Summer of 2017 was one of the most adventurous of my 31 years on this Earth, yet after months of traveling and exploring new places, meeting new faces, and creating incredible memories (see my articles regarding The Odyssey of Awesome in other Team Fluff Enuff posts), I wanted even more; traveling the regions we explored didn’t satisfy my lust for exploration, I wanted to expand my horizons even more, yet there was only one problem, I had exhausted all of my savings and earnings on the road…I was broke.
Months before departing on The Odyssey of Awesome, a close friend of mine had suggested I apply for work in the oil fields of North Dakota, as he had been there for a couple of years during the dramatic increase in demand and wages of workers in that region. In a short time working in the industry, my friend had earned enough to support his new family, buy a house, and live in good comfort; the proof was definitely in the pudding, so to speak. Initially, I often thanked him for the offer, but I would rather find my own way, as I was going to school with hopes to manage and sustain myself, and working for a crew wasn’t something I was willing to go back to; however, after coming back home with next to nothing, I knew it was time to bite the bullet, and get to work, as I reached out for a job.
…Onward to North Dakota…
The hiring process wasn’t very difficult, I contacted the company and spoke with one of their hiring managers, name-dropping my friend who works there already, informing him that I was ready to work. Shortly after, I received an email with instructions to report to Dickinson, North Dakota, for a physical and orientation. At the bottom of the message was a note regarding the physical, as workers in the field often wear respirators, I was required to take a fit test, and that I needed to be clean-shaven upon arrival.
Now, for most people, being clean-shaven may not mean anything at all. During my time in the military, I was required to have a smooth face every day. Over the years, however, I had grown very attached to my beard; it had become a part of me, and who I was. Nevertheless, I needed money, and this job had the potential to fund my travel lust in a short amount of time, so I reluctantly walked into a barber shop, and ceremoniously had the saddest shave of my life.
Now that my face was baby-butt-smooth (and cold), it was time to hit the road, bound for Dickinson, North Dakota, and whatever fate had waiting for me in the oil fields scattered throughout the region.
The drive was long–a little under 14 hours, as I had taken regular rest stops–but gorgeous, especially while driving through western Montana, with the Rockies all around. Moving further into the eastern part of the state, the mountains seemed to disappear, leaving nothing but empty plains and what seemed like a never-ending stretch of road. After a long day of traveling, I had finally reached my destination, checking into a pre-reserved hotel room located a short distance from the company’s office.
The next morning I drove to the clinic where my physical was to be held, slightly cursing their name under my breath for making me shave my beloved facial hair, yet I was excited to get on with the appointment and moving forward with my new job. The physical itself was fairly simple, making sure I could lift a certain weight without injury, testing my hearing, and–of course–the dreaded fit test for my respirator. After about an hour of screening, to which I endured much worse before enlisting in the Army, I was cleared for duty, and was instructed to report for my first day in the morning.
North Dakota turned out to be a much colder climate than I originally expected it to be. Much of the land in the state was flat, with nothing to block the high winds rolling through, bringing down the ambient temperature well below zero, as far as 40 degrees (F) below. Often I would step outside in the early morning, and icicles would suddenly appear on my face, with or without a beard.
My first week of work consisted mainly of classes and homework, as there were many safety regulations and certifications I had to complete in order to work out in the field legally; lots of Powerpoint presentations and workbooks, at times it was a tough to keep myself awake. The week flew by soon enough, and I was given my crew assignment and schedule: “Grey Crew, Frac 26,” based out of Killdeer, North Dakota, about 45 minutes out of Dickinson, to which I was to report for duty in the morning.
I had been assigned as an equipment operator for a Hydraulic Fracturing Crew (Frac), which utilizes a grid of high pressure tractor-mounted pumps, each pushing about seven barrels (around 294 gallons) of fluid per minute during operation. Our crew’s operation consisted of 12 pumps, as we were assigned to wells yielding higher volumes and pressures. Together, along with a hydration machine and a giant blender, the pumps would push a mixture of water, sand, and eco-friendly chemicals at high pressure through heavy iron plumbing into the well for the fracturing process. Crew members were constantly reminded of the dangers and safety measures associated with daily operations; Frac sites are definitely not a place for one to mess around.
Work began at 3:45 that first morning. It was still dark outside, it was cold, and we were staying at a “Man-camp” in the middle of nowhere, yet I was excited to get started. New hires for the company were given green hard hats, while the other experienced workers wore grey hats, and those in charge wearing white hats. My crew assembled for “Yard Call” in the parking lot of the camp, where the supervisor had us clock in, and gave the new people a quick speech on what he expects from us his employees, along with a few safety points, as we loaded into vans & trucks, bound for the actual work site, which was about an hour’s drive from Killdeer.
On the way, other crew members mentioned to us that they had recently finished with their current site, and that we were “lucky” enough to start our first day in the field with rigging-down. After a detailed safety meeting, we were given our assignments, and it was off to the races, as the entire well site was to be taken down.
14 hours later…
My first day out in the field was possibly the physically hardest I had ever worked, even after my time in the military; basic training was intense and brutal, but after all the punishment I went through back then, my body was nowhere near as sore and exhausted as it was at the end of that day. For 12-13 hours, we were swinging hammers, moving equipment, and carrying heavy iron pipes, stacking them onto long haul trailers, to be transported back to the yard. To say I was exhausted would be a monumental understatement, yet when my alarm went off the following morning, I was ready for more.
For the rest of my two-week hitch (two weeks on, one week off), my crew worked long hours–over 100 hours–with a lot of physical demands, yet we all learned to rely on each other and to work as a team. At the end of every shift my body felt more beaten and battered, yet I still managed to muster up the will to go to the gym every night; I needed to get stronger in order to meet the physical demands of the job.
The trip back to Washington for my first week off seemed to go a little faster than it did going to North Dakota, and the entire time I found myself debating in my head on whether or not the job was worth going back and forth, traveling so many miles just for a paycheck, and the physicality required to do the work. All of that was answered just a few days later, as I received my first paycheck, and just like that, my faith in my decision was restored.
From October, 2017, until Thanksgiving the following month, I had traveled to and from North Dakota for two weeks at a time, working long hours, with little sleep, fully funding my future traveling desires. For most of those trips to and from, I was lucky enough to travel with my friend who got me the job in the first place, as we shared the same schedule (not the same crew, unfortunately). Right before celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, I received a message from The Boss stating that my crew had been reassigned, and that we were going to be moving operations into Pennsylvania.
Most members of my crew weren’t happy, they had oriented their lives–homes and family–around working in North Dakota, not Pennsylvania, and this was going to make all of those changes irrelevant. I, on the other hand, was excited. The company was going to fly me to a new state, allow me to see a part of the country which I had never been to, and pay me to do it; for me, this was a win-win.
It was Winter of 2017, and I was once again traveling to new places, meeting new faces, seeing new sights, and experiencing new adventures. After our fleet had made the caravan from North Dakota, we began working at a site just outside of Kittanning, Pennsylvania, where we worked the night shift for two weeks, during which I made it a habit to hit the gym two hours before our shift would begin, eventually bringing others with me (“The Goof Troop”).
This region of America was stunning, every night I felt as though we were driving through history itself; I was in one of the original 13 colonies, and some areas made it seem like they hadn’t changed much since then. Towns in the area called themselves “Villages,” and still retained some colonial aspects to them. Often time, I would look out onto the fields surrounding the well site, dazzled by the beauty as the moon lit up the night sky, thinking to myself “This is what early pioneers looked at, centuries ago;” there’s something humbling about history, and everything that led up to where we are now.
For two weeks we worked at the Kittanning site, and after completing the job, our crew was assigned to a new site, located outside of Pennsboro, West Virginia, another opportunity to explore a new area for me. Before we began operations in Pennsylvania, another crew had to make the trek with all of our heavy equipment from North Dakota, and we flew up to meet them once they arrived; this time, it was our crew’s turn to do the driving, as we all loaded up into the trucks for the long haul.
The drive into Mountaineer territory was beautiful, as the roads were clear, the air was crisp, and trees lined both sides for miles. It was chilly outside, though nowhere near as cold as it was back in North Dakota, to which we are all thankful. Where this region may have lacked in snowfall, it more than made up with rain, as we would work many full days in a downpour, soaked for more than 12 hours at a time in a colder climate.
Lucky for us, Mother Nature decided to wait until after we rigged up the site to let the snow fall…and it fell hard. For over a week, operations were put to a halt, as the downpour of snow–combined with the continuously dropping temperature–ended up freezing our supply of pumping water, yet there was no shortage of work to be done in the mean time, I even received a promotion, gaining a grey hat.
During my time in West Virginia, “The Goof Troop” had made our daily workouts well-known (two hours before our shift started), even inspiring others in our crew to make their way to the nearest gym before or after work. It had become a part of my daily routine, so much that if–for some reason–I missed a workout, I couldn’t focus, and my day would be miserable. The daily workouts were a drug to me, but more than that, the best thing to come from it is the friendships formed, co-workers became bros, making it that much easier to work and to look out for each other.
My brief tenure in the oil fields brought many life-changing memories, along with experiences that have re-shaped my view on what “A hard day’s work” really means, and memories I’ll cherish for the rest of my days. There were definitely ups and downs to the job, including slight brushes with my own mortality, which comes with working a dangerous job, but I wouldn’t change any of it. My bank account was growing, I was in the best shape of my life, and was still traveling to new areas; however, in my mind, it was time to move on to the next adventure, so in February 2018, I approached The Boss, telling him that I would be working one last hitch…
…The Desert was calling…
Continued in PART III