Posted 8/01/12 (Wed)
By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer
The Bakken ‘oil rush,’ among other things, is host to many stories. All over McKenzie County people tell their tale of moving to North Dakota, and though they share a variety of circumstances, they also share a commonality with the pioneers and homesteaders of old.
According to Glen Skoglund, in the early 1900s, homesteaders flocked to what would become McKenzie County to take advantage of the many opportunities the area had to offer.
“It was mainly Scandinavians who left very poor circumstances to come here,” states Skoglund. “They came for the free land and the hope of having more than they left behind. But they also had an adventurous spirit.”
In today’s tough times, like in the past, it takes more than desire and an adventurous spirit to make it in the Bakken region. It takes the will to overcome and the ability to persevere.
Bryan McMannes, an employee of the Kum & Go Convenience Store, came here for the hope of a new life, but found so much more.
“I first moved here to get clean and get a job making a lot of money,” states McMannes. “But I am not the person I was 90 days ago.”
McMannes moved to North Dakota from Indiana and states that it was a miracle he even made it to Watford City.
“I’m not sure why, but when I started my journey I didn’t have enough to make it here,” states McMannes. By enough, he is referring to gasoline and money. McMannes states this trip was the start of a rebirth for him.
Upon arriving, things were still difficult.
“I am a recovering addict and alcoholic,” states McMannes. “I thought I would come here, finish getting clean, get a CDL license and drive truck in the oil patch.”
But that’s not what happened. Instead, McMannes lived in his car for the first week or so, until he found a place to live with a friend.
“I didn’t wind up getting my CDL,” states McMannes. “Instead I began working at the convenience store and got involved with Celebrate Recovery.”
Though not exactly what he came looking for, it was exactly what he needed, and though not easy, it has made all the difference.
“I like being a single guy in the oil patch,” states McMannes. “I feel like I’m in the perfect place to share my story about getting clean and help people who struggle with addictions.”
Tom Helm, a sales representative for Apex Remington, moved to McKenzie County for a slightly different reason.
Helm, who moved to Watford City about three months ago from the Chicago area is a single man in his 60s and is no stranger to moving to a new area, having done so many times. However, at this point in his life, he states that he wouldn’t have moved to North Dakota if it wasn’t a matter of survival.
“I lost my job over 1½ years ago,” states Helm, who had almost lost hope. “I’ve been collecting unemployment for over a year, and the economy is such that jobs are very hard to find.”
He could have given up, but he kept looking and found opportunity in an unlikely place.
“It was a fluke that I saw an ad on Craig’s List,” states Helm. “I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I sent out a resume, almost like throwing something on the wall to see if it would stick.”
Helm left his comforts and support network to start a new career in an unfamiliar place because that was better than not working.
Harry Smith, who works with Helm as an Assistant Manager, is a retired Master Chief with the United States Navy. He, like Helm, had moved to several different places in his lifetime, but, unlike Helm, was married with four children.
When Smith retired from the Navy in 2010, his desire was to get a job that would allow him to settle down in Texas and spend time with his family. When the country’s struggling economy made that an impossible dream, Smith chose his family over Texas, and moved to North Dakota.
“I had a difficult time adjusting to life here before my family came,” states Smith. “We decided it would be best for my wife and children to stay behind so the kids could finish out the school year and they could all say their goodbyes.”
In the meantime, Smith lived in an unfurnished trailer with only a bed, card table and a laptop.
“I think DisKonnect made a ton of money off of the DVDs I rented before my family joined me here,” states Smith. “It’s the only thing to do if you’re single and don’t want to go to the bar every night.”
According to Smith, the area’s spotty cell and internet coverage made it difficult for him to communicate with his family. And when added to the outsider feeling that being a single guy in a new area can bring, Smith experienced some very lonely nights and weekends.
“That was the hardest part about being here,” states Smith. “It got better when my family came, though. It was much easier to feel a part of the area, which helped them adjust, too.”
Two other co-workers of Smith and Helm have been living alone in the Bakken for some time as well. It’s a common story these days. Jeff Conlogue has been here since October, while his wife and children stayed back in West Virginia to tie up loose ends and Myrna Bumgarner has been here since April while her husband lives in Seattle.
Living in McKenzie County has never been for the faint of heart. It’s rough conditions and harsh winters made it the last county in North Dakota to be settled. Living here is for those who choose to overcome, for the ones who will choose hard work over what seems easier, and for those who hold on to hope in search of survival.