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"Labo(u)r, Settlement, and Resources Extraction: The Man Camps of the Bakken Oil Patch in Historical and Global Perspective" William Caraher (University of North Dakota) With Bret Weber (University of North Dakota), Richard Rothaus (Trefoil Cultural and Environmental), Kostis Kourelis (Franklin and Marshall College), Aaron Barth (North Dakota State University), John Holmgren (Franklin and Marshall College) Delivered at the Midwest Association for Canadian Studies Conference October 5-6, 2012 Grand Forks, North Dakota

The North Dakota Man Camp Project seeks to document the material and social environment of the man or crew camps associated with the Bakken Oil Patch in western North Dakota. [SLIDE]The project began as a collaboration between Bret Weber in Social Work and Bill Caraher in the Department of History at the University of North Dakota, and grew to include historian Aaron Barth, archaeologist Richard Rothaus, architectural historian Kostis Kourelis, and photographer John Holmgren. Our collaboration brings together research questions from world archaeology with those central to the study of the American West and labor history. In contrast to much ongoing research that has focused on the changing conditions present in the towns and communities in the Bakken region that predated the most recent boom, our research has focused on the communities created by the boom, namely man or crew camps established to provide accommodations for workers who came into the area to work in the oil industry or in related services. [SLIDE]Crew, work, and man camps associated with resource extraction are a wellknown historical phenomenon with precedents in the 19th American West century and even earlier in a global context. The continued development of this practice into

 

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the 21st century is hardly surprising as remote locations continue to pose logistical and economic challenges for resource extraction. [SLIDE] With the boom in oil production in the Bakken range in the western part of North Dakota, man camps have appeared to provide housing for work crews in the sparsely settled western North Dakota counties. [SLIDE] Clustered outside or around the fringes of the longstanding towns in the area, the temporary settlements represent both the practical needs of an itinerant workforce as well as a continuation of longstanding practices common to the periphery. Historical research into the material and social conditions of work camps has approached the topic through three main lines. [SLIDE] Recent work by archaeologists has presented the remains of man camps as important places in past industrial landscapes and their remains offer important evidence for understanding the archaeology of the working class, labor, and the American West. [SLIDE] Architectural historians have examined how mobile and company housing fit into changing architectural standards throughout the late 19th and 20th century. [SLIDE] These new architectural forms contributed to new forms of domesticity and community. The use of temporary accommodations for the labor crucial for resource extraction provided the social evidence for relationship between core and periphery and the consequences and responses to so-called boom/bust cycles in the American landscape. A preliminary trip to the Bakken Oil Patch led to the development of a typology of the man camps in the area. We identified three types of camps and this typology has enjoyed some support from experts in the state and is reflected in bureaucratic processes. Type 1 camps are the best known. [SLIDE] Built typically by large nonregional corporations in most cases for large multinational corporations, Type 1 camps have the most obvious amenities including clean quarters with water and electricity, recreation and dining facilities, laundry, controlled access and security, and spacious, clean grounds. Most of the units are prefabricated and are moved onto the site and organized in a single unified way. [SLIDE] In many cases, individual units have
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accommodations for 4 to over 20. [SLIDE] Type 2 camps are less formal and centrally organized. They feature RVs typically attached to masts providing power and, in most cases, water and sewage disposal. The types of units vary and, in many cases, residents own the trailers or mobile homes, although this is not universally true. [SLIDE] The camps show no particular uniformity although most have some consistent arrangement dictated largely by the power and water hook ups, and some offer basic amenities. [SLIDE] Type 3 camps are the least formal, uniform, and offer the least access to amenities. [SLIDE] They lack power or water masts, regular organization, and sometimes are little more than groups of RVs or tents sheltering their itinerant occupants in a windbreak or tree belt. The relationship between the different types of camps and administrative apparatus of the state roughly follows our typology. Type 1 camps fall under the jurisdiction of the ND Department of Commerce and their inspectors; local health departments monitor conditions in Type 2 camps, and the police manage the spread of Type 3 camps, which are typically illegal. In August of this year, we returned to the Bakken Oil patch to document examples of Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 camps. We adopted a blend of archaeological recording tactics and ethnographic style interviews designed to document social and material conditions at the camps. [SLIDE] The archaeological recording techniques involved photography, recording of textual descriptions, and sketches of individual units and the plan of the camps. [SLIDE] By using both photography and more impressionistic methods to collect data we have produced a rich dataset that sought both to capture data that could be mined for future research as well as more focused descriptions emphasizing data relevant to our short term research questions regarding site formation, architectural modifications, and material evidence for domestic life. [SLIDE] Interviews complemented the archaeological documentation by documenting the range of social and economic conditions existing in the man camps, and testing whether our material typology correlated to social conditions in the camps.

 

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Documenting the Material [SLIDE] Most of the camps that we documented stood around the edges of the towns - Stanley, Tioga, Ray, Williston, Alexander, and Watford City. This arrangement, on the one hand, is the product of increasingly restrictive zoning rules in the large towns in the region (particularly Williston); on the other hand, this situation was dictated by the availability of land, roads for access, and proximity to basic infrastructure provided by the towns, to sites of oil production and to the centers of the various support industries. [SLIDE] In a few cases, however, near abandoned towns had become filled with RVs - motor homes and trailers - which used the existing utilities and access to roads. In both cases, however, the siting of the camp is peripheral to existing settlement, and reproduces on a local level the tension between core and periphery on the regional and global scale. The sites for Type 1 and most Type 2 receive some basic preparation for the units. [SLIDE] Both types of camps tend to occupy leveled gravel pads as a measure against the mud historically associated with camps in the spring and fall. Along similar lines some Type 1 camps featured elevated, built walkways, protecting residents from the mud while providing access to other units, parking, and common areas. [SLIDE] In Type 1 camps, the units are spaced close together and resident parking is in a central location. [SLIDE] In Type 2 camps road access is necessary for each individual unit to allow them to be moved into and lot sizes are usually standardized throughout the camp. Power masts and water lines tend to run in a perpendicular line “behind” the units and parallel to roads. The need for road access ensured that the units were less densely packed into the space. [SLIDE] Type 2 camps often used shipping pallets as walkways leading from parking spots to the structures or to create ad hoc decks for outside activities in the warmer months. [SLIDE] In a few examples, two units might share some common area between them, but this was quite rare. While there is some significant variation among Type 2 camps - for example, not all Type 2 camps sat on

 

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level, gravel beds or had vehicle access - Type 3 camps were the least formal in arrangement. [SLIDE] The most developed one we visited featured several campers clustered around a central common area in a shelter belt. Ironically, it was the Type 1 and Type 3 camps that had common areas, and Type 2 camps showed the least effort to connect individual units to one another. Architecturally, the units in Type 2 camps showed the greatest variation. Type 1 camps had uniform units by definition. [SLIDE] Type 2 camps, however, show a wide range of elaboration both to the units themselves and to their surroundings. The most common form of practical adaptions included additional insulation along the base of the units and around exposed areas like kick-outs or windows. [SLIDE] Many Type 2 residents also added small mudrooms to the door areas of mobile homes presumably to make it easier to take off heavy work clothes before entering the unit and to provide some extra protection around the door from the frigid North Dakota wind. [SLIDE] In addition to practical enhancements, Type 2 units sometimes featured crafted outside areas including decks with barbecue grills, camp chairs, and tables for dining or socializing. [SLIDE] The most elaborate units had lawns, fences, and gardens. In short, many units showed some effort to conform to features common in suburban neighborhoods around the country. Our limited encounters with Type 3 camps suggested that similar types of architectural modification existed there as well just to a much more limited extent.

Documenting the Social [SLIDE] Over the course of our August field season, we collected over 30 interviews with residents of the camps. These interviews revealed that the social conditions in the camps in some cases challenged and, in some cases, conformed to basic material typologies established by archaeological methods. While we came to recognize some limitations to our method - for example, we collected most of our stories during the day when many camp residents were at work, we also found that our interview

 

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prompts which addressed issues involving social, religious, and economic life in the camps conformed neatly to the topics that the camp residents themselves wanted to discuss. In fact, in most cases the subjects required minimal prompting to talk openly about their social worlds. Additional interviews and time in the Bakken Patch will allow us to expand our sample of camp residents which at present include more residents of Type 2 camps than Type 1 or 3. As a result our observations here are more suggestive, but form a useful foundation for further research. In some ways, evidence from interviews challenges expectations derived from the arrangement of space within our camp typology. Residents of Type 1 camps, for example, report less social interaction than the residents of Type 3 camps despite the formal architectural investment in communal areas. As one informant reported: “People stick to themselves. Everyone is here to work.” This seems to contrast with practices of communal dining, multiple residents to individual units, and the existence of discrete recreation areas. [SLIDE] Type 2 camps, in contrast, where people either in small groups or alone often lived in individual units not formally connected to their neighbors had a slightly more robust social life: “sometimes you see 2 or 3 guys get together to drink some cold ones”; elsewhere a resident described his Type2/3 camp as “it’s a nice little community, it’s nice over here . . . we get a day off together and we go fishing”. Evidence of camp chairs, charcoal grills, and a range of decks and patios arranged outside the units hints that opportunities to personalize the space around a unit provided both space for social interaction and opportunities for display. Interviews at a Type 3 camp indicate that these camps provided an environment for more sustained social interaction. In one camp set amidst a shelter belt, our informant told us “we all pull together” and described the residents of the camp which included her three grown sons, a 60 year old unemployed veteran, and a 20 year old looking for work, as “all her children”. The camp had communal space including a kitchen area and a horseshoe pit. [SLIDE] The reference to family in the camps is not always simply metaphorical. During the summer months when we conducted our fieldwork, families were in
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evidence at many of the Type 2 camps. Some residents economized by living with adult family members who had come to the oil patch earlier. In other cases, families were able to live together in units, school-age children play around the units, and spouses could visit. Evidence for children playing around units in Type 2 and even Type 3 camps includes toys, plastic wading pools, bikes and balls, and barriers set up to keep children from the traffic in and out of the camp. This conforms nicely to historic accounts of life in Type 2 work camps where the RV represents the family home even as its siting changes according to time of year or economic opportunity. Type 1 camps have rules for their residents that prohibit children, although for the employees of these camps who often hail from outside the region themselves, some semblance of family life is possible. At one Type 1 camp, an administrator lived with husband in an area designated for employees and a family of painters from Mexico including a 17 year old woman and her 14 year old brother worked and lived together. The architectural elaborations associated with Type 2 and 3 camps provided opportunities to create space suitable for family life; whereas Type 1 camps, for all their attention to the social life of their residents, remained very much in the tradition of historical labor camps which catered to the needs of working men (and some women) who had minimal social or family connections to their fellow workers in the same facility. The less controlled environments of Type 2 and 3 camps provided conditions more suitable for family life in the camps. [SLIDE] If evidence for social and family life in the camps remains disparate and unclear at this stage in our research, the economic realities of life in the oil boom is even more variegated. In each type of camp we encountered residents who benefited economically by the opportunities in the oil field and individuals who had failed to achieve the level of success portrayed in the national media. Some Type 2 camp residents report that they came to the Bakken to “Make money. Go big. Go home.” Another resident claimed “I came out here and didn’t have a dime in my pocket . . . I had $4,000 the first time I went home.” Others, however, even in Type 1 camps felt like they had experienced a “bait and switch” and found that limited employment

 

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opportunities made it difficult to even pay rent at a Type 1 camp that was also owned by their employer: “We were guaranteed sixty hours per week for sixty years . . . but we’re lucky to get 40 (some weeks he only gets paid for 12).”

Conclusions The stories and structures associated with the Bakken Oil Boom encompass the range of experiences encountered in the extractive economy. In most cases, the experiences are not unique to this location, to this boom, or to this day-in-age. In fact, one of the Type 2 camps that we visited was originally established to house workers in the first North Dakota boom of the 1950s. [SLIDE] Nestled next to a cemetery with turn of the century graves and in the shadow of the massive new Hess natural gas processing plant, the camp owner has resisted temptations to expand his facility and risk incurring debt. This echoes the attitudes of other camp residents who observed that “This area is making so much money, but they aren’t investing it back in the area... I get it, we’re in the middle of nowhere,” but after two years of living here, ”I’ve seen no improvement in Williston.” The location of the Bakken boom on the periphery and the contingent prosperity created economic and social conditions which discouraged substantial material and social investment in the area. At the same time residents of the various man and crew camps adapted to their various living conditions architecturally and socially whenever possible. Like the earliest settlers in these remote counties, the communities created by the most recent boom used a range of strategies balancing domestic and social needs with economic necessities to create a new landscape of settlement at a global periphery.

 

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Labo(u)r, Settlement, and Resources Extraction: The Man Camps of the Bakken Oil Patch in Historical and Global Perspective

William Caraher (University of North Dakota) Bret Weber (University of North Dakota) Richard Rothaus (Trefoil Cultural and Environmental) Kostis Kourelis (Franklin and Marshall College) Aaron Barth (North Dakota State University) John Holmgren (Franklin and Marshall College)

LOCATION  OF  MAN  CAMPS  AROUND  TOWNS