Rebecca Rigal: The Crushing Experience Of A Small Trucking Company In The Bakken


“Small Businesses Are the Backbone of Our Economy and the Cornerstones of Our Communities.”

A statement from President Obama in August 2010 from the White House homepage.

I agree with it to a point – but it’s been awhile since this statement rang true.

POTUS and other Democrats still argue that “we” created 200,000 small businesses in 2015, but roughly 230,000 went out of business this year.

Obama’s budget for the fiscal year 2016 contains this statement: “Helping Americans Launch and Sustain Their Own Businesses”

If you have nothing better to do, read the entire budget plan.

According to my accountant the $25,000 depreciation for new equipment I invested in my company to stay working this year won’t even put a dent into the write offs. And that’s just the beginning. Tax penalties in 2015 will increase drastically to individuals as well as businesses due to the failure to obtain health insurance.

Trust me, there is nothing more soothing to the soul than the benefits of health insurance. I experienced them. Born and raised in Germany I know all about those benefits. But this is America. If you believe for a second that “affordable health care” is affordable at this point, wake up. And if you believe that socializing this great country and turning it into a Europe politically will benefit and complement the foundation it is built upon, read the Book of Marx.

Let me go back to Obama’s voice ringing in my ears, “Helping Americans Launch and Sustain Their Own Businesses”. My emphasis is on the sustaining part of things. But for this small enterprise it’s looking grim and I would like to share how I got to this point.

When our U.S. economy tanked in 2008/2009 I took a good hard look at myself and wondered: what now? Then living in Utah, I made a living training young horses in the discipline of dressage, an English style riding and, on the highest level, an Olympic sport.

Needless to say, folks cut back on their expenses for pleasure and play. I followed a call from a friend to make a new life (and good money) in the then booming oil patch of North Dakota.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]…with Obama’s thumbs down for the Keystone pipeline any hope of a long term contract to not just survive but essentially grow in Montana, diminished.[/mks_pullquote]

Without any experience I learned how to drive a big rig and got my CDL with tanker endorsement. Luckily I began working as a truck driver early summer of 2010 so I was prepared when my first North Dakota winter came around. Working in the patch can be challenging any time of year and without going into further detail just imagine pulling on tire chains during a blizzard or keeping 6,000 gallons of water from turning into a giant popsicle in negative 40 degrees.

Of course the work was rewarding. There was a certain comradery amongst most of us – drivers, roughnecks, company men, the attendant at the salt water disposal with a full pot of coffee. Most rewarding of all, though, was the pay, and within eight months I had saved up enough to buy a used Peterbilt and put a down payment on a tanker trailer.

Plenty of work meant bills were paid. I decided to trade in the colorful life I enjoyed in Utah and became a northeast Montana resident permanently.

No need to recap politics and economics any further to explain what the hell happened. If you read the weekly updates on rig counts, lapsed leases, and layoffs you know the status of not just the Bakken’s but also our national decrease in oil production.

Like many other small trucking companies, I made an adjustment just about a year ago and went from water to dirt. The purchase of the necessary equipment – quad-axle truck and a side dump trailer didn’t come with just the hefty price tag – due to delayed start of construction in the patch and what seemed to be an overflow on available equipment late spring 2015, cut throat negotiations and underbidding became the norm.

Just this week one of my brokers dispatched my truck to a job the pay for which would have barely covered operating costs. Turning down work when the picking is slim is a sickening feeling. But would a baker sell bread for the cost of the flour to bake it?

Bigger trucking companies survive due to quantity – more rubber on the road means lower average operating costs – but (I hate to say it) us little people (America’s Backbone) are left in the proverbial dust. And with Obama’s thumbs down for the Keystone pipeline any hope of a long term contract to not just survive but essentially grow in Montana, diminished.

On a broader scale, lifted Iran sanctions, environmentally-sided legislators, anti-fracking ideologies, and this president’s vision of a debt ceiling that surpasses the horizon of my beloved Montana’s Big Sky adds to my growing anxiety.

Besides the deep worry about my company’s survival, the ongoing reports of “North Dakota’s Oil Boom” are just as nauseating as Don Johnson’s flop TV show “Blood and Oil”.

Maybe it’s coincidental that they filmed this piece of cinematic art in my former neighborhood in Utah. Maybe it’s coincidental that my angst rises just as the late fall temperatures drop. But if you are a realist you don’t believe in coincidences. You believe in an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

But if the work ain’t there the pay ain’t either. I have reached out as far as Texas trying to keep our wheels turning through the winter until the 2016 road construction season begins. So far — no luck.

So, if small businesses are the backbone of America’s economy I have bad news for y’all: Metaphorically speaking, without degenerative spine treatment very soon, this small trucking business won’t no longer be able to carry the weight.