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Showers for dirty workers, money for college

By Chris Welch, CNN
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Fri August 24, 2012
Evan Jensen, 18, rests atop his shower truck, which he helped build along with his family after noticing there was no place to get a decent shower in the oil boomtown of Williston, North Dakota. Evan Jensen, 18, rests atop his shower truck, which he helped build along with his family after noticing there was no place to get a decent shower in the oil boomtown of Williston, North Dakota.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Evan Jensen, 18, noticed a lack of showers on a recent visit to Williston, North Dakota
  • Williston is the epicenter of the region's oil boom
  • Many oil workers have to wait for hours to shower at local truck stops
  • Jensen hopes his shower truck will help him earn money for music college

Minneapolis (CNN) -- It's hard to find a lot of things in Williston, North Dakota, where thousands of workers have flocked for high-paying oil jobs. Houses and apartments are in short supply, and those living in temporary abodes must wait for hours at run-down truck stops for a hot shower at the end of a long workday.

Evan Jensen, 18, found that out firsthand when he visited the oil boomtown a few months ago to help his brother find work there.

The recent high school graduate, who is attending college this fall, knew there was an opportunity to make money in Williston, considered ground zero in the oil boom region known as the Bakken. Lured by the possibility of six-figure salaries, thousands have flocked to the region, leaving nearly everything in short supply.

CNNMoney.com: Workers score payday in North Dakota

Jensen's first idea was to create a camper with bunk beds, and rent that. But then he had a better idea.

"While we were there we were getting pretty smelly," Jensen said. "[We thought] 'Man, you can't get a shower anywhere.' So that's where [the idea] really sparked."

Jensen said during peak after-work hours, popular truck stops in the area utilize a number system and people line up for showers. Sometimes the wait can be two or three hours, he said.

Workers have descended upon Williston, North Dakota, for oil industry jobs that pay six figures.
Workers have descended upon Williston, North Dakota, for oil industry jobs that pay six figures.

"I mean the truck stops -- they're just nasty," Jensen said. "They're hard to get in and out. You get to certain ones ... and it's just a zoo."

He said one man told him when he's "feeling desperate for a good shower" he'll drive 60 miles out of the way.

He mentioned the idea of a shower house to his dad and, during their nine-hour drive back to their home in South Dakota, they mulled it over.

"By the time we got home I was on the edge of my seat because I was so excited," he said.

A week later, enough time for his parents to realize he was serious and not being a fickle teenager, his folks asked if he was ready. He said he was.

Jensen used an old 53-foot semi-trailer from his father and, with the help of his family and friends, spent three weeks outfitting it with five private shower stalls. They also installed a washer and dryer, an office, and bought a separate water tanker.

In mid-June, they took the tanker and trailer up to Williston.

"We had a blast doing it," Jensen said.

Gallery: Check out other boomtown opportunists

Jensen hopes to earn enough money to pay tuition at a music college in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Jensen hopes to earn enough money to pay tuition at a music college in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Showers run $10 a pop -- $5 if you live in the makeshift village of campers where the mobile shower trailer is located. When he first got it up and running, Jensen was manning it from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. He soon changed that when he realized 90% of his customers were coming between the peak after work hours of 4 p.m. and 11 p.m.

These days, the place is staffed by one hired employee, because Jensen is focused on his move to school. So far, they're averaging between 20 and 25 customers a day, and he said he has probably made more than $5,000 -- although it will be awhile before he pays off the start-up costs. Ideally he'd love to sell the business. He has put an ad on Craigslist.com asking for $95,000 "or best offer."

Classes at McNally-Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota, start September 6. Jensen said music has been his "absolute passion" since he was a kid. He taught himself how to play guitar a few years back.

"I just love creating music. It's a blast, I could do it forever," he said, adding that performing his own work isn't necessarily what he's after.

"I'd rather make somebody a rock star that has better vocal talent than I do."

Jensen said that while his parents would always be there to assist if he really needed it, the burden of tuition rests squarely on him. He is determined to balance his passion for music with the reality of life.

"Music is what I absolutely love doing, but for anything in life, if it doesn't pay the bills you gotta find something that does," he said.

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