Growing up in a Mennonite colony usually means lifelong commitment to the community as you adopt the career of your father and carry it on for future generations. For Conrad and Andy Plett, they sensed the United States had something more for them and courageously, yet respectfully, left their colony in Mexico to start an oil field trailer dealership in Texas and Oklahoma. After expanding in North Dakota, they found something completely unexpected – a home.
Trucks and trailers of all kinds move through Western North Dakota at record pace thanks to the frenzy of oil production in the Bakken Shale. The Plett brothers, Conrad and Andy, recently expanded their business to North Dakota to supply the oil field with crude oil tankers, gravel trailers, water haulers and other trailers specific to the oil industry.
Drawing from their experience in Texas and Oklahoma, Conrad Plett saw an opportunity to expand TriCore Sales northward into the Bakken Shale. “North Dakota was booming like crazy. When we got here the first thing we realized was how much energy was around this place…it was crazy. The attitude was very different here. It was ‘Let’s get it done today instead of tomorrow,’ whereas in Oklahoma the economy was laid back: ‘If we can’t do it today we can do it tomorrow.'”
“When we got here the first thing we realized was how much energy was around this place…it was crazy.”
Conrad left Los Jagueyes Mennonite Colony in Mexico in 2012 with his wife, son and daughter to launch TriCore Sales in Midland, Texas and Oklahoma with Partner Jacob Friesen. Hearing of the oil boom in the Bakken, he knew the need for crude oil, gravel and water haulers would be great, so he visited to see the spectacle for himself.
“At first when I got here it looked like greed” he remembered. “Then, when I spent more time here, I realized these are real people with real lives back home and they have no other choice. That’s why most people here are so successful, because they don’t have anything to fall back on. This is their only option. It’s out of necessity to provide a better living.”
He quickly went to work researching possible locations for the business knowing that they would need a storage yard for the trailers, a shop for repairs and highway access. Of the 5 possible locations that he identified as top contenders, none of them would ultimately prove to be their current home at Badlands Truck & Trailer. “To this day, I have no idea how their business card got onto my desk. I never met anyone from there, never remember picking up a card, never visited the site.” Instead of sending an email to the TriCore team summarizing the 5 locations he identified, he made one last call to Badlands Truck & Trailer. Within minutes he realized it was not only a fit but also, by far, the best option.
With a location secured and the foundation laid, Conrad needed a man on the ground – someone he could trust to run the North Dakota operation. He immediately thought of his brother, Andy.
“We had a couple of conversations, half joking: ‘Hey, if you have your American papers you could work in North Dakota.’ [My wife] Theresa and I were praying to know whether or not I go all-in on the farm as a partner [with my father] or that it was [God’s] will that we go to the United States.”
“A week later Conrad unexpectedly offered me a job,” Andy remembered. Conrad had no idea of Theresa and Andy’s conversations or prayers. He thought the chances were small that they’d actually do it but the decision was remarkably easy. “My American papers came through and we started packing. There wasn’t much else to discuss, we knew it was what we were meant to do.”
After deciding to move, packing and arriving in North Dakota (all within two weeks) his outlook and purpose quickly changed. “I was supposed to make relationships to build the business. Our personal lives weren’t a consideration. But everyone’s the friendliest we’ve ever met, we didn’t have to try. We just became friends with people and God has blessed us with great relationships. It makes all the difference.”
“…it’s easier to make friends with locals, especially once you’re willing to look into their lives and realize what life was like before the oil boom happened.”
“We thought it would have been easier to make friends with other people who moved here, because we have something in common,” Conrad added. “But it’s easier to make friends with locals, especially once you’re willing to look into their lives and realize what life was like before [the oil boom] happened. Everywhere else we’ve lived we stayed with our type of people, with other [Mennonites] who spoke the same language and had the same culture…this was the first place where we stepped outside the nest.” Even Conrad’s son, Weston, commented that the “friendliest friends we’ve met in the U.S. are in North Dakota.”
Andy has done even more than simply “step outside the nest,” – he’s absorbed himself in the local scene and actively participated along side members of the community that have been here for generations. An amateur bull rider, he immediately took the opportunity to register for the bull riding competition in July during the McKenzie County Fair. Softball, campfires with friends and church activities are all things he looks forward to and enjoys. If you asked him 6 months ago what North Dakota life would be like, his answer would be “all business.” Now, North Dakota means home and he has no intention of leaving.
Their new North Dakota home does have one big feature that will be a new experience for them since leaving Mexico. “Winter is right around the corner, Andy hasn’t really experienced yet,” Conrad commented recently. He told Andy as a heads-up that by the time winter comes around he could move further south to help with the operations in Midland or Oklahoma. “It turns out that was very bad news, they didn’t want to leave.”
Even when times were tough and things started slow their faith kept them moving forward. “We knew we were meant to be here, but then we really got tested.” The first 5 months were extremely slow, to the point where the TriCore team in Midland wanted to pull the plug on their North Dakota branch, but Conrad felt there was a breakthrough on the horizon.” Give me one more month,” he pleaded. By the end of that month they sold enough trailers to be profitable and even cover some of the past months’ lost income.
“Everything that has fallen into place has been an answer to prayer. The very fact that we are here in the first place was due to a series of answered prayers.”
Looking back over their first 6 months in North Dakota they see a pattern of circumstances that continually confirm that they made the right decision to come here. Conrad admits he couldn’t have orchestrated much of what has happened on his own. “Everything that has fallen into place has been an answer to prayer. The very fact that we are here in the first place was due to a series of answered prayers. Even simply reflecting on all that has taken place in these first 6 months causes me to marvel at how much God has come through for us.”
Conrad visits for a week or two every other month and splits time between all three locations with Oklahoma being his home base. Andy and his wife, Theresa, are thrilled to call Watford City home permanently and are optimistic of things to come, even if winter is right around the corner.