Friday, November 15, 2013

Bakken Fail....Trucking accidents in North Dakota

The Bakken Oilfields, or the Bakken for short, is that crazy place up in North Dakota you hear about from time to time. The Bakken formation is actually a huge oil deposit the sits under the states of Montana, North Dakota, two Canadian Provinces, and even some of South Dakota. They kept doing ground surveys while I was up there and the amount of oil under all that land just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Before I left I was reading an article that they had found even more oil under the current formation. Eat your heart out Middle East!

I drove a truck while I was up there. I hauled miles of pipe, huge portable buildings and large tanks down those dusty and muddy roads of North Dakota. I learned real fast you have to have some respect for the road conditions up there, and the crappy roads too. One turn of your head and an inch of rift of the steering wheel and you are in the ditch faster than you can blink. You have to respect what you have on the back of your truck too, Those farm roads will loosen up your tie down straps in 500 feet or less.

The Spring thaw is almost a little worse than the winter driving conditions. The farm roads are mostly dirt and that crap when it starts to thaw is the slipperiest and most unpredictable stuff you could ever drive on. You may think you are driving straight down that slippery farm road, but the crown they put on that road will push you to the edge in a heartbeat.

You can't be in a hurry on these road. You can't be impatient on these roads, and you can't be a knucklehead on these roads. You will get tore up or dead just like that. It was a daily occurrence to see a truck like this or worse.
   This stuff is still happening today, and if you toss your truck in a ditch or burn it up it will end up on a happy place on Facebook.

I think it was sometime in the Summer of 2012 I discovered a Facebook page called Bakken Oilfield Fail of the Day. Some of the stuff you see on there are just over the top crazy. Some of it heartbreaking tragedy. The shear comedy of some of the pictures of modified vehicles and cows down in the flame pits on well sites is priceless.

This Page has a huge following. You can't do anything remotely odd or stupid up in the Bakken without the wheels or your truck sticking in the air showing up on that page. I would get texts with links to this page showing some truck that turned and ran over a stop light pole, or turned too early and the back end of his trailer is all twisted in the ditch, and I had passed that very accident on my travels.

I think my favorite is always the side dump trailers that dump on the soft shoulder of the road and the whole truck goes over the side. So much of this is preventable, but it is a fast paced environment and you lose focus on what these roads can do to you.

This web page probably does the Bakken a great service posting all this craziness, hopefully reminding many a driver to be careful up there! I must mention that the comments are probably the best part the site. Although sometimes crude, it is some of the best free comedy on the internet. On the tragedies you do see that most of these rough and tumble people truly have heart that shows in their comments.

While working up there I saw a great many beautiful thing, but the sharp contrast was always the accidents.
There is so much truck traffic up there that at times there were diesel fuel shortages. I talk to one guy at a fuel supply company and between him and one other guy they had pumped something like over 50 million gallons of fuel in a year.

Let me tell you what these roads can do. Eat you alive is the simple way to put it. I can remember driving down muddy roads and trying to steer away from the edge of the road  and just sliding straight towards it. You have to push in the clutch to get the back wheels from pushing you sideways in that slick crap.

I have just pulled my truck onto sites and my front wheels sink in to the ground up to the bumper and have to be pulled out with a loader. I have had mud so bad that I had to actually toss my truck into the ditch to keep it from going on it's side.

The first freeze is a great time of entertainment. Even the locals who have lived there all their lives are not immune from this fun. Family vans and station wagons on there roofs, Welders and Mechanics trucks with their tool scattered all over the middle of the road and their wheels pointing skyward. The roof of some poor Honda protruding out of one of North Dakotas ubiquitous Kettle Lakes. All of this because they don't slow down for the weather after spending a whole summer flying down these roads and forget the dangers of that Ice.

The way they make roads up there is ridiculous. On the dirt roads they heap earth up from the sides of the roads and pile it in the center making this huge slopes to either side of the road. I know they need this for water run off, but why so much?

I'm not sure what the ground has in it but there are so many places on the dirt and paved roads where there is these huge sags in the road. You can tell where they are from all the skid marks from the truckers drop down tag axles hitting the pavement. They can toss any vehicle around a great deal.

The paved roads up there are some of the skinniest pieces of crap you have ever seen. Some of them, the white edge line is painted on the pavement drop off. That pavement drop off can be a good 5" sometimes and can suck a truck off the road frighteningly fast.

God forbid you are driving a truck with walking beam suspension and the back end instead of the front wheels get sucked off the road. I was driving on a road in a fuel truck one time and had the back end get sucked off. It damn near sent us sideways. Thank the Lord there was no on coming traffic, when I got the truck straight again I was in the wrong lane. That type of heavy duty suspension kind of pivots some and in the right condition can really shift the back end of the truck to one side. You see those a lot on cement and dump trucks

Now the real horror story. Thank goodness Bakken fail wasn't around then or I would have been on it's page as a poster boy for FAIL.

I had only been there in North Dakota a little less than 4 months and was about to go home for the Holidays.
It was the day after my birthday. A couple of weeks after that first incident my partner was driving and the back wheels got sucked off the road. it caught the poor guy totally off guard. We were in a fuel truck with a half empty tank and when my partner tried to correct, it made the rear suspension pivot in the opposite direction and amplified the correction and caused an uncontrollable fishtail. It was over on the third swing sideways. The truck swung hard enough to the side that the truck rolled. I cannot tell you what a horrible feeling it is to be in something that large and it is rolling over to your side.

As we started to roll I leaned into the center of the cab and grabbed onto the steering wheel. That probably saved my life because my door flew open. It was sickening to feel the truck going over for a second time. We came to rest in a ditch next to an oil well pad. The truck was on its side and my poor partner was hurt and hanging from his seat belt. I got myself unbuckled and had to lift him with my back and legs enough to get him unbuckled. We exited the truck through the front windshield. I got my partner out and he laid down on the ground, pretty messed up from being smashed into the roof.  I got back up to turn off the key in the truck I didn't want a fire. My eye glasses were missing and I couldn't see real well.

I must have looked like a shock victim after that. I was trying to find my phone so I could call my boss but it wasn't in the truck or in the street where I wondered around squinting looking for it. My cheesy trak phone was still in my pant pocket so I had to call the only company number I had in it and tell them to get a crew out here because we created a mess.

We got taken by ambulance to the local Hospital. My poor partner who was laying on the ground as the ambulance arrived. He was asking me why he was so cold. I had to assure him it was ok because he was laying in some snow. He was out of work for a couple of weeks to heal after that.

I might as well tell you about the funny part of this accident. I get put in a hospital room and they are checking me over. The doctor comes in. He is a foreigner. Nice guy and all but he did something that shocked everybody in the especially me before he left the room. He was asking me if I had any pains and was checking me for broken bones. He looked over the lump on my head.

He is finishing up and says in broken English that I look ok and that should be ok. Next he grabs onto the fold in my pants right where my crotch is and says, "At least you didn't break this". The nurse gasps and looks over one of the paramedics and says, "Oh lord I can't believe he just did that".  I'm from California and have seen a few weird things from people in my life, and here I am in the middle of the bible belt and being shocked by this doctor.  I looked at the nurse and shook my head.

Not long after that my girlfriend calls. I answer and she asks "How I'm doing?" I'm thinking she just got ESP or someone may have called her, but wasn't sure. I questioningly asked her what she knew. She gets a little mad from my weird way of asking.

"I'm asking about your head!" The day before on my birthday I had been hit in the hard hat by an overhead door. I had to inform her I was in the Hospital and that we had just been in a roll over accident in one of the trucks. She is such a good girlfriend. She got very concerned and almost started crying and I assured her I was just sore and that I was alright.

We were lucky that nothing worse than some bashed ribs and bumped heads was all we got. Since that day I have been a very cautious driver. That accident happened in about 5 seconds. You have to be on your guard up there.

Thank goodness no oncoming traffic was involved, and a hearty thanks to the people first on the scene.

Drivers if you are thinking of going to work in North Dakota beware! It can happen to you. Let's be careful out there. Be safe so we can all go home to our families.


  1. People should really be wary about the type of roads they cross. Furthermore, signs should be in place explaining and/or warning about the hazards inherent in Bakken formations. So road managers should indeed watch out for the accidents which they may cause. Same thing goes for other truck drivers.

    Vesta @ Zalkin

  2. I haven’t seen any road signs on these photos, Kris. Road signs are important not only for the sake of the drivers, but of their passengers as well. While the residents already know the type of roads in that area, occasional commuters might find it hard to manipulate their car on a sandy road. Thanks for sharing this! I hope other commuters will extend extra effort in driving safely.