WILLISTON, N.D. – Anneli Anderson recalls the last time she said goodbye to her older brother, Evan.
He had traveled home to the small Minnesota city of Cokato in summer 2011 to take a break from his job in the North Dakota oilfields.
“I was sneaking out (of the house). Evan was sitting in the kitchen, and he hollered at me, ‘Bye An,’ ” said Anderson, then 22.
By October, Evan was gone — a fatality on a western North Dakota road. But it’s his unbounded spirit that she holds close, perhaps leading her west to Williston two years ago “for work and an adventure.”
“We’re wanderers — always an adventure. At that point, he was probably my closest brother,” said Anderson, one of 10 siblings.
Anderson was recently behind the wheel of her B&G Oilfield Services pickup north of Williston, scanning the prairie for stakes that marked a natural gas pipeline operated by Oklahoma-based ONEOK Partners.
Her task was to plant yellow flags — signifying gas — along a one-mile stretch of the underground lines so that Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative could later install utility poles and anchors.
“She’s very diligent, quick and precise. She does a great job representing our organization,” said Pat Bertagnolli, director of human resources and safety for B&G.
Women make up 40 percent of the company’s line locators. They also provide hydrovac services (utilizing water in the digging process) and work as heavy equipment operators.
“We have a great team. I’m very conscientious about (diversity),” he said.
Anderson insists it’s all about “fun.” She describes herself as an easygoing and very stubborn Minnesotan, who when asked her age said, “24 ¾” — she enjoys the outdoors and the solitude of her job.
Unlike many millennials who grew up with the Internet and rely on a smartphone or GPS, Anderson has no qualms about reading a traditional map — as in the 37 large maps showing ONEOK’s gas pipelines.
“Some people can’t read maps, it drives me bonkers. We did a lot of that in school. I feel like I don’t remember not knowing how to read maps,” she said.
Her boss, Bruce Ward, said he was trained by a woman locator and credits her with his realization that women “can do it better than most of the guys.”
“They prioritize, they schedule their day according to their work. … On average, Anneli will walk up to 10 miles per day. My women locators are very detail oriented,” he said.
The job’s primary challenges have been the weather and getting a good signal using tools that rely on radio signals to pinpoint utility lines.
With siblings Brandon and Kirsti, who came to Williston with her husband and three kids in January, she has formed a strong family bond in her home away from home.
Anderson’s sun-kissed looks belie her tenacity and spunk. She set her sights on North Dakota after her brother’s death. His spirit may serve as a reminder of what’s possible.
“I think some women are just too chicken to go for it and get a great job, but maybe it takes time. You just have to stay positive and keep looking. I started working at a candy warehouse, and now I have a really fun job, and I get paid well,” she said.
Originally appeared at: