Jodie McDougall wears her hair in two blonde braids. Her face is sun kissed and golden under the warm sun that finally found it’s way to Western North Dakota. After meeting this energetic woman with a wide smile you can’t help but wonder if Jodie might have just brought that sun with her.
It would make sense, considering she has just returned to Watford City from her previous home in Florida. Today is her day to relax, recharge and get ready for a six- days-a-week, grueling job that puts her behind the wheel of a tanker hauling fresh water to oil sites along the busy highways and back roads of Western North Dakota.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie, but sometimes this job is a little too much adrenaline for me,” Jodie laughs as she tries to explain her work and what it’s like to navigate an eight ton truck along two lane highways and dusty gravel roads in unpredictable weather conditions.
“At the end of the day you feel tired from getting beat up on the roads. It can be punishing,” she said.
It’s this reality of the job that makes the time Jodie spends away from her truck so crucial. She focuses on getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising and catching up on laundry and groceries so that she can be at the top of her game for her next shift.
And her days start early, with a 6 a.m. meeting with dispatch to determine her route, a pre-trip equipment safety inspection and hours of driving back and forth from fresh water and fracing sites where she fills up and unloads her tanker and continually checks up on her equipment to keep an eye on how it’s holding up against the elements.
“You have to be on top of your game and paying attention at all times…you have to be safe out here,” Jodie reiterates. “I can’t imagine doing any harm to anyone.”
Safety in oil country is the law, practiced and preached by true professionals, and Jodie didn’t come to Western North Dakota green. She started her truck-driving career in Florida in 1989 after selling her landscaping business and earning her CDL by learning on the job.
And Jodi’s work as a professional driver has been diverse. In her position at Yowell Transportation, a freight transport business that operates in 48 states, Jodie was involved in the space shuttle project where she drove an escort vehicle for over-dimensional and hazardous material and hauled shuttle parts, explosives, jet simulators and tomahawk missile parts.
Jodie has also worked as a local tractor-trailer driver, a tour bus driver, transporting entertainers like Pat Benatar across the country and, before making her move to North Dakota, as a military vehicle operation driver for an Air Force base for seven years.
Her occupation has taken her all over the country and in major cities along each coast, but Jodie’s not afraid to admit that her work in Western North Dakota has been her most challenging.
Before taking her current position at Power Fuels, a trucking company with headquarters in Watford City, Jodie had never driven a truck off major highways and had never been in a situation where she had to “chain up.” But with the support of her employer and coworkers she says she’s getting the hang of it.
“I talk to my friends at home and I tell them they wouldn’t believe it out here. The percentage of traffic that’s big trucks and pickups is mind-boggling,” exclaims Jodie.
The conditions might have been news to her friends, but it wasn’t news to Jodie. She had her finger on the pulse of what was happening in the North Dakota oil fields for several years, following the progress and checking in with a friend who was trucking in the area.
When Jodie was laid off of her job with the Air Force, she booked a flight out of Florida, stepped off the plane in North Dakota in the middle of January and thought, “Well, I’m sick of the hot. I’m ready for an adventure.”
After her visit, Jodie went back to Florida to lock up her house and find a friend to watch her dogs and returned to the oil patch with the kind of excitement and anticipation that comes with being a pioneer.
“I thought I would take a leap and come on out and be a part of it,” said Jodie. “I think it takes a certain amount of character to do something like this. It was a big plunge for me.”
But it’s a plunge she’s proud of and the grit and fortitude that helped her take the leap is what keeps her head up and her blood pumping while she navigates the gravel roads, singing along to AC/DC , ZZ Top and Montley Crue in the cab of her truck from sun up to sun down.
During her time off the road Jodie lives in an apartment complex that was built by Power Fuels to house their employees. She takes a Zumba class at the local wellness center and spends time with friends.
“I’ve made friends with other female truck drivers,” said Jodie. “We can identify and relate with one another and what we’re experiencing. It nice to know that someone else is going through the same things.”
But ask Jodie what it’s like to be a female in a male dominated profession and she will sit for a moment with that question, milling it over in her mind as if it hadn’t really occurred to her. She grew up helping her father who was a diesel mechanic and has always worked in professions typically held by men and, well, she just feels comfortable here.
And Jodie, who grew up in a small town, is comfortable in her new community as well. She attributes the welcoming environment and friendly, helpful qualities of the people to the pioneering spirit of the area, a mentality she’s proud to be a part of.
“The people who initially came to this area came to make a change, to start over. It’s what I’ve done and what the people I work with have done,” said Jodie. “I think there’s a camaraderie that comes with braving the harsh conditions together. You help your neighbor and they will help you down the road.”
It’s that kind of spirit that drives a large population of people like Jodie to leave the familiar—their homes and communities and often times their families—in the name of a paycheck.
“I guess it’s a statement about what’s going on with economy. There just isn’t work, ” said Jodie after revealing that the best way to fight feeling lonesome for home is to detach herself by focusing on her work, her health and her new community.
It’s why Jodie would eventually like to start a charity called “Recycle Bears” to help give back to a community she feels is being stretched. “Recycle Bears” would collect gently used teddy bears to be hand delivered to nursing homes, children in hospitals and people in need.
“I want to do something to bring smiles to faces,” said Jodie.
But it will have to wait. Tomorrow she starts another shift and she needs to run to the grocery store to stock up on lunches for the week ahead, finish up laundry and get to bed early.
Tomorrow is another day under the North Dakota sun and Jodie needs to be on the top of her game.