City Life Snapshot: Bryan Johnson Of N.D.

Jul 24, 2012
Originally published on September 18, 2014 5:46 pm

We meet Bryan Johnson of Watford City, N.D. He sells fire retardant clothing to oil companies. As part of the NPR Cities Project, we'll be hearing "City Life Snapshots" from time to time, sent to us by producers from the Association of Independents in Radio who are involved in its nationwide Localore initiative. This snapshot comes from Black Gold Boom.

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If Syracuse is a 20-minute city, Watford City, North Dakota, is so small it ought to be a two-minute town, but it's not. In the throes of the oil boom there, the traffic has become terrible.

BRYAN JOHNSON: My name is Bryan Johnson. I'm originally from Los Angeles, California, and moved out to get away from what you hear in the background, the hustle and the bustle.


CORNISH: Johnson has a trailer that he's set at the intersection of a two-lane highway. There, an increasingly large number of big rigs are forced to turn to avoid going into town. Johnson sells fire-retardant clothing to those big-rig drivers. It's required by the drilling companies. And from there, Johnson gets a great view of the mess of traffic along Highway 85.

JOHNSON: I never thought I'd see a place where I felt driving on the roads would be more dangerous than driving 5 o'clock rush hour in Los Angeles. So coming up here, the traffic on this two-lane highway is - I've never seen anything like it and, at the intersection we work in, we've counted over 10,000 vehicles in 12 hours that we're - were out set up. We could probably see 10 miles and it'll be backed up as far as the eye can see in both directions.

And it's nonstop. I mean, it's nonstop big rig after big rig. Dump trucks coming behind them, sand hauling trucks going south and a lot of dust, a lot of dirt and a lot of noise.


JOHNSON: These guys can't stop on a dime, so you pull out in front of them, it's all they can do to slow down and chances are they're not going to be able to stop in time. You know, people just, up here, that aren't used to it just got to learn to be patient and wait their turn.


JOHNSON: These guys are - they're nonstop and it's not, you know, midnight, it's over. It's three o'clock in the morning and they're still hauling. It just goes on and on and on. It never ends. There is no shutdown time. Rain, snow, it doesn't matter. They're moving.

CORNISH: Thanks to Todd Melby of Prairie Public Broadcasting for that city life snapshot from Watford City, North Dakota. Todd is part of Localore, a national initiative from the Association of Independence in Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.