CHICAGO -- When the oil boom was churning in remote expanses of Montana and North Dakota, Andy Turco left college in Illinois to take a chance on finding backbreaking, dangerous and high-paying work on the Great Plains.
He landed in Williston, N.D., where he lived in a car in a Wal-Mart parking lot for weeks, eventually getting hired as an oil roughneck. Turco worked 90 hours a week, earning nearly six figures, and said it was the best thing he'd done in his life.
"I'm finally living an adult lifestyle," Turco, then 24, said in March 2013, "instead of a teenage dropout lifestyle."
But the floor dropped out from under Turco in the middle of 2014, when an oil glut led to a plunge in gas prices that delighted drivers but indirectly put an estimated 250,000 global oil and gas employees out of work, including Turco. He returned home to the Midwest and self-destructed.
A few minutes before dinner on Oct. 5, his mother found him in his bedroom dead of a heroin overdose.
Turco's fall is part of the boom and bust narrative unfolding in the oil range of the Great Plains, where many of the wind-swept fields that yielded economic abundance now stand idle. He and others from the Chicago area moved to North Dakota to follow the oil fracking boom, an opportunity that in Illinois has yet to materialize.
Those who uprooted themselves from Illinois have seen the arc play out in ways that are disappointing and promising. Thousands of workers have lost jobs in North Dakota and moved. Other newcomers have planted roots and are trying to create a different identity for a community that's shrinking.
Williston shed Turco and Damien Williams, a Naperville North High School graduate who went to North Dakota in April 2012 to work at an energy company and now works at an Aurora beer distributor.
But Williston still is home to Rachel Laqua and Amy Liebel, who have settled there after arriving in 2012 from the Chicago area. Both moved as single professionals to take jobs created by the boom. Today they own homes and are married to local men. Liebel has a 2-year-old son.
Once considered the epicenter of the boom, Williston has lost at least a quarter of its population, which was as high as 42,000 in 2013. Unemployment claims in Williams County, where Williston is located, have tripled. The county's taxable sales revenue in the third quarter of 2015 dropped by more than 44 percent from the same period a year earlier.
But the city also has a new $70 million recreational center that the park district director says is among the largest in the nation. Construction is nearly finished on a $60 million high school and a $115 million wastewater treatment plant. A $160 million truck bypass opened last year, and the city has about half the funding lined up for an expanded, relocated $245 million airport, Mayor Howard Klug said.
"It feels," said Laqua, taking a break from her job as a senior planner with the city, "like a town that's kind of settled into itself."
Robust economic expansion hit western North Dakota starting in 2009, thanks to the improved technology of horizontal hydraulic fracturing -- commonly known as fracking -- which frees oil from deep underground shale by injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the stone. At the same time, oil prices began a strong rise, said Rob Grunewald, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, who has studied the region's economy for years.
Illinois started feeling the rush in 2012, when energy companies descended on oil-producing counties in southern regions of the state and began leasing mineral rights. In November 2014, the state approved regulations for fracking. Two companies have applied for permits but neither has begun hydraulic fracturing, said Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Young.
North Dakota's boom was epic. Thousands moved to Williston, nearly tripling the population in five years, pushing rental prices to the highest in the U.S. and prompting the construction of temporary "man camps," among other measures.
Streets, stores and restaurants were overwhelmed. Unemployment dropped to 0.7 percent. The city's economic development department reported that the average salary was nearly $71,000 a year. So strong did the boom reverberate that even Hollywood got in on it. ABC produced a TV drama series, "Blood & Oil," based on the boom.
Then, in June 2014, oil peaked at $107.95 a barrel and started dropping, largely because the global supply was increasing while demand waned.
Several factors contributed. U.S. production has risen significantly in recent years. Meanwhile, the 13-country Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by Saudi Arabia, has balked at cutting oil production to drive up prices because OPEC wants to maintain or grow its share of the market, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In addition, Western sanctions on Iran have been lifted, bringing its oil to market. And previously strong economies in China and Brazil slowed, easing oil demand there.
On Friday, the price of a barrel of oil stood at slightly more than $33.
Turco, born in Hoffman Estates and raised in the McHenry County community of Richmond, was a high school dropout who earned his GED and tried college for a while. But he left school and was working dead-end jobs when a friend in Williston told him about the opportunities there.
He had some drug problems and was nearly homeless. Clearing out of town and starting anew seemed like a smart move.
It worked. His job on the drilling rig kept him too busy to use drugs, he and friends said. His typical work schedule was nearly 13-hour days for two consecutive weeks, then two weeks off. He got a serious girlfriend and an apartment.
"I have an oil field lifestyle," Turco said in 2013, when he, Williams, Liebel and Laqua were subjects of a Chicago Tribune story. "It's a different life experience. It's kind of cool to learn about a new job that no one else knows about."
Williams, of Naperville, arrived in April 2012. His father, who was working in northwest North Dakota, persuaded Williams to leave his restaurant server job and move to Williston, where he found work cleaning pipe then got promoted to machinist.
"I've gotten used to the realization that Chicago's not home anymore," Damien Williams said in 2013. "This is where I plan on living the next 20 to 30 years."
But in the late spring of 2015, Williams lost his machinist job in Williston, a few months after his father lost his job, Williams said.
Today he works stocking beer kegs in Aurora, where he lives. He earns about one-third of what he was making in Williston, he said, adding that he hopes the oil industry rebounds so he can return to North Dakota.
"It'll pick up," Williams said, "once all this political BS is cleared up."
Liebel, of Libertyville, had a teaching degree and was unable to find a job in the field in Illinois. Then she heard about Williston, applied for a job and was hired six days later. She began teaching eighth grade math to start the school year in 2012.
Today she works as an elementary school teacher. Her husband, whom she met at the middle school, continues working there and "doesn't want to move anywhere near Illinois," Liebel said. "I'm stuck here forever. We are lifers."
She misses home but likes the slower version of Williston more than boomtown Williston. Today the city offers more family-oriented activities and has imposed measures that will require two downtown strip clubs to stop selling liquor or move to an industrial district. The truck bypass has diverted virtually all of the semis that used to rumble through town, Liebel said.
"It's still buzzing, in a different way," she said. "I'll grow to like it."
Raised in North Aurora and living in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood while she completed her master's degree in planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Laqua was offered a job in the Williston planning department in July 2012. She viewed it as a chance to broaden her work experience and as an adventure.
She was promoted to senior planner, bought a two-bedroom ranch house in September 2014 and got married on New Year's Eve 2015.
Like Liebel, Laqua prefers the downsized Williston, which, she noted, has added finer restaurants and four or five boutiques. And she loves her job.
"I think it's a much more permanent community," Laqua said. "I see people getting more involved now. This is home."
On a visit back to his parents' home in mid-2014, Andy Turco was aware the boom was ending. "This thing's going to come screeching to a halt and we're all going to be out of work real soon," his father, Rick Turco, recalled the young oil worker saying.
By early 2015, Andy had been laid off and was home with the family, which had moved to Kenosha. Boredom led him back to heroin, Rick Turco said.
At Andy's wake, the impact of his life became clearer. A woman embraced Rick Turco and told him that Andy saved her son's life by plucking him from a drug house and taking him to a treatment center. A bunch of his oil crew buddies drove more than 800 miles overnight to attend the memorial.
In the months since he'd returned home, other job opportunities had come Turco's way. A company that cleaned ethanol manufacturing plants offered him a five-year contract, Rick Turco recalled. His former oil field boss, who'd also been laid off, asked Turco to help build a landscaping company.
But nothing appealed to him like oil field work, Rick Turco said of his son. Andy Turco took a great deal of pride in the physically demanding, high-pressure aspects of the job and held out hope that he would return.
It might sound odd now, his father said, but the oil boom saved Andy Turco's life -- for a time.