Rig Porta-Johns in North Dakota might be good for business, but they’re not where you want to spend a lot of time. Source: Morguefile

I sit here today, writing this, and hiding out from a cold snap that will get anyone’s attention. It is 31 below zero. I feel like Boris Pasternak writing Doctor Zhivago.

As a Texas hand working up in North Dakota for two years now, I have had to make some adjustments to my lifestyle to live and work in near arctic conditions. Obviously, proper clothing is a must. Even if I’m just going to the trash can (100 yards here in the camp), dressing takes about 10 minutes. The key is, don’t show any skin. You need to be dressed like you are going to make a withdrawal at somebody else’s bank. Then, don’t track too much snow in, and undressing partially takes another few minutes. So, something I might do at home in three minutes now takes about 30. Ya just deal with it. Last year I lost skin from my nose, ears and fingers, and froze one eye shut. Turns out I had a frostbitten cornea, which took a week to clear.

It’s generally about the end of October when you can tell that winter is on the way. Lottie had been up here a couple times in the summer and loved it, but swore she would not winter up here until I built her a house. (I’m working on that.) Out of the clear blue, she called me around the first of November and said she’s coming up. This was great news to me since my hitches are sometimes pretty long, and she tolerates me pretty well.

It surprised me because, as a southern girl, she’s never seen one snowflake, let alone black ice, 10-foot drifts, etc. As soon as she arrived, I took her to the store and bought her enough winter gear to outfit an Eskimo village. She wanted to know where the more fashionable winter clothes are and I had to explain that they were probably in Chicago. This is a boom town and staying warm comes WAAAYYYY before a fashion statement.

It was after midnight before we got to the camp. That was when we discovered our first “minor” disaster. I have been in the habit of setting a can of soup on top of my gas heater to warm up. It works pretty well too … if ya watch it. Apparently, I had been gone a little too long because by the time we got here, a bean-and-bacon grenade had gone off. Remnants of the can were in the kitchen, beans were on the ceiling, walls and floor. Lottie took one look and developed an attitude you could expect from a baptized cat! She banished me to the truck while she worked her magic and turned a disaster back into a home. We got to bed about 2:00 a.m.

By then, the weather was getting a little cool, 10 to 15 degrees at night and above freezing during the day. About the second or third night, it snowed about 6 or 8 inches. Though it was beautiful, Lottie wondered what in the heck she was doing up here. Since there was a pretty good drift, I had to push hard to get the door open so I could get out to shovel and start the truck. When I came back in, Lottie was just staring through the window. After about 15 minutes, I let her in! Just kidding. We had a fine time, she stayed a month and I sure was sad to see her go home, but I gotta admit, North Dakota winter would probably sour a Georgia Peach.

Along about that time, another reality of winter set in. My holding tank froze! It sure is easy to take for granted the little conveniences of civilization, such as a flush commode. Now, my camp-and most rigs-have Porta-Johns, but they seem to work better in the summer. After a couple trips out there, I realized that is NOT the kind of place you take a book and relax. The solution, which is crude but worked well enough for our ancestors, was a bucket. This, I further refined with trash bags and a fine toilet seat I liberated from a friendly plumber. It is a simple matter to properly dispose of the trash bag. (I still haven’t figured out what “proper disposal” means.)  It works so well that I also carry it in the back of my truck for field use. I keep the seat in the cab so it stays warm. Problem solved.

I don’t much like to use the “facilities” at a rig-you never know what condition they might be in-so I fend for myself in that regard. Last year, I was on the high-line in a blizzard, and had been on the rig floor laying down tools. I had worked up a pretty good sweat when the “call of nature” hit. I headed for the Porta-John and enthroned myself. It was at that moment that I realized that the combination of the cold and the sweat on my posterior had frozen my nether regions to the seat! If I jumped up, I would lose a fair amount of very tender skin … so … while I “performed my civic duty,” I just let my body heat thaw the affected area. Eventually, all was well, but I sure was glad to get my arctic gear hitched back up! I was more careful after that.

All in all, I have a pretty good handle on how to survive like our ancestors did, and enjoy the weather most of the time. Road conditions are the worst. You never know who is coming at you from the other way. I told one young roughneck from Louisiana that he ought to put his license plate on upside down. “Why?,” he asked. “So we can read it in the ditch …”

It’s another couple months til mud season, so I’ll just hunker down and enjoy.  ND