Students find wealth in N.D. oil fields

Emma Dejong

The oil industry in North Dakota is booming, and two SDSU students were not going to miss out.

Andrew Robison, 21, and Josh Boomgaarden, 20, spent their summer in Stanley, N.D., working 60 hours a week in the oil fields and significantly adding to their bank accounts.

“We heard that there’s all kinds of money being made in North Dakota, so we had to find a way to get up there,” said Robison, a senior mechanical engineering major.

Robison’s high school friend’s grandparents own a ranch in Stanley — the TTT Ranch — and they let Robison and Boomgaarden stay for free.

Well, almost free. Fred Evans, who owns the ranch with his wife, asked the two to buy a washing machine.

So in a city where the average rent is $1,200 — according to a Stanley City Hall employee — Robison and Boomgaarden spent $500 collectively for the whole summer, plus gas and food costs.

“It’s a pretty sweet deal,” said Boomgaarden, a junior interdisciplinary studies major.

They arrived the third week in May and were immediately put to work. In the first week they spent 68 hours pouring concrete — something they didn’t particularly enjoy.

“We said, ‘Forget that,’” Robison said. He said they were fortunate to know Evans, who found them a new job a little less physically painful.

The next week they started at an oil field service company as roustabouts, in which they did a variety of maintenance work in the oil fields.

The two friends were on different crews, but they did the same kind of work. Throughout the summer, they moved work-over rigs, installed straw logs, mowed, put up fences, sprayed weeds and seeded locations.

They made about $24 an hour and typically worked at least 60 hours a week. They didn’t mind the hours, both said.

“We didn’t really have that much else to do,” Boomgaarden said.

Life on the oil fields

Describing the people and lifestyle, “redneck” came up a few times.

Robison and Boomgaarden had one not-so-pleasant experience when riding in the back of a truck with some co-workers.

“They flipped back a can of dip,” Robison said. “They said, ‘You want some?’ We were like, ‘Nope.’ ‘Have you ever dipped before?’ ‘Nope.’ ‘I’ll give you $20.’”

“That talked us into it,” Boomgaarden said.

Whoever could hold the tobacco the longest got the $20. They made it about 15 minutes before it became unbearable.

“I looked at Robby and said, ‘I will lose if you split the money with me,’” Boomgaarden said.

Robison took the deal, and soon after they both got sick.

“So we’re never ever going to do Copenhagen again,” Boomgaarden said.

In the hours they weren’t working, sometimes they exercised, but often they experimented in the kitchen.

“We spent a lot of our evenings making food and eating it,” Robison said. “I like making food when you’re making man food.”

Boomgaarden defined man food: “Triple-meat anything,” he said.

And if there is such a thing as “woman food,” it wasn’t needed.

“Basically, there are not women up there,” Robison said.

He said spotting a woman was similar to spotting a deer; everybody looks. Boomgaarden said one time they went four days without seeing any women.

“It’s like, ‘Oh, I saw one today,’” Robison said.

One of the biggest challenges they faced was driving, mainly due to the loose rocks on the road.

“My car’s name is Svetslana, and she had it rough up there,” Boomgaarden said.

Boomgaarden hit a rock, which smashed Svetslana’s oil pan, draining the oil and wrecking the engine. This left the two students with just Robison’s car, which also created a scare when a rock left a leak in one of the pipes carrying steering fluid.

“We tied a sock around it and slowed the leak and drove it until we figured out how to fix it,” Robison said.

Back in Brookings

Boomgaarden and Robison are both community assistants in the residence halls, so they returned to Brookings mid-August for training.

Reflecting on their three and a half months in North Dakota, they said they are very thankful, adding that the whole summer was a blessing. Both are highly considering going back next summer if they get the opportunity.

“I’m really thinking I might want a career in the oil field,” Robison said. “I just have to think. It would be really hard to have a family (because of the time it takes).”

They said not everybody who works in the oil fields is as fortunate as they were.

“It was a family-owned business,” Boomgaarden said. “We got put with really good people. There was nobody else out there who ran their business like our boss.”

Not paying costly rent each month was also a perk.

“If you don’t have connections, you expect to spend about $1,000 a month at a place to stay,” Robison said.

So far, they have used their earnings to buy bullets, and Boomgaarden spent $1,200 on a car to replace Svetslana. Other than that, they both plan to put the rest toward “one big check to SDSU,” Robison said, adding that they will both graduate debt-free or nearly debt-free.

The only downside of the summer, they said, is the new perspective they have on normal wages.

“It’s wrecked me,” Boomgaarden said. “I will not get a job here.”

They passed on disclosing the total amount they earned over the summer, but Robison again stressed that he is grateful.

“There’s no other place in the world for a 20-year-old to make that much money,” Robison said.