Of Hard Work and Success, Steve Bergman

Steve Bergman started with NPL in 1977. In November, he will have worked at NPL 40 years, making him the company’s second-longest-tenured employee.

A native of Clearbrook, Minnesota, just six miles from Gonvick where NPL was founded, Steve was hired as a laborer by his neighbor Warren Torgerson (brother of Wayne Torgerson, NPL’s second employee). His first job was to fill the pipeline with water on an 800-mile water line installation in North Dakota. According to Steve, labor was different in those days.

“It was hard work – all go, go, go. We were putting in 40’ sections of pipe at 8’ deep. There were no breaks. You ate your lunch on the run. And when the day was finished, you were tired. There was one guy whose job was to walk back and forth between the plow train and the pipe to relay information. If the plows did five miles per day, he walked 10-15 miles, all for $5 an hour, which is what laborers made. Winters were cold and windy. There were whiteout conditions sometimes, but we worked it. We pumped water 24-hours a day. If the pipe blew, a crew went out to fix it immediately, rain or shine.”

Steve later became an operator on a similar job in South Dakota. After that, he went to Minneapolis, where he worked as laborer again (there weren’t operator positions) who worked for a number of different foremen, including NPL’s longest-tenured employee Jeff Solberg. Though the location and work type changed, the work was still tough.

“All the guys from Gonvick and Clearbrook who were working on the Minnegasco contract drove over 270 miles to the Lakeville office. At 2 a.m. on Monday morning, 20-30 cars loaded with four guys would leave, and then come back again at the end of the work week. We worked hard. Foremen expected laborers to dig three holes from 3-8′ deep in the morning. When those were done, we started the gas service cutoffs so we could put the new plastic pipe inside the old steel or cast iron pipe, one section at a time. By 5:30 in the evening, we were back-filling those same holes that we had dug in the morning. We did about 20 services a day, which today just wouldn’t happen. There were some Mondays when you didn’t know if you were coming or going.”

(Image: Pictured on the far left, Steve was the operator for a crew installing 250,000 feet of inter-duct for a new customer in the St. Cloud, Minnesota, area in 1998.)

Steve eventually worked again as an operator on Jeff Solberg’s crew, where he stayed for about ten years before becoming a foreman of his own crew doing rehab work for Dakota Electric.

Looking back over his career, Steve says that communication has changed the most over time.

“When I started, pickup trucks had two-way radios. Then when the pickups changed, there was nothing. If you were out in the field and needed to call someone, you were driving 10-15 miles to the nearest payphone. Then there were pagers, but if you got paged, you were still driving to a payphone. It was constant back and forth. If locaters didn’t show up, you had to make a call. If the next guy didn’t show up, you were making another call. Bag phones were next, then cell phones. I used to say I’m not dealing with computers. Now I have one in my truck.”

(Image: Pictured on the right, Steve weighs his catch during NPL’s 25th Annual Fishing Contest in 2003. The 7 lb. 6 oz. Northern Pike took first place.)

Today, Steve continues to make the same long commute from Clearbrook to Lakeville. He leaves on Sunday and returns on Thursday or Friday. If he has to work on Saturday, he spends a total of six hours at home for the week. That doesn’t keep him from doing a little farming on the side, though.

Steve exemplifies the strong work ethic and perseverance of those who helped build NPL from the ground up, and NPL’s strong reputation today is a testament to five decades of laborers, operators and foremen who, like Steve, played a role forming a culture where  hard work leads to success.