MARTINS FERRY - When a long-sleeved shirt can stand up on its own, Nancy Hanson knows she did her job right.
The secret is a large dose of heavy starch added to the washer. When the garment dries it is practically stiff as a board, giving the fabric the ability to repel millions of sparks that fly when a welder is at work on a natural gas pipeline job.
Hanson, a worker at the State Cleaners of Martins Ferry, said business at the dry cleaning store has been on the uptick since about the second week of May because of the influx of Marcellus and Utica shale drilling workers in the region.
pressing out the wrinkles, State
Cleaners of Martins Ferry worker Nancy
Hanson demonstrates how stand-up stiff one of her customers —gas pipeline welder Todd Smith — likes his shirts to be in order to repel sparks. The secret is a large amount of starch.
"We're averaging three new customers a week," said Hanson, who has worked in the business for more than 40 years. "Last week I did 45 shirts - that's good."
Bernie Otte, owner/operator, said the store, which was opened by his father and uncles in 1948, has seen its share of changes in the business, but with the gas drilling industry coming to the region, the increase in work has been "consistent."
"They tell us they want to look nice," Hanson said while using a hot iron and another larger machine to press out the wrinkles in the stiff shirts. "They might not look nice at the end of the day, but when they start out they're looking good."
Otte said most of his drilling-related business is coming from people working in the Moundsville area, but he hopes to get more from Belmont County as new campsites are forming.
In Moundsville, Perkins Restaurant manager Billie Street said she's noticed an increase in business due to the drillers and welders living and working in the Marshall County area.
"The servers say they tip pretty good," Street said. "Breakfast and dinner has picked up. We have our regulars now. It's definitely helped."
Street noted she has not had to hire any extra workers to meet the demand, but said there is periodically regular openings.
Amanda Smith, 31; her husband Todd Smith, 34, a gas pipeline welder; and their girls ages 2 and 4, are living and working in the Marshall County area. They are among the many drilling workers and families who frequent not only State Cleaners in Martins Ferry but restaurants and other businesses in Marshall County.
"That's the first thing we try to find is to make sure there's a place to get his welding shirts done," Smith said, noting other top items when moving to a new area for work are a place to purchase diesel fuel and a location to park their RV.
Before coming to Marshall County, Smith said her family was in Pennsylvania. They have traveled and worked in many different states, but Wyoming is the most westward they have been for a job. They usually end up staying in one location for less than a year. For the past few welding jobs, Todd Smith and several other welders in the same campsite have worked for Sheehan Pipeline.
"Every community accepts us differently. Here is a lot more welcoming than Pennsylvania," she said, noting the Keystone State is the last place they worked. "We bring a lot to a community. Many men stay in hotels and eat out every single meal. And they have to find someone to do their laundry."
Smith said her husband often wears one shirt a day for a 12-hour shift. Some shifts last 24 hours.
"This is my way of life. Sitting still doesn't feel right to me. I'm at home on the road," she said.
While Todd Smith is working on welding transmission lines, Smith is at their RV homeschooling their girls.
"We all travel all the time - they love it," Smith said of her daughters. "They get to see a lot of stuff that most kids don't. ... I didn't go home (to Missouri) to have my children. I had my children on the road - I wanted my husband to be there."
Smith added she knows pipeliners are often labeled bad news before even setting foot in a new town. But most workers, she said, are just trying to make a living like everyone else. To help combat some negative views of drillers, Smith said she and other pipeliner wives try to do community service in whatever area they currently are living in. For example, Smith has formed a group to help raise money for cancer research during this fall's Ohio County Relay for Life.