One Family’s Journey to North Dakota

I first talked to Kristie and Doug Allard about six months ago when I was researching my trip to North Dakota, and their journey to North Dakota is one of the craziest stories of anyone I’ve met here.

In 2008, they were in the small town of Hermiston, Oregon, and Doug was working in construction and Kristie was employed as a blackjack dealer. But when the recession hit, everything changed. “I couldn’t get a job here in Oregon to save my life,” Doug told me. “I couldn’t even get a job at McDonald’s.” He was out of work for over a year and a half, and during this time Kristie became pregnant with their second child. Not wanting their family to live off welfare, they decided something had to change.

In May 2012, Kristie saw a special on Dateline about the oil boom and within weeks, they purchased an old 1970s trailer and a Ford pickup to pull it, packed up the two kids and all their belongings, and headed out to the North Dakota frontier.

They had just enough money for the gas and food to make it to North Dakota. Here’s how Doug told the story of their trip:

“We limped out there, nice and slow — it took us four days to drive there. The truck kept breaking down, we lost a tire on the trailer — it was just a nightmare trip.  And then we pull into town and I was like, yes!  Finally we made it!  I felt like I was a pioneer that just got off the Oregon Trail.

We headed out the next morning to go find an RV spot for the trailer, but we didn’t make maybe a half mile, and the truck’s engine blows up. Totally gone — it was beyond fixable.  We manage to get it off the road, but we didn’t know what to do. It’s right in the middle of rush hour and a cop stops by and says ‘you gotta move it or I’m gonna tow it.’ I couldn’t pay for a tow truck with the money I had in my pocket. Then this guy pulls up and says, ‘Hey do you need any help?’  I said do you want to buy a truck and a trailer for $500? I sold it right there. My wife and kids were in the car behind us, so I gave my wife $200 and told her to go back home. I had $300 and I grabbed my little tent and sleeping bag and two changes of clothes and literally that is all that I had.”

He slept in his tent by the river and started working part-time day labor jobs, but nothing stable. He lost his phone at one point, and Kristie became so worried about him, she packed up the two kids and drove 17 hours back to North Dakota to find him. Not wanting their family to live it a tent, they quickly found a trailer to live in for $1,200 a month with water and electricity (a luxury here — as Doug put it, “A lot of RV parks are like giant homeless camps except everybody has pockets full of money.”) But with Doug’s odd jobs, they were barely making enough to cover the high living costs. They stuck it out through most of the winter, but eventually gave up and went back to Oregon.

When I talked to them last February, they told me they were done with North Dakota, and had no plans to come back, but just last week, I found out they were headed this way. Doug’s been offered steady work as the maintenance manager at a man camp in Watford City, and the company is providing free housing for him and his family. My photographer friend Will and I went there to visit Kristie this week. Their place is small (about 120 square feet), but compared to everything they’ve been through, they’re ecstatic to have a roof over their heads. Here are a few photos Will snapped:

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Kristie and Doug’s 1-year-old daughter Emma plays in the dirt by their mobile home / Photo by Will Christiansen

3-year-old Xavier, with Kristie and Emma in the background / Photo by Will Christiansen

3-year-old Xavier, with Kristie and Emma in the background / Photo by Will Christiansen

Kristie and Emma Allard / Photo by Will Christiansen

Kristie and Emma Allard / Photo by Will Christiansen

Xavier and Emma walk through the trailer park where the family is staying / Photo by Will Christiansen

Xavier and Emma walk through the trailer park where the family is staying / Photo by Will Christiansen

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4 thoughts on “One Family’s Journey to North Dakota

  1. hey, the craziness isn’t over. we just got tossed out of that “duplex” and are now living in a FEMA trailer. my boss without warning just said you cant live there and your kids cant live at the man camp where I work.

  2. Obviously, things can change at a moment’s notice….it’s quite a story, but I’ve got a good feeling that it’ll all work out…a higher power seems to be at work there….may be some more ups and downs, though….

  3. North Dakota is a different world for sure. My husband and I moved here from California about a year ago and we are just now getting used to it. The winters alone are brutal. If you want to make some good money though in this economy, this is the best place to be. We live in a camper with our two cats near New Town, have made many new friends, and we have grown to love it. You just have to stick it out. No matter what, there are jobs to be had here. I had 4 jobs in one day, and had to pick and choose what I wanted to do, where else in America do you get to do that? Its not where we plan to live for the rest of our lives, but it will make a great story one day.

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