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Boom: Home, Sweet Camp

May 8, 2012, 10:24 PM by Kelly Bartnick

Boom: Home, Sweet Camp

Whether you own or rent, it's safe to say your last place, probably didn't have four wheels. Temporary housing of all kind dominates North Dakota's Oil Fields, and more workers are on the way.

Dave Kingman's camp has 415 travel trailers with a special North Dakota trip package. Each trailer is fully skirted and has a full-size refrigerator.

"This is the land of opportunity right now," Kingman said.

Kingman is one of more than 6,000 who have come to Watford City, North Dakota, over the past five years. The Minneapolis, Minnesota, housing developer now provides a different kind of home; 26-foot travel trailers under a vast western North Dakota sky.

"It's like your own home," said Kingman. "It's an RV, it's small but it's like your own home. You can park your car right here.  You've got your own door, your own kitchen; you've got your own bathroom."

And like people, the number of trailers here keeps growing; camp by camp, row by row.

"I started out in Watford, went to Minot, moved to Stanley and over to Tioga, back to Minot, and now back in Watford again," said Brian Faaborg, 24.

Faaborg is 680 miles away from his Elkton, South Dakota, family. In Watford City, cabin number 378 is 320 square feet of home, sweet home.

"We're 40 feet from sewage ponds, maybe 50 feet from sewage ponds. What would most people say? And I'm happy I got this place. We're excited! We were like, 'Great! We've got a place!'" Faaborg exclaimed.

Faaborg barely broke even running a one-man trucking company in South Dakota. So he went north to haul oil from the wells. He now employs three men.

"It's where the money's at, I guess," Faaborg said.

Faaborg is making more but he pays for it. He snatched up the last two cabins in this camp; one for his men and one for him. Each cabin rents at a bargain price of $1650 per month. He says this is the best place he's ever lived.

But some people don't even have a trailer to call home. Community base camps, known as man camps, are popping up all over the prairie.

"Man camps tend to be more like dormitories where you're sharing a bunk room and you have meals provided," Kingman said.

Temporary housing is so common in the oil patch that trailers now outnumber houses in Watford City. It's such a widespread problem that cities and counties are re-thinking camp regulations. But that's hard too because there's no where else to live.

"Oil companies will come in and rent a hotel for six months," Faaborg said. "They'll rent every room in the place."

That's why this spring Kingman's camp is growing by at least 250 trailers; probably more. And he isn't worried about filling them.

"They need workforce housing.  So they will rent 10 in anticipation of needing the space or they'll rent 100 in anticipation of needing all that space," Kingman said.

That's because the boom in Watford City is just beginning.  So the workers in it for the long haul want some comforts of home, no matter how small.

"No offense to North Dakota, but this is rough country," Faaborg said.

Man camps also include women and children.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
A word was omitted in a prior version of this story.

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