The Rough Rider life: Chapter 1 This crew of close knit rig hands make sure the region's wells stay in top shape and handle a wide variety of assignments. Today is "roading the rig" day.

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Rough Rider Well Service has been active in the oilfield since pre-boom days and continues to operate throughout Western North Dakota, Eastern Montana and Northwest South Dakota.  Shanon Maki, 36, of Watford City, N.D., oversees the 6-man workover rig crew of Rig 1 and handles well completions, maintenance, fishing and other tasks to ensure that wells function with optimum performance.  A life-long learner and compassionate leader, he’s the first to take responsibility for his guys and goes above and beyond to ensure that they know that their value extends beyond the oil field.  Join them as they “road the rig” 125 miles, rig-up and start the process on their new location in Stark County.

Cattle graze in the background as Dan Smith makes one final look in the rear-view mirror before pulling out of their McKenzie County location and traveling 125 miles south to their next job. The Rough Rider Well Service crew works throughout Western North Dakota, Eastern Montana and Northwest South Dakota. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Cattle graze in the background as Dan Smith makes one final look in the rear-view mirror before pulling out of their McKenzie County location and traveling 125 miles south to their next job. The Rough Rider Well Service crew works throughout Western North Dakota, Eastern Montana and Northwest South Dakota. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
The rig stops on the side of Highway 85 to let auto and truck traffic pass which was starting to stretch more than a mile behind them. In years past, cars could just pass the rig as they please because the two-lane highways in the open prairie weren't nearly as populated. Now, due to the oil boom, the traffic is so thick in both directions that passing is impossible. On this particular journey the rig has to cross McKenzie, Billings and Stark Counties meaning Shanon had to secure multiple permits, one from each county. The permits are effective for 72 hours and good for one trip. Usually this gives ample time to move the rig between locations, but it the rig breaks down during a Friday transit and no one can work on it over the weekend, new permits would have to be issued, doubling the cost. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
The rig stops on the side of Highway 85 to let auto and truck traffic pass which was starting to stretch more than a mile behind them. In years past, cars could just pass the rig as they please because the two-lane highways in the open prairie weren’t nearly as populated. Now, due to the oil boom, the traffic is so thick in both directions that passing is impossible. On this particular journey the rig has to cross McKenzie, Billings and Stark Counties meaning Shanon had to secure multiple permits, one from each county. The permits are effective for 72 hours and good for one trip. Usually this gives ample time to move the rig between locations, but it the rig breaks down during a Friday transit and no one can work on it over the weekend, new permits would have to be issued, doubling the cost. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Shanon walks across the location to talk with Dan about where to set up as he pulls the 62' 10", 116,740 lb. rig to a stop on their new job site. When extended, the derricks stretch upward 110 feet and is rated to pull up to 265,000 pounds. There is only one other rig in North Dakota with three front axles like this one; the additional axle (most have two) spreads the weight better, giving the rig a much lighter "per axle" weight ratio on the front end making easier to move across weight restricted roads. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Shanon walks across the location to talk with Dan about where to set up as he pulls the 62′ 10″, 116,740 lb. rig to a stop on their new job site. When extended, the derricks stretch upward 110 feet and is rated to pull up to 265,000 pounds. There is only one other rig in North Dakota with three front axles like this one; the additional axle (most have two) spreads the weight better, giving the rig a much lighter “per axle” weight ratio on the front end making easier to move across weight restricted roads. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Shanon chats with Lance Love (reflected in his glasses), Rough Rider's relief operator/rig hand/derrick hand about the quality of pipe on location and come up with a strategy for sorting this particular string. Workover rig responsibilities are multi-faceted and vary from job to job as compared to a drilling rig which has one purpose - to drill the hole. The workover rig can be hired to complete a well, maintain/repair an existing well, help remedy problems like fishing dropped parts/tools out of a hole or clean sediment out of an aging well as they are doing today. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Shanon chats with Lance Love (reflected in his glasses), Rough Rider’s relief operator/rig hand/derrick hand about the quality of pipe on location and come up with a strategy for sorting this particular string. Workover rig responsibilities are multi-faceted and vary from job to job as compared to a drilling rig which has one purpose – to drill the hole. The workover rig can be hired to complete a well, maintain/repair an existing well, help remedy problems like fishing dropped parts/tools out of a hole or clean sediment out of an aging well as they are doing today. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Floorhands/derrick hands Odie Cummins and Will Demerest and lay down a set of lumber cribbing to pad the rig. The workover rig will back up to this spot and use the lumber as a base to support its weight during operations. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Floor hands/derrick hands Odie Cummins and Will Demerest lay down a set of lumber cribbing to pad the rig. The workover rig will back up to this spot and use the lumber as a base to support its weight during operation. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Dan Smith lifts the derricks into the air and watches careful as it ascends while Will Demerest walks toward the access ladder on the rig. Both are making sure that no lines or cables catch on the rack/carrier which would snag the derrick cause major problems. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Dan Smith lifts the derricks into the air and watches careful as it ascends while Will Demerest walks toward the access ladder on the rig. Both are making sure that no lines or cables catch on the rack/carrier which would snag the derrick cause major problems. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
The crew guides the cables during rig-up/scope up process. Dan Smith (left) operates the rig while Lance Love (center) and Will Demerest (right) hold the wind guidelines, the cables that keep the rig stable during windy conditions. On average it takes approximately 90 minutes to rig up and start operations. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
The crew guides the cables during rig-up/scope up process. Dan Smith (left) operates the rig while Lance Love (center) and Will Demerest (right) hold the wind guidelines, the cables that keep the rig stable during windy conditions. On average it takes approximately 90 minutes to rig up and start operations. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
The crew huddles around the well head and prepares it for work. The two rig hands on left tend to the well head while the others prepare the slips (coupling that holds the pipe in place) for the 2 3/8 inch pipe. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
The crew huddles around the well head and prepares it for work. The two rig hands on left tend to the well head while the others prepare the slips (coupling that holds the pipe in place) for the 2 3/8 inch pipe. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Dan Smith grimaces as he works to loosen flow-T connection while Will Demerest and Odie Cummins loosen the well-head flange bolts. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Dan Smith grimaces as he works to loosen flow-T connection while Will Demerest and Odie Cummins loosen the well-head flange bolts. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Dan Smith (left) operates the winch (controlling the up and down movements of the rig) as Will Demerest guides the winch and cable line from the rig floor. Lance Love and Odie Cummins (behind the wellhead) work underneath at ground level to guide the studs through the washington head and finish assembly. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Dan Smith (left) operates the winch (controlling the up and down movements of the rig) as Will Demerest guides the winch and cable line from the rig floor. Lance Love and Odie Cummins (behind the wellhead) work underneath at ground level to guide the studs through the washington head and finish assembly. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
The crew "nipples up" the well head which is the process of assembling the blow-out preventer (BOP) and ram, preparing the well head for work. The BOP and ram prevent the pipe from blowing back out the hole. This is the second-to- last step before circulation can commence. Will Demerest stands on top to force that piece into position; at times the weight of two men is needed to put it in place. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
The crew “nipples up” the well head which is the process of assembling the blow-out preventer (BOP) and ram, preparing the well head for work. The BOP and ram prevent the pipe from blowing back out the hole. This is the second-to- last step before circulation can commence. Will Demerest stands on top to force that piece into position; at times the weight of two men is needed to put it in place. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
This "work string" of 2 3/8" EUE pipe (the pipe used to complete their task as compared to "production pipe" which is placed in the hole for oil production) rests on location ready to be used for the task at hand. It takes between 200 and 300 sections of this pipe to get to the depth where oil is found. The depth of the Heath Formation (where the crew is working today) is 7,800 whereas the Bakken Formation sits between 10,000 and 10,500 feet below the surface. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
This “work string” of 2 3/8″ EUE pipe (the pipe used to complete their work as compared to “production pipe” which is placed in the hole for oil to flow through) rests on location ready to be used for the task at hand. It takes between 200 and 300 sections of this pipe to get to the depth where oil is found. The depth of the Heath Formation (where the crew is working today) is 7,800 feet whereas the Bakken Formation sits between 10,000 and 10,500 feet below the surface. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Odie Cummins (left) and Lance Love search for quality pipe and threads to use on this job. This particular string had a high number of bad threads which could lead bad pipe connections, so they eliminate those sections to avoid issues. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Odie Cummins (left) and Lance Love search for quality pipe and threads to use on this job. This particular string had a high percentage of bad threads which could lead to poor connections, so they eliminate those sections to avoid issues. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Odie Cummins looks out over the location as equipment and tanks are being delivered. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Odie Cummins looks out over the location as equipment and tanks are being delivered. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
This particular group has been with Shanon over 2 years in a an industry where employee turnover rate is high. "Its one of those things where the grass is always greener so guys jump ship fairly often [to go to other companies], but we've had the same crew for a long time." Shanon offers free housing for his crew and takes a personal interest in their well being, even offsite. "If it wasn't for my crews, I wouldn't have what I have or be able to do what I do. It's important that that I take care of them and that they have support." Image © Chad Ziemendorf
This particular group has been with Shanon for over 2 years in an industry where employee turnover rate is high. “It’s one of those things where the grass is always greener so guys jump ship fairly often [to go to other companies], but we’ve had the same crew for a long time.” Shanon offers free housing for his crew and takes a personal interest in their well being, even offsite. “If it wasn’t for my crews, I wouldn’t have what I have or be able to do what I do. It’s important that I take care of them and that they have support.” Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Will Demerest laughs with the crew during their lunch break in the dog house. Will is a former United States Marine and had 2 deployments to Iraq. He and his wife came to North Dakota in 2012. They made the move from Apple Valley, Calif. in their Kia with only $200 and found a job with Rough Rider Well Service on their first day in town. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Will Demerest laughs with the crew during their lunch break in the dog house. Will is a former United States Marine and had 2 deployments to Iraq. He and his wife came to North Dakota in 2012. They made the move from Apple Valley, Calif. in their Kia with only $200 and found a job with Rough Rider Well Service on their first day in town. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Shanon chats with Tom Brooks, Rough Rider Well Service partner and Rig 2 leader. Tom was onsite helping Rig 1 for this project and also oversees all of the activities of Rig 2 which operates concurrently on different job sites. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
Shanon chats with Tom Brooks, Rough Rider Well Service partner and Rig 2 leader. Tom was onsite helping Rig 1 for this project and also oversees all of the activities of Rig 2 which operates concurrently on different job sites. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
The rig stands on location ready to work. The Rough Rider Well service stays on a job anywhere from one day to six months depending on the complexity and scope of the task. Image © Chad Ziemendorf
The rig stands on location ready to work. The Rough Rider Well service stays on a job anywhere from one day to six months depending on the complexity and scope of the task. Image © Chad Ziemendorf

Intersection Journal, North Dakota

12 Comments

  1. Great pictures from an area of the country that is changing drastically fast and dramatically big. These aren’t easy pictures to make and I admire your skill and dedication. Looking forward to seeing more.

    • Hi Thomas, thanks for taking a look! No doubt the pace of change is startling. I appreciate your comments and insight, thank you for the kind words. More to come!

  2. Chad,

    Cool man – very cool. This is all very interesting to me. It almost sounds like the gold rush, but 160 years later.

    Justin

    • Justin! Thanks for reaching out! Yes, no doubt…very much like a modern-day gold rush that shows no signs of slowing. It will be fun to see what we find as we continue to explore.

  3. Chad–you did it! Today so far has been a stressful day, due in part to the traffic, and overpopulation of this little town. Somehow, reading your journals, and viewing your magical photography brought healing to my soul. Probably because you have documented our every day challenges. It helps to have a tool to share what its like to live here. To communicate the excitement along with the overwhelming pressure that this oil boom brings. Thank you so much. I look forward to your next production! And may I add, looking at the photos were as satisfying as sipping a perfected cappuccino.

    • Hi Cheryl, thank you for your thoughtful comment. At the end of the day I feel an incredible sense of possibility and potential for this area, and I think that our leaders do to. I’m glad that they are asking the right questions to ensure that our community thrives instead of just survives. Sincere thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Thank you for these great articles and photos. I consider Watford my hometown. I moved away 16 years ago. I hear stories from family and friends in ND and am always curious for more insight into life there during this oil boom. Thanks for all you do!

    • Hi Elizabeth, my pleasure! It has been an amazing process to document Western North Dakota and our journey is only beginning. How do you feel about how things have changed? My first visit to Watford City was in 2005 with sporadic visits over the next few years, then spent 6 weeks here in 2009. So, whatever changes I’ve experienced must not even come close to what you see. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Chad,
    I read the comment above about this being like the old gold rush, myself coming from the high desert CA we have all these historical sites like Calico where you can see how the miners lived and the hardships they faced and I’m thinking about it and this place really is like an old boom town with a few more luxuries. Anyways, you really captured all thier hard work so beautifully and dramatically.
    Well done!

    • Hi Kc, thank you for your comment and perspective on what’s happening here in North Dakota. It was great to make pictures of Will’s crew and capture what they do all day, everyday, with my camera. I look forward to spending more time with them!

  6. My folks traveled to Oklahoma, Montana, and North Dakota in search of oil in the 50’s. My dad was with Gulf Oil and my mom worked for Northwestern Bell. Their group of oil workers and families were called the Doodlebuggers. Their seismograph crews moved in caravans and explored for oil wherever the next landowner decided to drill. They were the first generation of oil workers and for them the landscape was void of modern utilities let alone housing. Housing was sometimes a sheepherding shack and refrigerators in the winter time amounted to dynamite boxes nailed to an outside window. They loved the land though and always talked of the great adventure of it all. Best regards to all of the younger men and women who are now making their fortunes.

    • Thank you for sharing! I can only imagine what people experienced as they crossed this landscape decades ago. What incredible resilience they must have had to endure their adventures.

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