First Time at the Beet Harvest – Day 1

Friday, September 30, 2016

We were given our assignments first thing in the morning and were on Piler #2 with Marie, Marvin, and Robert.  Lee was assigned to be the operator and the rest of us were helpers.  Since the area around our piler (Piler #2) was still a muddy mess, they put us on Piler #3 with a very experienced team who had done the harvest several years in a row.  They were super helpful and around 11 the foreman was comfortable enough with us that we were able to open one of the two lanes of our piler.  The whole team seriously did great.  We communicated well, helped each other, and were really having a good time. The weather was also great, in the 60’s, and overcast with the occasional sun breaks.  We even had a rainbow or two.  The work is also not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  There are places and times between trucks to sit down, and you are encouraged to do so during any down time, or when a big truck is dumping its beets, or if there’s a large enough gap between trucks. Our vehicle was close by so we could get water and snacks whenever we needed to, and the port-a-john was very close and at least for now extremely clean. Yes, the work is dirty, but it’s clean farm dirt, and their processes were excellent.  As someone who studies processes and efficiency professionally, I do not say that lightly.

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Lee, me, Marvin, and Marie first thing in the morning Day 1

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Robert and Marie – Day 1

 

Our piler

Our piler #2

This is a piler

This is a piler

Around hour 9 though (3pm) we all started to get a little tired and by hour 10 it was getting a little tough.  Marie had a step counter watch and by 3pm she wa at 8,000 which was pretty good. She said most days she had to got to some effort to get to 6,000.  Around 4:30pm,  I went to take a beet sample, and picked up the sack wrong and felt a sharp pain in my left shoulder muscle.  I let my team know and they were great.  I wanted to finish the day so I just asked the others to take the sample and focused on tasks I could do mostly one-handed.  I told Bill my foreman (who is absolutely awesome by the way) about it right away and he said I could stop and fill out an incident report, but I really wanted to wait.  It actually started to feel a little better, but at 6pm when we were relieved I went and filled one out.  All I can say was it was 100 times better than I thought it would be.  Yes the weather was great, and yes, it was day 1, but I kind of liked it. I will say though that I am not a huge fan of wearing a hard hat 🙂  – Trace

We all enjoyed the rainbow

We all enjoyed the rainbow

 

Trace wanted me to explain how I got to be an operator. It’s not really that complicated, first they ask everyone if they’ve ever had any experience doing it, and then they ask if anyone would like to be considered for training if an opportunity comes up. I had been up in the cockpit of one of the pilers when we did our orientation, and it looked less complicated than a 10 input video switcher, so I figured I could learn it pretty quick. Besides, it’s beets, not rocket surgery. So when they asked for volunteers to be trained I raised my hand, assuming that after a few days they would put me next to an operator to observe and get trained. The next day we came in and they had posted the list of crews, and it was me as the operator, and Trace and three other new people as ground crew. But the guy that taught me did a great job, and it’s really not that different from directing live television, but with more dirt and less bitching from audio engineers.

The pay is $1 more per hour, which is not a ton, but it adds up, especially when 4 hours of each 12 hour day is OT, and all 12 hours on Saturday and Sunday are OT. Plus there’s a 5% bonus at the end of the harvest, so that’s also pretty cool. I’ve worked less for more money, and harder for less money, but it’s still a blast. Today one side (lane) of our piler was not used because it was too muddy, so I’ll be very curious to see what it’s like operating both sides instead of just one. I really think it will be a little easier, because once you get into a rhythm it’s easier for me to stay focused non-stop and go back and forth between the two lanes than constantly be stopping and resting every five minutes. Sort of how like driving interstate is less tiring than stop and go city traffic. We’ll see. I identified some likely places to mount a Go Pro and I’m figuring out when and where I can grab footage here and there over the next few days so I can put together a short video that shows the entire process of bringing a truck through. Because that’s what we do. Over and over and over and over. 800 trucks in each 12 hour shift, on 6 pilers. I have to say it was really a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to doing it again tomorrow. Sorry this little blurb wasn’t all that funny, but I’m really tired, and really hungry, and besides, beets aren’t all that funny either. Beets are serious bidnizz, ya’ll. – Lee

In the meantime here’s some pictures of the process – Trace

 

Truck drives up

Truck drives up

Beets come out of the truck into a hopper

Beets come out of the truck into a hopper

These are the beets

These are the beets

Marvin directs the drivers to pour their beets into the hoppers.

Marvin directs the drivers to pour their beets into the hoppers.

When there is an issue we can get s spill. Thankfully that doesn't happen often becaus we have to pick up the beets by hand and some are the size of a football

When there is an issue we can get s spill. Thankfully that doesn’t happen often because we have to pick up the beets by hand and some are the size of a football and pretty heavy

If it's a bad spill we call over a bobcat to clean them up

If it’s a bad spill we call over a bobcat to clean them up.  We only had to do this a couple of times and usually it was something wrong with the truck that caused it

Go along the conveyor belt

The beets go from the hopper to the conveyor belt

Where the dirt comes out and goes into the empty truck

The dirt comes out the side and goes into the empty truck which we help back into place

Out the boom which rotates slowly left to right then back

The beets (sans dirt) go out the boom and onto the pile.  The boom rotates slowly left to right then back

The beets make a pretty piler

Our pile was super pretty!  As helpers we raise the boom periodically to get the top as even as we can

Lee operates the boom and the hoppers that the trucks put them in

Lee operates the boom and the hoppers that the trucks put them in

Lee's controls

Lee’s controls.  He can’t see the entire pile so we are his eyes on the ground.

Our pile was almost 18 feet tall by the end of the day

Our pile was almost 18 feet tall by the end of the day!!  When it gets that high we move the piler backwards a few feet, but we haven’t done that yet

So all in all good day with a great team. It’s Day 1 but feeling good so far.


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11 thoughts on “First Time at the Beet Harvest – Day 1

  1. I’ve never heard of a beet harvest until now so I’m looking forward to all the details. Glad it’s going better than you anticipated …. hopefully it stays that way.

  2. Great description and pictures! I have wondered what it would look like out there! Thanks for sharing and hope everyday goes as well as this one!

  3. Tracy,
    Up to now, I have been one of your ‘lurkers’ but this has peaked my curiosity. Why do they pile the beets up and what, besides guiding the pilers and picking up spills is involved in your position? Lee mentioned the bonus he gets, do workers get one too?

    Second, how is your shoulder? Truly praying it is better by the time you read this and that it does not impact your future work. You mentioned you injured it by incorrectly picking up a sack of beets. What is a beet sample, how often are they taken and how much do they weigh? Am guessing it is a measurement of size, number and poundage? Is that how the numbers are estimated?

  4. That is really cool, Lee and Trace! By the time both lanes are running, you’ll be pros! Be good to that shoulder. That sort of stuff always seems to happen at the end of a day, so really be extra safety conscious when you get tired. Looks like you are having fun! 😀

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