September 2, 2011

Life in oil field 'man camp'
not for everyone 

Martha Irvine, The Associated Press

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

Austin Mitchell, left, and Ryan Lehto, work on an oil derrick outside of Williston, N.D. With what many are calling the largest oil boom in recent North American history, temporary housing for the huge influx of workers, known as "man camps," now dots the sparse North Dakota landscape.


click image to enlarge

Austin Mitchell, right, takes a break with Ben Shaw, left, and Ryan Letho, center, while working an oil derrick outside of Williston, N.D.


Additional Photos Below

"I know how the economy is back home," he says, "but I'm not worried about it as much as other people."

For him and a lot of other young guys, this boom is a way to set themselves up for life, with enough to buy a home and a new car.

For other men, it is simply survival.

Jared DeCastro, a father of three young boys, came up here a couple months ago after he got laid off from his job on a Colorado oil rig. His family stayed there. For one, the schools are better there, he says.

"I miss out on their life. But you're up here, working for them," says DeCastro, who works on a "fracking" crew, two weeks on the job and then a week back in Colorado before returning to the camp for another two-week stint. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a way to get oil and natural gas out of rock.

"I can't wait to hug my boys, and my wife," DeCastro says, clearly giddy as he boards a bus that has pulled up in the man camp parking lot to take him and several men home.

In the camp kitchen, meanwhile, head chef Pat Gahn has just returned from two weeks spent in Arizona with his family, including his newborn baby.

He is tired, and looks a little sad as he heads to a stoop outside for a smoking break.

Gahn has only worked here for a few months, long enough to experience an early spring storm that had the camp snowed in and running on generators for a few days.

This summer, it's been a mix of sun, hail storms and blue-gray clouds, punctuated by flashes of lightning and accompanying rains — sometimes all in one day.

This is what breaks the monotony.

It is a different kind of life for Gahn, who tried for years to make it as a folk singer, traveling through the United States and Europe performing songs he wrote about wanderers and gunslingers.

At the man camp, some guys like to play up the Wild West mystique. One jokes that he's "wanted in nine states," as he makes his way through the cafeteria line.

But truth is, the troublemakers are generally weeded out, at least at this man camp. Target Logistics only accepts residents from companies that do drug tests and background checks.

There also are rules — no alcohol, no weapons, no women in the rooms, no drama.

"They don't tolerate much around here. But I'd be all right with it, either way," Gahn says, smiling coyly.

Breakfast in his kitchen starts well before dawn, at 3 a.m., with a steady flow of diners until 8 a.m. or so.

The men pile their plates with omelets and bacon, or pancakes. There's mild excitement on days the cooks offer "eggs to order." Coffee flows generously.

The men make themselves sack lunches to take on the job with them. The kitchen stays open well into the evening.

When they have time to linger, the men talk about their children, sometimes their wives and girlfriends. A few discuss work, or the happenings at the bars in town, if any have had time or the energy to go there.

When any woman — ANY woman — walks into the cafeteria, heads rise.

There are a few of them who live or work here at the camp — the secretary in the front office, a couple of kitchen staff, the maids who clean the rooms.

By now, those women have probably heard the jokes some of the men tell at the women's expense.

(Continued on page 4)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Temporary housing units outside of Williston, N.D.



Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)



More PPH Blogs