WILLISTON, N.D. — A four-hour drive northwest from Bismarck, N.D., will lead motorists to the city of Williston, where a modern-day gold rush has incited oil miners to flock to the area to mine for natural gas trapped beneath the state’s water table in the Williston Basin.
While the oil business has brought a financial boom to the Williston area, a new necessity has emerged, roused by the influx of workers and their families: “greaser” laundry facilities.
In the past year, The Minnesota Chemical Co.’s Terry Anderson has had a hand in answering the area’s laundry needs by designing and building two laundries: one in neighboring Watford City (population 1,759) and the other in Tioga (population 1,230), each about an hour’s drive from Williston.
For greaser laundries, it’s important that certain machines are designated specifically for greaser use, according to Anderson. “You can’t have somebody do their greaser laundry, and then somebody comes [after them] and puts their white sheets, towels and regular clothes in, because greaser laundry machines can never get all of [the grease cleaned].”
At his Suds Laundry in Watford City, N.D., Robert Trupe has designated two machines for his attendants to process commercial accounts, and six for self-service, specifically for greaser laundry.
“In the wash/dry/fold area, we just have two of them that we put big, yellow labels marked ‘Greasers’ so the attendants know which machines to use for greasers,” says Trupe. “And then we put the same type of signs out on the self-service side for the customers.”
Considering the blend of mud, oil and grease that covers workers’ uniforms and garments, what cleaning procedures are needed? Many of the garments face a variety of washes, Anderson explains, that are adjusted at different settings than traditional laundry loads.
“What you need to have [is] a pre-wash and a wash where you can inject detergents,” says Anderson. “Normal clothes can have a wash-dry-spin in about 24 to 30 minutes. These, you might set the water levels a little higher, and then extend that wash cycle longer.”
“The greaser machines are programmed for longer wash cycles [or] additional rinses, so they all have two washes and two rinses,” says Trupe of his store, adding that those machines use water at 140 F.
Despite all this, there are times when garments have to be re-washed because of the condition they are in, he adds. “Once in a while, if you get a really heavy load, some of the oil is pretty tough to get out because it’s thoroughly saturated with this heavy grease that they use in the oil fields.”
Employees at Charles Barton’s Clean Jean’s Express Laundry in Tioga, N.D., have had to re-wash garments as well, despite the pre-soak and different washes that they use to process garments. “We do our best to run several types of cycles through them, depending upon what the grease is. Sometimes we have to extend the wash cycle, sometimes we have to soften the water. Sometimes we have to use more soap than what you ordinarily would use, sometimes we use a different mixture than what we’d ordinarily use.”
Barton’s chemistry background as a consultant for pharmaceutical companies comes in handy at times, but he also learns from his employees which combinations of industrial detergents work best. “We’re refining the process,” he says.
Trupe has also used trial and error in finding which detergents to use at his store. “Finding the right mix of chemicals [is] a little bit of trial and error until you get all of your machines [and] cycles set up. It’s taken us a few months to get it down [but] we have help from Minnesota Chemical and some other vendors that were able to help us get the right mix of chemicals.”
As a safety precaution, Trupe requires his employees to wear rubber gloves and face shields while handling the strong detergents.
Equipment in greaser laundries endures a heavy toll, what with the concoction of grease and industrial-strength detergents on top of hot temperature settings and numerous cycles run daily.
“If you don’t clean them, it’s not good on the equipment [and] certainly it won’t last as long,” says Barton. “We take quite a bit of pride in regards to our equipment, so we clean it on a routine basis.”
In addition to wiping and cleaning machines multiple times throughout the day, Barton also practices running a no-load cycle to ensure that washers are thoroughly cleaned. “Oftentimes we’ll have to run a special concoction […] through the washers to make sure that they’re all clean. And we also clean the [dryer] filters on an everyday basis.”
For its part, Minnesota Chemical sends out technicians to service machines on a regular basis, Anderson says. And to ensure that store owners know how to properly take care of their machines, the company hosts educational sessions on maintenance standards.
“We have these service schools [where] we talk about the things [owners] need to do [for] preventative maintenance to make sure [the machines] are cleaned out and make sure everything is working,” says Anderson.
Besides the maintenance requirements, greaser laundries face another challenge: the lingering odor of grease in dryers.
Trupe says that using certain chemicals helps reduce the smell. “There are a couple of different chemicals that we use depending on the application. There are deodorizers, but then there are other chemicals that we can add that [are] additional cleaning agents that have a nicer smell.”
INVESTMENT AND EXPANSION
Regardless of the special needs that their facilities present each day, Trupe and Barton both say it was worth moving into the area.
“We’ve been hearing a lot of good things,” says Barton. “We certainly wouldn’t be at the level that we are in, particularly with our wash-and-fold business, if we didn’t provide high-quality service.”
In addition to growing Clean Jean’s wash/dry/fold service, Barton is in the process of opening an Internet cafe and gourmet coffee shop at the front end of his facility.
Trupe says opening Suds Laundry has “definitely been a good investment.” Though he’s considered looking at neighboring towns for other business opportunities, he says he would first like to establish his Laundromat before pursuing other ventures.
“We don’t want to expand until we get our systems and processes nailed down in this facility,” he says. “Once we make sure that this thing can run completely smooth, then we can take the systems and processes [and] plug them into the next business.”