Before Oklahoma was a state dozens of makeshift towns sprung from its red dirt to make room for hungry settlers drawn by a fantastic oil boom and promises of a new start. Today Black gold is proving to have the same seductive power, but in this case oil isn’t the only commodity people will pull up stakes for. Crowds are pouring into a town in Northwest Oklahoma, looking for jobs created by the oil, natural gas, and wind industries. But just like 100 years ago there may not be enough room for all of them…
Woodward, Oklahoma has a cycle. Monday through Thursday its busting at the seams and over the weekend the town deflates like a tire losing air. It’s Friday and people are on the way out. Lines of cars and trucks pile up at every stoplight. One of the local gas stations can have a car at every pump any time of day. And anywhere you go there’s trucks from Chesapeake energy, so and so’s pipeline, and such and such drilling.
Big Dan runs a local restaurant called…. you guessed it… Dan’s. It sits just to the side of a state highway leading into town.
“It’s tough, there’s guys that come in, and if their late like an hour or two hours, if they don’t call and say I’m going to be there it’s gone. They get here and their rooms are gone. They’ve been rented out to somebody else. During the week it’s really tough. If you don’t have a reservation don’t come looking for one.”
Dan’s place is across the way from the Northwest Inn, just one of the hotels that’s full up any day of the week.
“In the beginning of January this year we just saw another increase in occupancy and demand for guest rooms. A lot of that’s attributed to the oil gas and energy industries.”
Steve Kohl manages Northwest. He says a lot of guys want to find homes for rent so they can bring their families down but right now they’re stuck in hotels.
I asked Steve. “How long do most people stay here?”
“Basically they’re here Monday through Thursday. They check out, go home to their families, and then they want to come back and check back in.”
“Now there are some oil and energy industries out there that have basically secured contract rooms with some of the hotels here. So they’re on long term stays with them. They’re going to pay for the rooms whether they’re occupied or not occupied.”
So companies want these guys here so bad they’ll pay for rooms even if they’re not going to stay here?
“Yeah and in fact right now they’re looking at doing some type of camp up near Fort Supply so they can have they’re workers stay…. You know find a place for them to stay.”
Chesapeake Energy already has one of these camps set up behind their offices, but I didn’t get a chance for a tour.…. too muddy or something like that. Anyways these man camps are great for some guys but they’re not the best place to bring your family.
The Wilkersons are living in an R.V. park, one of the more popular options for a couple with two or more kids.
“My name is Cassandra Wilkerson and we’re from Marlo”
Why Woodward? Why did you come out here?
“The work is here all the oil fields out here are booming.”
Cassandra’s husband drives for RHR Truckers. They operate out of Anadarko.
“They haul water in rig loads.”
How many hours does he usually work?
“He usually works about eighteen. Yeah if he comes home at all. There’s a lot of sleeping in the truck.”
Alicia lives just across from Cassandra. Her family of eight is from Oklahoma City.
“This is where my husband’s family is from and we’re going to put a house out on the land, but we ended up staying at this R.V. park until our house is ready.”
Alicia found out Woodward is a textbook example of supply and demand. When there’s nothing available, people are willing to pay a lot more for a place to stay.
“There’s nowhere to rent houses down here all the houses are rented out by all the oil boomers running in here trying to get jobs and half these RV’s are sitting here really empty. These guys are out there making money but they’ve taken up all these houses.”
“We ended up staying in a motel for several weeks and prices down here for a bad motel is as high as the Hamptons in Oklahoma City. Yeah we just got one for tonight going into the City for $119.
Well we paid that for the Days Inn down here…we paid that for one night.”
I didn’t ask Alicia how long the house would take but any way you look at it they’re the lucky ones.
“Well yeah, our place is going to get built but for those that don’t have land and can’t build them a house, if there’s not any rental houses, no telling what their going to have to do… pitch tents next.”
Ironically, that might be exactly what’s happening. Rumor has it people are going back to the old days and pitching tents around well sites like the oil boomers who came before them.
“Yeah I’ve had people ask me, ‘You’ve got land out there? Are you willing to let any of us up…?’ No! Yeah I’ve heard it too I know they’re looking anywhere they can go right now. Because if you don’t have an RV….your going to find something.”
They’ll have to find something or pack up and look for a job somewhere else.