Agency, Formality, and Keeping Warm in Bakken Workforce Housing

December 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

After three lovely days in the Bakken, my mind is awash in ideas for research and I feel like I can start revising our submission to Historical Archaeology right away. We were once again overwhelmed by the generosity of both new and old North Dakotans. People’s patience with our sometimes intrusive requests to take photos and have conversation, their willingness to sign IRB paperwork, and their general good will makes doing research in workforce housing in the Bakken truly remarkable.  

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Our goals for this trip were to focus on architectural innovation in the Bakken as a way to get at issues of agency in the context of workforce housing. The reviewers of our article suggested that our famous typology (Type 1, Type 2, Type 3) was more confusing than elucidating and, to be honest, we had spent more time talking about whether a camp was Type 1 or Type 2 (or whatever) was necessary over the past few visits. So, from the start of this trip we accepted that our typology was a heuristic that was useful when we started describing workforce housing, but has become less helpful as we have come to understand it better.

In the place of our typology, we discussed how camps seem to function on a continuum from the less formal to the more formal. Less formal camps tend to have less institutional control over behavior of residents, less regular appearances, and the greater fluidity of rules and policies and their enforcement than more formal camps. The most formal camps, for example, would by those set-up and run by large companies that cater to large companies in the oil patch by strictly enforcing rules of behavior and the appearance of the camp. The least formal camps are occupied by squatters with no institutional oversight and the only limits on the structure of the camp relate to their existence outside legally sanctioned settlement.

This continuum then, from formal to informal, allowed us to describe both greater variation within the workforce housing sites in the Bakken and to understand the mechanisms that have led to this variation.

In the specific context of revising our article, shifting our focus to the “formality” of camps links our descriptions of workforce housing sites much more tightly to issues of individual agency in the physical structure of the units in the camps. Less formal camps, have greater scope for individual agency and greater variation, but nevertheless still have certain limits that dictate their organization and practices. For example, the arrangement of water, sewage, and electrical hook-ups limits the arrangement of units in the camp. Moreover, the location of the camp and its visibility to local authorities also influenced how much freedom camp residents have to innovate architecturally.

For example, we focused some of our conversations with camp residents on the practice of insulating their RVs for winter. We learned that residents of RV parks tend to learn how to insulate their RVs from their neighbors with folks who had more experience weathering the long, cold North Dakota winters, providing informal advice to those from more mild southern climes. The photograph below shows stacks of extruded polystyrene insulation prepared to be mounted around the base of a new Sandpiper RV. The unit to the right has both polystyrene and plywood insulation affixed to the base of the unit and its mudroom.

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In some cases, camp managers would inspect the insulation particularly around sewage and water attachments. Some camp managers explained that if one or two units let their water or sewage freeze, they pipes throughout the camp might be compromised. As a result, they inspect sewage and water pipes regularly.

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The construction of mudrooms or other forms of enclosure attached to the RV is another indication of the formality of a workforce housing site. Our favorite camp in the Bakken is Williston Foxrun which has worked hard to manage the range of architectural innovation present at the site. In its earliest days, the camp showed a remarkable variation in mudroom styles including some that exceed the size of the RV or enclosed it completely. Recently, they have worked to limit the size of mudrooms to 8 x 10, but grandfather older mudrooms built in more permissive days provided that they’re not a fire hazard or encroach on their neighbors lot. The first two photos below show relatively large mudrooms probably grandfathered through at Williston Foxrun. Both rooms have air conditioning units suggesting that they’re used for more than just taking off dirty clothes and storage. The room in the top photo also has a propane tank with lines running into the unit for either a heater or a cooktop. The last of the following three photos shows a recently built mudroom which is a good bit smaller than the 8 x 10 size limit and lacks any amenities. 

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Finally, we had a chance to look more carefully at discard practices at workforce housing in the Bakken. As the activity in the Bakken has shifted south and has slowed down because of the dip in oil prices, there are more and more signs of RV parks being abandoned or filled with empty lots. While some of the lots were tidy after the departure of a resident – as one of our informants noted: if he left stuff behind someone else would use it, so he might as well take it with him – other lots show signs of hasty departure or no particular concern about recycling insulation or scrap wood. 

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In conversation with site managers, we learned the folks left cars, personal items, mudrooms, and other scraps behind when they pulled out. Abandonment sometimes followed a period of neglect when the RV would break down, its sewage system would fail, or the occupant had come into hard times and no longer maintained his or her living space. In some cases, the resident would leave abruptly or be evicted leaving behind a mess for the camp manager but a rich assemblage for archaeological investigation. The unit pictured below showed evidence for an infant living there at least for a short period of time (a single diaper, infant sunscreen, baby lotion), but the camp manager thought the lot was just occupied by a “couple of North Dakota boys.”

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So, it was a productive trip out west thanks, especially to my colleagues Bret Weber and Richard Rathaus who helped me see differently. 

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The Bakken Calls Once Again

December 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

With the price of cratering and the North Dakota cold settling on the Northern Plains (we can ignore the forecast for 55 degree temperatures in the Williston area tomorrow), the industrial beauty of the Bakken once again beckons.

This trip will enlivened by the magnificent Richard Rothaus once again joining the North Dakota Man Camp Project Field Team as well as an embedded radio journalist and a photographer.

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The goal of the trip is to once again to check some material in two ongoing publication projects. The first, you should know well: A Tourist Guide to the Bakken. This is to say: go make comments on it over at The Medium.

The other is an article under revision for re-submission to Historical Archaeology. Over the last few days, I’ve deconstructed this article extracted the pieces that our generous peer reviewers thought most valuable, and now need to fill gaps, to smooth transitions, and to reassemble the core content (probably best next week). But for now, I need to check on a few things and fill some gaps. 

The article was this strange beast that included almost everything that we wanted to say about the Bakken in one ramshackle construction. It was not pretty, but it might be useful to someone thinking about their own research in the Bakken and since it will not be published in anything like its current form, I include it here:

We’ll also visit some of our long term study sites with some additional manpower making it easier to document them more thoroughly. Hopefully on Saturday, we’ll look at some of the mobile home camps that have appeared around Watford City and consider these from an archaeological perspective.

Updates will appear next week!

Myth of Origins in the Bakken

November 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

I am once again in the Bakken, but this time on business with my wife rather than on my own research adventures. That being said, I did have a chance to visit a few sites that had eluded me including the monument marking the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well which initiated the Bakken boom in 1951 and the rather more obscure site of Temple where sweet North Dakota crude was first transported by rail to markets back east.

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This got me thinking about the myths of origins in the Bakken. The name of the play derives from the Henry O. Bakken #1 spudded in July 1951 and completed less than a year later in April of 1952. The Iverson #1 was, of course, earlier, but Mr. Bakken’s name graces the famous North Dakota oil play.

Some trace the origins of the most recent, fracking inspired oil boom to work in the Elm Coulie oil field in eastern Montana where horizontal drilling and fracking demonstrated the potential of these techniques as early as 2000, almost a decade before the current boom was touched off by a horizontal fractured well west of Williston.

I talk a good bit about the various origin stories in my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch and this morning published Route 5: Williston, ND to Sidney, MT which looks west for the origins of the most recent boom.

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.2. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

P1090294As the kids would say #nofilter

 

Another Route from the Tourist Guide to the Bakken

November 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

One of my favorite drives in the Bakken is from Williston, ND to Watford City, ND. The route takes you south over the Missouri River and through the the Little Badlands before turning east south of Alexander, ND with its mighty bypass. The intersection of US Route 85 and ND Route 23 has become a settlement in its own right with workforce housing accommodating over 1000 people around the iconic Bakken Buffet. 

Then you follow US 85/ND Route 23 east, past Arnegard before descending onto the Madson Flat just west of Watford City. On the south side of the road is the imposing Madson grade which was meant to bring the train onto the flat toward Watford City. For my time and energy, the drive from Williston to Watford For more on this, go and check Route 4 in my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch.

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For people into this kind of thing, Google Earth now has Landsat images from late September 2014 available. 

Here is the current table of contents for 

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.2. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

Another Installment of the Tourist Guide to the Bakken

November 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m running out of blog titles for my serialized Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, but here is the next installment (IV. Route 3: Tioga to Williston). 

With any luck, I’ll be taking a visitor out to the Bakken next week and doing the Minot to Williston run. This will be another chance to ground truth the Tourist Guide. I’ve also been working to understand some small part of the literature on the tourist’s gaze and the relationship between tourism and other forms of mobility in contemporary culture. I’m not sure that any of this will impact the nuts and bolts of the guide, but it will certainly help me articulate how tourism and tourist guides create a space for the critique of contemporary culture.   

As per usual, I’m posting this because I think it will entertain people, but I have an ulterior motive; I also want some feedback before this manuscript gets its final revision and is sent off to the press for review.

I have a couple specific issues that I’m messing with. First, I’m trying to figure out whether to include small character sketches of some of the people we’ve met out in the patch. We have these great interviews with folks and the people we’ve met add to the character of the patch, but character sketches are not strictly part of the tourist guide genre. Next, I have this overwhelming desire to include a series of hand-drawn maps of the Bakken. And I suspect that I can convince Kostis Kourelis, Richard Rothaus, and Bret Weber to do it, but I’d like to get two more people involved so each route comes with its own map. Anyone interested in preparing a hand-drawn map for my book? The only criteria is that you’ve spent some time in the Bakken. 

I also continue to be interested in the readerly experience with Medium. I like the aesthetics of the site and I find it very readable, but I wonder whether everyone sees it the same way? I also have been thinking about it as a venue for some aspect of the Digital Press. 

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.2. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

First Snow…

November 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

I usually post an image of the first “real” snow of the year: 2013 (Oct. 20), 2012 (Oct. 4), 2011 (Nov. 10), 2010 (Nov. 21), 2008 (Oct. 28), and in 2007 (Sept. 11).

Here it is for 2014.

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Enjoy!

A Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch

October 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

This morning I posted a draft of the introduction and conclusion to my Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch to the online publishing site Medium. I’m just a bit excited about the experiment and will almost certainly publish drafts of the rest of the Guide to Medium over the next few days

I used Medium, rather than my trusty WordPress blog for a number of reasons. First, it seems more suited to long form reading and while none of the individual sections of my guide are long by Archaeology of the Mediterranean World standards, they are just on the edge of tl;dr status on a typical blog. So I wondered whether the clean interface on the Medium would make it easier to read.

More importantly than that, Medium allows readers to comment on specific paragraphs rather than just comment at the level of the blog post. This is a very helpful way of collating comments on a longer manuscript and allows readers to post their immediate gut reactions to a particular section.

My plan is to use the comments assembled at the Medium to revise my manuscript prior to submitting it for peer-review and publication. As readers of this blog know, this project places me a wee bit outside of my traditional, academic comfort zone, so I’m particularly eager to get some feedback on how I do as a historian of North Dakota, as a commenter on our modern, industrial condition, and as an author of something more popular than scholarly (although this work has clearly academic goals).

I intend to serialize my tourist guide over the next couple of weeks, but for this first group of posts, I have focused on my introduction and a fairly rough draft of my concluding comments. More of the tourist guide proper will follow, so please stay tuned!

A Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

I.1. A Brief Industrial History of the Bakken Counties
I.2. Practical Notes on Travel, Roads, and Weather in the Bakken
I.3. Technical Notes and Key Terms about the Bakken
I.4. Controversies and Concerns
I.5. The North Dakota Man Camp Project
I.6. Further Reading

II. Route 1: Minot to Ross
II1. Route 1a: Ross to White Earth

III. Route 2: Ross to Tioga

IV: Route 3: Tioga to Williston
IV.1. Route 3a: Wheelock, Nession Flats, East Williston
IV.1. Route 3b: Wildrose

V: Route 4: Williston to Watford City

VI: Route 5: Williston to Sidney, MT

VII: Route 6: Watford City to New Town

VIII. Conclusions: Industrial Tourism and Some Theoretical Reflections

 

 

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