Belfield, North Dakota Is Like Small Towns In Florida Forty Years Ago

Belfield, North Dakota is twenty miles west of Dickinson, on Interstate 94.  Probably a million oil field workers have exited the interstate in Belfield to get on Highway 85 to go north to Williston.  According to the year 2000 Census there were 866 people living in Belfield, and the 2010 Census said there were 800 people, but I think that there were probably twice that many people because of the Oil Boom.

Most of the people driving on Interstate 94 and Highway 85 do not know that Belfield has a downtown because you can’t see it from these main roads.  If you drive 1/8 of a mile westward from Highway 85 you will find the residential neighborhood with the houses, schools, and churches.  Most of the houses and buildings were built between 1920 and 1980.  The houses and buildings are not fancy, they are simple and modest.

In the middle of the town of Belfield, there is Main Street and 1st Avenue.  In this area there is the Post Office, an old movie theatre which has been remodeled recently to serve as a civic center, and about four bars which also sometimes serve food.

Belfield has had its ups and downs.  Remember, there was an Oil Boom in western North Dakota in the 1950s, the late 1970s, and most recently 2007 through 2014.  Sometimes local residents have had high incomes, but most of the time the local people did not have high incomes.

I had to go to Belfield recently and spend some time there.  I didn’t think about it much beforehand or driving there.  When I drove through downtown Belfield, the residential area, it was quaint and pleasant looking.  There is a very nice green belt beside a small river that runs through town.

When I had to start dealing with people, I was worried that they were going to be hostile towards me because I was not from there, and the people were rough looking.  Some of the local residents asked me where I was from.  I answered, “I lived in Florida until I was 30, then I lived in Arizona for five years, then Idaho for five years, then I came to North Dakota when the economy got bad.” Everybody of course asked me why I left Florida.  I told them what I always tell everybody, that Florida got too crowded.  Nobody would ever believe me that most of the towns in Florida when I grew up forty years ago, were exactly like Belfield is now, with maybe about a thousand people.

I was worried that these people in Belfield were going to pick a fight with me, because I was not from there, and the people were rough looking.  They did not pick a fight with me.  I had been observing that the people were not fancy, fashionable, or stylish in their appearance.  I began to realize that they did not care.  I think that they had all lived together for so long, known each other for so long, that they had no desire to try to impress each other, so they just went everywhere, as they were, whether they had been doing yard work, house work, car repair, farming, or truck driving.  Not only did they not care about impressing their neighbors, they didn’t care to impress anybody.

Because the local people had been asking me where I was from, and I had tried to explain it to them, I was realizing more and more that Belfield was like the small town I had grown up in forty years ago.  In that town, most of the people did not make a lot of money, everybody knew where everybody worked, so there was no use in anybody trying to pretend to be something they weren’t, so nobody did.  The result was, everybody was much calmer, and much more laid back.  The other thing was, everybody had to try to get along, because you were stuck together, so people just adapted a manner of civility, because you had to.

I remembered that one of the things I hated when I moved away from my small home town, and had to live in places like Tampa, was that everyone was trying to be somebody they weren’t, and everybody was trying to impress everybody else.  Yes, it was a “rat race”, everyone competing and trying to out-do everyone else, in a ridiculous way, spending more money than they earned, making themselves stressed and pressured needlessly, except because of their own vanity and desperation.

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