- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - With the price for a barrel of crude oil hovering below $50 per barrel, the wives and girlfriends of the men who came to the Bakken to work are facing worries of their own.

They moved to Williston, bought into the community and made it their home. Each of their stories are different. Some feel their husbands’ jobs are secure for now; others worry they may have to leave the place they have just started to call home.

Sarah Jacobson and her two daughters joined her husband in Watford City in November. Her husband has been here three years, giving up a 13-year trucking career at the age of 37 to go to welding school.

“When we met back in high school, he said he wanted to be a welder. It just took him nearly 30 years to get there,” Jacobson said with a laugh.

Jacobson, a Hannibal, Missouri, native, met a woman back home whose husband was a welder. Jacobson’s husband would be gone a week at a time driving truck and wanted to do something that would allow him to be home every night.

“We looked into it, mortgaged our house to pay bills while he was in school. He then headed to North Dakota and got a job as a helper,” Jacobson told The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1ym0tK8 ). “(He) broke out as a welder six weeks later so we’re barely on the downhill slide of paying off the debt we created for him to become a welder. So, the current price of oil is concerning.”

Jacobson said the family still has their home in Missouri. Her husband lived in a RV until his family joined him. Now they rent a house, but rent is very high - $3,500 a month.

Jacobson just started a job as a bank teller to help pay the bills. In Missouri, she was a real estate agent.

Her daughters, ages 11 and 15, are enrolled in school and doing well despite the fact their classes seem to be more advanced than in Missouri. The older one is cheerleading.

“I really love the diversity,” Jacobson said of Watford City. “We’re not real social, so we haven’t gotten involved in any groups. I just really miss driving an hour-and-a-half and being in St. Louis and having everything at your fingertips. Other than that, I really enjoy it here.”

Right now, Jacobson’s husband is a rig welder for a large company.

“So if it gets to the point where they are laying off, I doubt there will be any other places hiring,” she said. “We have discussed the ‘what if.’ He has been practicing and refreshing his TIG welding and will try to find a single-hand job, if things dry up here.”

Jacobson said most single-hand jobs are refinery shutdowns in the South and each job only lasts eight weeks.

“I would have to travel with him, live in the RV and homeschool or just go back to Missouri,” she said. “My youngest (has) ADD, so she would be a challenge to homeschool. I just hate going back to living apart because, as a trucker, he has missed raising the kids, and my 15-year-old will be out of the house very soon. I really wanted to live with him so he could be a normal dad for once while she’s still at home.”

Heidi McCormick moved here in 2009 from Spokane Valley, Washington. A former friend had moved here a year before that and convinced her husband to come work with him in Williston.

“At first, we were like no way,” she said. “But we gave it a lot of thought, especially after the company my husband worked for was bought out and they started laying people off.”

Her husband came to work for a couple of weeks while he was on vacation from his other job. He decided it was a nice change of pace from driving trucks, which he had done for many years, and was willing to take the chance.

McCormick said, now, her take on the low price situation is not reflective of most women’s. Her husband works for a small local water heating company. His boss also has a couple of ranches so between the two he stays busy regardless of what happens.

“If he isn’t heating water and supervising, he is out moving and feeding cows,” she said.

McCormick said, when she first came she liked the town. While she sold their house in Washington, her husband moved into an apartment with two other guys. She quit her job, and she and her daughter followed that July. Her husband moved out of the apartment, and they bought a house.

She started a nonprofit group, Oilfield Wives Williston, for other women such as herself moving to the area and looking for friends and connections.

“I was ready for a break from being a dental assistant. I have been offered a couple jobs locally many times, but I’m enjoying being at home,” she said. “This group has really kept me busy, and I enjoy it. I have kept up my certification for dental assisting just in case I decide to go back someday, but, as of now, I’m happy to be the president of this great nonprofit organization.”

McCormick said her daughter was the most excited of all to move someplace new but bullying at school made it tough at first.

“At times, it was a nightmare, and she was very depressed,” McCormick said.

Being accepted into the alternative high school made things better and McCormick’s daughter graduated early in March 2014. She has taken some time off and is planning to move to Billings to attend beauty school in the fall.

“Things have been better but, she does still miss her Washington friends. I can see her going back someday,” McCormick said.

Sammi Mae Tuter’s husband works as a roustabout pusher, working with his company since June 2014. Tuter and her 1-year-old son moved to Williston in August from Oregon.

“We have had good luck with the ‘boom,’” she said.

Her husband’s job doesn’t entirely depend upon consistent drilling. They have advance contracts for maintenance and battery building at already-drilled locations.

“We were even just about to buy our first house, which is awesome for a 21- and 23-year-old couple that depends solely on one income,” Tuter said. “We were living paycheck to paycheck back home in central Oregon, where the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation.”

She said her husband took the job to make a better life for them and their son.

“It was hard to adjust at first because it is much different than our hometown, but the ‘locals’ and ‘out-of-staters’ have all become a pretty close-knit community,” Tuter said. “Getting together with other moms and oil field wives has been an awesome thing for me and has helped me to meet new people, since we didn’t really know anyone here before. We also enjoy exploring the state and the nature, when the weather permits.”

Tuter’s young son has even made a couple friends.

“There are lots of mamas with little ones here, which is great for him,” she said.

Christina Raustler and her fiance have been in Williston for about a year and a half.

“We have definitely had our ups and downs since we’ve been here,” she said. “I’m 7½ months pregnant now. When we got pregnant, the work was busy, but, now that the baby is coming, it isn’t so secure.”

The Tennessee couple had been traveling for work before Williston. When returning home to Tennessee, they found there wasn’t a lot of work.

Raustler’s father was driving a truck in the oil field and told the couple to come up.

“We loaded up the car and took what little money we had,” she said.

They left Tennessee with $260 and ended up in Williston with just $20 to their name. Raustler’s fiance found work as a rig hand the night they came into town.

Raustler said her fiance is a hard worker and has some seniority, but they’re definitely nervous as the first round of layoffs hit his company - 20 to 30 workers were let go.

Raustler was babysitting for another family but the husband lost his job. Her fiance has picked up a second job doing maintenance.

“That’s kind of like our backup plan,” she said.

Raustler and her fiance lived in a camper for more than a year, which has hard, she said. Now, they have an apartment, and it feels more like home. She said the locals are friendly, and, without the help they received moving there, they may not have made it.

The couple has started going to church in the community and goes to the local recreation center. They also like to visit Fargo when he’s off work to shop and go to doctors’ appointments. Still, they do miss home.

“Being pregnant, a girl just wants her mom here,” said Raustler, adding that her mom will come to stay a few weeks when the baby is born.

“I have faith we’ll be taken care of,” she said.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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