From the phone company to People magazine, the last few years have been quite a trip for Beverly Beard Maddox.
More importantly to the Port St. Joe native and resident – she is a cancer survivor.
Maddox is among those featured in the most recent People magazine, on shelves now, who have traveled to the wilds of North Dakota and its thriving gas and oil fields in search of work.
If there is spot on the Continental United States in which unemployment rates are all but meaningless it is North Dakota, where massive underground reservoirs of oil and natural gas have led to boom times.
“It really is incredible,” Maddox said. “They are fracking like crazy,” referring to a method of extracting oil and gas from shale rock.
Maddox made the trip during the summer for itinerant pipeline work, which she has been doing pretty much since she left GTCom eight or nine years ago after 16 years as an accountant.
She briefly worked in realty for Libia Taylor and also at Bluewater Outriggers and after leaving for a stint as an inventory control specialist for a company in Panama City, Maddox figured there had to be a better way to make a living.
“I thought this is so boring, working in an office five days a week,” Maddox said while brandishing a copy of People magazine in which she is pictured and quoted as one of the “faces of the new frontier.” “I just wanted to do something else with my life.”
The mother of her boyfriend suggested pipeline work, specifically becoming a welder’s helper.
The training wasn’t much – 80 hours to prove one has the jib for the work – and the pay was substantial, or as Maddox said, “high-scale.”
For example, in North Dakota, Maddox earned over $22 an hour, a $100 a day stipend, full benefits and the company she worked for supplied living accommodations and food.
In other words, all that money went to the bank while the company provided for her living expenses.
Maddox is now a proud member of Pipeline Local 798 out of Tulsa, OK.
“I like the outdoors, fishing and gardening,” Maddox said. “I like to be outdoors. Some people are not cut out for pipelining but I found I really enjoyed it.”
She has been all over the country, working for months-long stretches from places as diverse as Rock Springs, Wyoming – “There is nothing but prairie dogs and they are mean.” – and Orangeville, Texas, Kansas, West Virginia, Utah and Minnesota.
While not all jobs filled her bank account as in North Dakota – Maddox is deciding whether she wants to brave North Dakota during the winter months – the living is a good one.
“I enjoy it because I enjoy traveling and meeting people,” Maddox said. “In North Dakota, it is wide open. If you know anybody in construction they need to go up there. They are renting and selling homes that haven’t even been built yet.
“I think they have an inventory of something like 4,000 homes planned and not yet built.”
It was in Texas that Maddox had the scare of her life.
She awoke one morning with pain from one breast and knew intuitively that something was wrong. She contacted her doctor.
A biopsy later, the diagnosis was breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy and chemotherapy and Oct. 29 represents her cancer birthday, the day she received the diagnosis that she was cancer free.
“The only time I missed work was when I had surgery,” Maddox explained, missing four days for the original biopsy surgery, seven days after her lumpectomy.
The work of a welder’s helper is not an easy one, Maddox said, describing the many tasks that go into the job, from buffing to grinding to providing the right tools and equipment to the welder she is working with.
“Every welder I’ve worked with has been one of the nicest people in the world,” Maddox said.
Maddox is also something of a trail-blazer in that there are not a lot of women who take up work on pipelines.
In North Dakota, where the living compound was known as the Capital Lodge or “man camps”, Maddox was one of two women she knew working in the same area.
“On the pipe gang, I was usually the only woman on the job,” Maddox said. “(The men) give it to me and I give it right back. You have to.
“I have been fortunate that I have worked with some great people. It is not always like that, but I have been really fortunate. They are all good people.”
And Maddox has, if an interview with a reporter is any indication, the appropriate personality.
When talking about the People magazine article, she went to her cell phone contacts and got the staff writer from people on the phone in New York.
She had dinner with him and the photographer on the assignment one night and struck up a fast friendship, her greeting of “This is Bevvie” eliciting an immediate response from Jeff Truesdell, the writer.
In fact, she said, her phone was brimming with the contacts she has made the past six or seven years on pipelines around the country.
“I have a lot of children out there from my work,” Maddox said.