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.
Oil is mined through a process known as hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—which involves drilling a mixture of water, sand and additives into a reservoir, ultimately creating a passageway for miners to procure the previously trapped natural gas, says energy services company Halliburton.
Oil production and takeaway capacity in the Williston area has steadily increased over the years, with the U.S. Energy Information Administration reporting last April that 600,000 barrels of crude oil were being produced per day.
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.
“You have people all over living in man camps [or] living in RV parks that don’t have laundry [facilities],” says Terry Anderson, a coin laundry equipment salesman for The Minnesota Chemical Co., a distributor headquartered in St. Paul, Minn.
In the past year, 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.
CLEAN JEAN’S EXPRESS LAUNDRY
Owner Charles Barton consulted with Anderson to build his facility, Clean Jean’s Express Laundry, in Tioga. His family has been in the area since the late 1930s. In addition to owning Clean Jean’s, he has also set up an RV park to cater to workers from the oil fields.
“I have 31 spaces since putting that in three years ago,” says Barton, who’s seen about a half-dozen more parks built within a three-mile radius and believes more are on the way.
Clean Jean’s, which opened in August 2012, is an attended coin laundry located three blocks up Tioga’s Main Street, and sits at the far end of Barton’s RV park. A portion of the facility, encompassing 1,760 square feet, was originally a Quonset hut built in 1956 for a cement plant. Barton’s family took ownership of the building in 1976, and in the construction process ended up adding another 480 square feet at the front of the facility.
His store offers Speed Queen industrial equipment, including 15 front-load washers with capacities of 20, 30, 40 and 60 pounds, as well as 28 dryers with capacities of 30, 45 and 55 pounds.
Like many coin laundry stores, Barton’s has taken advantage of the added service of wash/dry/fold.
“We started off primarily with self-serve and then there [was] a need for [wash/dry/fold],” says Barton, who began offering wash/dry/fold service in October. “We started off with 10 customers the first month, and we’re well past 200 customers now.”
But what sets his facility apart from others, he believes, is the fact that he accepts greaser laundry—garments that oil workers wear in the oil fields—which he explains is “just about impossible to get cleaned.”
“You can’t just throw it in the washer and go through the same motions that one does for non-greaser clothes,” he says.
Barton’s facility sees mostly uniforms and coveralls that have “heavy oil on them,” he adds.
Robert Trupe processes similar greaser garments at his store in Watford City.
“You’ll get anything from gloves to their jeans or shirts [or] coveralls,” Trupe says. “Other companies that do have uniforms [will] bring in their uniforms. It’s really any of the exterior clothes that these guys are getting muddy.”
Trupe also consulted with Anderson in building Suds Laundry, a 3,600-square-foot Laundromat he opened last September on Watford City’s Main Street. His store, which employs six attendants and a full-time manager, also offers added services such as shower stalls, mailboxes and a Wi-Fi lounge area, in addition to wash/dry/fold.
“We took the approach that we needed to be more than a Laundromat,” says Trupe. “We see it as kind of taking the pain away from laundry, because it’s a little more [of a] relaxing atmosphere.”
Like Barton, Trupe invested in Speed Queen equipment—washer-extractors ranging in capacity from 20 to 80 pounds, and dryers up to 75 pounds in capacity.
Check back Thursday to learn how these two stores tailor operations to serve these special needs!