Tag Archives: Bakken

Maah Daah Hey 100: Supply and Gear

A couple weeks ago a friend, Tayo, texted and asked if I would be his supply line for the Maah Daah Hey 100+ this coming Saturday, August 6, 2016. His original text read, “Do you have any interest in spending a night in the badlands and being my support vehicle for the Maah Daah Hey 100 bike race the first weekend in August?” I asked about exact dates. And then checked with the calendar. And then quickly talked myself into doing this after chatting a bit about it with my wife (she was enthusiastic too).

The trail name, Maah Daah Hey, is from a local language, the Mandan people. The trail name translates into something along the lines of an area that has been or will be around for a long time. I know this because I Google’d it. But there is likely a ton more nuance to the phrase than is captured by this one, Google’d definition.

So what does one need before doing the entire supply and gear (SAG for short) for a comrade and friend? It first requires time to think about what to bring and how to prepare. The Maah Daah Hey association has built up an impressive road map and guide for both riders and the SAG support vehicles. While the rider zips through an impossible and marked course in the rugged badlands of western North Dakota, the SAG vehicles zip around on the scoria/klinker covered roads to meet their riders at the next check point. I was reading that just a bit ago and decided to blog these thoughts.

Before all this, though, Tayo and I spent the last week hypothesizing how we might locate or bum an appropriate SAG vehicle. Even a modest weekend outing in western North Dakota requires a bit of gear. And something that requires gear requires the proper vehicle to haul that gear. The last time I did something recreational like this was with Adventure Science, the 100 Miles of Wild: North Dakota Badlands Transect. In this 2013 outing, I helped the team with supply and gear. It was during the late winter or early spring. With the snow thawing, it turned the badlands silt into super slick mud during the day and afternoons. Then, at night, it would refreeze. And the process would repeat itself. It’s been doing this for a long time. Which, when thinking about it, makes the Mandan description applied to this place all the more fitting. It’s the first week of August, though, so we don’t need to concern ourselves with the thaw and slick mud. I checked the weather forecast, and it said no rain too.

I touched base with a friend who has a huge pick up truck (but small by Bakken Oilfield standards). He said go ahead and use it over the weekend. So this evening my wife and I picked it up and drove it over to Tayo’s to load most of his gear. It’s now parked. And I’m taking this blogging break from laying out my own gear. I still have to toss a couple changes of cloths into a backpack.

I want to continue narrating this and uploading it eventually to this blog. I won’t be hooked up to internet. So I’ll type out updates on Microsoft Word and later upload them. That’s the ambition. It’ll provide Tayo and I with a bit of future history and memory. Tayo will be way too focused on the ride. So again, this little log will be quite a bit of fun.

Updates on Aaron Beede and UND’s Digital Press

One of the only known 6:23AM screen shots from the NDDOT road conditions website on January 21, 2015.

One of the only known 6:23AM screen shots from the NDDOT road conditions website on January 21, 2015.

It’s about 6:20AM (at least as I sit down to type), and the snow is letting up. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Minot, Ward County, North Dakota, on the eastern edge of the Bakken. I have a short field-research trip to the west, but I’m temporarily yielding to the ND Department of Transportation’s road conditions map. Which appears like this, at left. I’m updating this blog post with a couple items on my brain.

The first is another public history sighting of Reverend Aaron McGaffey Beede, PhD. Beede figures seriously in the history of North Dakota, and only a handful of scholars have sifted through his papers. Last week, during a lunch meeting in the Peacock Alley, in historic downtown Bismarck, I sat at a table and looked over the picture to my left. In addition to offering delicious food (I ordered the half-prime rib lunch special with chips), the owners of the historic Peacock Alley have reproduced numerous local historical photos to hang on the walls. This was one of them. There is a gentleman addressing the legislature, with cigar in left hand. I accidentally cut out of the photo the ash tray at the foot of the podium. Believe me: it was there. Those were different times.


Note the ND legislator from the ’20s or ’30s, with cigar in left hand, and the nameplates on the desks behind him. “Beede, Grand Sioux” is behind him.

Behind that, behind the name Saumur of Grand Forks, is “Beede, Grand Sioux” agency or county. It was great to see the photo, and that is about all I have on it right now. I’ll do some more tracking on this. Beede figures into a chapter of my ongoing dissertation which, roughly, figures into how and why the US-Dakota Wars were remembered on the northern Great Plains. Beede was formative in shaping and pushing that memory in one direction, arguing just after the turn of the 19th century that Natives need to be listened to and allowed to tell their version of history. It was serious push-back against the Social Darwinian and Manifest Destiny crowd (some of which is still around today).

And finally, the third item is a hot-off-the-digital presses book, the second title from University of North Dakota’s The Digital Press, Visions of Substance: 3D Imagining in Mediterranean Archaeology (edited by Bill Caraher and Brandon Olson). The work is an anthology of blog posts Caraher charged guest writers with publishing at his blogspot linked to here. Susan Caraher edited the blog posts to comb out any of the craziness that is inherent in on-the-spot blogs. Caraher and Olson told the guest writers to respond to the following questions in each post. The questions include:

  1. How do we understand the current crop of 3D modeling technologies in the context of the history of archaeological imaging? Are the most optimistic readings of this technology a mere echo of earlier enthusiasm for photography in an archaeological context or is this somehow qualitatively different?
  2. Is there an emerging consensus on best practices of 3D imaging of archaeological sites? What are the current limits to this kind of technology and how does this influence the way in which data is collected in the field?
  3. How do we understand archival considerations for 3D models and their dependent data? For example, what happens when we begin to prepare archaeological illustrations from 3D models collected in the field and processed using proprietary software? How do we manage the web of interrelated data so that future archaeologists can understand our decision making?
  4. What is the future of 3D modeling in archaeology? At present, the 3D image is useful for illustrating artifacts and — in some cases — presenting archaeological and architectural relationships, but it has yet to prove itself as an essential basis for analysis or as a viable medium for communicating robust archaeological description. Will 3D visualization become more than just another method for providing illustrations for archaeological arguments?

Without going further into this (it’s about 6:50AM, and I need to move forward with the morning), you can read the entire collection of academically produced and academically edited and academically published essays, for free, at this link here. Thanks Bill and Brandon and Susan for compiling this. I know there will be many more.

Nice Write-Up on Theodora Bird Bear

This is a great write-up on Mandan-Hidatsa Theodora Bird Bear, linked here, and on the complexities of life in the Bakken of western ND. She currently keeps the books for a church, this after spending 19 years working for Indian Health Services. I have had the privilege of hearing her speak about the living history and genealogical attachment to the landscape (every word deliberately chosen and delivered to the audience with respect for herself and others). This was last year, January 2013, before the ND Industrial Commission.

Thoughts on Nebraska

NebraskaMolly and I caught the late matinee Nebraska at the downtown Fargo Theater this Sunday afternoon. It’s a story about an older man (Bruce Dern) who is starting to enter the earliest phases of senility. He and his wife made a life in Billings, Montana, having relocated there years prior from their small home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska. This old timer received a standard sweepstakes letter that said he was a “winner” of $1 million. He only had to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to check his winning number to see if he did in fact win. Through this he becomes possessed with getting to Lincoln: he finally felt he had something to live for. And without spoiling any more of it, I’ll just type a couple ideas below and recommend that you check out the film yourself.

The first idea is how small town agrarian life can come to a crawl in the absence of, well, anything beyond industrial farming. In many ways this reminded me of life in western North Dakota in, say, the 80s and 90s. In the movie, Hawthorne was not experiencing a robust Bakken oil boom. Folks kept busy, but it was at a level rather than an unrestricted economic pace.

The second thing impressed upon me was how well the cameras captured the northern Great Plains. The film is shot in black and white, possibly to convey a greater sense of gloom. But the Great Plains look glorious in either full color or black and white (and when we say “black and white,” what we really mean is shades of grey).

The old timer and his family also visited the abandoned family farmstead, one of those homes that we pass thousands of times on rural and main roads throughout the Great Plains. Whenever I’m out on assignment, recording one of these rural structures (I’m in the profession of historic preservation), I can’t help but think about what kind of lives were made and carried on day in and day out. A kind of “these walls can talk” feeling. It’s a squishy feeling, yes. But we’re human. That means we feel — sensory and perception — and we’re supposed to describe that. So anyhow go to this movie. It is good. I think we’ve earmarked Inside Llewyan Davis for our next cinema outing.

Bakken Oil Train Photo

A photo from a couple weeks ago of a BNSF train facing west with Bakken oil cars in tow. This was taken just east of Moorhead, Minnesota. If the train cars are going east, they are carrying oil. If they are going west, they are returning to pick more oil up.


When CNN Airs Your YouTube Train Explosion Video

One week ago I drove from Fargo to Casselton, North Dakota, to take in first hand what happened with the train explosion. Details of that outing are linked to here. The next morning I checked my e-mail in-box, and CNN’s Justin Lear had a message waiting for me. He wondered if it was okay for CNN to use my YouTube video. My thought was, “Yeah. Sure.” So I e-mailed him back, we corresponded briefly, and eventually CNN put my video on their page. Click here to see what it looked like.

When you blog exploding or burning trains, this is what happens to your blog's site visitation.

When you blog exploding or burning trains, this is what happens to your blog’s site visitation.

The footage also got me thinking a bit about how Lear might have come across the video in the first place, this through the computational algorithms built by the internet folks (at Microsoft, Google, and so on). If you happen to be within photographic range of exploding trains, or the burning aftermath of exploding trains, and you upload this footage to YouTube, there’s a good chance Justin Lear will get a hold of you.

I think, perhaps, the most enjoyable footage had to do with the on-the-spot local narration from North Dakotans who caught footage of the actual explosion. If you click on this link and go to 0:24 seconds, you’ll hear through-and-through NoDaker commentary: “There it goes,” and this followed by “There it goes.” Phonetically, it sounds like this: “Der it goeas.” And while this makes us smile, this is the reflection of a North Dakota dialect (played up pretty heavily in the movie Fargo — thank you Coen brothers). The sound of it is completely disarming, and you can hear our Scandinavian and German-Russian great grand-parents within it.

Winter Oil Explosion in Casselton, North Dakota

At mile marker 340 on I-94 looking west.

At mile marker 340 on I-94 looking west. Oil plume just to the left of the signage on the horizon stretching south.

This afternoon while following up on a US-Dakota War historiographic line of research in the library at North Dakota State University, I received a few texts from a friend that read, “KFGO News says 7 oil tanker cars on fire, many have exploded near Casselton.” More went up after this text. This raised my eyebrow. It’s not often that oil tanker cars blow up in North Dakota, and my first thought was, “I sure hope this wasn’t in downtown Casselton.” I was thinking I would just stay in the library, but I also thought about how seeing something first hand is different from seeing it on the flatscreen. Historians are fanatics about primary sources. “Might as well make a contribution,” I thought.

A horizontal smoke from the oil explosion in Casselton, North Dakota.

A horizontal smoke from the oil explosion in Casselton, North Dakota. The setting sun just dipped behind it.

Molly and I drove out west of Fargo on I-94 to Casselton, about a 20 minute ride one way. Here are some of the raw observations: when we started in Fargo, the temperature was -3°F, and when we finished up in Casselton it read -5°F. Sun dogs were also out to the right and left of the sun. Wind was steady out of the north. As we left Fargo, the sun was setting and snow wisped north-south over the interstate. By mile marker 340, we discerned that the horizontal haze in the distance was indeed produced by the burning oil. Since the wind was blowing hard from the north, this horizontal streak stretched south over the horizon. In the flat Red River Valley of the north, this means that the streak stretched south and was visible for a very, very long way. The setting sun dropped behind this streak, some photos of which are included.

I took the exit off of I-94 into Casselton, and we drove north on Highway 18 that runs south-north through town. I eventually parked the car in a parking lot just to the northeast of where the east-west railroad tracks intersect the north-south Highway 18. This is raw video from that:

Here are some subjective thoughts from the outing: I’m uncertain if anyone was hurt, or worse. I hope not. We all hope not. I also thought about the variety of apartments, residences and businesses along these railroads. Molly and I live two blocks north of one of these rail lines. I have friends that live right along them. And what about our neighbors to the north who went through something much worse than this in October 2013 in Quebec. Then I thought of how this will certainly be politicized in

Photo looking west toward the oil fire in Casselton, North Dakota.

Photo looking west toward the oil fire in Casselton, North Dakota.

numerous ways. Then I thought about how the world — all of us — have been born into a culture that relies on petroleum. It’s kind of a cultural inertia, something America, the West and the world has been increasingly addicted to at least since the turn of the 19th century. It seems that until oil becomes expensive enough, there will not be a massive enough cultural effort to harness other energy sources. We see signs of it, of course, with wind turbines and the hydroelectric. But it’ll be a while before all of these other alternatives eclipse petroleum. That’s kind of the way with the petroleum industrial complex. There is plastic all around us, too.

Anyhow, stay safe in Casselton, all. Looks like they may have already started evacuating the entire village…

Chinese Pacific World History

Henry Yu provides the final keynote lecture.

Henry Yu provides the final keynote lecture at the New Zealand Historical Association Conference.

On Friday morning, Henry Yu provided the final keynote lecture at the New Zealand Historical Association conference. Yu’s lecture title was, “The Cantonese Pacific: Anti-Asian Politics, and the Making and Unmaking of White Settler Nations.” Yu talked about the 19th century Chinese migrants specific to the social history of ideas. He explained the notion of Gum San, the namesake that Cantonese migrant gold workers gave to the places they imagined themselves eventually arriving at. Gum San signified an idea rather than a place, and they would travel to these goldfields with the psyche of making it: before we can act, we must first have an idea of action. In some cases the workers returned to their homelands, or their villages, ideally with money that allotted them control over their own destinies. In other cases they always envisioned returning, but remained in their non-homeland locales throughout New Zealand, Australia, and North America. It was great to hear Yu talk about all of this.

My notes from the Henry Yu talk.

My notes from the Henry Yu talk.

Yu’s work fills in large gaps in Pacific and world history, and I thought about at least four things during his talk. The first had to do with the Chinese graves that I remembered visiting a couple years ago while in Deadwood, South Dakota, this of the early Chinese gold miners and service industry workers in the Black Hills. The second has to do with the Chinese labor force that built large segments of the railroad throughout the American West. The third had to do with analogies to contemporary migrant workers entering the business of mineral extraction in western North Dakota. And the fourth had to do with how much easier it was for a migrant laborer to travel across national and imperial boundaries before the nation-state created elaborate bureaucracies to inhibit this (largely in the name of race and nation, at least by the turn of the 20th century).

But I don’t have much time to digress on all of this because I need to get over to the Settlers Museum in Dunedin.

Rough Notes from Minot, North Dakota

Some quick photos from the overnight trip Molly and I took to Minot, North Dakota in the last 36 hours. Upon arrival to Minot, we tracked down Molly’s good friend (and my cousin) Jessica. Housing and lodging is tough to come by in the Bakken, but Jess managed to track down a 250-square foot abode for $600/month. No griping, though. Jess is thoroughly happy to have a place to lay her head and make a meal. But crunch the numbers. This is Minot, North Dakota, folks, and not Harlem, home-sweet-home NYC.

Anyhow, here are a couple photos from Minot, October 25 and 26, 2013. Historians have been known to talk about Nature’s Metropolis. A historic specific of this is the rise and establishment of Chicago, say, in the latter half of the 19th century. One of the reasons Chicago happened was because of the agrarian and natural resource commodities pulled in by rail from the American West. Chicago, of course, used to be a cow town, originally a cattle off-loading and exchange point. It is different today.

With Minot, and other established village and population centers throughout the Bakken, historians are often watching these and wondering which cultural directions they will take. Pulling oil out of the ground is a messy and toxic business, and the flip-side of that is how it monetarily energizes cities and urban centers. The world, at least since the turn of the 19th century, has increasingly relied on petroleum as a dominant source of energy. It kind of just crept up on us over the course of 100 years, and has been the source of handy plastics and war.

I do wonder if the lot of us in the professional world of North Dakota could speak frankly about these dynamics: “Oil is getting spilled. Can we develop a statewide database that everyone can see to keep an eye on that?” Or, “How do we make oil money today and figure out how to use those profits to develop non-petroleum energy sources for when the black gold runs out?” Or, “How did over 850,000 gallons of oil over the course of 11 days get put into one end of a pipeline tube, and not get discovered until it covered some 7 football fields in some farmer’s field in northwestern North Dakota? Don’t we have some red buzzer that goes off if even 10,000 gallons goes missing from the outlet of the oil pipeline tube? If it goes in one end, and doesn’t come out the other end, how does that get missed?” Check out the stories here and here. Stuff like that.

But to return to the original point of this blog entry, here are some grand photos of the energized culture in Minot, Ward County, north-central North Dakota. The first is an established place, one of the last old wood-frame structures in the downtown known as the Blue Rider, owned by Walt Piehl.

Blue Rider

The next photo concerns the Souris River Brewery. Molly and I had bison meat balls there, as well as a great black bean sandwich. And excellent perogies. The glass of beer I had was, as expected, delicious.


And the next morning (or this morning), we took Jess’s recommendation to breakfast at Sweet & Flour Patisserie. We had French pressed coffee and an chevre-apricot croissant. Here is a shot of that from this morning.

Sweet and Flour

Adventure Science Raw Text Message Exchanges: Reinhard, Rothaus and Barth from April 22, 2013

Right now, as I type, Richard Rothaus is delivering a presentation at the annual Preservation North Dakota meeting. This is taking place at Richardton Abbey just off of I-94 in western North Dakota. Rothaus is speaking about the Adventure Science operation that took place in western North Dakota in late-April 2013. A couple weeks before he and Andrew Reinhard headed out, Rothaus texted and asked if I wanted to provide a kind of mobile base camp support. Because at the time I was bogged down with readings and technical reports I said “Yes, of course.” It turns out that providing mobile base camp support for an Adventure Science project on the death highway (85) in the industrial petroleum play land of western North Dakota also allows a person to get a good back-logged chunk of reading in.

Andrew Reinhard on the morning of April 22, 2013.

Andrew Reinhard on the morning of April 22, 2013.

Anyhow, it was later decided by Reinhard, Rothaus and I that after the first day of the Adventure Science outing, perhaps the best understanding of how things almost went to hell was captured by the exchange of text messages between the three of us. Some quick context: spring was increasingly realized, although by late April 2013, winter still held the evenings, nights and mornings. This meant that everything would freeze at night (the ground included), giving overland trekking crews a solid footing in the morning. By mid-morning the sun would warm the ground enough to thaw everything, enough so I had to move the truck off a dirt two track on to solid asphalt because it started sliding from a stationary position due to the melt. This proved to be highly educational to Rothaus and Reinhard who were completing the first leg of the project: they slid down from the finger-ridge buttes, and found it nearly impossible to climb up the slippery slopes. They restructured the way they would approach the routes.

But back to the text exchange between the three of us. As evening gave way to the setting sun and night, I started becoming really concerned. Reinhard and Rothaus had wet clothes from the day’s hike, and to overnight in below-freezing temps would be a certain dance with hypothermia. That would be bad. So I started sending off text-messages to them. On April 22, 2013, just off Highway 85 north of Grassy Butte, North Dakota, the text-exchange went something like this:

Reinhard and Richard Rothaus start the overland Adventure Science trek on the morning of April 22, 2013 in western North Dakota.

Reinhard and Richard Rothaus start the overland Adventure Science trek on the morning of April 22, 2013 in western North Dakota.

4:08PM, Rothaus to Barth: “We are in mud hell. This will take awhile. Hang tight. Could take till 7 or 8.”

Barth to Rothaus: “Okay. I’ll sit tight.” I somewhat jokingly added, “Let me know when I should call the National Guard.”

6:38PM, Rothaus to Barth: “We are up on a plateau heading toward 85. Will come out south of you. HAng tight. We are beat but good.”

Barth to Rothaus: “Okay. Good to hear. Can you see 85 from your locale?”

Rothaus to Barth: “No. But we are getting there. Andrew [Reinhard] is solid. I am short on oxygen. So no serious worries.”

6:50PM, Rothaus to Barth and Reinhard: “We will come out about a mile south. We are probably 2 it less to road. Still could be mud.”

Barth to Rothaus and Reinhard: “Okay. Tell me when you get to road. I will come pick you up. Would it be wise to hotel it for one more night? I’m fine either way. If yea, let me know and I will book rooms. 16 [F] tonight. 18 [F] tomorrow night.”

Reinhard to Rothaus and Barth: “I defer to richard. Almost at the rim. See you at 8:00.”

Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “Okay.”

7:36PM, Reinhard to Barth: “Barth: we can see 85 but it will take at least 2 more hours. Can you book 2 hotel rooms? This is crazy country.”

Barth to Reinhard: “Yup.”

8:05PM, Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “We’re back at the Quality Inn tonight!”

8:47PM, Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “Are you two walking together? Or is it going to be more like midnight when you get to the road?”

9:02PM, Reinhard to Barth and Rothaus: “We are together. Now on a ranch road so 1/2 mile easy walk. I think i see your truck. Move it forward ten feet so I can confirm. Tonight you drink all the beers… Saw you!!! We will come out there.”

Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “You south or north of me? Okay.”

Reinhard to Barth: “(I think)”

Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “It’s not as though I was looking up the number for the sheriff or anything.” You south or north of the truck?”

9:18PM, Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “The sun sets in teh west, so north is to your right, and south to your left.”

9:32PM, Reinhard to Barth: “South now I think. Maybe 1/4 mile? I am 100 feet og the road in the grass. I lost the ranch road. And Richard. He should head W to the road.”

Barth to Reinhard: “Can you both see me? WTF?”

The April 22, 2013 sunset in western North Dakota. Taken on Highway 85, just north of Grassy Butte.

The April 22, 2013 sunset in western North Dakota. Taken on Highway 85, just north of Grassy Butte.

Reinhard to Barth: “I will try to find a road sign. I am by a yellow road sign that is on southbound side indicating road turns to left. I will walk north to where i think i saw your truck until i see a mile marker”

Barth to Reinhard: “Okay. I turned on the roof light. Just get to 85 first.”

Reinhard to Barth: “Kk richard is headlampinf so i can meet him, i will look for your light too”

Barth to Reinhard: “Okay.”

Reinhard to Barth: “I see richard”

Barth to Reinhard: “Okay good. You guys see traffic on 85?”

9:45PM, Reinhard to Barth: “Line of 6 vehicles just passed northbnd.”

Barth to Reinhard: “Did a solo semi just pass? I’m gonna go back and forth on this road a couple times till you see me. Top light is on.”

Reinhard: “Yeah. Waiting on richard. Maybe 1,000 ft to go for him. Orange? I see yoy. I am .200 ft n of uou. Stop. We will come to you”

Barth to Reinhard: “Sounds good.”

Within a minute Rothaus and Reinhard were back at the truck. Temps were below freezing by this point, and they were exhausted. We drove back to Dickinson that night, and had a late-late dinner at Perkins.

One more note, and some unsolicited advice for policy planners, upper and lower level politicians, and so on: if you do not physically live and work in the Bakken and plan on visiting, and if you want a true cross section of it, don’t do it in an airplane. Take the same roads that the rest of us take. Go in the winter. And then do it again in the summer. Stay for at least a week, and spend a couple nights in a crew camp, and a couple nights in a hotel. Even grab a cup of coffee and watch semi-tractor trailer activity, too. You’re not going to be able to understand what goes on out in the Bakken unless you do this. A person is able to experience and understand a lot more with boots-on-the-ground than they are at 5,000 or 10,000 feet.