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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published July 07 2013

Faces of the Boom: California man ‘unretires,’ moves to Oil Patch

WILLISTON, N.D. – Californian Marvin Smith got a second wind at 70 and decided to move to North Dakota to chase one more oil boom.

Smith knew his days as a derrickhand were long behind him, but he thought he was still healthy enough to work in the oilfield.

He got a reality check when he approached a drilling crew taking a break at a Williston truck stop to get advice about finding a job. A young worker looked him up and down and asked, “Man, how old are you?”

Still undeterred, Smith bought some hair dye to cover up his white hair. But the plan to look younger backfired – his hair turned blue.

That was enough for Smith to readjust his job search, instead focusing on carpentry or maintenance work.

“It would have been good for my ego,” Smith said of getting an oilfield job.

Smith worked as a roughneck in Wyoming, Utah, Alaska, Texas and California in his late 20s and 30s.

“I wasn’t about working a steady job. I was about working with the excitement,” Smith said. “I see these rowdy kids down here and I go, ‘Yeah, I know.’”

When the oilfield work slowed down, Smith began a career as a carpenter in California and retired after 26 years with the union.

Smith, of Woodbridge, Calif., has a pension but would like to supplement that income, as well as enter the workforce again. That led him to Williston.

“I’m really tired of fishing and I want to go back to work,” Smith said.

The job search has taken longer than Smith expected. He’s lived in Williston about seven weeks and continues to sleep in his pickup. He found temporary work as a carpenter and recently lined up a maintenance job. But he’s still hoping to find a job that provides housing so his wife can join him in Williston.

“I’ve been missing my girl,” Smith said. “After 35 years, she’s still my girl.”

Smith plans to work toward renewing his commercial driver’s license while he does maintenance work.

During his downtime in Williston, Smith gets out his guitar and plays gospel music around town. He plays for dinners that Life Church Assembly of God hosts weekly for newcomers to Williston and plans to play for workers at a crew camp.

Last week, Smith led an impromptu concert in the park for people gathered for the Fourth of July and performed for seniors at the community center while they ate lunch.

“I love playing gospel music, anywhere they’ll let me play and some places where they won’t let me,” said Smith, who performed 20 to 30 times a month in California.

His music has helped Smith make a lot of friends in Williston, and he tries to lift the spirits of people who are in similar situations.

“Even though I miss my family a lot, the warmth of the people and the friends I’ve been able to make in a short amount of time have done a lot of take the edge off,” Smith said.


Dalrymple is a Forum News Service reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.