A Typology of North Dakota Work Camps 3

Over the last three days, I have offered a formal typology of work camps associated with the North Dakota oil boom. This is part of a larger project focusing on the archaeology of contemporary work camps.

Type 1 camps are the most elaborate, orderly, and – one would imagine – comfortable. These camps feature prefabricated trailers arranged on a leveled slab, designed for northern winters, and offering most of the comforts of home. Type 2 camps represent more ad hoc arrangements of mobile living units. This type of camp typically involves campers with some amenities including electrical and sewage hook-ups, leveled ground, and some efforts at winterizing.  Type 2 camps show a whole range of different kinds of units and far less rigorous controls of their immediate environments. As a result there is a greater degree of personalization present.

Type3 5

Type 3: These camps are the most informal. They involve mobile trailers like in Type 2 camps, but unlike Type 2 camps, these trailers are not set on formally leveled ground and lack electrical or other hook-ups outside of very informal arrangements. These camps tend to be small and often include only a handful of campers clustered around a farmstead or set in a field. The informal nature of these camps makes it difficult sometimes to identify whether it is a work camp or just a few abandoned older campers parked with discarded farm equipment in a back lot.

Type3 1

The arrangement of units in a Type 3 camp ranges from the chaotic to the well-ordered. The lack of any requirements – such as the location of hook-up – for the arrangement of units means that the positioning of the individual units is at the discretion of the residents or the environment. The freedom to locate each unit in whatever way was suitable allowed residents to pull their vehicles quite close to their homes.  (It is interesting to note that in most cases, the units are arranged in a line or in some sort of orderly fashion even though there is no real reason to arrange the units that way.)

Type3 2

Like Type 2 camps, each unit tends to be different. There is some evidence for winterizing the units against the cold northern plain’s winters. There are also some efforts to personalize the units with chairs, grills, and various other household objects placed outside the camper. Wood pallets served multiple purposes and generally kept objects off the ground. There were also significant amounts of industrial material – like some Type 2 camps – arranged around the units. In some cases, generators or extension cords run to nearby buildings indicate that some ad hoc efforts were made to provide power for each residence.

Type3 3

Type 3 camps are often hybridized with Type 2 camps particularly Type 2 camps attracted more units than utility hook ups. It is also worth noting that some Type 3 camps may not be purely residential. In same cases these camps might serve as office space or break rooms for local workers.

Type3 4


  1. Looks like you are having a lot of fun with this. My uncle works out there and has a place at Watford City. He might be bringing out a RV to rent out as well.


  2. Carenlee Barkdull April 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I was struck by how folks in human services talk about having no language for many of the housing situations in the “Oil Patch” as they try to assess whether individuals or families are homeless or “under-housed.” It seems there is a continuum of fairly decently-housed (Type 1) to fairly precariously-housed (Type 3), but what I was not seeing (and wondered if you were) is the commonly-reported situation of people (including kids) living in cars in the Type 3 camps–or if you would be able to deduce that from observations made only during daylight hours? I love the applied possibilities of the typology for making quick assessments about the kinds of challenges that individuals and families might be facing.


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