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

Faces of the Boom: Couple’s romance booming in the Oil Patch

Joey and Louise Skaare stand in a soybean field on the family’s nearly century-old farm in Alamo, N.D., Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

ALAMO, N.D. — Louise Skaare came to western North Dakota for love — not a high-paying job in the oil fields.

The Lower Merion, Pa., native met Joey Skaare, 25, of Williston through a mutual friend, Ashley Olyoe of Williston, when she was 19.

Olyoe set about matchmaking the city girl and the country boy, deeming them “perfect” for one another. She was working as a nanny in Philadelphia when Joey visited her and met Louise, a soon-to-be freshman at Temple University, a school of more than 35,000 in the heart of the historic city.

Joey said he thought she was cute. Louise looked at Joey and could only see their differences.

“This farmer from North Dakota comes in, and it’s just not going to work,” she said, recalling their first meeting.

But Louise stayed, because he was sincere and something “drew me to him.” Joey asked her to go for a walk and the two spent the evening getting to know each other, he said.

“We had such an intense conversation about family and what we wanted out of life,” Louise said. “It’s not bad to judge from first appearance. It’s what you do with that.”

They exchanged telephone numbers. Louise went on a two-week mission trip to Peru and Joey returned home to attend the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

The two, the “baby” in their respective families, had “random communication” until the following July when Louise, then 21, traveled to North Dakota with Olyoe to stay a month “to know if this is real.”

Joey, who was also working as an electrician at longtime Williston business Triangle Electric, said on their first date he took Louise to his family’s nearly century-old farm in Alamo.

They parted, again, but this time their romance blossomed via letters, phone calls, visits and video chats, Louise said.

“I was wooed long-distance,” she said.

On Jan. 11, 2011 Joey gave her a diamond necklace to make their dating official. By fall 2012

Louise had transferred to Minot State University to pursue a degree in secondary education — and her relationship with Joey.

“It was unbelievable. I thought I was going to have to beg her to come out,” he said.

On April 5 the two families celebrated the nuptials of Louise and Joey at a church on the New Jersey coast. Louise said the wedding was a blend of city and country to honor their cultural roots.

Joey’s mom, Meri Skaare, said she and husband Lynden had an inkling something was up.

She, too, was from a different region of the country, the Spokane, Wash., area, when she met

Lynden in her late teens.

“I can relate. There’s real similarities. We both left our homes. She came from the East Coast, I came from the west,” Meri said.

Harvest has been a busy time for Joey and his family. Louise has found her niche, too, and readying for the Nov. 1 opening of Lantern Coffee Company west of the Walmart in Williston. She said the shop will serve as a “light in the community,” bringing people together over a good cup of coffee and special events.

Louise said there’s something “really cool” about a slower pace of life in North Dakota with Joey.

“Why spend money on things that don’t define you? I need to support him, that’s his living and his family,” she said. “I came to solidify the love. … Boom or not, I’d be here.”

Faces of the Boom: Home-seller likes ‘crazy busy’ of Williston market

Carmel Schwab, Centennial Homes assistant sales manager, poses at its location in Williston, N.D., Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Kathleen J. Bryan/Forum News Service

By Kathleen J. Bryan
Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. — Three years ago, Carmel Schwab sold 134 homes in the heart of the Bakken — in just one year.

After relocating to Williston in 2010 to help run Aberdeen, S.D.-based Centennial Homes’ first location in North Dakota oil country, she proved she had the muscle to be a tour de force in the housing market.

Schwab said her family and friends thought she was crazy to move to western North Dakota, leaving behind two grown children and a comfortable life in Bismarck.

“I like crazy busy — that’s my personality,” she said.

Now an assistant sales manager, the former farm girl from Hazen, N.D., began working as a sales consultant at Centennial Homes in Bismarck in May 2008. Schwab said the company was doing so much business in Williston, Tioga, Watford City and the New Town areas that it decided to open a location in the Bakken.

Initially she traveled back and forth between Bismarck and Williston, but finding employees was difficult so Schwab made the move to a “crazy” city with trucks galore and lines at Walmart and the handful of restaurants.

She said her typical day then was from 6 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. Sundays, too.

“It was myself and a secretary, literally like a revolving door,” Schwab said.

Centennial opened its second Bakken location in Dickinson in July 2011 and has seen a 35 percent increase in sales in western North Dakota. The company has offices in Montana as well.

Schwab said the modular and manufactured homes are appealing because of their price and quick completion time compared to traditional stick-built homes. A 16-foot-by-80-foot single-wide version, the most popular, cost about $70,000 and can be ready to move in anywhere from six to nine weeks.

She said in 2010, the average customer was a single man or one without his family. A year ago, Schwab noticed a shift in the demographic. So far this year, about 60 percent of her sales are to men with a wife or girlfriend.

“Now we’re seeing they’re bringing their girlfriend or wife and family, and looking for a single-family home,” she said.

Randy Rempher, Centennial’s regional vice president of sales, said Schwab takes care of her customers.

“She definitely knows the business and treats people with respect. … She’s broken every record for Centennial Homes in the country,” Rempher said, noting Schwab’s banner year of 134 homes sold in 2011.

The average for a Centennial salesperson is 45 to 50 homes per year, he said.

With new manufactured developments in the works for Williston, Schwab said she’s confident about the company’s continued success to meet the “huge need for housing.”

“I actually like Williston. I’ve met great people from all walks of life and from all over the country. It’s been an experience, and 30 years down the road I can say I was able to be part of history,” she said.

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.”