Patti Faustini: How you can benefit from the Eastern Montana/North Dakota Bakken Oil Boom, Part 3: housing and cost of living

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February 9, 2012

In this, Part 3 of the series, I’ll be addressing the RV/housing situation and the cost of living in prairie oil boom towns:

Lots of folks need housing in order to work in the Bakken oil fields of eastern Montana and western North Dakota: RV sites, rentals and other housing can be hard to come by. But, yes, the jobs are there.

True, if you have an RV you have housing, but finding a spot for your RV can be a challenge. The Wal-Marts and RV parks are often full and many RV sites are reserved through the next several months. Lots of guys live in “man camps” and other barrack/dormitory style housing. It’s not paradise, but neither is unemployment.

If you, or someone you know, will go where the jobs are, and are willing to embrace the challenges, read on:

I just made a total of nine telephone calls to property rental places, RV parks, one police department, and employers with posted job openings in different small towns in these areas. This is what I learned (from talking with a bunch of really great, helpful guys):

1) Do not just show up in these oil boom towns without a place to live. Get yourself set up, have a job and a housing plan before you head out.

2) If I were looking for an RV site, I’d call a Realtor or property rental place. I’d ask if they know of any RV spots (maybe somebody’s driveway, seriously…), and assuming they say, “Not really,” I’d offer to pay a “finder’s fee” that makes it worth their while, if they could find a place for my RV. It never hurts to ask, and I’d be willing to pay someone who could get things set up for me. The cost of living is high because of the boom: you’ll pay accordingly to park your RV.

And speaking of that RV, winter on the Great Plains makes winter in Chicago look like Palm Springs. If you’re taking an RV to eastern Montana or western North Dakota during the winter, you’ll need to invest in heavy duty skirting, heat tape on the lines, and a power house storm door. The wind blows steadily and winter temps can get 20 below zero, or lower. Can you say “wind chill factor?” Most RVs aren’t cut out for this kind of weather, so you’ll need to research how to adapt yours to the climate. Note: the winter of 2011-12 has been about the mildest winter on record, but it’s an aberration, for sure.

3) The best advice I heard: Get your job before you arrive. Many places hire over the phone. Ask your new employer about housing or RV sites. Employers know what’s going on over there; it’s in their interest to get you set up. There are Bakken rental places that work with employers to provide housing. I just talked with a guy at Bakken rental, and they do currently have housing. He said they offer a weekly or nightly rate, if folks want to check things out before they make big decisions. But the rate he quoted isn’t cheap, let me tell you (I’m still in recovery). In order to get their rental discount, you need to be employed by an employer who works with the rental company. The the costs are manageable.

Without exception, everyone I talked with was compassionate about people’s need for housing; they were helpful; had specific ideas and great, welcoming attitudes.

In conclusion, the jobs are there. The experts predict the Bakken oil will be in production for several more years, if not decades.

It’s just a matter of doing one thing before you head that way:

Your homework: Check everything out and get yourself set up ahead of time.

Happy tales,


Leave a Reply


  1. Hey Patrick, “Surf” huh? What makes me think there must be some serious stories out there!

    I hope your comments give insight and encouragement to readers who are considering heading to eastern Montana or north Dakota. The kind of solidarity and courage that can be found in oil boom towns, even with the challenges, make for great memories, which you surely have…and good money!

    Happy tales,


  2. Patrick Greenburger

    Hi Patti — I’d like to add there is great pleasure living in an atmosphere of determined doers, people with purpose, willing to sacrifice a few inconveniences of comfort for their long range goals for self and family, rather than being in the midst of whiners who waste their energies and our patience pointing blame for their lack of achievement on others.

    I clearly recall one evening in the Valdez Club, the blue collar workers bar, where the real money was! A band comprised of my buddy ‘pipeline workers’ played, ‘Take me home country roads.’ To say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house would be an understatement. Tears were running down the checks of many who came to Alaska, work the pipeline construction month after month, some for years, leaving their families, wives and children back home in the lower 48 to build on their futures. Very few spent on prostitutes who actually went broke in a few weeks and either left town or found regular work locally. Very few wasted money gambling, despite the stories that came out at the time.

    After the Alaska pipeline I waited for the gas pipeline proposed to be built between Point Barrow and the states to go through, but I grew older faster then that project developed.

    We need money to eat and we need adventure to live.

    If any Alaska pipeliners of that period read this, I worked for Morrison Knudsen on the Valdez terminal as a party chief and my nickname was Surf. I was such a character, my buddys waiting for me to ‘wipe out’ as the term goes, get fired 🙂 It was fun because the isolation made it a necessity.

    Best regards to all,


  3. Hello again, Patrick, and thanks for your comments. Amen! Wow! I’m so glad you sent that article about the Valdez days…and they quote you in it! It’s another reminder there’s nothing new under the sun; these booms have happened before, and smart people (a/k/a “you! “) will run with the opportunitiies. As long as folks go in with eyes wide open, these booms can be life changing for the better, and create huge financial success for the willing, as you found out. I hope our country is still producing people tough enough to embrace these kinds of challenges. Thanks for writing!

    Happy tales,


  4. The reality is that those who have a work ethic, nothing is hard to do, simply because the satisfaction of overcoming the obstacles is reward in itself. Of course having the smarts to go where the monetary reward is highest in a field one has an interest in is always best. Alaska at the time was an adventurers magnet in itself and then throw in driving up the 1,100 mile gravel Alcan, which back in ’74, was not the super straightened paved ‘Alaska Highway’ it is today. Back then it was a wonderful adventure in itself.

    I found a web site that has a news article in regards to the housing issue in Valdez at that time;,1226432

    Best regards to all,


  5. Patti faustini

    Hi Donnie, my husband said the same thing: are people tough enough “these” days to endure much of anything, even for good money? I don’t know, but it’s certainly ponder-worthy.

    Thank you for your comments and insights,

    Happy tales,


  6. Donnie Anderson

    There is no-one out there today that is tough enough to endure what you did for 30 months, regardless of the money. Unless they crawled under the barbwire from south of the boarder. We Americans have gotton to D$@# lazy and soft. We want daddy to give it to us. If I was about 40 years younger and / or in better health I would love to work somewhere for that kind of money, regardless of the conditions.

  7. Hey Butterbean, It’s always great hearing from you. I’m glad you ‘ve enjoyed the series. How’s life among them thar Longhorns?

    Happy tales,


  8. Thanks Diane, yup…there’s a lot going on in Montana and North Dakota right now. JOBS ! I definitely want to let our wonderful readers know all about it!

    Happy tales,


  9. Hi Patrick, and how great to hear from you! Those sound like good memories, and I do think your point is well taken: that if people are willing to accept and embrace the challenges (as you clearly did) and get educated about the reality of the situation, money can be made during these oil booms.

    Great response. Thank you, and

    Happy Tales,


  10. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Patti,

    Good info and the comments are also good.

    See ya!!!

  11. Patrick Greenburger

    Your blog on the housing problems in Eastern Montana take me on a sentimental journey. In 1974 I went to Alaska to find a job building the Alaskan pipeline. All I had was an old Chevy, my 8 year old son, my girlfriend, a collie and a tent in which we lived in for four months hiding our campsite in the bush beyond the streets of Valdez. Squatters were evicted by the police where ever they found you. We both found jobs, saved our money, and four months into our adventure we bought a second hand Indian Winnebago for $8,000 and as was said on the ‘Jefferson’s’ TV show, we were moving uptown! Running water! A shower. A furnace! A real stove and oven. An almost real bed. It was luxury living in comparison, but we had no place to park the first month! By the time snow came to Valdez we had secured a trailer site in Robe River Subdivision which we rented for $150.00 a month, plus electricity. Thirty months later, having made my money and almost losing my mind, I left, never having to work again, living on the investment income my hard earned and very patient labors provided me. Now, in my 60s, rather than fighting winters in my hometown in New England, I snowbird around the southwest in my third motor home. Presently in Silver City NM, rather than Arizona which I found to be too crowded in past years other than being in the desert, but I need cell service, Internet access and something to do besides wait for spring.

    My advice to anyone thinking of taking on the challenge of working the oil fields, if you’ve got the gumption, the determination to overcome all obstacles, knowing the obstacles, and have saleable skills, go for it! You may find the adventure as rewarding as the money.

    Best of good fortune,


  12. Diane Berry

    Great info, Patti. Good to see you here again!