MELITA — If Joel Vuignier gets one year out of a cellphone before it’s broken, he considers it a success.
The field supervisor for Taylor Oilfield Services in Melita has more blisters on his ear from talking on the phone than his hands when the oilpatch is firing on all cylinders.
"There are times when I’m talking on the phone and by the time the call’s finished, I already have two messages to return, and by the time I’ve listen to those messages, another message has already come in," Vuignier said.
It’s all part of the business when you’re helping organize 11 vacuum trucks and 10 water trucks in one of the busiest oil-producing centres in the province.
Vuignier works for Colby Taylor, who after five years slinging slips and throwing pipe with Precision Drilling out west, decided to return home and work as a vac-truck operator and water hauler.
What started with one tractor and a wagon has blossomed into a company that now employs 35 workers.
"It’s never easy starting out," said Taylor, who grew up in Brandon and still calls it home.
With a new shop in Melita, he admits there are many nights in the winter he crashes on the couch in the office rather than hopping in his truck for the one-hour commute.
The self-made businessman started in 2008, taking a leap of faith and investing in trucks and equipment.
One year later, the patch slowed to its lowest level in the previous five years, with only 264 holes punched in the province.
In the four years that have followed, 2,235 wells have been drilled — an average of approximately 560 wells per year.
Taylor admits there was some nervous energy when the company was getting started.
"At times it’s been challenging because (the industry) is up and down," he said. "It’s been stressful and there have been some sleepless nights, but we’ve had some good runs, too."
Today, on a cool April afternoon, Taylor is doing some maintenance work on a vac truck while waiting for the provincial road restrictions to be lifted. That’s when oil companies will start moving rigs and digging ditch again.
He keeps a few employees working throughout the shutdown, which is known as breakup in the industry. Others enjoy the respite provided by the ban, which is designed to protect provincial roads and infrastructure from the movement of heavy equipment during the spring when they are most vulnerable.
He’s heard rumours the oilfield will fire up again in early June, but has been around long enough to know that will probably mean things start moving closer to the end of the month.
The toughest part of his business is the logistics. Taylor is constantly juggling equipment, which engineers wanted yesterday, and workers, who are spread throughout Western Canada and Ontario.
Then, there’s the cold.
"Nothing runs the way it’s supposed to when it’s 40 C," Taylor said. "That’s why we have to be as prepared as we can be all the time."