In cities, people express their style any number of ways, including personal appearance. A man might favor a certain brand of shirt or get his hair cut just so. Style in the oil patch of western North Dakota, is well, uniform: Jeans or overalls, shirt and a ballcap.
So where does personal style come into play?
The pickup truck sticker.
The pickup truck sticker is like a bumper sticker, only it’s placed on the back of a pickup window, not on a bumper.
Since arriving in the oil patch, I’ve become obsessed with these pithy stickers and have snapped lots of photos of them. And if the owner is around, I ask about his sticker.
Like other day in Watford City, there was this sticker on a black truck driven by a burly guy with a thick moustache. It read: “I Came For The Cash Cause I’m Oil Field Trash.” The owner of the sticker was Richard Karpe of Oklahoma. His sticker is a standout in the patch. I’ve seen it and a slightly different version — “Oil Field Trash and Proud” — on several vehicles.
I asked him what he liked about the “Oil Field Trash” sticker. “Just the saying of it,” Karpe says. “Everybody likes it.”
One day while filling up with gas at the Cenex in Watford City, I saw a guy with three stickers on the rear window of his silver Chevy. He wouldn’t give me his name, but he told me he works on a drilling rig. “It’s hard, dirty work. But all and all, it pays big money. Why not do it?” he says.
This guy — we’ll call him Montana Roughneck —has a trio of stickers that tell his life story, from birth to school to present day. His stickers read: “Born To Be A Roughneck. University of Hard Labor. That was my graduatin’. And now it’s Bleep, Fight or Trip Pipe.” Trip pipe? That’s drilling rig jargon for putting pipe into a hole or taking it out.
“I have the stickers because it warns off other roughnecks looking for trouble,” says Montana Roughneck. “It kinda shows you are a little bit of trouble.”
Although Montana Roughneck’s stickers are macho tough, he says others are even more in-your-face. “I’ve seen some pretty foul ones,” he says. “The ones I see are pretty derogatory towards women. A lot of roughnecks have those. I try to shy away from that. This is probably enough. I’ve had people that might be churchgoers that say something about my stickers the way it is.”
While I had Montana Roughneck’s ear, I asked him about a sticker I saw on a pickup parked near Williston High School. “Have you seen the one that says, ‘Welcome to North Dakota. Frankly We Don’t Give A Bleep How You Did It Back Home’?
His reply: “That would most likely pertain to Texans. Lots of Texans come up here believin’ that the Texas way is the best way. Up here, that doesn’t fly.”
A revelation! “So, how does the Texas way differ from the North Dakota/Montana way?” I wondered.
“Texans have the phrase, ‘We invented the oil field,’” Montana Roughneck says. “North Dakotans have the phrase, ‘We perfected it.’ I’ve heard that many times.”
A few days later, I sat next to a Texan at a PBR event in Williston. That’s Professional Bull Riding, not Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Texan looked the part. He wore a big 10-gallon hat and a surly expression. When I tried to make small talk, he stared straight ahead and said he wanted to get lit up. I kept my tape recorder in its case.
By the way, Men aren’t the only ones with stickers. I’ve seen ones in Williston reading “Oil Field Wives: The Backbone of the Oil Field” and “Bad Ass Girls Drive Bad Ass Toys.”
So where do these stickers come from? I’ve been in plenty of truck stop out here and haven’t seen any good ones. I asked Montana Roughneck about that. “Sticker bus right here in Watford City,” he says. “It comes through in the summertime.”
I’ll be on the lookout.
— Todd Melby
Correction: When this story was originally published, we spelled Richard Karpe’s name incorrectly. We also mispronounced Karpe’s name. Black Gold Boom regrets the error.