Eyelids creak open to a nearly pitch-black ceiling. Visible from the bedroom window, the sky is just beginning its transition from obsidian to navy blue. Doug Irwin rolls out of bed, careful not to wake his wife, Glenda. With a yawn, he steps into his thick slippers and pulls his pajama robe around his shoulders.
He stumbles out of his bedroom and into his kitchen, where a luminescent twinkle catches his eye. Doug squints a bit toward the window. The sun hasn’t yet risen, but bright lights from a distant structure radiate.
Then he sighs.
Doug flips on the coffee pot before trudging to the back door and sliding its glass panel open. A deep thud echoes through the ground. A few seconds later, another rumble. This time, a dull, metallic boom echoes through the valley. Looking in the direction of the noises, he sees equipment headlights glow from afar, looking like slow-moving fireflies.
Doug frowns a bit. He steps back inside, pours a cup of black coffee and pulls up a wooden chair to the glass door. Waiting for the inevitable sunrise, he takes a sip from his warm ceramic mug.
Mornings in Orin Junction sure have changed, the long-time resident muses. He used to drink his coffee to the sounds of birds, wind whistling through the trees along the river and the sunrise breaking through the darkness.
The Irwins, along with a few dozen others, live in Orin Junction— a tight-knit unincorporated rural community about 13 miles east of Douglas that, until recently, was more of a spattering of homes and ranches with a common bond. Even though they nearly abut I-25 and US18/20, they were rural and quiet, away from the bustle that energy boom brought to Douglas and northern Converse County.
Though scarce in population still, Orin is changing. A lot.
A surging growth caused by the energy industry – oil, gas, wind and even railroad – throughout the county has seemingly converged on little Orin, mostly because it sits at the apex of a railroad off-loading area, the interstate and the U.S. highway. So far, a handful of energy-related companies operate and have facilities in the roughly square mile area. While the companies vary from gravel hauling to water treatment, they have at least one thing in common: the energy boom.
Orin first tasted the energy industry in 2013, when Aaron’s Water Service bought a chunk of land. In the six years since, several other companies have sprung up in Orin, turning the small, residential community, into a busy staging area for operations, off-loading from trucks and trains and even materials storage. A man-camp is a fairly new addition, too.
“There isn’t anything you can do about progress, it’s going to come,” Doug remarks. This progress has spurned changes in daily life for the long-time residents.
“We just have more traffic, and it’s all hours of the day and night,” Doug notes. Glenda chimes in that more traffic has brought more potholes in the dirt roads inside the area known as Orin.
Renewable Fibers Inc., a gravel hauling company, has operations set up on its property along 2nd Street, one of Orin’s three dirt roads. AWS, which transports water, operates on company property at the end of 2nd Street. Given their location, the businesses often drive down 2nd Street when exiting and entering Orin.
“In here, we’ll only go five to ten miles an hour because of the neighbors,” RFI Wyoming Operations Manager Lee Cline explains. “We try to be courteous to everybody.”
He adds that there’s been no complaints from the neighbors.
“We were used to trucks before, but now we have three times as many,” 11-year resident Becca Perrine notes, commenting that drivers are courteous. She hasn’t met a single disrespectful driver.
“I have noticed a lot more dust,” Perrine laughs, before solemnly mentioning that an elderly man on oxygen support used to live in the neighborhood, and the traffic dust seemed to be difficult on him.
“It’s just one of those deals where you have to adjust,” Perrine admits.
As with RFI, AWS Operations Manager Carol Lee says that there have been no complaints from residents. Aaron’s trucks leave Orin for their routes on a set schedule, with drivers leaving at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day.
Lee says if semi-trucks are kicking up too much dust, the company wet the roads to help squelch the dirt clouds.
“You can always tell when the boom and bust is on (in Orin). Traffic slows down or picks back up,” resident Felica Smith says while surveying the area.
Smith, who has called Orin home since 2012, comments that she would hardly know the industries were in her community if not for the traffic. According to Smith, she sometimes worries about one of her five dogs being struck by a truck, but she’s noticed the drivers are extremely careful.
“I don’t think (the progress) hurts anything,” Smith adds. “It’s good to see growth, definitely.”
While Orin’s boom in activity has caused some changes to the residents’ daytime atmosphere, it has similarly impacted their nights as much, if not more.
The Irwins say when the sun goes down, lights from an AWS facility down the road shine through their dining room window.
“We’ve got a football stadium shining lights in our house all night,” Doug jokes.
AWS’ Lee notes that Aaron’s operates 24/7, and at least one mechanic works in their illuminated shop at night because of the volume of energy-related work.
“Before that stuff went in, we could sit outside and we could see the stars,” Doug sighs. “You can’t see like you could before.”
Despite the lights, Doug points out he has had good relations with the company. In fact, Aaron’s has allowed his sheep to graze on their property for the last two years, away from any of their structures and trucks, of course. He noted that this agreement has been mutually beneficial— his sheep get fed, and Aaron’s receives free weed-control.
Another recent nighttime occurrence has been heard, rather than seen. RFI, which has a mancamp and semi-truck parking in Orin, also stores tanks filled with fracturing sand in the area. According to Irwin, the company loads and unloads the tanks frequently, day and night.
“The other night, I was up at 3:30 (a.m.) and they were unloading those things all night long,” he says. “And you’re listening to bang! Rattle! Bang! Bang!”
RFI’s property, where these operations occur, used to belong to the Irwins. He sold the corporation a few acres in 2017, when RFI representatives told him they didn’t know what the land would be used for yet.
“I feel sorry for the people that have to live over there closer to (the tanks); it affects me but not near like it does them,” Irwin remarks.
Although night operations may pose an inconvenience, Irwin realizes the snowball effect of incoming business.
“This is never going to be a residential, agricultural area anymore,” he says. “It’s going to be industrial and we’re either going to have to live with it, or move out.”
Perrine, who lives on the opposite side of Orin from the Irwins, isn’t bothered by the occasional nocturnal clang of tanks, as she’s accustomed to a louder neighbor.
“As far as noise pollution, I live by a train,” she remarks with a chuckle.
Smith, a nearby neighbor, agrees with Perrine, saying she doesn’t notice the sound of the industry over the train’s roar.
Since beginning construction on their Orin location in October, World Water Technologies Special Projects Team Leader Ray Hayden says that they have only received one noise complaint. WWT, which treats water for energy-field purposes, runs off a generator in Orin due to a lack of infrastructure. While the company tested their generator in February, before beginning operations in June, an Orin resident filed a noise complaint because of the machine’s loud sputtering— despite the fact that the generator had a primary muffler attached.
This prompted WWT to install their generator with a secondary muffler. Since then, Hayden said there haven’t been any noise complaints.
It is late evening in Orin Junction. The setting sun reflects off the tanned pastures and bumpy roads, painting the landscape a fiery orange hue. A line of empty semi-trucks, back from the day’s haul, skate down the dirt road before turning into their respective headquarters. Irwin studies this scene from his house window. With a deep breath, he looks into the vibrant horizon, away from the hum of pistons and clanging metal.
His thoughts swarm.
“It’s always in the back of my mind, if I want to live down here with all of this much longer, or do I want to leave.”