Tag Archives: Bakken

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.

Souris

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.


Real, Surreal, Romantic, and Wilderness

Last week while tooling around with and providing basecamp support for Richard Rothaus, Andrew Reinhard, and Adventure Science in the badlands and above the Bakken oil patch in western North Dakota, one of the evening camp sites we occupied was located in the National Grasslands. Starting on the evening of April 25, 2013, a Thursday, and ending on the morning of April 26, 2013, a Friday, I noticed that over the course of about 10 hours, depending on the direction one looked and at what time of day, the spot of our camp site was on a borderland between the city and the country, the petroleum industry and the grassland wilderness.

Reinhard ultimately found the place we would camp that night, this on one of the thousands of finger-ridge buttes that the badlands offers. On the butte of our campsite (about 15 to 20 miles west of Grassy Butte, North Dakota), short trees and shrubbery protected our spot from any potential winds that would come out of the west and north, and just a bit to the east. A larger butte to the south would provide additional wind break. A raised and ditched scoria/clinker road wrapped around this larger butte, and like most of these roads, it was made sturdy enough for semi tractor trailer traffic.

Below are photos arranged in chronological order, and this speaks to how the surreal and romantic, the wilderness and industry, all intersect at one particular location, and all in less than half a day.

Photo of evening campsite, looking north, tent at bottom-center.

Photo of evening campsite, looking north, tent at bottom-center.

 

Just as the sun dips down and sets in the west behind the badlands buttes.

Just as the sun dips down and sets in the west behind the badland buttes.

Andrew Reinhard at left has Richard Rothaus go over his photos from another 10+ mile leg of Adventure Science's 100 miles of North Dakota Wild.

Photo looking to the north. Andrew Reinhard at left has Richard Rothaus at right go over his photos from another 10+ mile leg of Adventure Science’s 100 miles of North Dakota Wild.

Not long after the sun set in the west, I looked to the east and saw this moon rising.

Not long after the sun set in the west, I looked to the east and saw this moon rising.

While the moon was low in the sky, it looked like this, with serious camera zoom.

While the moon was low in the sky, it looked like this, with serious camera zoom.

An hour or two later, when the moon got much higher in the sky, it looked like this.

An hour or two later, when the moon got much higher in the sky, it looked like this.

Just as the sun starts to rise, the petroleum industry returns.

Just as the sun starts to rise, the petroleum industry returns. This photo is from our National Grasslands campsite, early morning, facing south.

Eventually one embraces the industrial surreal and absurd, and begins to make morning coffee, while smiling.

Eventually one embraces the industrial surreal and absurd, and begins to make morning coffee while smiling. This photo is from the campsite, facing south toward the scoria/clinker road and taller butte.

After the coffee is made, chairs were set up along the roadside to take in the industrial sounds of a morning in western North Dakota.

After the coffee was made, chairs were set up along the roadside to take in the industrial sounds of a morning in western North Dakota. This photo is from the campsite, facing west-southwest.

More industry, or Leo Marx's idea and reality of that machine in the garden. I like to think of it more as an industrial playground in our family livingroom.

More industry, or Leo Marx’s idea and reality of that machine in the garden. I like to think of it more as an industrial playground in our North Dakota livingroom.

It is 1.5 trailers of industrial semi.

1.5 trailers of industrial semi.


Notes from the Basecamp (04/23/2013)

Basecamp water wagon and supplies.

Basecamp water wagon and supplies.

On April 4, 2013, Richard Rothaus and I chatted via e-mail about some base camp logistics for Adventure Science’s 100 miles of North Dakota wild, a pedestrian overland trek through ephemeral drainages and butte plateaus in the nation’s #2-producing oil field that is western North Dakota. We came to the conclusion that I could 1) be useful and helpful in coordinating points of drop off and extraction, and evening details for Rothaus and Andrew Reinhard; and 2) in the interim, between dropping off the team and setting up camp, I could read for comprehensive exams (also known as “comps”). On the April 21, 2013 drive out to western North Dakota, I also thought it would be a good idea to capture some traffic samples that are part and parcel to the borderline anarchy of any blossoming petroleum industry throughout the planet.

After dropping off Rothaus and Reinhard yesterday (04/22/2013) morning, I drove the field vehicle around to where they would arrive that evening, and set to reading for comps (“comps” is one part of the intellectual bootcamp, or disciplinary training, when working on a doctor of philosophy, in my case with North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota). Winter in North Dakota is holding on a bit more than usual, and it is getting the attention of folks in both the city and in the countryside. The late winter means a late spring, and so the snow has been gradually melting.

While reading for comps, and while temporally in late spring and spatially in western North Dakota, I revisited a short passage from the first chapter of Elwyn B. Robinson’s 1966 History of North Dakota (University of Nebraska Press), entitled, “The Grassland Setting.” In this, Robinson says,

For hundreds of millions of years the Williston Basin [of western ND] and the area surrounding it were intermittently covered by a salt sea stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic. Sediment carried into the sea by flowing water was deposited on the bottom and slowly compacted into strata, or layers, of sedimentary rock made up of clay, shale, sandstone, and limestone. (Robinson, 1966: 2)

Basecamp 2 TrafficIf wandering around in the badlands today, the tops of all the buttes represent the bottom of that ancient and dried up sea floor. Erosion from glacial advances and retreats helped shape what we see and make up our landscape on the northern Great Plains, and also what Rothaus and Reinhard slogged through all day. I noticed the slipperiness of this clay and mud about mid-morning (04/22/2013): while sitting in the cab and reading, and while the mid-morning sun warmed the badlands, the snow and mud went from frozen to melt, and this caused the field vehicle to start sliding from a standstill. This feeling is at first a bit unsettling, at least before realizing what is happening. I fired up the vehicle and drove it to a less-remote location, namely a raised and ditched off-road of Highway 85, not too far north of Grassy Butte, North Dakota. That solved the vehicle sliding problem.

From here I collected some traffic samples, capturing the number of vehicles that passed by in two separate 15-minute windows. Below is a short clip of the traffic (arguably a way to humanize the social science).


Winter Driving in the Oil Patch of Western North Dakota

North Dakota Highway 85 on March 23, 2013.

North Dakota Highway 85 on March 23, 2013.

On March 23, 2013 (a Saturday), I drove west on I-94 from Bismarck, North Dakota to the Belfield exit, then turned north on Highway 85. My goal was to make it up to Watford City to take in a discussion on the Dakota Wars, post-150 years. The previous evening the discussion was held at Sitting Bull College, and I attended that one too. But after driving on Highway 85 that early afternoon, at least after 20 miles of it, I decided to turn around and head back to Bismarck. The wind carries wisps of snow over the road, and it barely melts, and then freezes. In the afternoon, the roads were a kind of icy-slush, and my plan was to attend the discussion that started at 7pm, and then head back to Bismarck around 9pm. The temps would drop, and the icy-slush would turn to straight-away ice. In both academic and lay-person parlance, driving at night on these roads is what we would have called a “really, really dumb idea and follow through.” So on the afternoon drive up, I eventually pulled over at a safe place, called ahead to Watford City to inform the group that I had a change of plans, and then turned around and headed back to Bismarck. Before turning around, though, I captured an audio-video short of what the roads were like, a kind of cross-section of what western North Dakotans and oil laborers (they are increasingly the same thing) are exposed to each and every day.

In the audio-video: to the right a pick up is driving in the ditch after having just slid off the road while in the left lane oil trucks whip by in the opposite direction. Stay safe out there folks, and don’t let yourself or crazed bosses or market forces hurry you any quicker than you need to be going. Remember this: the oil isn’t going anywhere, and it will be there tomorrow.

An aside: in driving from Sitting Bull College to Bismarck, and then in an attempt to make it up to Watford City, I couldn’t help but thinking about how certain North Dakotans will sometimes in a very judgmental tone say, “Look at all these people coming into our state!!… Do you think they will stay?” And then thinking after that how in the 1860s and on Native elders may have said the same thing about our arriving non-Native and Euro-American great-great grandparents and great grandparents. Then I start thinking about how population movements throughout world history have almost always been chaotic…


Bakken Oil Field Paper Abstract for the WSSA

Field crew member Professor Holmgren (of Franklin and Marshall College, PA) documents a historic cemetery surrounded by a Type II camp just south of Tioga, ND in August 2012.

Field crew member Professor Holmgren (of Franklin and Marshall College, PA) documents a historic cemetery surrounded by a Type II camp just south of Tioga, ND in August 2012.

The Western Social Science Association‘s abstract deadline for the April 2013 conference in Denver, Colorado is but a day away. So in the last three days, I put together two disparate abstracts (one for a paper and one for a poster) and submitted them to the conference committee. The paper proposal draws from August 2012 research in the man or labor camps in western North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, and builds off existing scholarship at this link here. (Note: North Dakota is #2 for oil production in the United States, just behind Texas).

The paper will broadly touch on how and why an area is populated, depopulated, and then repopulated (or re-re-populated, ad infinitum), but focus in on the micro, or what in the business we call individual lives. Contextualizing the micro within the macro, the local within the broader theme. Sometimes historians say those sorts of things in academic papers, or in conversation in general.

Here is the proposed title and abstract of my paper, the one I e-mailed just yesterday to the WSSA people:

Food, Shelter and Water: The Bakken Oil Boom and the Repopulation of Rural Western North Dakota

In August 2012, a collaborative team of historians, archaeologists, architects, sociologists and photographers spent four days studying the labor and “man” camps associated with the Bakken oil boom in rural western North Dakota. While there is monetary success and tragedy inherent in any petroleum boom, the team documented the ways in which skilled and un-skilled laborers carved out their own identities. This captured how an oil boom is much more dynamic than the typical media reporting of it as 100% “good” or absolutely “bad.” Humans are much more complex. This paper considers how a selection of individuals came to work in the Bakken oil field, and how they find lodging, food and hygiene on a day-to-day basis in a rural environment with limited infrastructure.