KILLDEER -- Born-and-raised Killdeer resident Ben Murphy said he knows, when someone rents moving equipment, if an oilfield worker was getting laid off.
"You can usually tell with the customer when you call them if they knew it was coming or not," Murphy said. If they're leaving by choice, he said, they're happy, not having planned on staying in North Dakota forever.
"On my next off days I'm never coming back," they'll say, said Murphy, who opened his Killdeer U-Haul dealership around Thanksgiving. He's been busy.
The workers that get a day's notice to leave their job and housing just want to be gone, he said. They're frustrated and don't know where they're going, just wanting to head south for some warmth.
U-Haul officials said most rentals for ex-oilfield workers do, in fact, head south, where awaits another oil and gas industry -- Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana.
While many say the industry will recover, a drop in oil prices has led to mass layoffs of oilfield workers as companies lower their 2015 rig counts.
Drive by a U-Haul dealer to get a good idea of the economy in that town, said Brian Way, the general manager of Williston's corporate U-Haul location, which shares the market there with two other dealers.
"We're having a lot of people move out," he said. "A lot of job cuts -- it seems to be the main reason why."
The dealers are still seeing people moving in, dropping off equipment versus renting it out. The oil slowdown, after all, is affecting only certain parts of the energy industry.
But Way estimates he has five times the people renting equipment to move out than he sees people dropping off equipment after they've moved to North Dakota. Three in one week, 15 out.
Across the west, dealers aren't seeing a mass exodus of laid-off or anxious workers leaving the Oil Patch, but the amount coming to the state, maybe expecting to find jobs, has slowed, said Kent Treichel, the U-Haul regional manager for western North Dakota.
"It's not that more is going out than last year," he said. "It's just there's less coming in as to what there was 3 months ago."
A recent customer told Murphy he wasn't laid off, but had made the money he came to North Dakota to make.
"A lot of them come up here with their dollar amount in their mind and once they hit that number, they leave," Murphy said.
The transient nature of the oilfield is seen in the type of equipment workers need to leave it.
In Williston, Way said the most popular rentals are for smaller equipment like trailers for workers who lived in man camps or other employee-provided housing without much to move.
Murphy said his location in Killdeer rents a lot of the trucks that can haul cars, for the workers who had on-weeks and off-weeks, and bought a car for their time in North Dakota then hauled it back home when they left for good.
"I've noticed that a lot more people are leaving now than they were before and a lot less people are coming in, it seems like," said Kaytlyn Hansen, U-Haul traffic control manager for the Dakotas and part of Minnesota, "because we just don't have the equipment out there."
A month ago, Way saw more people moving out "just due to the scare" of what effect low oil prices would have, he said.
Recently those fears have come to fruition for some -- Way and Murphy said they've rented to workers who had 24 or even 12 hours' notice that they were laid off and had to be out of their employee housing.
"We've gotten some of the calls from customers looking for equipment, saying that they've gotta be out of there in the next couple of days," Hansen said.
When one oilfield services company laid off a group of workers in New Town, Murphy said he rented out all of his equipment in 24 hours -- after getting the news at 5 p.m., they had until 5 p.m. the next day to be gone.
Most people leaving say they won't come back when jobs are available again, Way said of Williston. They're frustrated with how their companies handled the slowdown and the layoffs, which sometimes seemed to come out of the blue.
But Way is uncertain about them sticking to that conviction.
"They're gonna go back to Texas and make 9 dollars an hour," he said. " ... They will change their mind."