hunter, a member of the MHA Nation, worked for the New Town Public School District as the assistant business manager for five years and one as a teacher’s aide.

But the wife and mother to four boys wanted to set a new course, one that would challenge her and utilize her people skills. In 2012, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Fort Berthold Community College.

“It’s not boring,” she said. “I like meeting the kids, getting to know them. … It’s a challenge, every year is something new.”

With the region’s energy boom, the school district is experiencing challenges as well — an influx of people, a lack of housing and a transient workforce — issues facing many communities across the Oil Patch.

Principal Andrew DeCoteau said the 2013-14 school year saw 170 students. At the start of school this year the number had increased to 202, which he anticipates rising even more as additional housing becomes available.

Citing the “revolving door” effect, DeCoteau said four new students, one from Montana, two from Texas and one from Nebraska, had just enrolled. Hunter recalls last year having one student for only a week and another for just one day.

DeCoteau, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa, said many students and their families are living in campers, a harsh reality Hunter said is emotionally challenging.

“One student lived in a tiny trailer, and she said they didn’t have hot water and (had to) boil water. That’s how she would wash up,” Hunter said.

DeCoteau said at least 80 percent of the students are Native American. Because the teachers do a good job of welcoming students, he said racism and prejudice are issues that don’t penetrate the school’s walls.

“The good thing is they (the students) could care less. Even though we’re a public school, we don’t have those issues, which is a good thing. Everybody fits in,” he said.

Of her 22 students, Hunter has two of Spanish heritage. She said she’s learned some Spanish words to help her communicate with their parents.

Noting the value of connection to one’s culture, Hunter said she encourages her students to speak in their native language.

To help them prepare for dismissal after the fun-filled afternoon of Skittles math and science,

Hunter said words or phrases in Hidatsa.

“Huka (come here). Nishab (hurry),” she said, as the students scurried to their seats.

“I do want the kids to have a connection,” Hunter said. “I try to incorporate a positive role model: Yes, I am Native American. I am proud versus embarrassed.”

Faces of the Boom: Stanley couple’s retail store risk pays off

Ruth and Robert “Hod”€ Hysjulien opened Prairie Outfitters nearly 20 years ago on Main Street in Stanley, N.D., which has seen its popularity rise with the region’s energy boom. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

STANLEY, N.D. — In 1996, Ruth and Robert “Hod” Hysjulien took a risk despite a flat economy in their small western North Dakota town.

Open in time for that year’s holiday shopping season, Prairie Outfitters, their 3,600-square-foot retail store on Stanley’s Main Street, was a hit.

“We had a great Christmas. We were all amazed,” Ruth said.

Back then, the couple was unaware the future was even brighter for their town of about 1,300 — that by 2010, store sales would see a 300 percent increase.

“It was so busy in 2012,” Hod said, recalling the many people living in RVs and campers two years ago.

“We were here almost every night until 10 p.m.,” Ruth chimed in.

“It was overwhelming,” the couple said in unison.

With the region’s energy boom, gone are the days of businesses dying and business owners having to fight for sales.

“I think we were losing a lot of businesses in the ‘90s and 2000s and the population was dwindling. Now we’re growing the other way and business is expanding. … It’s hard to keep up with it,” said Mayor Gary “Fritz” Weisenberger, who has known the Hysjuliens for 40 years.

He estimates the town’s population could be as high as 3,500, more than double since the start of the boom.

What originally started as a store to fill a niche in the agricultural community has since expanded to a 6,100-square-foot space filled with flame-resistant clothing and steel-toed boots, as well as jewelry, casual wear and denim jeans with “bling” for women.

Ruth had worked at the local medical clinic for about 27 years prior to running Prairie Outfitters. After a 33-year career in the furniture and carpet industry, Hod joined her full time in 2013.

He said the big moment for their business was when an oi field company supervisor ordered 550 caps with the company logo, telling Hod they would try to do their shopping locally.

“It’s been huge. We got some of the big companies. They all talk about our prices — that our prices are lower.” Ruth said. “Word-of-mouth advertising has been awesome.”

Weisenberger said Stanley received its official designation as a Renaissance Zone last month. Business owners and residents located within 20-something blocks of the old part of the town will be eligible for tax breaks to stimulate development along Main Street.

He said at least a dozen or more businesses have opened or expanded in the past year in the downtown area or on U.S. Highway 2, including a gas station, Tractor Supply Company, O’Reilly Auto Parts and La Esperanza Mexican Restaurant.

Hod said with the population growth in the Oil Patch, comes the negative, but “our experience has not been negative.”

Ruth admitted they have made friends with a lot of the people who have come from all over the country, from Louisiana and Texas to Idaho.

As they look forward to another holiday season, the couple’s recipe for success in balancing marriage and business is a blend of flexibility, respect and care.

“We’ve just always gotten along, he’s made my job easier,” Ruth said.

Faces of the Boom: Woman goes from dropout to hotshot

Hanna Olson, 22, of Enumclaw, Wash., works as a hotshot driver in Williston, N.D., delivering tools and equipment in the Oil Patch. Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

 WILLISTON, N.D. — When Trevis Alton met the 21-year-old woman, he saw someone who was motivated and wanted to learn.

Hanna Olson, of Enumclaw, Wash., looked at him and said, “If you want a good hotshot driver, I’m your gal,” as she held two thumbs up pointed toward her.

He thought to himself, “I’ll take a chance on this kid.”

Olson, now 22, moved to Williston three years ago as a 19-year-old high school dropout to work and make a lot of money.

“I heard the work was good, came and checked it out and a week later I convinced my cousin and her boyfriend to move over here. They left after six months, and I’d rather stay out here and work,” she said.

Grateful for the company housing and increased hourly wage as a cashier, Olson, who grew up on a 15-acre farm soon near Mt. Rainier, learned the cost of living was high in the boomtown.

It was during a short stint delivering small parts to locations for an oilfield company where she first saw hotshots — drivers who quickly respond to requests for tools and equipment using a 1-ton pickup with a flatbed trailer.

With the help of a roommate, who saw her struggling and wanting more, she got her commercial driver’s license permit. But without a truck and trailer and the skills necessary to take the practical test, her dream eluded her until she met Alton after cold-calling a dozen hotshot companies.

“He is a big part of my life out here, he’s supported me in everything I’ve done,” Olson said. “He helped me when I was rock bottom, just starting out, no money. He gave me an advance to get going.”

Alton, who owns a small Williston-based hotshot company, saw in Olson someone eager to work and without bad driving habits. He said he worked with her for a good two to three weeks teaching her how to load and strap down equipment as well as the dos and don’ts of hauling a 40-foot trailer.

“We went out to a couple of rigs with him,” Olson said. “He went out a picked up a couple of loads and showed me how to do it. … It took two, three weeks and then he said, ‘You’re on your own.’ I had to learn from there. I started driving in the middle of the winter of 2012,” Olson said.

She now works for Kalispell, Mont., Dragoon Logistics and hopes to one day own her own truck and trailer, which would allow her to make more money.

The self-described tomboy and country music fan enjoys the solitude of the open road and the beauty of North Dakota sunrises and sunsets. The weather is the greatest challenge along with the drivers who “don’t know how to drive in the winter.”

Being on call seven days a week can be tiring, too.

“The oilfield is 24/7. We get called in the middle of the night,” Olson said. “Sometimes I have to find my fifth wind.”

For someone who came to Williston with no set goals, she’s proving she can accomplish whatever she sets her mind to including shedding more than 60 pounds, staying healthy and working toward greater financial freedom.

“I sometimes wonder what my life would be like had I never left Enumclaw. I’m glad I have a chance to be here, glad this happened when I was so young,” Olson said.

Faces of the Boom: California couple has doughnut shop back in business

Constance Colburn, dressed as a spider witch for Halloween, shows off some of her signature donuts at Go Go Cafe and Donuts in downtown Williston, N.D., Friday, Oct. 31, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — After a lease dispute nearly sidelined their doughnut shop last year, Constance and Jeff Colburn are once again serving up their signature sweets in downtown Williston.

The doughnut operation — newly minted Go Go Cafe and Donuts — has since expanded to include homemade soups and sandwiches, opening in a new location off Main Street in September.

It took six months for the two Californians to transform a former photography studio into a light-filled space with a retro aesthetic. Black-topped chrome tables with red and white cushy chairs complement an exposed brick wall.

“We had to beg, borrow and horse trade to get this place up and running,” Jeff said.

Constance and their two small children stayed behind in Northern California when Jeff and his in-laws moved to Williston and opened the first doughnut shop in February 2013.

Jeff said his home state had “very few solid business options” compared to North Dakota. The couple looked at several options, searching for the best business fit for the social and financial resources available to them.

“After considering all our options, a doughnut shop came to the top of the list,” Jeff said.

He said the plan was to keep the family together, but he would come first, followed by Constance and the kids in April 2013.

Since opening their new location, Constance, the shop’s official owner, said customers are happy they’re back.

“They are happy we’re finally back. They’ve been waiting a long time,” she said, adding some were worried the family had left Williston.

At 12, Taiwanese-born Constance and her family moved to California from South America where her father owned an import-export business. She said her parents felt it was time for their children to get an American education.

In the world of small fried cakes of sweetened dough, Constance and Jeff are carving out a sweet niche in the resurgence of downtown Williston.

The shop offers pastries and 42 doughnut varieties, with raised glazed, cake glazed and apple fritter among the top three. However, red velvet, fruity pebbles and caramel apple are popular too.

“Everybody asks about the red velvet,” Constance said.

But for local Anthony Benson, it’s the chocolate doughnuts that satisfy his sweet tooth and go great with a cup of coffee.

“I really like the chocolate doughnuts, They’re the best doughnuts I’ve had in Williston,” he said.

Lunch time customers can opt for homemade soup, including beef taco and butternut squash, or sandwiches ranging from egg salad to chicken salad.

When a local woman in her 70s learned Constance planned to serve knoephla, a traditional German soup, she offered her culinary skills and secret recipes, schooling Constance for two weeks in the fine art of soup making.

Friday, the shop was decked out for Halloween and the downtown Williston’s annual Trail of Treats. Constance, dressed as a spider witch, and pirate Jeff were more than ready this year for lots of trick-or-treaters.

“Last year, we prepared 1,500 pieces of candy. This year we have over 2,000,” she said with a wide smile.

Faces of the Boom: After reading stories of North Dakota’s boom, composer moves to Williston

Keesha Renna of Boise, Idaho, poses at an oil well site east of Williston, N.D., Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Keesha Renna is drawn to stories, and in her adopted city of Williston, the tales of struggle, heartache and loneliness are boundless.

Intrigued by a story she read on North Dakota’s fracking boom in Harper’s Magazine more than a year ago, Renna first landed in Minot for a few months, then moved to Williston in September 2013.

Armed with a degree in anthropology, a stint as a bartender and three years as a music promoter, the 27-year-old from Boise, Idaho, is hoping her musical take on the Bakken will reflect the many perspectives she has experienced in “one of the most pivotal moments in my time.”

“I wanted to write about this place and document what I was seeing,” she said.

In her plaintive song “Rig Up,” Renna tells the story of a man who takes a train to Williston, coming with expectations like so many others from across the county, and is suffering through a long, lonely winter.

The man is working constantly in the oil fields — his family stayed behind in a different state — and he’s asking himself, “Is it all worth it?” Renna said.

“Watch that train roll back through the hills and blow out a cloud, as thick as the night’s sky. Flare beams shoot straight up through the frost. He feels trapped and hangs his head to cry.” she sings, her voice soulful and soft, at a weekly open mic night at J Dub’s Bar and Grill.

Renna was always surrounded by music, saying her dad has the “best voice I ever heard.”

At 15, she discovered punk rock, with her musical taste and influences developing over time ranging from political punk rock, blues and folk.

Musicians such as Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Minnesota’s Charlie Parr, who plays original folk blues and traditional spirituals, and “Spider” John Koerner, a traditional American folk and country blues musician, are inspirational to Renna, who finds their storytelling captivating.

Renna works at a downtown bookstore and restaurant, but it is her music where she articulates her passion for marrying verse with song. She bought her first guitar, a Martin, in Denver and since arriving in Williston has focused on her songwriting.

Her project, Dakota Tales, will be a compilation of personal stories that she is collaborating on with a few other artists writing about the Bakken. She hopes this will become an album.

“The concept is to get as many perspectives of this town as I can through past, present, future. It’s a huge moment in history,” Renna said. “I think this place not only speaks to individuals but speaks to the country as a whole.”

Friend and roommate Frank Honer of Duluth, Minn., said Renna’s songs “grab” people — from a roughneck on a rig to a construction worker hammering nails and a bartender — with their real-life moments.

“I really like the tone, the softness of her voice. The music is very situational. … You’re going to get something from her music that rings true,” he said.

Renna’s “Bakken Blues,” Honer said, is a about a bartender told from a woman’s point of view that speaks to the challenges of being single amid a sea of lustful men, many of whom are married.

“She tells that story really well,” Honer said.

Renna, who describes her voice as honest, natural and wants it to be like breathing, said her time in Williston has provided an opportunity to witness history.

“It’s the biggest melting pot I’ve ever experienced. I’ve met so many people from around the world,” she said.


Listen online: http://www.reverbnation.com/dakotatales

Faces of the Boom: BBQ bus adds Southern flavor to small town

Tim Oldham of Mulberry, Ark., owns and operates T-N-T BBQ LLC from a school bus outfitted with a kitchen and custom-built smoker in Ray, N.D., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

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.

Faces of the Boom: Williston native goes from square bales to drill bits

Kevin Mischke, left, Continental Resources Northern drilling superintendent, talks with Raymond Landry, owner of Louisiana-based Extreme Hardbanding, at Continental’s pipeyard in Williston, N.D., Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Western North Dakota’s energy boom has lured workers from around the world, but for Kevin Mischke, the oilfields got him off the farm but kept him close to home.

Mischke, 39, grew up on a farm and ranch northwest of Williston, played sports, worked on his family’s land and took every chance he got to “get out of having to haul square bales.”

A friend of his dad’s asked Mischke to work with him  an oil and gas company. With some college courses under his belt, the then 19-year-old thought, “cool, I got a job.”

“I started at the bottom and worked my way up to a toolpusher,” Mischke said recalling his 11 years with Nabors.

Initially he said his size and height — 5 feet, 8 inches — made the work a challenge. As the youngest roughneck on a five-man crew, it took him awhile to master the job. He said he often heard, “We’ll let you know when you’re tired, Mischke.”

In 2005, he was hired as a drilling foreman with Oklahoma-based Continental Resources. Three years ago, he was promoted to drilling superintendent, based at the company’s pipeyard in Williston.

One of seven drilling superintendents in the region, Mischke’s 11-hour day starts at 6 a.m. when “nobody’s here and I get some work done.” He runs the pipeyard, which houses pipe used in drilling oil wells and company-owned equipment.

Mischke also serves as a rig move coordinator, overseeing about 20 moves for Continental each month in the Bakken, which encompasses the Dakotas and eastern Montana.

He said he evenly splits his time between working in the office and being in the field. The Monday through Friday schedule allows him to “be home more” with his wife, Jodi, and their three children, as well as coaching sports and volunteering with youth hockey.

Married at 21, Mischke said he has stayed in the oil business because “before I knew it, I had a wife and two kids depending on me.” But he did find the work interesting, in particular the horizontal drilling, the technology that helped reignite the oil industry in the Bakken.

In Mischke, Luke Clausen, now chief operations officer for Denver-based DTC Energy Group, saw a hard worker who was bright and ambitious.

When Clausen worked as a driller at Nabors, he was Mischke’s direct supervisor for a time. The two also worked alongside each other in other capacities, Clausen said.

“It’s a small world — the oilfield,” he said.

“(Kevin) had the right stuff. He was knowledgeable,” Clausen said. “New people can be a risky proposition. I trusted that he could do the job and do it well.”

For this native son, being a part of an exciting time in the region’s history has had rewards including working with top-notch companies, a nice paycheck, meeting some “awesome” out-of-staters and having time with his family.

“I’ve made some good friends, and I’ve seen a lot of the country and the world,” he said