By Michael Howell
One alternative to the very difficult enterprise of creating jobs in the Bitterroot Valley is to take Bitterrooters to where the jobs are…and bring them back on a regular basis. Two Stevensville entrepreneurs, Dudley Chilcott and Bill Lawrence, have come up with a plan to do just that. It’s called R ‘n’ R Stagelines.
The jobs are in Williston, North Dakota in the Bakken oil fields. According to Chilcott, in January of this year about 19,000 new jobs opened in the Bakken. Many western Montanans have headed out there and landed work. The influx of workers to the area has created a housing shortage. As a result many of the newly employed are being housed in “man camps.” Another option is to commute.
Chilcott said a lot of people from the Kalispell area are commuting to the Bakken because rail service is available. He and Lawrence got the idea of providing Ravalli County residents with a similar opportunity by creating a specialized bus service linking the Bitterroot to the Bakken. They have contracted with Tucker Transportation, out of Florence, to provide the luxury motor coaches that will run on a regular basis with limited stops. Initial plans call for four base locations in Ravalli County, Missoula, Anaconda and Butte. They are also considering future staging locations in Bozeman and Helena.
“It’s about a twelve hour drive from western Montana to the Bakken,” said Lawrence, “It leaves you tired and worn out when you arrive for work, creating a safety hazard on the job.” It also creates a safety hazard on the road driving home after a long work shift. He said a few people have already died commuting. Driving all day also leaves you tired when you get home and recuperating cuts into the time you have with your family. R ‘n’ R Stagelines will offer the opportunity to arrive at work and back home rested and ready.
“A guy could sleep, play cards or watch DVDs in a luxury coach instead of risking his life and tiring himself out,” said Lawrence.
The bus will make a few limited stops, they say, maybe four or five. But nothing like the 21 stops that the regular Greyhound makes. Once in the Bakken, a shuttle bus will take people directly to their work site.
The two men are currently engaged in surveying potential customers. They want to offer schedules and routes to fit their clients’ needs. Once those details are worked out they will start accepting reservations. They are offering a $50 rebate on the first round-trip reservation to those who fill out their survey questionnaire. They are also offering a reduced rate to those who don’t have a job but simply want to go over and look for employment.
“I’m excited,” said Chilcott. “It could bring millions of dollars in wages into our county.” He said he witnessed the oil boom in Alaska when he lived there, “But this boom is way bigger! The job opportunities over there are outrageous.” He said the boom itself was forecast to continue at least five years with steady employment continuing for a long time after that.
Anyone interested can contact R ‘n’ R Stagelines at 777-7323.