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Crew camp goes mobile

The Target Logistics mobile crew camp opened in August just outside of McHenry to house linemen working on a Minnkota Power transmission line that will run from Center to Grand Forks. The camp will move to other locations as the project progresses.

McHENRY -- In the middle of a hay field, 30 men are sleeping on pillow top mattresses, watching satellite TV and eating steaks grilled to order.

The journeymen linemen who are working near McHenry on a major transmission line project are living in a mobile crew camp that will follow them as their work moves.

The mobile camp is a first for Target Logistics, the Boston-based company that has large crew camps in northwest North Dakota housing oil workers.

The camp that opened in August just outside of McHenry consists of 24 53-foot trailers that can be easily moved and set up at a new location. Jim Myers, the chef and manager for the camp, said they can serve breakfast in the morning, move the camp to a new location and be ready to serve dinner that same night.

"It's amazing," said Myers, of Louisville, Ky.

The residents are employees of Michels Corp. working on the Minnkota Power 345-kilovolt transmission line project that will run 250 miles from Center to Grand Forks. As the $312 million project progresses, the camp will accommodate up to 80 workers.

The mobile camp is expected to house the workers through 2013, also setting up in Sharon, Fessenden and Mercer, according to Target Logistics.

Each residential trailer has four to six rooms with stairs leading up to each entrance. Workers have slightly smaller rooms and share a bathroom with one other person. Managers get more space and their own bathroom.

The trailers are fully equipped with utilities and are ready for all seasons, including North Dakota winters, Myers said.

Two trailers make up the kitchen and food storage areas and two trailers are used as dining areas, all connected by walkways.

"Target gave us a kitchen that some of the hotels in North Dakota would be proud to have," Myers said.

The camp also has a recreation trailer with pool tables, foosball table and darts, a laundry area, computer center, wireless Internet and cellphone boosters.

"We're in the middle of nowhere and we're living pretty good," Myers said.

Randy Bassette, project manager for Michels Corp. who also lives at the camp, said the mobile concept eliminates the need for workers to find lodging in the rural area or drive one to two hours to a work site.

Keeping workers comfortable and well rested improves safety and work productivity, Bassette said.

Target Logistics also expects to mobilize the mobile camps for pipeline, mining and construction jobs, disaster relief and other operations that require housing and relocate frequently.

The workers, from all over the country, work six days a week and stay and eat at the camp at no cost to them. The camp has a list of rules, such as no alcohol, no visitors and no excessive noise.

Fred Gray of Oregon, the project foreman and quality control inspector, said he likes the mobile concept and the company has been receptive to their suggestions.

"It beats the heck out of tents or stacked bunk beds," Gray said.

Because it's a smaller camp, Target Logistics is able to accommodate special requests, such as Bounce brand dryer sheets and Irish cream coffee flavoring, Myers said.

"The more you get, the more you want," Gray said.

Chef Susan Stoddard of Carrington is the only woman and the only local resident at the camp. She works from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and also stays at the camp part time.

"The guys have been so nice, so polite," Stoddard said.

David Briss rents about 3 acres that used to be a hay field to Target Logistics for the camp. He said the camp has been well received by the community.

"Right away there was some skepticism, I think. I told everybody they're just here to make a living too," Briss said. "Now it's been good. I don't hear any complaints."