LIFE IN THE BAKKEN
by Gene Kellogg
I had just returned from San Antonio after working at my schizo paranoid aunt’s medical clinic for a year. One day I went to work with my Filipino friend Chris from the island of Cebu. He worked for a construction company in Chicago.
With a strong Filipino accent, he told me, “I have some vacation time coming up. I was thinking about visiting my cousin in North Dakota. Her husband makes a lot of money working there. Man if I were only single I’d move to North Dakota for work. But there’s not much to do there and the weather sucks! Wanna go there next week?” I replied, “Hmm, okay sure, haha!”
The next week we rented a car and first drove to South Dakota to go sightseeing. Since neither of us had seen Mount Rushmore we decided to go there first. Chris had nice fancy camera with a big lens. We took lots of pictures with Mount Rushmore in the background. But we usually had a finger pointed up in the air, instructing the other to move their finger to make it look as if we had a finger up the nose of one of the presidents in the background, haha! Sometimes my friend would stop and take many photos of his wife as if it was a fashion shoot or something. His wife would pose in sexy positions for him. I found this quite annoying.
We met a Filipino couple from Minot at Mount Rushmore. They asked us where we were headed next. We told them we were going to Williston, North Dakota. The woman replied, “Williston? There’s nothing there. Be careful, a truck might crash into you and people drive crazy there.”
Leaving Mount Rushmore, we stopped by Rapid City and ate at a Chinese buffet. It was quite good. Then we drove towards Williston. There was not much along the way. The closer we got to Williston, the more oil rigs there were. They reminded me of birds pecking for food, bending their heads down and coming near the ground. Besides each of the oil rigs was a giant flame burning off unwanted flammable gases. Some areas there were places that smelled like rotten eggs. It was H2S or better known as Hydrogen Sulfide gas coming up from the depths of the earth due to all the oil being pumped out.
The next day we arrived at a small home in the middle of the city. The street had many pickup trucks parked on either side. We arrived 9 am and from inside we heard speakers blaring. Greg’s kids were inside watching a movie. Greg came out and greeted us. He was a tall overweight man with red hair in his early 40s. As I shook his hand I noticed he was missing the last segment of his middle finger. I wondered how that happened. I suppose he cut it off on a table saw or something careless. He was of Norwegian descent. His wife Aletha was a short Filipino woman in her late 20s who he met online. Greg and Aletha had 2 kids together: Nathan, 5 a half Asian looking kid with brown spikey hair and Allie, 4 who didn’t look Asian at all. Greg had 2 red headed kids from another marriage Evie, 11 and Ethan, 10.
Everything seemed perfect. The kids were well behaved. We went to the park and the kids ran around and had a great time. Greg took us for a ride around the neighborhood on his dune buggy and showed us his speed boat parked in the backyard. He bragged about how fast it was and the two Corvette engines that propelled it. I asked, “Do you ever take it fishing?” Chris and I often went fishing in Illinois. Greg angrily replied, “This is a speed boat, not a fishing boat!” Chris didn’t talk much to Greg. It was as if he didn’t like him.
For breakfast Aletha cooked a bunch of pancakes, eggs and bacon. We went to Walmart and purchased some extra folding lawn chairs for a cookout later that day. The weather was nice and everyone was enjoying themselves. Greg purchased a case of beer and he and I were the only people drinking. We sat by the barbeque smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and eating pork and white rice. We got along real well. He spoke a lot about working for oil companies. He currently was working as a truck driver for a company that delivered oil to businesses. He apparently was paid very well because he could afford to pay the exorbitant rent for that tiny home in Williston.
Later that evening Chris told me we should be headed back. I had drank so many beers that along the way back there few gas stations. Chris pulled over on the shoulder of the highway and I relieved myself. It had to be the longest piss I ever took in my life. It seemed like it took over a minute for me to empty my bladder. I felt like a new man afterwards.
The road trip home was pleasant. We visited the Mall of America in Minnesota. From there, we went home. Even though I exchanged phone numbers with Greg, I didn’t expect to hear from him again.
I had been working on a construction design and 3d animation project for my buddy in Cali. I knew my friend Kiyu since grade school and we went to college together. He studied Law and I studied Computers and 3d graphics. I had been creating some proposed buildings and had created animated walk-throughs when I received a text message from Greg. He asked me if I wanted to work in North Dakota with him. Since Kiyu was already on his way to pick me up from Cali I told Greg I’d have to think about it.
A week later I finished the 3d animation for Kiyu. Greg asked me again about working with him. He said we’d be doing many things, but mainly construction work. Since I never lived in North Dakota before, I decided to give it a shot. If things didn’t work out I’d just continue driving west until I reached Cali.
During the last week of September I packed my things and loaded up my van. I punched in the address Greg had texted me and set off for North Dakota early in the morning. My father shook my hand and I gave him a hug. He had suffered a stroke and he had a ton of medical bills to pay. Most of the money I made was going toward paying for his bills and his home in Chicago. The closer I got to North Dakota the more overcast and rainy it became. 1-1/2 hours outside of Williston the highway got very difficult to see due to the thickest fog I’ve ever seen. I turned on the high beams on my van but it only reflected the light back towards me. That was how I was welcomed to the Bakken which is a subsurface rock formation of the Williston Basin underlying North Dakota, Montana and Canada. Beneath the Bakken there is a vast amount of oil.
Approaching my destination, Greg and I agreed to meet at Walmart where I followed him to my new temporary home. He and his family lived in an old 1971 Greyhound bus converted into a camper. There wasn’t much space inside. The front area had two benches and in the middle of the bus was a washroom. The rear of the bus were two sets of bunks on either side. In the far rear of the bus was Greg and Aletha’s bedroom.
Living on the bus with a family wasn’t the most convenient. There wasn’t much privacy and the kids are noisy. Things didn’t seem at all like when I visited them at the home they rented. Perhaps it’s because they now lived in a more confined space? Or maybe it was because they were just on their best behavior the day I met them?
Greg and Aletha’s had two spoiled children named Nathan and Allie. Their mother Aletha seemed lazy and she had Evie do most of the work. Aletha’s step children Evie and Ethan seemed as if they were second class amongst the kids. There wasn’t much to do in Williston. I’d go to Walmart and shop for food and items I didn’t really need. I love pies and I always like them with whip cream on top. I’d buy apple, cherry and pumpkin pie, whatever had the furthest expiration date. Evie and her siblings would always ask for a slice, but mostly Evie. She’d ask me for food or soda pop that I had purchased and I’d always tell her, “You don’t have to ask, just go ahead and grab whatever you want.” I figured she just had really good manners.
Later I discovered that she had to ask Aletha for anything she wanted in the refrigerator. I noticed that Aletha would ask Evie to go everywhere with her. Grocery shopping, trips to the laundromat, Evie didn’t have much of a choice. I got to become close to Greg’s kids, especially the mistreated stepchildren. My usual routine on weekends was to spend time at the Williston Public Library. I’d chat with my girlfriend Sophie in Sweden. I didn’t have wifi in the bus so weekends were fun. One Saturday I arrived home early from the library. I’d usually stay until closing. Evie and Ethan were there. Evie was babysitting a child. I microwaved some food and cut myself a slice of cherry pie. I offered Evie a slice and she accepted my offer, thanking me as I held the disposable plate and fork before her. Evie began complaining about how she was responsible for babysitting the children that Aletha was supposed to care for. “I should be the one getting paid. Aletha doesn’t do anything!” Evie exclaimed.
I asked, “Why do you and your brother live here? Do you like it here?” Evie replied, “NO! I hate it here!” Her eyes became watery and I could see the frustration in her face. I said, “You don’t have to live here if you don’t want to. Why don’t you ask if you can stay with relatives or with your real mother?” Evie didn’t reply. It’s as if something told her to stop talking about the subject with me. I’m certain she was scolded in the past about never discussing the matter with anyone. Soon after, Greg, his wife and two kids arrived. He was surprised to see me there early.
Nathan was a boy from Hell and he got away with everything. He was very loud, obnoxious and dying for attention. He would often walk around with two plastic toy shovels (one red and one blue), banging them on the floor. One evening one of them finally broke. I was ecstatic. He sadly approached me and held up two halves of the red shovel and asked, “Can you fix this for me? Glue it?” I replied, “Just throw it away, haha!” He still walked around banging the blue shovel on the floor but at least it was only half as annoying.
Nathan would often climb up and walk on the kitchen counter. Whenever he fell down I was laughing inside, “Muhahaha!” He would often try and get his older half-brother Ethan in trouble by crying whenever they fought for the same toy. Nathan always got away with it. Greg would yell at Ethan and he’d reply, “I didn’t do anything!” One day Ethan was in his top bunk on his back playing his handheld video game. Nathan climbed up and kept pestering his brother. Ethan took his video games seriously and he kicked Nathan off the top bunk. Greg came out and yelled at him for doing so. He made Ethan apologize to Nathan. That was another one of those moments where I was laughing inside after the thump onto the floor, “Muhahaha! Die demon child! Die!”
Greg and I worked for Gene and Eda Kellog out on a ranch in Watford City. Gene was a 50 year old overweight balding man of English and Norwegian heritage. Gene always wore a baseball cap to cover his balding head. Like everyone else does, he asked me, “Why do you shave your head bald? You still have hair.” I replied, “To make the transition into baldness more easier, haha!” Gene was missing the teeth adjacent to his front teeth. I don’t understand why he never got his teeth fixed? It wasn’t like he couldn’t afford it. He suffered from diabetes and had an electronic glucose monitoring device attached to his waist. Eda was a Filipina in her late 20s that Gene met online. Eda and Aletha met their spouses on the same mail order bride website. What a great convenient way to meet someone and fall in love?
The Kellog family owned quite a bit of land in Watford City. To me Watford City wasn’t much of a city actually. It was more of a town. Williston was more like a city but it didn’t have the “city” label. Everything seemed overpriced in Watford City. There was a rip-off grocery where many items cost more than a city like Chicago, but at least in Chicago there were people who would bag the items for you. Not in Watford City. At least the relatively low price of gas made up for the grocery expenses.
From Monday through Friday my routine was as follows:
4:30am: Wake up, take a shit in a toilet that wasn’t flushed in order to save water.
(I usually am constipated so I sat on the toilet for longer than an average person)
4:45am: Floss, gargle, shave and brush my teeth
4:50am: Bathe using a wash towel, soap and 1 approximately 1 liter of water
5:00am: Make a sandwich for lunch
5:05am: Fix some breakfast in the microwave and eat.
We left for work each weekday around 6 am. Greg would usually just wake up and change into his work clothes. He was a chain smoker and it was quite annoying how he would barely crack the windows on our commute to work. He always kept the heat on high in the car. We drove to work with a sporty sedan with a cracked front windshield. Many windshields were cracked in the Bakken. This is due to the rocks on highways and roads that get catapulted by truck tires. There were many trucks on the roads. Semi trucks hauled oil, water, sand, etc. All this was necessary for oil to be pumped from the ground.
Gene didn’t speak much to me at first. He mostly spoke to Greg. At the beginning and end of each work day Greg would enter their home and discuss thing for twenty to thirty minutes. I’d sit in the car and text friends or family and eat whatever I had left over from lunch. The drive home was the same as the drive to work. Greg would whine about the other drivers and the traffic (which was nonexistent to me in comparison to LA, NY or Chicago). We’d get home and I’d remove my boots and change into some clean clothing. The kids would be watch television making a lot of noise as usual. Soon after Aletha would fix something to eat. She liked cooking a large amount of food one day and we’d live off the leftovers for 3 more days, using the microwave to reheat things. I was really sick of leftovers after eating them two days straight.
Gene lived in a beige double wide home next to his parents’ white double wide beige home. His mother never visited the home next door. Every once in a while I’d see Gene’s mother Donna emerge. I was told she was a cousin of Nancy Reagan. She kind of looked like her actually, except her hair was white but she died it light brown. Donna’s husband always stayed inside.
The weather around the Bakken is very cold and chaotic. Weather varies from even as close as one mile away. Sometimes there are nasty blizzards that would last just 30 minutes and then the sky would clear up and it would be sunny. During winters the roads are icy and visibility is terrible. Why didn’t Greg just move closer to the work site? Greg kept complaining about traffic that was nonexistent. Maybe he’s never lived in a big city but the traffic was almost always flowing in and out of Williston during the early morning hours. He always drove and he never wanted me to drive there. Greg always said to me, “I have always driven everyone to work, even when I worked at the oil rigs.” Whenever Greg’s wife called he’d always finish his conversation with, “Goodbye. I love you. Muaahhhh!” Greg was always complaining about the other cars either driving too slow or too fast. He should’ve just paid attention to the road and stop whining. He appeared to be easily frustrated. I am a very positive person and I always look on the bright side. He and I were opposites but we got along well for the most part.
Greg would take back road routes that went off the main highway and onto scoria roads. Scoria is a type of hard red clay rock that is used on small highways and roads in North Dakota. The dust from the roads gets everywhere. Cars are filthy after driving over them. Sometimes semi trucks are turning or they drive over rocks that are flung into your front windshield. Several times a rock would came straight at me while I was sitting in the front passenger seat. Along the highways, some truck drivers would purposely drive over rocks on the shoulder or median strip to purposely hit cars behind them with rocks. Greg previously worked as a truck driver and he told me he did so himself. That’s so mean!
Greg and I were helping build Gene’s new home not far from his old home atop a hill. Greg was familiar with using heavy machinery like a backhoe and a skit steer. A backhoe is a tractor-like vehicle with a digging shovel on either end. The bucket in the rear is attached to a hinged boom so it can be maneuvered in many directions, while the shovel in the front moves up and down and can be tilted to dump its contents. Inside the vehicle is a swiveling seat to position the operator facing in either direction depending on which shovel is being maneuvered. At the bottom rear of the backhoe are stabilizer legs that can be positioned onto the ground in order to stabilize the equipment as the rear bucket is being maneuvered. The shovel in front is also laid onto the ground in order to keep the machine steady while it is excavating. Gene’s backhoe had four large wheels but his skit steer was equipped with tracks. A skit steer is a smaller vehicle with lift arms to attach a variety of attachments, such as a bucket or forks. Greg kept complaining about the skit steer because it had tracks on it, making it slower and difficult to maneuver. Gene bought many attachments for his skit steer, including a forklift attachment, a concrete mixer (which wasn’t very good and it required the door to be opened to control some of its functions). Gene had money to waste. I never drove any of the heavy machinery so I did most of the assisting work for Greg.
Two weeks into the job I was helping guide Greg who was operating the backhoe in front of me. I was telling him if he was clear of any obstacles while he was shifting some dirt from one location to another. He was discussing what he wanted to be done during a break. He usually was smoking a cigarette whenever he was taking a break. After our break was over he stepped inside the backhoe and started it up. Soon after in my left ear I heard what clearly sounded like an old Native American Indian that yelled, “Tecumseh!” Hearing and seeing ghosts was something that happened to me frequently. Learning that spirits feed off of fear I simply ignored what had just happened. I wondered, “Perhaps it was an echo or a strange mechanical noise that only sounded like an old native Indian chief yelling in my left ear? Yeah, right!” Later that day as we were driving home I told Greg what I heard. He replied sarcastically, “Oh really?” I answered, “It sounded pretty clear to me, but maybe it was just my imagination or the backhoe making some strange noise.” A week later Eda came up to the worksite with a concerned look on her face, “Ralph? Did you really hear a native man yell in your ear?” I don’t remember ever telling her? I replied, “It sounded like someone but it probably was the equipment making a weird noise.” She said, “There aren’t any native burial sites for at least 20 miles from here. So you couldn’t have heard a native spirit.” Unconvinced, I replied, “Yeah, I guess not.” Of course I thought, “S-u-u-u-u-r-r-r-r-e. It was my imagination.” I googled “Tecumseh” and I discovered he was a famous native war chief. Was he talking to me? I am confused for being a native. Some friends even think I have some native blood in me. I asked a native friend and she told me the spirit was warning me to get away from that place because it was not safe. Knowing that Gene owned a multitude of weapons I thought likewise also, haha!
We spent the first few weeks excavating the foundation for the new home. The ground consisted mostly of clay. The soil wasn’t good for much. The boring terrain is comprised of grassy hills and buttes. There were very few trees because the soil wasn’t good enough for tree roots to maintain a good foothold. Most of the trees were along creeks (locals pronounced them “cricks”).
Days were long, especially because Greg seemed to be taking his time working. I was often bored but I kept myself busy. Greg and I worked by ourselves for the most part. It was funny because whenever I’d mention that I hadn’t seen Gene or his wife for hours, one of them would magically appear five minutes later. I joked with Greg that they had a hidden camera and microphone atop the hill.
Gene had many security cameras hooked up around his home. Strangely, they were all wired cameras. He didn’t trust wireless devices. He even thought something was jamming his cell phone signal. I just figured he had a poor signal since he lived in the middle of nowhere.
One day we were informed that Eric, the night shift security guard would switch duties and start helping us the following week. Eric was an army war vet. He had tattoos on his arms and drove around in Gene’s black dually pickup truck. At the end of our shift, he’d arrive to work with classic rock music blasting from the car speakers. He was a big fellow and had a loud voice. Eric seemed like he was a very bossy person but he was quite funny. Eric also married a Filipina named Zinnie. She was a dark skinned woman with a very strong Filipino accent. Like Aletha, she spent much of the day watching Filipino satellite television channels. Doing so wasn’t improving her English and I was surprised to learn she had lived in USA for six years. It was very hard to understand Zinnie. Like Gene and Eda, Eric and Zinnie met on a mail order bride website also.
The following Monday, Eric, Zinnie and her son paid us an unexpected visit at the work site. Zinnie and Eric were arguing. Eric was quitting. Zinnie worked as a housekeeper and babysitter for Eda. Eric and Zinnie were a team. They both quit at the same time. That was sudden. Gene and Eda seem so nice. At the end of the work day Eda spoke to Greg and I and urged us to bring up any work related problems so something like this would never happen again.
Gene owned lots of camera equipment. He majored in Photography in college and used to own a photography business. He told me, “I usually was hired to take photos at rodeos and other events. I used to post the photographs on my website online but they’d just steal the photos.” I replied, “Aw, man. That sucks.” But I thought, “That’s why you watermark your photos, you dumb fuck!” Gene always called PCs a “piece of crap”. His office consisted of a Mac and several older Macs. I’m more of a PC person myself. For some reason I find that Mac people are haters of PCs. Why is that? It’s probably because PCs are too sophisticated for simple brained people. PC haters always claim how Macs are better for graphics and music. Yes that is true but there are also many drawbacks. Most software is made PCs. Mac software is much more expensive. One day Gene asked me, “Hey Ralph, can you look at my Mac? I think it’s broke. It won’t turn on anymore.” Two weeks later when I was free and remembered I was supposed to look at it, I went into his office to see what was wrong with his Mac 27 inch LCD monitor and computer. I asked him, “Hmm, where’s the power button?” He pressed a button on the corner of the screen and no lights turned. I traced the power cord back to the rear of the computer and discovered it had come loose. Quick fix, doh! I told Gene, “Try turning it on again.” Gene exclaimed, “Oh man! I should’ve asked you two weeks ago!” I replied, “I didn’t do anything.”
Gene and Eda were devout Christians. I often heard happy positive Christian music emanating from Eda’s MacBook or Gene’s Mac. I found it annoying Gene would regularly play the one hit from ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) “Don’t Bring Me Down”. Cheesy. Gene and Eda were recluse and had few friends. They had three children together. Kavin 8, Neveah 5, Lexi (Alexis) 4 and Maria 2. Kavin was Eda’s son from another man.
During the construction project there were many alterations in the design. Greg found this very frustrating. I was creating a 3d floor plan of the basement. Atop the structure was what Gene referred to as a “modular home”. To me this was just a glorified double wide or trailer home. The design was often changed by Eda, then Gene and so forth. Changes were made on a weekly basis. I didn’t mind. I was being compensated for all the delays. We hadn’t reached any points of no return yet.
Once the foundation’s ground was level, we began laying out string and snapping chalk lines. Firstly we had to lay pipe for all the plumbing. Greg wasn’t the most skilled home builder. He kept bragging how he had built homes in the past from ground up. For some reason Greg chose to use 2 inch PVC for drainage pipe in case the basement got flooded. Even though it was a safety precaution, 2 inch pipe was too small a diameter. I didn’t question his expertise. He always snapped back whenever I questioned his decisions. Once all the pipes were laid out, Eda wanted to test the pipes to make sure no water leaking. This infuriated Greg. I didn’t understand why. He felt as if they didn’t trust his craftsmanship. The moment of truth arrived. Eda stood there with a video camera recording everything as Greg and I walked to different pipes, pouring a bucket of water into them. Nothing leaked. Success!
Eda and Gene intended to start a construction company. They called it “Braveheart Construction”. I thought that sounded cheesy. Over time I realized that Greg grew less and less interested in being a foreman for their “company”. We were using this home as a sort of training exercise for this construction company. As this project went on I realized Greg was making increasingly poor decisions and purposely causing delays.
The next step was to compact the floor using a gas powered tamper machine. This machine just vibrated and moved forward along the surface, sort of like driving a lawn mower. We were preparing the ground for the footing around the structure. Footings are concrete structures around the perimeter and supporting walls of a home. We chose to make the footing 1 foot in depth. We created a framework of long wide planks of wood and secured them in place using wooden stales. Homes are built differently in the Midwest. I asked Greg, “Why not pour the floor and footings all at the same time like is done in the Midwest? Greg answered, “This is how structures have been built for thousands of years. Even the Egyptians used footings.” I answered, “Okay then, everywhere but in the Midwest.” He rebutted, “We could do it that way. But in this case we aren’t.”
The structure was very large: 76 feet long by 31 feet wide. There was another room at the southwestern corner that was 16 feet by 16 feet. This was to be the safe or panic room. This room was to have 2 large expensive safe doors installed. Being a great planner, Gene purchased these months in advance before they were ever installed. The heavy doors just took up a car space in his mother’s garage. The basement walls were to be 10 foot high. The prefabricated home was to rest atop our structure. The walls were to be made of 8 inch rebar reinforced concrete walls. I figured Gene was some gun toting doomsday prepper.
As we neared the deadline for the basement structure to be completed, Gene got more stressed. He kept complaining about how the new home saleswoman Dakotah was trying to rip him off. He said, “She wants me to pay the remainder of the amount and we haven’t even seen photos of the new home and it hasn’t been delivered!” What a joke. Gene and Greg were similar in that they were easily frustrated and stubborn. If it were me, I would have just backed out of the deal if I were uncomfortable. But not stubborn Gene.
After we finished the footing framing, we spread a layer of sand and stone inside the framing and laid rebar on the floor to reinforce the concrete. We contacted a concrete company and purchased the necessary tools: hand trowels, shovels, 2x4’s to slide across the framework to level the surface and a power screed. A power screed is a gas powered device with two handles that vibrated atop the concrete surface. It had a long flat aluminum blade on the bottom to make the surface smooth.
Anticipation grew as the day came for the big concrete footing pour. Gene, Greg and I were prepared or we thought we were. Eda was ready with her video camera to record our work. She was documenting everything and taking photos for a future website for Gene’s “Braveheart Construction Company”. I wonder where he came up with that name anyhow. When I hear the term “braveheart” all I picture is Mel Gibson with blue war paint on his face. Perhaps that is Gene’s favorite movie or he found Mel Gibson attractive or something. Greg always referred to our boss as “Genie the Weenie”. Gene never acted very masculine. I suppose all his firearms made him feel safe. I’m sure he was picked on and beat up often growing up.
The first concrete mixing truck arrived and out came a Latino man who didn’t speak English very well. In the back of the concrete truck, Greg and Gene took turns maneuvering the chute to aim where concrete flowed down. The Latino truck driver was at the rear of the truck manning the controls. He made it difficult for us and there was a communication problem. The man was very scared about getting too close to the edge of the giant pit we dug out in the hill. The ground was steady and firm but the driver refused to get too close to the edge, fearing it would collapse. Just an hour into it and Gene acted like he was about to pass out. We spent hours shoveling wet concrete to and fro and rotated our duties. Since Gene wasn’t fit to help much he was relegated to manning the chute form then on.
At one point I stood there with the power screed and Gene wasn’t paying attention. When concrete trucks are nearly empty there is a higher ratio of rocks in the mixture. As I was holding the power screed, Gene dumped a bunch of rocks over my head. Having a nearly shaved head but wearing just a baseball cap, I was yelling at Gene, “HEY! GENE! HEY GENE! STOP!” My cries were in vain. I had nowhere to go. I didn’t want to go back and ruin the concrete that I had just smoothed out and I could not get in Greg’s way who was shoveling concrete around, so I had to stand in place. I wanted to just drop the machine but I didn’t want to damage it or ruin the smooth concrete. The next day my head itched. I scratched my head and I was peeling skin off my head. I discovered I had scabs all over the top of my head. “Damn you fuckin’ Gene!”
The second concrete mixing truck driver was Caucasian. He was much more helpful and we had no communication issues with him. He drove closer to the edge of the wall and was more helpful. We had the most difficulty pouring and distributing concrete in the center of the foundation. We kept telling the driver to get just a little closer and reassuring him that the ground was safe and strong enough to support the truck. The man later stepped out of his truck and made the sign of the cross and looking up toward the heavens praying nothing bad would happen. We all laughed. To finish things off, we stuck rebar vertically down into the center of the footings. The rebar was to support the outer walls of the structure.
We were exhausted but the footings were done. On the northern side there was one footing that was bowed out since there was a lack of stakes hammered into the ground beside the wood frame. Oops! But that didn’t matter because in the end everything would be covered with concrete to cover the floor. We were exhausted and covered in concrete dust. That was our first real test and the hardest we’d worked so far. That was just the beginning. The other steps were going to get progressively harder and the weather was going to get worse since winter was just around the corner.
Weeks went by. The fall was quite mild for this area. The days were mostly sunny but the days that rained were miserable. The ground became muddy and if your boots weren’t laced up tight enough your shoe might get stuck in the wet mud or clay.
Gene owned an annoying black cat named Pepper. He’d jump on the table and try and scavenge food from me whenever I was eating. Then there was Bear. He was a large 2 year old German Shepherd. He was an untrained dog that was very playful yet annoying. Each morning as we neared Gene’s house in our work car, Bear would follow us and block our path and when we exited the car, he’d greet us by trying to jump on us. Greg hated Bear.
Sometimes Bear would bite me on my ankles because he wanted me to play with him or didn’t want me to go. Bear always wore a GPS tracking/shock collar with a long flexible rubber coated antenna on it since Bear often wandered off. Gene always claimed someone was leading him or taking him away. Gene kept saying, “Bear’s our first line of security.” That dog was so stupid that if he’s your first line of security then you don’t have a chance. He’d much rather walk up to a stranger and play fetch than try and attack anyone. One day a man drove up to the home in a new black pickup truck. He asked Gene if the dog was his and told him the dog jumped onto his car and scratched it. It cost Gene hundreds of dollars to fix the paint job. If that were my dog I would’ve been shopping for a new dog after that.
Whenever Gene and Eda weren’t around, Greg would try to kick the dog whenever he got close to him. Being a chain smoker, Greg would often sit in our work car smoking and talking to his wife. Whenever the opportunity arose, Greg would quickly swing the driver side door open in hopes of hitting the dog. It was rare but Greg was elated whenever he did hit Bear with the car door. Bear regularly tried to bite our work car’s tires and bark at us whenever we were driving away. He’d even be as bold to stand in front of cars trying to leave the residence. One morning Greg got too carried away and drove a little too fast around Bear who was racing across in front of him and ran him over by accident. “Thump,” as something struck against the front driver side of the car. Not paying attention in the front passenger seat, I asked, “What was that?” Greg slammed on the brakes and jumped out and ran behind the car. Greg inspected the dog, making sure none of its legs were broken and there was no blood visible. Greg patted Bear on its neck and on the top of its head for ten seconds. Bear walked away gingerly as if he was in some discomfort. This was the only form of sympathy he ever offered the dog. Greg returned and said, “Whew, I almost got fired.” He jumped in the car and we drove off to the hardware store for supplies.
The floor plan called for a 33 foot beam to extend from the west end wall to the center of the structure, running along the marriage line where the two halves of the modular home met. I came to the realization that Greg wanted to delay the entire project. He often whined about the project during the commute to Gene’s home. His anger built up each day as we neared Gene’s home. Each day was the same. Greg would say how he’s had enough and things have got to change from now on. He’d exit the car angrily and once he reached their doorstep he was a different person and all smiles. Greg was bipolar. What a weirdo.
Greg told Gene to contact a structural engineer to inspect the latest design and specify what was necessary to support the long beam. This delayed us another two weeks. The steel beam took weeks to arrive. In the meantime Greg and I had to make some modifications to the footings we had made. The engineer informed us that we had to make larger concrete footings to support the column that was holding up the eastern side of the beam. We had to make adjustments to the footing that ran through the center of the home. Gene, Greg and I drove 3 hours to Dickinson, North Dakota to an equipment/machinery rental store to purchase a concrete saw that could cut through rebar and 1 foot of concrete footing. A short haired blond muscular 20 year old 20 clerk stood behind the counter. Pointing at the wall, Gene asked, “Which of these concrete saws do you recommend?” On the wall were 3 saws with the cheapest on the bottom and the most expensive one on top. The clerk answered, “People renting the best model have been having some issues with the saw, so I recommend the middle model.” Gene walked up to the counter and asked for the most expensive model. I thought, “What an idiot!” The clerk responded sarcastically, “Whatever Gene wants, Gene gets. Haha.”
The next day Greg and I spent a lot of time cutting a large chunk of the center footing away. The engineer claimed our footing was not strong enough for the weight load above it. We had to make a footing that was 4 foot square instead of 3 foot square to support the column under the beam. It took hours to cut through and break apart the footing. The footing was very strong. It was 1 foot in deep and 3 feet wide. Greg grew frustrated after we finished cutting through the rebar and concrete. I asked, “Why don’t you use the backhoe?” He quickly disappeared and returned with the machine. Greg used the extended the rear boom and used the rear bucket to pound the newly cut concrete section until it came loose. Greg pounded on the concrete until the piece finally broke off. Greg damaged a section of the footing in the. Greg and I felt that we actually weakened the structural integrity of the center footing. Greg exclaimed, “That stupid engineer! An extra foot wider is overkill. What a waste of time. Fuck this!” The engineer also instructed us to break up the concrete footing at the western end of the beam’s support column, and increase the size there 1 foot also.
Gene, Eda, Greg and I had a meeting. We came to the conclusion that our concrete footings were already strong enough and to disregard the engineer’s suggestions. This home was built like a bombproof shelter in a hill. We just wasted another two weeks waiting for the engineer to give us instructions. We continued on with the project that was already a month behind schedule. We had to pick up the pace because winter was soon approaching and North Dakota winters are severe.
I spent most my life living in Chicago. I remember the harsh winters when I was a child. Living in North Dakota wasn’t too bad for me. I kept telling everyone that the weather was like reliving my childhood.
One day I had to pay the local insurance agent a visit in town. My vehicle was insured through his company. He was a 50 year old blonde well-dressed man who grew up in the area and moved away, later returning to that area. He and I had a discussion about global warming. I told him how the climate in Chicago had gotten warmer over the years. He disagreed with the theory of global warming and that some areas of the world had actually gotten colder and in the long term everything hasn’t changed much. I thought, “Okay, sure.” I didn’t want to argue with him. I thought, “Hell, I don’t want that fucker raising my rates! Haha!”
Each day the weather got a bit colder. One day a semi truck arrived loaded with ICF’s (Insulated Concrete Forms). ICF’s are white hollow blocks of polystyrene foam that interlock like Lego Blocks. Assembling them was fun yet tedious. After laying down one row, we’d secure the blocks to adjacent blocks using plastic zip ties. Then we’d lay a piece of rebar across the inside of the blocks. When we got to the top row, we’d drop lay a piece of rebar vertically every 3 feet apart. They ICF’s were staggered so that the end of one block lined up with the center of the next block above it. The majority of blocks were straight pieces, however we also used blocks designed for corners and T-type intersections where 2 walls met. We started laying ICF’s from corner and worked our way toward the center. In the middle of each wall there was a bit of a discrepancy. We had to cut adjoining blocks to size and fill in the gap using spray foam.
Once the walls reached a certain height, we had to start cutting out rectangles for the doors and windows. I was responsible for helping design the placement of the doors and windows. For some reason Greg never allowed me to spend much time to discuss the design with Eda. I told him, “How am I supposed to design the basement without sitting down with Gene and Eda? They have to tell me where the doors and windows are supposed to go.” The design phase was very difficult because Gene and Eda were constantly in disagreement. Floor plans were designed and redesigned frequently. I was a bit annoyed but I didn’t care. I was being paid for my time. Greg hated how the floor plan was coming out. He kept informing me how he’d design the home. I just ignored him. It wasn’t his house to begin with. I did my best not to argue with him since he was the foreman but there were times when I raised my voice. On one occasion Greg had to cut out the foam wall to design where a door was to be placed. Gene, Eda, Greg and I were all in disagreement. I like to design things in a functional yet a flowing feng shui manner. There were many factors to consider. In the end, I positioned the door to the entertainment room in a place that Eda and I agreed upon. Greg didn’t agree but it was too late. He even argued with me that the terrain had to be altered. So it had to be altered to get the door where Eda wanted it.