First Time at the Beet Harvest – Soft Open

Monday, September 26, 2016 

After a terrific day in the National Park on Sunday, we woke up and got ready for our on site orientation.  This time we called the number and it affirmed our orientation did start today.  We arrived early and people were milling about so we just sort of followed the crowd.  We filled out our time card and clocked in. Next we got our PPE equipment (personal safety equipment).  They issued us two pairs of gloves (light pair and bright orange heavier pair), a hard hat, ear plugs, safety glasses (either clear or light shaded ), and a bright orange vest.  We also signed for our personal lock and key.   The lock is a pretty heavy-duty one and is used for all “lock out” procedures.  It’s actually a really good system.  If the piler needs moved or worked on then every person on the crew locks the electrical box.  One by one the locks are removed and after every single person involved is aware of the machine’s power status can it be turned back on.  Brilliant really, and a great example of “poke-oke” or idiot proofing a process.  Seriously this machinery is no joke and this would stop someone from turning it on while other people are in harm’s way.  

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Then several foremen and the agriculturist at Sugar Valley spoke to us a group.  They were a group of smart 20 somethings who seemed to have their act together.   They explained that because the fields had receive 2-1/2 inches of rain in the last few days they would need to perform what they called a “soft opening.”  We would get paid 4 hours for orientation (it lasted less than an hour), we could paint tomorrow for pay if we wanted to but it was optional, and then Thursday they thought the ground would be dry enough to start working.  Once we started working and they could assess, people would find out what their jobs would be.  Everything went really well during the entire meeting, my only disappointment was we still did not know what shift we were going to be on.  Once again we were asked to fill out a sheet with our preference and were told we should find out Thursday.  Again, switching your sleep patterns is a big deal and the more time for people to do that the better, but they seemed to be keeping their options open. One thing I did hear from the crowd (not the bosses) was that if you had a dog you were supposed to get day shift.  Part of the deal here is people get their dogs walked at least once a day by the camphost and apparently this year 23 couples have dogs.  If it is true dog owners get day shift, that could put us at a serious disadvantage.  But again all speculation.

I was pleased to see that there was a break room facility and it had free water and coffee.  There was also a refrigerator and two microwaves and several porta-johns at the location.  They said we would be able to park down near our pilers once worked started, and we would get one 1/2 hour and two 15 minute paid breaks in a 12 hour period.  Unfortunately the break room is located pretty far from the pilers, but the foremen said they would give folks rides back and forth.  About half of the group was new to the beet harvest and it was a mix of both young and old.  Most importantly everyone seemed very friendly and the folks who had done it before were very encouraging.  It is a very interesting group of many different types of people, and to illustrate that let me tell you about two couples we spent some time talking to today.

One couple Judy and Jim  (68 and 71) are retired and this is their first time here.  What was interesting about them though is they aren’t full timers.  They own a lake house in Pennsylvania and spend the summers golfing, but snowbird to Arizona in the winter.  Jim wanted to try work kamping, mainly because they like to keep busy, and talked Judy into the Beet Harvest.  I was totally blown away by this.  There are so many things you could do to keep busy in retirement and this seems an extreme choice.  But they are looking forward to the challenge and both seemed really excited to be there.  I thought they were both great, but I told them I think they are a little nuts 🙂

Another couple we met was Jen and Kyle.  They are 26 and 29 and recently became full-time RVers.  They were living in Georgia and she was teaching and he was working, but when they decided to start a family they realized they didn’t want to raise kids there.  But neither was sure where they wanted to, so the sold all their stuff, are renting their house out, and went on the road to travel and see the country before deciding where to settle and start a family.  Very interesting approach and smart in my opinion.  They have both spent a lot of time researching areas, but they understand actually living in a place is very different.  They have put themselves in a place where they think they can live on $15K -$20K a year and are working the beet harvest for an infusion of cash.  Plus everywhere they go and work they are simultaneously checking out the area. Kyle wants a job “working with his hands” and the opportunities for him in both opportunity and pay vary significantly in different parts of the country.  They are particularly interested in exploring the middle of the country and plan on making a route through that area next.

Two completely different scenarios, but both couples were smart, funny, and wondering as I was exactly what we have gotten ourselves into.  Everyone did seem relieved though after orientation, because they made it clear it wasn’t going to be nonstop hard labor. We are going to paint tomorrow, so maybe we will meet some more folks. – Tracy

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 

We showed up bright and early for painting on Tuesday, but so many people showed up they split us into two groups.  The returning folks painted and us newbies got a tour of the pilers and learned about their operation.  Bill trained our group and did a terrific job.  Things made a lot more sense when we were standing next to the machine and we got to ask a lot of questions.  We also saw firsthand why were weren’t working.  Everyone had at least 4 inches of mud on their boots in no time and although it was fine were walking around and learning, I wouldn’t want to be slogging through it on twelve-hour shifts.  Plus our trucks and cars almost got stuck driving back there.  No way the dump trucks could make it.  

We learned for a couple of hours , but they paid us for 4.  We were also told we would be paid 4 hours “stay pay” for Wednesday and Thursday (don’t have to work but get paid anyways) and would probably have a 4 hour shift on Friday with actual beets. We also learned we would be on days which made me feel much better.  The young kids that were working were all taking the night shift.  They wanted to work nights and we wanted days, so that worked out great. I talked to a couple of them and most knew each other from the railroads.  Apparently many of them travel on rail cars (think riding the rails  in the 1930’s and run into each other frequently in their vagabond lifestyle. The money they earn at the beet harvest will last them several months and they spend the rest of the year traveling and working only when they have to.  It’s interesting that I had no idea this was happening.  The kids are all intelligent and friendly, but definitely living a counter-culture lifestyle.  I never would have been able to color that far outside the lines at their age.  One of the guys has two kids though so he is taking a more traditional track now.  He lives and works in Detroit most of the year, but still comes to the beet harvest to catch up with his friends.  Some of these guys have been doing this for 10 years and seem perfectly content. – Tracy

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 

Last night Jen and Kyle came by and we invited them into our rig.  We talked for several hours and discovered we had a bunch in common, age difference aside.  That’s one of the coolest things about the lifestyle, in my opinion.  Full timers are brought together by this shared experience and often that transcends other factors like age, religion, and politics. As Lee often says, no matter what we all have to dump our poop and that brings people together!  The next day we spent some time talking to our kids and then went over and visited Jen and Kyles rig.  They bought a 24 ft used travel trailer and have done an amazing job with it.  Not only did they remodel it using inexpensive materials, but they have also taken advantage of every inch of space.  We got some ideas from them, the marine fans over the bed were brilliant for example, and again had a wonderful time getting to know each other.  With some couples you just click, and that’s how it was with them.  The conversation just flowed.  We are the first full timers they have really gotten to spend time with and they are the first really young couple we have spent any time with. 

The rest of the day was spent watching TV and trying new recipes.  The latter has been a mixed bag.  Lee and I finally landed on a great beef stew recipe, but the other recipes not so great.   I made chicken and mushroom stew (mediocre), homemade mac and cheese (inedible) and macaroni salad (not bad but needs tweaking).  My criteria for this recipes has always been pretty high.  Mostly they need to have minimal commonly found  ingredients, be relatively simple to make with RV appliances, and taste very good.  Not that easy.  After much trial and error I have enlisted my new son-in-law to be Jeremy to help.  Jeremy is a great cook, so I gave him my criteria and we will see what he can come up with.  I did feel better, when he said he would need to think about it because of the strict criteria.  It’s not just me being too picky then. – Tracy

Thursday, September 28, 2016 

I woke up at 4am this morning and stayed up because I think I am close to adjusting to my new shift time.  Even though it’s more waiting, I don’t mind so much now that we are getting paid.  We are making $106 gross a day for staying here and since we aren’t spending money and have a free campsite, that’s ok for now.  We are definitely working 4 hours Friday and then our first 12 hour shift on Saturday, but according to the rain forecast then it is supposed to rain again for 4 days.  Not sure how that will play out.  I imagine that we will work in the rain until the field gets so muddy we can’t but the weather is playing a much bigger factor than I thought it would. I will say again the campground isn’t the greatest.  We have never been able to get the wifi to work, although others have had some success, and there really isn’t anything to do in the immediate area. Well there are a bunch of little casinos. but in the interest of budget we haven’t been in one and don’t plan on it.  

Jen and Kyle also treated us to Pizza Hut lunch buffet today.  There was a time not that long ago when I would never have let someone younger than me pay for my lunch, but those days are gone lol.   I did double-check that their budget could handle it, but I would have done that with anyone.  And since I really love Pizza Hut and our food budget is already over for the month, I gladly accepted.

We had a great lunch and as we were walking back to our RV’s someone walked up and told us tomorrow was going to be a full day and 6am start.  We understand that things change and very quickly, but this particular start time has changed three different times in two days.  Still they did a good job of getting the word out and we are as ready as we will ever be.  With the rain forecasted for early next week I am sure they are trying to get in as much harvest as they can.  Since we aren’t actually going to do a soft open now, I will end this post here.  The next batch will be actual beet harvest reports finally, which I am sure is what everyone is waiting to hear about 🙂  I’m a little nervous but no where near as much as I was early on.  Will see how it goes!
– Tracy


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7 thoughts on “First Time at the Beet Harvest – Soft Open

  1. Good luck, Now you are seeing what a farmer goes through all the time.God be with you all in your new job. Be safe and enjoy the experience. I envy you guys.

  2. Pingback: Beet Harvest Work Kamping Overview – Camper Chronicles

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