Campers in the cold

Bitter wind chills, frozen water lines and icy drafts are just some of the problems facing those who choose to brave a North Dakota winter in campers, 5th wheelers and motorhomes.

Many of the “camping” residents arrived from warmer climates in search of work, then were brutally slapped in the face by the cold hand of winter. For many, the cold is simply too much to bear.

“We’ve lost some just the last few days,” said Debbie Deseth, manager of Swenson RV Park in Minot. “They decided to leave. It’s just too cold.”

Deseth said Swenson RV Park had 183 lots rented on Labor Day. The latest count showed fewer than 60. Nevertheless, the number represents a hearty bunch of brave souls determined to live out the winter in a camping unit considered by many to be much more suited to a summer at the lake than a North Dakota winter.

“People with older campers aren’t faring quite as well,” said Deseth. “There’s a little bit of freezing water lines, wind blowing through campers but, all in all, I think everybody’s making it.”

Many camper residents have come to North Dakota in search of work, then find themselves ill-prepared for sub-zero temperatures and deadly wind chills.

“They take a chance on coming. Everybody’s got a story,” remarked Deseth. “Some have homes where they came from. Other people didn’t have anything and just took a gamble on coming here. One guy said he wanted to stay as long as he could for 300 bucks while looking for work.”

A Massachusetts man who arrived in Minot about two weeks ago in search of work had heard stories about North Dakota’s infamous wind chills, but found out that reality is even more harsh than the tales.

“He told me, if you haven’t experienced it there’s no word to describe it. He couldn’t imagine something like this,” said Deseth.

Nevertheless a number of people do their best to stay warm and are either happy to have a job or are continuing to seek employment. A Florida man arrived at the Roughrider Campground west of Minot late last month. The intense cold caught up with them. He and another man were moving out of their frozen camper on Friday.

“We didn’t winterize it correctly. Our pipes froze. Our holding tank froze and we can’t get water. The heat wasn’t working properly. We’re suffering through it. We just got an apartment,” said Kevin Polley, of Fort Meyers, Fla.

Polley has taken what he hopes will be temporary work in Minot. He hopes to find employment in the Bakken oil field in the coming days and increase his earnings.

“Anything I can find,” said Polley. “Everywhere you go here there are help wanted signs. You have to search a 50-mile radius in Florida for even a single one. I took a chance on coming up here. I heard about different work up here.”

Polley’s wife, an optician, remained in Florida.

“She’s got a job and didn’t want to come to North Dakota,” explained Polley. “She said she’ll come to visit.”

A woman bundled up against the cold was outside her camper with a dog this past Friday at the Roughrider Campground. The temperature was five degrees below zero. Both the dog and the woman were eager to find relief from the cold.

“I’m from New Mexico. It’s my second winter here,” she said while quickly retreating back inside.

Those who have wintered in campers previously know the hardships it involves and are well schooled in methods to prevent water lines from freezing and icy temperatures from making an assault through narrow crevices and loose fitting windows. Even then it can be a losing battle.

While newer camping units may be better equipped to handle the cold, wrapping the base of campers and motorhomes with protective material is a necessary precaution. Some ingenious methods of keeping the cold away are tried too, such as entirely wrapping a camper in protective material or constructing an entryway.

“I had one man from Iowa, I think, whose water pipe broke on his motor home. At least he had a job, he told me,” said Deseth. “Those are the people you look at and wonder, do you know what you are coming into?”

According to Deseth several residents of the Swenson RV Park have found work, even if they consider it temporary until they find better paying employment. For some the opportunity to go to work couldn’t be more timely.

“I had one family come in September in a homemade pickup camper, a husband and wife and two kids and a dog,” said Deseth. “They were from Texas and both got jobs. Now they’ve moved into an apartment. I was glad for them.”

There are other stories, too, such as an Alaskan truck driver who moved to Minot in search of a good-paying job in the Bakken. According to Deseth, the man declined a chance at a truck driving job paying $2,000 per week.

“He said he wouldn’t get out of bed for that,” said Deseth. “He had the perception of making much more. He left.”