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Man-camping in style

Oil industry workers don’t have it too rough in some temporary housing

April 5, 2011
DAVE CALDWELL - Staff Writer (dcaldwell@minotdailynews.com) , Minot Daily News

TIOGA - When it comes to temporary oilfield housing, the term "man camp" is flung about as liberally as finger paint by a 2-year-old child.

In some situations, the term might be apropos, but in many it's hard to make a definitive connection between the actual housing conditions and the idea of "camping." In fact, some of these workers are "roughing it" about as much as those living in a hotel - and in many examples, less so.

Target Logistics, a division of The Target Companies group, is a Boston-based global housing solutions company. Locally, it is involved in the management and operation of facilities located in Williston, Stanley and Tioga.

Article Photos

Dave Caldwell/MDN
The recreation room at the Tioga Lodge provides space for entertaining physical activities. The entrance to the gym area is visible in the right rear portion of the photo.

Each location has its own unique characteristics. One development in Williston opening soon will feature cabins, while Stanley features units set up like apartments.

Target allowed The Minot Daily News to tour its 249-bed Tioga Lodge in early March. The lodge came to Tioga after being used in Wamsutter, Wyo., by BP.

Located a few miles west of Tioga on U.S. Highway 2, the Tioga Lodge features an entrance illuminated by portable lighting when needed, leading to an entrance gate manned by a security guard. Driving past a large metal pole barn and several diesel generators, entrance to the complex is gained by parking in a large parking lot on the east side and entry to the lodge office.

Just inside the door, a front desk much like that of a small hotel is located.

The boss is in

David Vinson, the manager of the Target Lodge, is a soft-spoken and friendly man. While touring his facility, it becomes readily apparent that Vinson also takes a great deal of pride in the quality of his product and service.

Meeting Vinson at the front desk, the tour begins.

"Guests check in here, just like they would at a hotel, except they have to be part of a company contract," Vinson said. "They can drop their bibs (overalls) off at night, and they're washed and returned to them the next day, or the same day."

Vinson said transportation is provided to several locations, including the Hess offices in Minot and the Hess gas plant in Tioga. In addition to Hess, several other companies have a presence at the Tioga lodge, with no one company having a "dominant" number.

A small wall cabinet located in the front office holds more than 120 DVDs, including classics such as "The Outlaw Josey Wales," as well as newer selections like "The Hangover." Guests can check out for viewing in their rooms, as all the rooms have televisions and DVD players in them.

All guests carry electronic keys that open the outside doors as well as their own personal room.

"They all have to scan in," Vinson said. "That puts them on the property, and when they go out they have to scan out."

Everyday life

Just inside the first door, at the front end of a long hallway, is a side room where muddy boots can be dropped off and picked up, as well as another area where several industrial washers and dryers are located.

Rooms are cleaned twice per week by a housekeeping staff, while the dormitory-style bathrooms are cleaned every day.

"All the rooms also have Wi-Fi (wireless Internet capability)," Vinson said.

The smaller, "standard" rooms, are fairly small but not cramped. Each room contains a single bed, an open locker-style closet, with the TV and DVD player elevated at the foot of the bed for easy viewing while reclining. Each room also contains a small desk located underneath a large window with horizontal blinds to allow sunlight into the room.

The VIP rooms feature double beds, a refrigerator and a larger desk than the single, in addition to private bathrooms.

Power alley

The entire complex is powered by Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative service, with three 875 kVA generators for backup.

"If there's a problem with one, the second one kicks on within 30 seconds," Vinson said. "Which has come in handy the past few weeks."

Vinson said in the March 2 interview that the city of Ray was without power occasionally during that period of time.

Vinson, a native of Alabama who currently resides in Los Angeles, works six weeks on, two weeks off currently.

"There's a big difference (between Los Angeles and North Dakota)," Vinson chuckled. "I've gotten used to staying inside."

Spare time activity

A spacious, multiple-room recreation center is located toward the center of the complex. Included is a large viewing lounge outfitted with leather seats, movie posters and a large flat-screen high-definition television.

The large main room houses amusement devices such as pool, foosball and ping-pong tables.

The Internet cafe is home to multiple desktop computers, set up in small privacy partitions. Guests can use the computers to access e-mail or other tasks in case they do not choose to carry or utilize a personal laptop or smart-phone device. Again, though, Vinson said should people choose to use their own personal wireless devices, Wi-Fi is available throughout the lodge.

"It's a good way for people to stay in touch with their families," Vinson said.

Vinson said that since the lodge has been open, there have been no problems with unruly guests or any other type of trouble associated with the lodge.

"Everybody's just laid back and professional," he said. "They're here to work."

No alcohol or firearms are permitted on the premises. Entrance to the lodge is guarded by a security outpost at the main gate between the main parking lot and U.S. Highway 2.

Adjacent to the large pool table room, an exercise room houses free weights, a heavy bag for contact workouts, treadmills and exercise bikes.

Another area includes a popcorn machine and a hot-dog rotisserie, a board game area and yet another big-screen TV with leather couches.

In another room, a bank of washing machines and dryers stand ready for use by guests to wash their personal clothing. The washers feature automatic detergent and fabric softener dispensers that flow directly into the wash tub. The area resembles a bright, clean laundromat with one major difference - no coins, as use is free of charge.

"It's a lot better than having to spend your evening in a laundromat," Vinson said. "Here you can go out there and watch TV (while you wait)."

In the rear of the recreation, an enclosed smoking lounge with separate ventilation has more couches and another big-screen.

Landline phones are also available.

Time to eat?

Back into the main hallway and farther down is the dining hall.

"We have breakfast from 4 to 8 (a.m.), lunch is noon to 1 (p.m.), and dinner is 6 to 9 (p.m.)," Vinson said, adding the dining area is open 24 hours, but food is only "put out" during those particular times.

A tour of that area shows that if a guest were to miss a scheduled meal, there are still extensive options for food, once again at no additional charge.

A breakfast section provides a cereal bar, as well as donuts. Popcorn is available, located right on top of a microwave oven, and a soup kettle stands at the ready. Farther down, past the salad bar, a large assortment of meats, cheeses and other ingredients are featured at a sandwich bar.

Various fresh fruits also pepper the area, and guests can pack a lunch to go at their leisure as well.

The dining area itself is large, featuring round four-occupant tables. At the center of each, a wide assortment of condiments is available, including steak and Worcestershire sauces, sriracha chili sauce, and Tabasco sauce alongside the standard ketchup, mustard, and salt and pepper shakers.

Enjoy your stay?

Vinson was happy to share the results of some guest comment cards, filled out weekly by the customers.

The results were overwhelmingly positive.

The cards ask for a rating of several areas with a maximum of five for positive feedback. One card had a six drawn on and circled.

"I've been staying at camps for 13 years, and this one is by far the best," was one example of a typical comment card in a stack about 2 inches thick. "Great food, great people," and "makes being away from home easier," were other examples.

One card credited the lodge with making it easier to retain employees for the company.

"With all the Target properties, we've always done well with the company cards with the services we provide," Vinson said. "We put a lot into it to make sure the guests are happy. And it shows.

"It makes our job easier too."

Seven-letter word(s)

The term "man camp" is thrown around commonly when referring to oilfield housing. Vinson stresses, however, that the Tioga Lodge is - just as the name indicates - a lodge.

"It's kind of distinguished because it's not like a 'man camp' like people are used to hearing," he said. "That term is kind of bad.

"This is more like a hotel. A hotel is not going to bring you any problems."

First person account

Justin Kelley, a Bismarck native now living in Colorado and working for a company there, said the Tioga Lodge exceeds his expectations.

"Compared with what we had to deal with when we first got here, it's great," Kelley said. "You can't find a hotel in (Tioga). There's nothing for a 50-mile radius around here - it's all booked up.

"So our company bought custom modular homes, bought some land and put them out there on a cow pasture. They had to truck water in. We had power, we had cable, we had DirecTV satellite out there. But the water ran out, the water froze, there's only so much room. There were maybe eight guys per trailer, and there's about eight (trailers) out there now. They're planning on expanding that.

"I mean, it was nice to be able to cook at night. The freedom was probably a little bit nicer.

"But the thing is, when you work 20 hours per day, you don't have time for a lot. You come home here, it's clean. There's great food every day. These guys are always here to look out for you - they wash our clothes for us.

"You can't ask for anything more. I don't know what (Target) charges for here, but you're not going to get that service at a hotel or anywhere else."

"It's nice. We like it here."

 
 

 

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