Public Service Commissioners Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk are both running for Congress. Their campaign funds are being beefed up by donations from the industries they regulate—coal, oil and other energy executives—in what some say is a pretty shady and shameless practice.

Which reminds me of an old story told about the late Senator Francis Barth, a colorful character who did not mince words, and was not afraid to use the most graphic language he felt was necessary in any given situation. It’s probably partly true, as most Francis Barth stories are.

A North Dakota Senate colleague from eastern North Dakota stopped at Francis’ ranch to visit, accompanied by at least one other city dweller who had never been to a ranch. As they were walking by a corral, they came upon a bull and a cow, doing what bulls and cows do when they get together. The city dweller asked what was going on, and Francis’ friend jumped in quickly with “That bull is servicing that cow.”

“Yes.” said Francis, “Servicing. That’s the right word. It’s kind of like when you hear about the North Dakota Public SERVICE Commission.”


Dickinson police report that there’s a new industry in western North Dakota: selling urine to oil field workers who have to take regular drug tests by providing urine samples. But wily drug testers are catching on and putting a stop to it. The Dickinson Press reports that Jan Kuhn, clinical director of Sacajawea Substance Abuse Counseling and Drug Testing Center, said her employees follow their clients into the bathroom to be sure they didn’t bring someone else’s urine.

“You have to get right down there and look,” she said. “You can’t hide it under your arm and use a tube because if you’re being observed, we’re going to find it. We’re going to see it.”



This is an actual ad from Consolidated Telcom’s (Dickinson, ND) FREE online classified ad website:

I am selling one 12 oz. jar of HOT banana peppers. Did not realize they were the hot one’s until I tried one. The jar has been open but still fresh and minus one pepper. I paid $1.38 with tax for them but I will sell for $1.00 beings they have been opened. I could possibly deliver these within a 6 mile radius of Dickinson for an extra $5.00. Thanks for looking.


Think we’ve crammed all the people we can fit into western North Dakota yet? Nah. The Bismarck Tribune reported this week that Mark Williams, an executive with Whiting Oil, one of the big players in North Dakota’s oil boom (and also, generally, one of the more responsible companies working in the oil patch), said there are close to 220 drilling rigs in the Williston Basin.

“We could easily double the number of rigs, purely based on resources,” Williams said. However, he guessed growth could be capped at 300 rigs in the next few years until infrastructure can catch up.

Ron Ness, head of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, doesn’t think there should be a cap. “Oil doesn’t come all nice and neat and without some challenges,” Ness said. “But if you try to slow the pace, the first thing you’re going to stop is the investment dollar that will bring the roads and the housing and the rest. The pace of development is going to have to play out.”


Reported by Forum newspapers this weekend: Residents of 45 trailers in New Town, ND – many of them the poorest members of the Three Affiliated Tribes – have until Aug. 31 to move, after the mobile home park they live in was sold to the local Cenex station with plans to develop it to house oil workers. Unless something dramatic happens, the residents of those trailers will essentially be homeless as summer turns to fall in northwest North Dakota.

What’s being done? Well, the Tribe is looking to try to develop a new mobile home park on land just east of town. Whether that can be done in time, and homes found to place there for these residents, remains to be seen. Most of the trailers are described as “decrepit” and are unable to be moved.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, on the other hand, says he is going to ask President Obama to send some FEMA trailers. Yep, that’s what the Republican leaders of the richest state in the nation do when there’s a problem—call the bankrupt federal government for help. And if FEMA says they don’t have any trailers available, you can bet it will be President Obama’s fault those poor folks up in New Town are homeless. Sheesh.


I subscribe to a ListServ group on which birders send out notices to fellow birders about sightings of interest in North Dakota. During the winter I got a message via that ListServ of a different nature, however, and I set it aside and forgot about it, but came across it this morning. It read:

If you are planning a birding trip to North Dakota in 2012 there are a few things you should know to help with your planning. The oil boom in western North Dakota continues west of US Highway 83. It is often very difficult to get a hotel room in Minot, Williston or Dickinson. In the smaller towns it is impossible. Also, renting cars can be difficult much of the time. You should be trying to get reservations now if you plan to come this spring or summer. Truck traffic in the west is very heavy, so be careful if you are birding in this area. The refuge trails that were flooded last summer were reopened this fall, so access looks good at this point. We have no snow cover over most of the state. Come see western North Dakota now, before it is gone.


I’m not sure what happened along the way, but here, apparently, is the germ of the idea which began Dickinson State University’s problems with its foreign students. The following paragraphs are excerpted from a story by Amy Dalrymple which appeared in The Forum November 18, 2005.

North Dakota’s colleges will try to bolster enrollment through a statewide effort to recruit international students. The State Board of Higher Education voted 5-3 on Thursday to allocate $1.5 million for a systemwide plan to attract foreign students . . . Chancellor Robert Potts said the plan is a creative way to counter the bleak demographics facing the state’s campuses. Of 42,000 students in the North Dakota University System, 1,500 to 1,800 are international students, Potts said . . . The program calls for six new workers: an administrator, an administrative assistant, a director of international recruiting and retention, two international recruiters and support staff . . . NDSU President Joseph Chapman expressed ethical concerns about the plan’s proposal to pay recruiters according to how many students they attract. That violates a requirement of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and could put NDSU at risk of being excluded from attending college fairs, Chapman said . . . Potts said he will investigate possible ethical implications of the plan. “I know there’s a way to do this ethically because other universities are doing it and they’re beating our socks off,” he said.

I don’t know if this was ever implemented at the University System level. But it sure was at Dickinson State University. Apparently Lee Vickers, the DSU president at the time, didn’t share Chapman’s ethical concerns, nor did his successor, Richard McCallum, who inherited and enhanced Vickers’ initiative to recruit international, especially Chinese, students.


Most quotable public official in North Dakota last week: Al Heiser, Stark County Road Superintendent, commenting on the people who keep knocking over and tearing out stop signs out in his western North Dakota county: “It’s senseless. But you can’t fix stupid.”

Note: I know “Weekenders” are supposed to come out at the end of the week, not the beginning, and I really intended to do that, but the fishing was really good on  Friday and Saturday . . .  

2 thoughts on “Weekenders

  1. Jim,

    Good bit of writing, Jim. A nice Sunday afternoon read. Thanks.

    I wonder if you misunderstood the ethics question in the matter of recruitment of international students. It isn’t the act of recruiting students from abroad that concerns Chapman, it’s the ethics of paying the recruiters on a “per head” basis. This is akin to the fundraising profession’s ethical prohibition against fundraisers taking their pay as a percentage of the money their raise. In both cases, the “agent’s” interests become most urgent in the process. As a kind of stark example: If the fundraiser/recruiter happens to have a big debt coming due and feels financial pressure, a fundraiser might accept a gift for the institution that isn’t as large as its potential because she is rushing to “close the gift” or a recruiter might send inappropriate students to the University in order to assure or enlarge a paycheck. Fundraisers and recruiters don’t run into these kinds of conflicts of interest if they are on salary or working for an agreed upon fee.

    Or, maybe I misunderstood and you actually did mean that DSU paid bounties and were very successful in their recruiting as a result.

    Best to you,


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