Musings, North Dakota Living

Rules of the Road, Oil Field Edition

Lately, our highways in the oil field have been getting more media coverage with the increase in accidents, traffic congestion and difficulty of travel in winter weather. This topic is nothing new, but I thought I would throw together a little list of “Rules of the Road: Oil Field Edition.” Young drivers in our state have to study the Rules of the Road handbook when they prepare to take a permit test. Maybe drivers should have to study a new set of rules when they move to the oil field. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Drive here for long, and you will probably end up with a handful of crazy stories and close calls.

Just one of many oil field accidents
Just one of many oil field accidents

For example, I mentioned the pickups passing me on glare ice in my last post. Another case in point: A few Saturdays ago, I drove my little bus crammed full of speech kids to Mott, ND; and somewhere around the first crack of daylight and my 15th yawn, I watched a pickup in front of me attempt to pass a semi uphill and in fog so thick you could cut it with a knife. Of course, a pair of headlights came straight at him out of the fog, and he was forced to take the ditch. Thank goodness the oncoming vehicle didn’t take the same ditch at the same time, or they would have collided right to the left of us.

These incidents have got me thinking about the changes in our previously quiet little Midwest corner. It’s not simply an issue of “traffic” like they have in larger metropolitan areas; and of course, crazy drivers exist everywhere. It’s more the issue of the traffic’s makeup. It’s the thousands of semis, pickups, and more semis crammed onto two-lane highways that were not built to accommodate them. According to a recent edition of the McKenzie County Farmer, up to 12,000 vehicles a day pass through the nearby little town of Alexander. Who could have predicted such a dramatic turn? I remember once about 12 years ago, my Grandpa Tim, an old farmer from the area, commented to me, “Boy, Rachel, I sure saw a lot of traffic this morning. It’s getting crazy around here. I counted seven vehicles on the way to town!” (He lived three miles out of Alexander.) I laughed then, but part of me wonders what he would think about the current state of his hometown if he were around to see it.

Anyway, back to the driving advice. Here are just a few Rules of the Road, Oil Field Edition:

1. Avoid Left Turns Whenever Possible: Left turns are dreaded here!  You might sit for half an hour waiting for your chance to break through a traffic gap. If you are forced to make a left turn on any well-traveled highway, keep one eye on your rearview mirror, lest one of the semis barreling down upon you doesn’t notice that you have stopped to turn left. Yikes. Gives me the willies every time.

2. Know the Back Roads: You never know when you might need them. Back roads have saved me hours of waiting behind accidents and traffic jams while trying to make it to work or back to my farm. Even hearing the words “back roads” gives me warm fuzzies (kind of like the words “left turn” gives me willies: see Rule #1). Do some back roads exploring even when you don’t need to. It might save you a major headache tomorrow or next week.

3. Ignore Rock Chips As Long As Possible: Rock chips WILL happen. Currently, I have 6 or 7 cracks in my windshield. But if I rushed in to replace it, another one would most likely appear within a week or two. Truthfully, your car will mostly likely not look as pretty after some time in the oil field. Besides the rock chips in your windshield, you may have rock chips and dents on the body of the vehicle, a thick layer of mud or dust that returns the day after you get a car wash, and other unsightly oil-related things. Recently, on a new semi driver’s first day on the job, he accidentally drove his tanker through town (a big no-no and a $500 fine; they are supposed to use the truck bypass), ended up stuck in the high school school parking lot, and struck and dented one of my student’s vehicles trying to turn around. This proves your vehicle may not be safe anywhere.

Poor guy. Hope he found a new job by now.

Really, you should not bring your new shiny vehicles to the oil field if you care about the aesthetic appeal. Although I love my little gray SUV, the good news is, I have grown up in a family who has never wasted much time or concern on the outer appearance of vehicles. My dad is a pretty well-known lawyer in Bismarck and still drives around old Buicks with the mirrors duct-taped on. I wish I had pictures of the collection of vehicles he has driven around or parked in front of our house. Once, I saw a little car sputtering blue smoke in Bismarck. I chuckled, and then when I got closer, realized it was none other than my dad driving my old high school vehicle, a Plymouth Reliant. All I could do was shake my head. The old Reliant didn’t last much longer after that.

I digress, but the point is, leave your shiny vehicles at home if you want them to stay shiny.

4. Finally, Avoid Road Rage Whenever Possible: Yes, you will have bad experiences. Yes, semis will pull out in front of you; pickups will pass you only to turn a half mile later; other pickups will pass you on glare ice and uphill in the fog. It is even worse when you attempt to move farm equipment that tops out at 20 mph. Then people REALLY get mad. (I will have to write more about that later.) But as the popular slogan plastered all over the Internet these days says, just Keep Calm and Carry On. I may or may not have given in to righteous anger on the road a time or two, but it’s not worth it. All I can say is, follow a few basic guidelines to best avoid road rage: hug the white line, keep your distance, and ignore the idiots as much as you can.

So there you have it. Four basic rules, but they may save your life, your sanity, or a few minutes of your time. There probably isn’t much we can do about the traffic, but we can do our parts as drivers to make the oil field a safer place. Hopefully, the state of North Dakota will continue to pitch in throughout the duration of the oil boom in an ongoing effort to improve the quality and capacity of our highways. Meanwhile, keep up the good fight out there on the highway… and wave at me if you can see me through the rock chips.

Musings, North Dakota Living, Teaching

Snow Day with Capital Letters

A Snow Day. I cannot believe it. I’m so in awe, that I’m honoring the Snow Day by capitalizing it. (That is how an English teacher uses the tricks of the language to show appreciation. Or proves herself to be a giant dork.)

Our frosty farm, location of my Snow Day
Our frosty farm, location of my Snow Day

This morning when I saw the voicemail on my phone from the familiar 444 school-alert number, my heart skipped a beat. But for all the times the voicemail notifications from the 444 number have appeared before 7 a.m., my hopes for a Snow Day never come true. So I listened to the voicemail eagerly, hoping at least for a late start that would allow me to sit and drink coffee at my kitchen table, a nonexistent treat during the work week.

It was even better than I had hoped: a real live Snow Day! I know that we will have to make it up sooner or later, probably at the end of the school year, but whatever. For now, it feels glorious. It’s like a present when it’s not even your birthday. It’s like a second Christmas. It’s like receiving a package in a snow-covered mailbox.


It’s like a warm summer morni– No. Too far.

I will say that Snow Days as an adult are a little different than they were growing up. Snows Days now come a little less freely, a little more burdened with grown-up responsibilities. I am not complaining, mind you. It’s just that now, Snow Days are a chance to catch up on chores and duties (yuck) that otherwise I wouldn’t have time to do. So, this morning after listening to the voicemail, I thought about basking in Snow-Day-ness by lying in my bed for another couple hours, then drinking coffee at my kitchen table for another couple hours, then immersing myself in my guilty pleasure, Pinterest, for another couple hours, then perhaps painting my nails a bright coral, and then… Well you get the picture. But an image popped into my mind: a stack of 16 research papers at school, sitting untouched, the only 16 remaining ungraded papers of the 60-some I collected a week ago. And a whole day of free time to work on them. Yuck again. But the image wouldn’t go away. So recklessly, I bundled up, went out into the snow to feed my dogs, and started my sturdy little Ford Escape to make the 13-mile trip to town to collect my grown-up responsibility.

No blizzard can keep an English teacher away from her true love, a stack of research papers.


Actually, that is not true. Grading research papers is not enjoyable. Of all my English teaching duties, it is my least favorite. But it’s also a duty I feel compelled to do, so every winter I spend a unit teaching freshmen the ins and outs of navigating the library and using MLA style and citing sources properly. It’s usually quite a mess, but if my students even come out of the unit with a somewhat-readable paper and an understanding of the word “plagiarism,” I feel I’ve accomplished something.

This morning, my motivation for driving to town in a blizzard was not so much for my students’ greater development in the world of research; but selfishly, the thought of getting the weight of the remaining ungraded research papers off my mind was just too irresistible to ignore. So to town I went. It really wasn’t that bad despite the hours of freezing rain we got overnight followed by hours of blustery snow this morning. I had to go 25 to 30 mph, but there were few vehicles on the road and even fewer trucks, a major relief. Of course, there is always the one idiot. Or two. On my way to town, I was passed by a pickup going about 50 on glare ice. Not smart. When I got to town 5 minutes later, he was only two vehicles ahead of me. Worth it? I think not. On the way home, I was passed by another pickup on glare ice. A few miles later, of course, he was backing out of the ditch. What is it with these guys?

I made it safely there and back, though, mission accomplished and research papers on the seat next to me. Once I got near our farm, our own road was nice and quiet, and the ice and snow stuck to the tree branches was so pretty I had to delay grading for a few minutes to take some pictures. It might be almost spring, but I still love winter storms. This one is even more bearable because we know that spring weather is indeed lurking somewhere around the corner, even a distant corner, and we won’t have many more of these blustery scenes until next winter.



Now, several hours later, I’m safely in my house, drinking coffee in my kitchen, watching the wind blow and the snow pile up outside. My remaining research papers are graded. I have to admit, this Snow Day couldn’t have come at a better time, considering the grading and lesson plans that have been building up and the lack of time to get them done. It might not be the laziest Snow Day I’ve ever had, but I’ll take it. It’s a Snow Day, and that deserves some capital letters. Congratulations to the rest of you who were lucky enough to get one, too!

I even painted my nails.

Note to self: I might have to come back and read this happy post later this spring when we add on that extra day on the end of the school year!

The corner of Snow Day and Utter Bliss
The corner of Snow Day and Happiness