“Don’t put your hands anywhere you wouldn’t put your dick and you will be fine”
Last spring I found myself coaxing my trusty VW bus east over the Rockies to the oil fields of south east Saskatchewan. Spring in Whistler can be pretty mind numbing. The good skiing is fading away, and the valley is still covered in snow. Plus, any good paying work is a month or two away. Jordan and I have some big travel plans ahead and I needed to put some money away. After making some phone calls and sending some resumes I was on the road.
After 3 days of driving, dozens of donuts, half a dozen quarts of oil and almost burning my van down when the fuel line broke, I found myself in the town of Estevan Saskatchewan. Then came the search for a place to park the van for the summer. Turns out all 3 rv parks in town where under water due to a disastrous flood season that had destroyed much of southern Saskatchewan and North Dakota. Living in my van for the last 5 years on the west coast has been easy, but trying to blend your shit kicked orange VW van in with a town full of lifted crew cab diesels doesn’t work too well. I learnt pretty quick that redneck cops love to fuck with anything that has B.C plates on it.
As luck would have it there was a Walmart in town, and where there is a Walmart there is a home. The best part about this particular Walmart was that it was right next to the local pub. It didn’t take long for the local shitbags to make me there 3am entertainment. One of the best wake ups was two lifted Chevy’s bumper to bumper burning out in front of my van followed by “get a job you fucking hippie”
The first day on site is a mind bender. Six meat heads yelling at each other, everything wants to crush you, everything is coated in sludge, and every question is answered with “figure it out faggot”. Nobody wants to talk to you. If you’re still around after a couple weeks, things start to get good. You learn to trust your crew and they start to trust you. Everyone has a different task. All you think about is not messing up the 2 or 3 motions you need to do for the next 12 hours. Being at the bottom of the line as a roughneck my duties were simple, either I was tailing worn out tubing from the well or picking up 6000 feet of new tubing and tailing it into the well. If you were lucky you would get some time on the floor working the tongs or spinning rods. Replacing a full tubing string is easily the hardest thing I have done in my life, but the days go fast and the money rolls in. Life gets simple. If you are on a good rig they will work you 21 days straight, two days off. Then another 21 on. You start to look forward to going to work. It’s the only excitement in your life now.
Being born and raised in the mountains of British Columbia I’ve always had easy landmarks to get around by. Here in the great plains of central Canada I found myself lost often. Discovering beauty in my new surroundings, I spent every evening roaming the back roads with my camera taking in the great open spaces and unfamiliar landscapes. I will never forget how the sun rises and sets in the plains, the way the wind blows, and the storms that you watch rolling in for hours before they engulf you.
Every day on the rigs is a little different. Some wells go smooth and others turn into total cluster fucks. Imagine a three inch column of crude oil spraying out of the well a hundred feet in the air and raining down, soaking you in thick warm sludge. All the while, your driller is yelling at you to screw a shut off valve into the oil stream. Or picture your hung over derrick hand forgetting a crucial step, sending thousands of pounds of tubing crashing into the derrick. Or, when your driller gets his down hole tubing count wrong and pulls a five inch anchor through the floor at full speed, sending you and 1000 pound tools flying through the air. It can get sketchy real quick, you are constantly at the mercy of your crew.
If you are a hard worker you will be treated like gold, if you are lazy you get skidded. If you are not ready in the morning when your crew truck shows up you will be left behind and probably not picked up again. These men work harder then you and party way harder than you, it is all they know.
When you settle into this routine, you learn to love Tim Horton double doubles again, Lincoln Park at 6am, and you get real good at hitting road sings with beer bottles on the way home in the crew tuck.
Before I knew it, fall rolled around and my van was headed west for the first time in 5 months. Within 24 hours I was watching the sun set over Banff National Park, and in the morning I was hiking through Alpine meadows with my sister.
She had spent a not so bummer summer working at Lake Ohara Lodge. We shared stories and laughs under the full moon and filled up on real food after eating canned tuna and kraft dinner all summer. You don’t realize how amazing we have it out west till you leave for a while. I Said goodbye to Nadine and continued driving west accompanied by Neil Young and the drone of my old bus wheezing over the mountain passes.