Boomtown, USA

Boomtown, USA

I’ve been slowly but surely piecing together all my favorite photos from Williston under the title Boomtown, USA.

The title also happens to be the new tagline the city adopted, which is an interesting decision on many levels.

This new batch of photos comes from a night on a rig with Raven Drilling, which is based out of Watford City. The shoot was a while back for our Talkin’ the Bakken magazine that just came out last week, hence the delay in finally posting some shots.

Earlier in the week Andrew Burton of Getty Images dropped in the office and found Raven earlier and passed along the contact. They let me on as well and turns out he came back for another round the same night.

It was a good experience because I love shooting with other awesomely talented photographers.

Raven’s manager also had one of the great lines I’ve ever gotten when I called him a few days after Andrew’s visit.

As I’ve mentioned before, rigs are tough to get on in the Williston Basin. So when I called he said, “Man, you guys are like homeless people—one of you get a free meal and the rest come along.”


While there I had a ton of fun with the crew. These oilfield guys are really great and love having fun. It’s not as an exciting of a job as it might look. They change bits on the drill every hour or more once a certain depth is reached.

Otherwise they’re off doing other odd jobs for long shifts. The Raven crew we were with was on their last day before a long break of a couple weeks, so it was nice to learn about where they’re from and what they were looking forward to the most.

It also loosened them up even more.


The Land that Oil Forgot

Epping_9553I’ve been slowly collecting photos for a project called “The Land that Oil Forgot.”

Let me explain: The increased oil activity in western North Dakota has led to some communities exploding in population, jobs, business and more. It can be readily seen in Williston, Minot and Dickinson as a few examples.

Then there’s the other communities in the area. Those that haven’t grown and look like a Wild West ghost town.

I went out to get a photo of Epping, N.D. which is about 15 miles outside of Williston. It has an official population of 100 people but developers are looking to put in 750 new homes because prices and locations are easier than in Williston.

I came across this abandoned old house just on the outskirts of Epping’s main hub but never stopped before. On this day I went out and the house looked worse than it did before, so I ventured up to it.

Inside I found it was just left. That simple. The kitchen still had dishes in the cupboards and sink, a full room it looked like. I was amazed that nobody was staying in it or that it stayed that intact. I think I even saw cigarettes inside the house still.

As I was snapping photos a car happened to drive down the road and leak into my frame. Combined with the cloud/sky structure I thought it represented an interesting dichotomy of what oil patch created in communities so close to each other.

One that, train depot aside, has yet to flourish six years into the increased oil activity, while much of western North Dakota sits under the blue skies of oil revenue and population increases.

Both sides have their pros and cons, but I’m very enamored with these communities that have almost become forgotten outside of themselves.

I plan to visit Epping more. Especially after a resident called to express her displeasure with the way the photo portrayed Epping. I’ll have to meet with her after vacation and see if her view sheds more light on either of our perceptions of the small community.

© 2013 Jerry Burnes/Williston Herald

Fire sale


Breaking news really knows how to break up a relaxing Sunday night.

At about 7 p.m. I checked a phone to see a forwarded text from my managing editor saying Gaffaney’s Stationery was one fire. I was a little skeptical because a lot of times in Williston this turns into either a false alarm or a wild goose chase to nothing.

Regardless it was the first breaking news piece in weeks and probably ended up as the front-runner for our story of the year for 2013.

A lot of white smoke was pouring from the building when I arrived so I snapped some photos and left when even the firefighters were packing up.

Not even 10 minutes after I left my managing editor calls me and says the building was engulfed in flames. By the time I got back, another 10-minute-or-so process, the worst of the flames were gone.

Tough luck on that really. I never really know when to leave breaking news scenes but figured when the cops and fire department were wrapping things up, it was as good a time as any to do the same.

I was off Monday and unfortunately missed the building being razed as they poured water onto the ruins into the next afternoon.

© 2013 Jerry Burnes/Williston Herald

Blast off

BlastWilliston’s unofficial/official July 4 celebration traditionally takes place downtown the following Saturday.

There’s no fireworks but there is a downtown fair-like event with games for kids, flea markets and food.

I headed out on a tight deadline before I had to judge a ribfest competition (hard work, I know).

I found a few interesting spots with a lot of kids so I focused most of my energy there.

One spot was the Beat the Bucket game where one person threw balls at a target and the other had to dodge the water dumped from a bucket once the target was hit. The other was a giant inflatable bubble pool.

I fairly satisfied with my bottom two images considering my tight deadline, but I when I went to grab the name of guy on the bottom, he was gone. Stupid move on my part.

So I went back to the Beat the Bucket and hung around a few minutes when a group of kids pulled up and started playing. The 6-year-old in the top photo didn’t even move when the target was hit and she wasn’t a huge fan of what followed, but did go back for another round later.

© Jerry Burnes/Williston Herald

Fair weather fan

FairLast night was one of the first full nights of Upper Missouri Valley Fair in Williston.

My assignment for the night was to take some general shots of the fair for Friday’s front page.

My usual strategy at these things worked out well once again—find the kids, photograph the kids.

I especially loved the kid at the strength test trying his best to just lift the hammer high enough to set it down. Between that and him wearing an Incredible Hulk shirt, I was terribly amused.

And of course, the kids on the train had classic expressions.

All in all, a good night at the fair.

© 2013 Jerry Burnes/Williston Herald

Nap time

1IMG_8947Sometimes I see some really interesting things.

This is among those now.

On Saturday before Miss North Dakota I was in the office designing the Sunday paper when I noticed two guys lying on the ground outside, across the street from our office, square in downtown Williston.

Intrigued I ventured outside with a camera as a passer-by called the police and ambulance. After a good hour wait they finally arrived, confirmed our suspicions the two gentlemen were passed out drunk and took one of them in.

I stuck around in case they were angry drunks and took a swing at the cop. That didn’t happen though.

Just another day in oil country.

© 2013 Jerry Burnes

Here she comes, Miss North Dakota


To continue the theme of catching up, I’m on to the Miss North Dakota pageant.

This became a much longer event than I planned.

I went into it knowing what photo I wanted and where I needed to be get to it—the reaction shot of the crown and waving to the crowd.

I was told to arrive at the theater at 9:30 p.m. with a 10 p.m. deadline, Miss N.D. being the top story with large story placement on page one. As I drove there I had a feeling it would run longer.

It did. By the time I arrived at 9:30 there was still a portion of the talent competition and Q&A portion, along with a myriad of other performances and a farewell to the then-current Miss N.D.

By 11 p.m.-ish the crowning was ready.

It made for a long night but I’m glad I was there for the farewell because I really enjoyed capturing the quiet moment as she acknowledged the crowd during the video tribute.

© 2013 Jerry Burnes/Williston Herald