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FOTB: School bus provides home away from home

Donald "Guy" Widner of Montana lives in this refurbished school bus while working in North Dakota's Oil Patch. Widner is working on a construction job in Tioga, but is always looking for other work that will give him more hours and better pay.1 / 2
Donald "Guy" Widner has a gas range and an electric skillet to cook meals in his refurbished school bus, which is equipped with a generator.2 / 2

TIOGA -- For Donald Widner, home, sweet home, is a purple school bus.

The 49-year-old is chasing high-paying jobs in the Oil Patch, and his refurbished school bus is where he prefers to hang his hard hat.

"People ask if it's a party bus," said Widner, who has been sober for seven years. "I say 'No, this is the work house.'"

Widner, of St. Ignatius, Mont., bought the refurbished school bus for $500 and initially used it for camping and fishing trips.

Then Widner, who worked his first oil field job in the 1980s in Montana, decided to make the bus his temporary home while he checked out the North Dakota oil boom.

"For me, it's like there's big money to be made out here and I had to go get a piece of it," said Widner, who goes by the nickname Guy.

Widner is on his second April-December stint working various jobs in North Dakota. Last year, he worked for crews that moved drilling rigs and "the hours just went crazy."

This year, Widner decided to work in construction, which he realizes now was a bad choice because he's not getting the overtime like he did before.

"Eight or nine hours a day isn't what folks of my gear are up here for," Widner said. "I'm up here for the 16- to 20-hour days."

Widner usually parks his bus at a job site or a location his employer provides.

The bus has a bed, curtains for privacy, sink, kitchen table, refrigerator, closet space, a gas range, a heater and even a toilet.

"I can get pretty comfortable in here," Widner said.

He makes bacon and eggs most mornings using an electric skillet that is powered by a generator on the back of the bus. He washes dishes using his version of a hot water heater - a small crockpot he uses to heat water.

Widner prefers to have his own space in the bus rather than bunk with the co-workers he sees all day.

With one of his jobs, Widner had the option to share a room in a crew camp. He chose to eat, shower and watch TV in the camp, but then went back to his bus to sleep.

But the lifestyle is starting to wear on Widner, who has a girlfriend and two daughters, ages 25 and 17, back home in Montana.

"Right now the benefit isn't overriding what you're missing out on," Widner said. "And the stress has gotten to me now, finally. It's almost like I'm getting to be a recluse."

Widner's plan is to finish the construction job he's working on in Tioga and get back to moving drilling rigs or another oil field job.

He'd like to continue working in North Dakota through December and earn enough money to start a taxi business in Montana.

"It's up in the air whether I come out again or not," Widner said. "But I've said that a lot of times."