A Man Named Scott

 

Being only a mile off the interstate, we get our fair share of strangers wandering into the farm. Most of them are looking for directions and some have pushed their fuel mileage too much to reach Fargo. We gladly oblige their requests when we’re able. After all, there isn’t much available in Galchutt.

It wasn’t exactly a shock today when a weathered looking man wearing a pea coat walked down our driveway. I had seen him a few minutes before, working on his truck a few hundred yards down one of three empty gravel roads in town.

He needed a tool – a half inch socket – to tighten a few loose bolts on the engine in his truck. His socket set was metric and the 13 millimeter socket was just a bit too generous to allow for correct torquing. I told him I’d be right back and went inside to grab the necessary tools.

I offered to give the man a hand, not fully knowing the source of the problem. We introduced ourselves as we walked to his truck. The man, maybe not more than 35, was named Scott. He had been in North Dakota since 2009 working in the Bakken oil patch.

Scott, however, had fallen on hard times. Unlike the oil, the work had dried up. Scott spent most of his time on a daylighting crew based out of Minot. The money and the luxury it afforded was great while it lasted. But now, he said found himself doing odd jobs such as siding and roofing while proudly showing off a finger laceration he incurred on his last job site. There was a pride in his voice that he could do whatever he needed to make ends meet.

Scott was on his way back home; Hays, Kansas to be exact. He was hoping to find better luck back closer to his family. North Dakota had been good to him, he said, but with work becoming harder and harder to find it was time to move on. He quickly quipped that he wouldn’t miss the weather, not that I could blame him.

The rust spotted beige GMC held every possession Scott had, including a tan boxer mix named Scooby. The truck was a gift from a friend, something to get him back to Kansas. But, like any 40 year old vehicle, the truck had seen far better days.

Scott and I gazed at the oversized six cylinder engine. He pointed out the oil leaks from a cylinder head that was barely hand tight. I was baffled the truck ran, let alone made it the nearly 300 miles from Minot. He quickly went to work, tightening the bolts as best he could while half dangling over the wheel well into the engine compartment.

It was important he made it home this weekend. Scott choked up as he told me of the son and daughter he hadn’t seen for 2 years. He promised them he’d be there for Christmas. With a solid 10 hours of monotonous prairie driving ahead of him, there was a chance Scott could make it home in time to make good on that promise. But, only if the truck held together.

He finished tightening up the bolts and topped off the oil with what he had left from a container in the bed of his truck. As it was Christmas and most small town service stations are closed, I gave Scott an extra 2 quarts and a funnel just in case he’d need it along the way.

Scott and I shook hands. He gave me a hug – the kind two old friends give each other after being apart for a long time. He climbed in the driver’s side of the old truck, turned the key, and pumped the gas as the starter strained to turn over the old Detroit-built motor. With a puff of black smoke, the truck fired up. Scott was back on the road.

I couldn’t help but be moved by the whole situation. As I walked down the empty, gravel packed Galchutt Avenue to my house, a realization came upon on me.

Scott’s story embodies the oil boom. Like North Dakota, Scott started the boom with opportunity and dreams. The sky was truly the limit. Now, he leaves with nothing but lost time, mixed experiences, and scars. Scott gets to walk away and go home; the rest of us in North Dakota are already there.

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