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Oilfield jobs put families in predicament

CARLSBAD — The oil field can be a magnet for a man looking for means to support and create a future for his family.

To pursue it, though, could mean being separated from his family for weeks or even months at a time.

The majority of workers who have relocated to Carlsbad have left their families behind. Instead of seeing their children on a daily basis, most families are forced to cram weeks of memories into short two-day visits.

“From what I’ve seen, a lot of people do not bring their families,” said Linda Dodd, director of the United Way of Carlsbad & South Eddy County.

For workers from Texas or other parts of New Mexico, the trip home might just be a few hours away.

But for others, their loved ones get farther and farther away as they travel to the next city to find the next oil patch.

If home is where the heart is, then for some families the decision to move is rather easy.

Brittany Thomas moved to Carlsbad two weeks ago with her husband, who builds and repairs storage tanks, and their three daughters.

“I have been on the road since I was two,” said Thomas, now 27. Her father also works in the industry.

Most recently, the family moved from North Platte, Neb.

Thomas said she often is criticized for subjecting her children to such a transient lifestyle. But much like herself, moving has just become part of life for her family.

Her eldest daughter, Nevaeh, 6, does not seem to mind.

“I like it because you get to eat on the way and we get to sleep in a hotel,” Nevaeh said. “They even let us go swimming.”

The first-grader has a bright outlook on life. In fact, her optimistic personality has already helped her make a friend since moving here.

Lindee Salley, one of Thomas’ neighbors, also travels to where her husband’s work as a pipeline inspector takes him.

Last year, one of her children attended four schools in three different states.

“I have learned not to enroll in anything that’s further out than two weeks,” Salley said, laughing. “I have booked plane tickets and then had to leave.”

Having lived in boomtowns for most of her life, Thomas said she sees cities struggle with housing and infrastructure issues. Carlsbad is no different, she said.

“One thing that bugs me is the oil comes and everybody starts building these campgrounds and hotels like, ‘Boom, boom, boom,’ but they’re not really thought out very well,” she said.

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The perfect example and most pressing issue where they make their home now, she said, is that the water lines in the RV park they live in are not buried deep enough.

Salley had to live in a hotel for two weeks until the family found an RV spot. Not very stable housing, but it is an anchor for Salley’s family compared with other housing options available on short notice in the city.

Both women agreed that for them, the most important thing is keeping their families physically together.

“To me, the sacrifices I have to make to have our family together are worth it,” Thomas said.

For most oil field workers, the sometimes terrifying move must be made alone.

After injuring his back in a motorcycle accident about three years ago, Christopher Spainhoward of Bakersfield, Calif., was no longer able to work at the job he had at the time. A friend suggested he look for less physically strenuous work in the oil patch in Carlsbad.

In order to take the job, Spainhoward, now 29, had to move away from his wife and his newborn daughter.

“It was more of a necessity than a want,” he said of the move. “I needed to get back to work.”

After a conversation with his wife, he decided to take the opportunity in Carlsbad and moved here in January 2013.

“I knew it was going to be pretty tough on my wife, trying to keep everything glued together at home,” Spainhoward said.

On average he worked two weeks off, two weeks on, although sometimes he would go longer without seeing his family.

Spainhoward communicated with his wife and now 2-year-old daughter mainly via phone, but also through FaceTime and Skype.

“I’d send a postcard every now and then just to put a smile on their faces,” he said.

As a teenager, Spainhoward had traveled extensively for work but he had thought that phase of his life would have been over once he had a family.

Spainhoward’s advice to those moving away from their families is to “expect a challenge.”

“I’d say you need to have a very strong foundation between each other,” he said. “It works if you’re faithful and communicate on a daily basis. It will definitely improve your relationship with your significant other.”

After three years apart, his family finally was making plans to move permanently to Carlsbad.

Then, as tends to happen in a boom and bust industry, oil prices dropped and Spainhoward was laid off.

He was returned to Bakersfield in February and has since found a job that allows him to kiss his wife goodnight and tuck his daughter into bed.

For Spainhoward, the pursuit is over, but for others the chase for black gold and riches continues.

This article was written by Maddy Hayden from Carlsbad Current-Argus, N.M. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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