It was Easter Sunday in 1980 when Wayne Bergh got a call from NPL foreman Steve Walberg (a.k.a. Wild Willy) about joining his crew as a laborer. At the time, Wayne was working at a gas station and living on his family’s farm in Clearbrook, Minnesota, not too far from NPL’s birthplace in Gonvick. At 6:00 p.m. that evening, Wild Willy picked Wayne up in his truck to start their long commute to Minneapolis. “NPL was looking for hometown country boys who wanted to work hard. Everyone was dying to get hired on,” Wayne said. Not just anyone could live up to the NPL standard, though. By the end of that first work season, Wayne was the only one from the group hired on in the spring to stay with the company.
For his first five years, Wayne installed NFP pipe for service replacements in St. Paul. He found himself in the company of foreman Jeff Solberg, NPL’s longest-tenured employee, and crewman Steve Bergman, who has been with NPL for nearly 38 years. Long days began with hand-digging four-foot diameter holes at four feet deep (sometimes deeper) so existing service lines at homes could be cut with a four-way cutter. New plastic pipe was then installed back through the existing steel pipe, and meter sets were moved from the basements to outside. The original holes were then backfilled. That process was repeated about ten times on any given day.
After proving himself as a laborer, Wayne became a foreman and shifted to new construction work for Minnegasco in 1985. He remained in the Twin Cities area for the next 20 years. Like many others during that time, he commuted from Clearbrook at the beginning of the week and went back home at the end. “We found apartments, and four or five of us would live in one during the week, getting by on as little as possible,” Wayne said. “We did it because it was a good paying job and a good company to work for.”
The bonds that he created with his peers are a strong reason for why Wayne has been with NPL for 38 years. “We were all kind of like family—a family away from family,” he said. “We grew into brothers, and we looked out for each other. To this day we still do.”
During winter layoffs, Wayne bounced around the country to pitch in with the work going on in Texas, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Chicago. He’s now back in northern Minnesota installing gas around Pelican Lake for Greater Minnesota Gas. In his long career, this is the most challenging job he’s faced. It’s remote – with the nearest hardware store 20 miles away – and there are a lot of private facilities to work around. As an additional challenge, there are no hydrants to use as a water source for HDD equipment. One small water truck has to carry water from the lake itself. Despite the difficulties, having been in 1000s of yards through the years has given Wayne the experience and confidence to overcome the job’s obstacles.
(Left: Wayne guides his operator through some tightly congested areas around Pelican Lake.)
Though Wayne has been with NPL long enough to see some of the services he installed in his early years be replaced again, there are constants in NPL’s culture that haven’t changed. “I learned in the very beginning that common sense is your best weapon. Shortcuts don’t get you anywhere. Just do what’s right. I tell the same things to my guys today.” The core of these ideas has defined NPL since the beginning, and thanks to the stewardship of employees like Wayne, they have been passed on through the generations.