EAGLE, Idaho -- Zack Phillips was preparing for one of the biggest days in his 19 years of life last month. Friends were coming. Family was gathering.
Phillips was about to receive his mission call, a letter from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He would be officially notified of where he would spend the next two years advancing his faith.
But on that special day, one person was missing in the room of the Phillips family’s Eagle home: Jon Phillips, Zack’s father.
Jon Phillips, 40, was 1,000 miles away in northwest North Dakota, overseeing trucks that haul oil from the fountains of crude that have erupted there in the past decade.
He is one of many Idahoans who have looked east to the oil fields as a source of opportunity, whether to meet family financial needs, or, like Phillips, to flex their entrepreneurial arms. North Dakota is a place choked with oil-hauling rigs and men seeking money.
The exact number of Idahoans working in the oil fields is not known. About 1,700 Idahoans were working in North Dakota in 2010, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. That was up 58 percent from 2009, when the recession forced thousands of Idahoans out of work and led some to the oil-rich state.
Jobs in the oil fields pay well. In Williams County, the flagship oil and drilling region in North Dakota, the average annual pay in 2011 was $93,000 for mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction, according to Job Service North Dakota. The average in transportation and warehousing, which includes hauling oil, was $80,000.
The North Dakota Petroleum Council estimates the state?s oil reserves are supporting 35,000 jobs directly related to the oil industry. That’s the equivalent of putting 57 percent of Idaho’s 60,600 jobless back to work.
In the seven months since Jon Phillips went to work with his best friend, Lance Manning, also of Eagle, the pair, along with three other investors, have put two trucks on the road hauling oil.
Phillips worked at St. Luke’s Health System in information technology until he left two years ago to launch a business helping clients? Web pages appear nearer the top of results pages in search engines like Google. Phillips, a self-styled entrepreneur, and Manning hit on the idea last November of starting their own trucking company to haul oil in North Dakota. The company now has six drivers and two trucks, with a third one planned. Phillips declined to say how much the company is making.
His decision to go to North Dakota made sense to his wife, Amy, so the family doesn’t "have to worry about money," she said.
But it still came at a price.
Jon Phillips works managing the truck routes for up to a month at a time before coming home for a couple of weeks. That leaves Amy Phillips to look after her four children: Griffyn, 7, Addie, 11, Chandler, 15, and Zackand to teach third grade at Rolling Hills Public Charter School in Northwest Boise.
?There are times we really miss him,? Amy Phillips said.
Her spouse?s absence has forced her to learn to do things she never did before.
"I had to learn how to edge the lawn, use the drill and use the leaf blower," she said.
Jon Phillips says his wife is strong. ?Amy just puts her head down and goes,? he said.
His wife also gets help. Zack has become a child hauler and homework helper. ?I?m kind of the dad when he is gone,? Zack said.
During the school year he ran on a tight schedule getting Chandler to school and himself to Boise State. He works on math with Chandler and Addie and on reading with Griffyn. He also works in the family?s Tropical Sno Cone shack at Heritage Park in Eagle. The shack?s profits will help pay for his mission to Tucson, Ariz., while his wages go into a fund to help defray college expenses when he gets back.
But Zack misses his father. They go to the YMCA near Hewlett Packard Co. regularly when he’s home.
"We work out together almost every day he is here," Zack said.
Jon Phillips and Manning have been friends for years. Each family tries to support the other in ways big and small. Jon has been known to carry a flat-screen TV for Hannah Manning, Lance’s wife. Lance Manning helps Amy Phillips when he is home and Jon is in North Dakota.
The two wives have grown closer in the months their husbands have been gone.
"We try to go out on the weekends," Hannah Manning said. "We have a date night if husbands aren?t here."
The women often go to Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill near St. Luke?s in Meridian or catch a movie at the Northgate or the Majestic. They exercise together. "She and I have started becoming running partners," Amy Phillips said.
Amy Phillips and her husband are linked by cellphone when he’s in North Dakota. "Every night, we always text good night," Jon Phillips said. He was present by cellphone the day Zack got his mission call.
Jon Phillips said he has his eye on a long-term goal in going to North Dakota: work in the oil fields while continuing to build his tech business.
Amy Phillips said she plans to go part-time at Rolling Hills next year so she is home more to take care of the family while her husband is away.
Lately, Jon Phillips has been able to make his trips to North Dakota last only a couple of weeks, after which he comes home for a couple of weeks.
When he comes home, he’s usually pooped and spends a day catching up on sleep. But after that there is work to be done. Mowing the grass, for instance.
"He’s got a huge honey-do list," Amy said.
)2012 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)
Visit The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho) at www.idahostatesman.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services