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.”