“Chickens today, feathers tomorrow.”
That’s Chadron Miller talking about life working in the oilpatch.
As everyone in the world should know by now, it’s tough times from those who toil in oil.
Miller, who spoke to me on Wednesday from his oilfield job site north of Fort St. John, B.C., lives in Sylvan Lake when he’s not working the patch. He expects to be home before Christmas, uncertain when he’ll find work again.
A guy who loves to play guitar and sing a tune, he’s not shy about expressing himself. He is taking the downturn in positive fashion, noting that it has actually brought him closer to his own family because he’s had more time with them.
He’s married to Jill. The Sylvan couple have three children — Jenna, 12, Carson, 6, and Casey who is eight months old.
About two months ago Miller started a Facebook page called Oilfield Dads for those people who work in the industry as a way to support each other right now, and share stories about why they do the work they do.
For many, it’s clearly all about their families.
There’s photos of dads with their kids, wives, trucks and pets. There’s oil rig shots, photos of big rigs stuck in remote locations and the many other aspects of working. And there are stories by people about who they are, unemployed in many cases, and how they are surviving.
The Facebook page has taken off. Over 4,000 people have joined so far.
An upbeat person, Miller grew up in Rocky Mountain House but has called Sylvan home since 2002. Not unlike a lot of Albertans, he’s worked in the oilpatch since high school, eventually becoming an oilfield consultant.
He said he’s fortunate because he has been working for about a month but it’s coming to an end shortly. “Then I have nothing to go to.”
In 2014 Miller worked over 300 days. Then he took a break for Christmas and was supposed to go back to work the second week of January 2015. “But with the oil prices drop I didn’t go to work until the end of March.”
He found work at a plant in the Rimbey area for awhile and for a change he was home every night. It was a different experience for him.
“I was able to take part in my family, seeing my baby’s first crawls, first rollover. … It really, really hit home with me because I never had that amount of time off since the last recession in ‘08, ‘09.
“These other two kids that I had, I lived vicariously through their first walks, crawls, bike rides because I was always at work. It wasn’t until being home for six months that I really had a sense of blessings.”
“When everybody looks down you got to turn it around and look at it as a positive. I counted my blessings. Hey, this has brought my family closer.”
A couple of the jobs he has worked this year have been in the oil patch as a labourer rather than as a project manager. “You gotta do what you gotta do to pay the bills.”
It was after his second stint as a labourer that he thought perhaps it was a good time to start the oilfield dad group. “Maybe there’s a lot of people out there going through similar times with the oilfield.”
“You’re going really good then all of a sudden you stop. There ain’t nothing. You’ve got to budget. You gotta cut back on expenses. Maybe you don’t need that full cable package.”
Miller said it’s common in the oilfield for everyone to always be wondering about where the next job is because each project only has a longevity of so long.
“When I started the group and people started coming in I thought, ‘Oh cool, this is pretty catchy.’ In the matter of about a week and a half had 1,500 people. I was like, ‘Holy man!’”
He stresses to those who want to join the group: “Please keep the politics and the negative feed off this site and be respectful to others because everybody has an opinion on political beliefs and it just causes negative vibes.”
“It’s something that’s special. … People come in and share their life stories, how they’ve been, what they’ve done to overcome these adversities of being unemployed.”
“One guy went and milked cows and brought his son along to show him the hard work and what you have to sacrifice, you’re not above anything.”
Miller said he welcomes everyone, and the site isn’t only for men. There are a lot of women who have joined as well, some who are oilfield wives, some who work in the industry.
“I know that it’s become very stressful for a lot of people. .. There’s lots of bad stuff and heartaches. We’re not alone, this is what the point of the group was, to bring people together.”
It’s not about a bunch of sad stories but rather about a sense of pride, Miller explains.
“I wrote a song right from my heart and I posted it. I’m pouring my heart out to these people I don’t even know and they’re accepting it, and loving it. … Music is good for the soul right?”
He’s looking forward to being home with his family in a few days.
Meanwhile, he’s saving over $6,000 in motel costs by sleeping on the couch in his office trailer. He buys “bachelor meals” at the local department store instead of eating in a restaurant.
“I live cheap.” And yes, he is worried about the future.