Living full time in our RV has gotten off to a rocky start with more repairs than anticipated needed for the RV. So to pay for those repairs and put a little money into savings I decided to do the Unbeetable Experience, the Sugar Beet harvest, this year.
I didn’t even know about the beet harvest until I saw people talking about going on facebook groups, so I was one of the last to arrive. I decided to see if there were any openings available on Wednesday so I called and it was a yes. I got in touch with an old friend to go with me so we could trade off watching the boys. She was happy to join me so she could earn money to pay for her license to do nails. She enlisted her boyfriend to come so he could help watch the boys and take care of cooking and cleaning while Josie and I worked 12 hour days.
We took a couple of days driving north from Nebraska to Minnesota mostly since I’m still new to driving an RV so breaks were needed more than typical. We also made a stop at a thrift store to buy warm clothes. Since we planned to travel to warm areas we did not pack more than a couple of sweatshirts for each person. We bought clothes for layering and a warm jacket for each person.
We arrived on a Saturday and were quickly settled into the trailer park with RV hookups in the back for harvest season. We were placed in the new section where they had added some new sites to accommodate more than in previous years. We made a quick run to the Walmart about a mile away to buy general groceries and something to take to the potluck kick off dinner.
At the potluck we met others based in Crookston who would be working the harvest. There was one couple here that was returning for the 13th year and another who were returning for their 6th year. Many people seem to return year after year. As I started to meet the people here to work the harvest I started to realize why people would return year after year.
Not only is the pay pretty good, but the people you work with are great. I found this out for myself when Josie’s fiance had to go home for medical reasons. We were left with both of us on the night shift so no one home to watch the boys overnight and with no vehicle to get to work. Asking around we found a ride to work and as soon as the liaison with Express employment learned about the situation she was able to switch it so one of us would work nights and one would work days. She even made sure to connect Josie with a person that would be able to give her a ride to her day shift. Above and beyond.
But back to getting settled in. Since we arrived so late we did our orientation on Sunday morning. This entailed filling out legal paperwork and information about the job as well as a short orientation and safety video. Looking at the map posted on the wall I realized how many different location they are working with just from the Crookston location.
My first shift was on Sunday night. The sugar beet harvest was set to officially begin at 12:01 am on October first. We reported to work at 10 pm so we would be ready. Since I had not arrived early enough to attend orientation I was issued my safety gear there. We all got a green hard hat, safety glasses, and a bright yellow green vest with reflectors on it. We also each got a a padlock which would be used during lockout procedures. They also had ear plugs and dust masks available, but I haven’t needed these yet.
Our foreman took us on a tour of our machine giving us a quick run down of our jobs. I was hired as a helper/sampler. My basic job seemed like it would be pretty simple, just long hours of being on my feet and in the weather. This proved to be the case in general. When the truck would pull up to the piler I would wait until they put on their air breaks, safety first. Then I would take their ticket and write #2 on it, because I was at pile two at our location. With some of the trucks there would also be a sample ticket. I would take this ticket an put it in the pouch on the sample bag. Then I would put one of the heavy vinyl sample bags around the chute. After waiting until we were in the middle of the load I would push the button and a sample bucket would drop into the stream of beets and catch some beets to drop down the chute. The clang and then big banging sounds of the beets made us jump more than once even when we were expecting it. These sample bags proved to be the second hardest part of the job, specifically wrapping and snapping the closing strap. (The colder the vinyl the harder to close them).
After all the beets were unloaded from the truck they would pull forward and I would direct them until the dirt return was over the back of their truck. With a push of a button the conveyor belt would deliver the dirt shaken off their beets back into their truck bed. They had been weighed when they entered and they would be weighed again as they exited to know how much was just beets. After each truck pulled away we would hurry to scoop away the dirt the missed the truck or that had been left by their tires. A little rain or dampness from the beets mixed with mud very quickly made for slick surfaces.
The most difficult part of the night only happens once per shift, cleaning the piler. The first step of before anyone can go into the machine is the lockout procedure, safety first always. The operator would turn off the electricity to the machine and then put on a scissor lock. Each person puts their padlock on the scissor lock and keeps their key. No one is to ever enter the machine unless their padlock is on the lockout. After the operator double checks that the machine is shut down then the cleaning begins. Everyone grabs a shovel or scraper and climbs onto the conveyors at the base of the machine and the area where the beets drop from these conveyors. We scrape all the mud off that we can although perfection is not expected, just to get off the build up of sticky mud. There’s also something called the wheelbarrow, where the beets go from the upward conveyor belt to the boom, which can sometimes need cleaned, but so far I’ve not encountered this thankfully.
The first night I was exhausted by the time we finished, but overall it had not been a difficult night, just long hours and on my feet constantly. I fell asleep very soon after arriving home. I’m not used to being up all night or being on my feet for so long, but I was making double time so it was worth it.