First Time at the Beet Harvest – Days 12 through 14

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I woke up at 5:30am…luxury!!  They are reassessing because of snow and wow, that extra couple of hours was needed.  I sort of keep talking about this, but let me give you an idea of our schedule in the morning.

  • Get up 4am (I get up at 4am. Tracy does not. Then I call the hotline to see if there’s any news, but even though it’s supposed to be updated at 4am, it never is. I have to keep calling every five minutes waiting for the update. – Lee)
  • Take 15 minutes or so to wake up (Facebook, emails etc) (I have no idea what she’s talking about. I drink coffee, smoke, and read internet. I’m almost caught up. – Lee)
  • (Wake Tracy up at 4:30am. This is not a fun thing to do, and is not recommended for amateurs, or those without appropriate personal protection equipment. If there is any delay or we aren’t working at all, I don’t wake her up. – Lee)
  • Lee showers while I write a little in the blog about the morning and eat breakfast (toast and pre-cooked bacon for me.  Occasionally Lee will have oatmeal)
  • Lee dresses while I shower (rinse off, I don’t wash my hair)
  • I dress while Lee starts to pack his lunch  (since we are doing soups quite a bit we need to pre-heat the thermoses (thermi?) with hot water before heating the soup and putting it in.
  • I pack my lunch.  Generally at this point we have an extra 15 minutes and we complete some small household task like dishes, sweep the floor, something small and quick.
  • 5:15am we leave for the pile yard
  • 5:40am we arrive at yard, Lee clocks us in (we do get paid for up to 15 minutes prior to the shift fyi)
  • 5:45am arrive at our piler, take over for night shift, quick clean up of area, check equipment)
  • 5:55 am usually taking our first truck, if it’s slow may be a bit later.  If the night shift has our piler open might be a bit sooner.

This morning was a weird one however, because Lee let me sleep in as we were delayed for reassessing until 6am.  Normally when this happens, it’s a 2 or 4 hour delay, but today when he called at 6 the message said be there at 7am and that put us in a bit of a rush.  In the past we have had 2 hours to get there, but not this morning.  I am proud to say we got out the door by 6:15 am, but not so proud to say I forgot my pants.  Oh yes, it’s true, we pulled out and I laid my hands on my legs only to discover I had long johns on, but no jeans.  So back we went and I threw on some pants.  Truly it was hysterical, but that gives you an idea of of how harried I was.  Robert made it in time as well, so we started the piler with just the three of us, but Marvin and Marie didn’t make it until 7:30.  They have a dog and since the last thing they do is walk the dog before leaving since the campground hosts only walk the dogs one time per 12 hour, it made perfect sense. Almost everyone with a dog took longer, and truly they need to give us 1-1/2 hours notice.  It’s a 20-30 minute drive and we are supposed to clock in and be at our piler by 7am ( we try for a little earlier) so really they gave us 15-20 minutes.  It was OK though because both Kathryn and Bill apologized profusely and we know they are trying their hardest.

It started snowing almost immediately and by 7:30am it was really coming down.  It was pretty, big fat flakes, like I had in my childhood in Ohio and for a little while it was actually kind of fun.  The truck drivers were super careful and sweet about it and one of our favorites even through a tiny snowball at Marie.  But after about an hour, not so fun anymore.  Everything was super wet and cold and the slippery conditions were making it dangerous.  Luckily, Kathryn called it right away and as soon as the yard was clear we all got to go..roughly at 9:30am.  They are paying us for 6 hours, which is a pretty good deal, and we got out before it was too bad.  I will say though that if you decided to do this, waterproof gloves are mandatory (mine aren’t) and snow pants are highly recommended. (Even if it isn’t raining or snowing, the beets are damp all the time, so waterproof gloves or glove liners are a really good idea. – Lee)

The snow started

The snow started.  Big truck on the right and standard truck on the left by the way

Big fat flakes

Big fat, wet flakes.  I am on the right hand side under the stairs in a tiny snow free zone

What it looked like by the time we left

What it looked like by the time we left

When we came home, we took one look at the house and got to cleaning.  Since we both worked on it, it only took 1-1/2 hours to finish and we both felt better to have a clean environment.  Plus we get to hang out today, watch movies, catch up on laundry, and rest a little.  All in all, I’m happy things turned out as they did!!  I feel like a kid who got a snow day from school, but I will not be going outside to play in it!! (On the one hand, we came here to work 12 hours a day for 20+ days straight to make a lot of money fast, so any day that we’re not working a full 12 we aren’t making money. Especially on weekends where the money is overtime for all 12 hours. On the other hand, I would rather be paid for 4 or 6 hours straight time to sit at home and be warm and comfy as opposed to working in the rain or snow. We make at least $160 on days we don’t work, and we aren’t paying for a campsite, AND we get the day off, so that’s really something to consider. I doubt I will change my mind on this between now and the end, though: I definitely enjoy doing this if the weather is decent. I’m outside, it’s loud and fast paced, and at the end of the day there’s a much bigger pile than when I started. A definite sense of accomplishment. And it requires intense focus and precision, which I really love. But when the weather is not decent, as in REALLY cold, or REALLY windy, or ANY precipitation, it just sucks. I won’t know if this was worth it until the last day when I can see total money earned and total days spent here. And since the timeline is open ended, the harvest is done when it’s done, it also matters if you have a prior commitment that you might have to leave for that would require you to leave before the end and lose work days on the back end. If for example we leave as scheduled on October 30, and they work for 5 more 12 hour days, we lose $2000, and that’s if none of those days are weekends. On the other other hand, if we weren’t here doing this, we wouldn’t be making ANY money, so we’re better off no matter what, I suppose. Again, we’ll see what the numbers say at the end, because that’s all that really matters.  – Lee)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I slept for a glorious 10 hours last night. We were called off because the ground was too muddy from the snow yesterday. Ironically today was a gorgeous day.  Sunshine, a little wind, and even though it is 33 degrees it’s not a damp cold, which is the worst.  Since I am catching up on emails and blog reading, I will also take the time to finish out our 12 hour day schedule.  As you have seen we haven’t had many of those, but we need to act as if every day off is our last, because people who have been here before tell us that they’ve worked 21 days straight without a day off. It’s all dependent on the weather.

Our schedules during the work day itself have settled into a regular pattern.  Because we have five people on our team we can give each other breaks and still keep the lines moving, but we need to take the breaks concurrently.  Around 9am I take the first 15 minute break and then everyone else goes, with Lee going last.  After three hours I do feel like I need a break and the only exception to this is when we have a mechanical issue of some sort and then we all get to take a break together.  That doesn’t happen daily, but it does happen, and you take advantage of those moments when they come.  The lunch breaks are more difficult.  We all get a half hour, so it’s 2-1/2 hours worth of breaks.  I go first at 11:30 which is a little early for me, but ensures Lee gets to eat by 2pm.  When we were setting these up we talked about what people wanted and since Marie likes to go later in the day, I took the first one.  Then Robert, then Marvin, Marie, and then Lee.  It sounds like a small thing but it’s really not.  It’s hard taking a break when you have a line of trucks, but if the first person goes late then everyone is delayed and folks start to get tired and hungry.  Being tired in particular is a problem, because you start to make mental errors and in this environment that can lead to safety risks.  We all keep an eye on each other to and if someone is struggling, we move them up on the break schedule, give them an extra few minutes, or switch out jobs for awhile.

The afternoon break is the worst.  Things start to get rough after about 3:30pm as we all get tired, so I like to switch jobs for a little while then break around 3:15pm.  It’s hard to come back after that one, because I know I still have a couple of hours to go.  Taking breaks and switching jobs seems to help some, but the mental errors definitely increase at the end of the day, and we all have to slow down a bit.  Unfortunately this is also the busiest truck time and for whatever reason we start getting more sample tickets.  Sample tickets require an extra step to the process and extra physical labor and that can be rough with a long line of trucks and tired feet.  Still, I love that as a team we have worked through this with minimal conflict. We all take care of each other, which is the absolute best part of this team.

After work we go clock out and then make the 25 minute drive home.  If we are unlucky we have to stop at the store, but usually we go straight home.  Logistically this is tough as I am filthy and we both have muddy boots.  Usually, we grab an armload of stuff from the truck and do the best we can to wipe off our boots.  I leave mine right inside the door and then strip in the kitchen.  Anything that needs washed goes in one pile and anything that can be worn again goes on the chair.  I then take a long, hot shower before Lee comes in with the rest of the stuff.  I don’t care how hungry I am, or how tired, the shower comes first and I always wash my hair twice to get it completely clean.  By the time all this is done though, it’s usually close to 7pm.

So we have to eat, and eat well, but that is kind of tough.  When I cook I make extra so some nights we can have leftovers and we also got pizza one night and deli chicken another.  Anything that has leftovers, because the last thing you want to do is make a complicated dinner.  Afterwards, I blog a little and then we watch a little TV, but are in bed between 8pm and 9pm depending on how tired we are.  There is very little time to do anything else and I should probably say here, thank heavens we have a washer/dryer combo unit in the rig.  I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to squeeze laundry into this schedule if we had to go somewhere, but we can do small loads every day right in the rig.  Some people wear the same clothes over and over again, but I just can’t do that for more than a few days.  The inner layers get sweaty and the outer layers get crusty with mud, and nope, not going to happen.  It’s a pretty intense schedule and doesn’t allow for room for the unusual.  One of the benefits of all this down time we have had is it gives us time to stay caught up on chores, cook in advance, do extra laundry etc.  This would be brutal if we never had a day off.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I got up at 3:53am (yes sometimes I do get up before Lee) and called the hotline, which was still from last night.  Then at 4:02am I called again and it said to report as normal at 6am.  We completed our morning routine and drove to our piling yard only to find the sugar shack locked up and closed.  Upon arriving there were already a few other people who told us the message had been changed and they would re-evaluate at 8am.  It was only 27 degrees, too cold for the beets, so we went back to the RV.  Once we arrived back home, our neighbor Jim told us he had called at 4am, 4:20am, and again at 4:40am and the message continued to say come in at 6am.  It must have been changed afterwards.  Oh yes we are definitely going to ask to be paid. When we called again at 8am the message was to come in at 10am. (My initial thought was…super. Once again we will lose 4 hours of the day, which is the OT, which is the primary reason we’re here. The up front information says nothing about this. It’s all “Hey, it sucks to work in the cold and the rain and the wind, but you will be working 12 hours a day 7 days a week, and make tons of money.” Well, that just isn’t the whole story, and I want to be sure we get that message across. Waking up at 4am in order to find out if you’re working, and then having to wait another 4 hours to find out you’re working two hours after THAT, is not what is advertised. I can see why it would be necessary, but I don’t know that I would have still come here if I knew that would be the case in advance. I don’t feel they are completely honest up front. I don’t mind so much the days where we are completely off, but the days where we go in for just part of the day really suck, because you can’t really do anything else, and you lose however many hours you lose. Once we actually got there, we were told that we would be getting paid the full 12 hours, which is certainly the best way for them to handle it, in my opinion. I still don’t like the sitting around doing nothing, but it’s hard to complain out loud about it if I’m being paid. -Lee)

Update:  When we got into work I talked to the agriculturist and she immediately said that we would be getting paid the full 12 hours. They recognized the problem and made it right and   I have to say that I feel overall Sidney Sugar has been a great company to work for.


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12 thoughts on “First Time at the Beet Harvest – Days 12 through 14

  1. I’m so glad you are telling the WHOLE story – that is very much appreciated! It does sound like a good company but it does sound like you will be there a lot longer than you originally thought. I guess that’s not entirely bad, but at the same time I’m sure there are other places you’d rather be! Very glad that overall you are both doing well!

  2. Lee and Tracy you guys are doing us all future workampers a great service with your detailed reporting. I could see a lot of people using your writings to judge if they want to travel for the harvest or not. Having detailed job expectations prior to taking a job is so critical.

    Appears the job takes a high degree of self-discipline. Would you agree? Some of my hardest earned work experiences served me well later in life. Keep up your good attitude. And thank you again for the service which dozens of others may learn from. I’m linking your notes to my own blog page.

    • Hi Mark. The supervisors keep a pretty close eye on everyone so you definitely notice their presence especially in the beginning, but since they have a relaxed style I would say yes it does require self management. Doesn’t seem to be a problem with many people though. I think most of us doing this had a good work ethic or we never would have signed up to begin with and those that are less inclined to work are peer pressured into stepping it up. Great question as usual 🙂

  3. Happy to be following along with you guys on this interesting part of your adventure! The snow certainly adds another level to the job. Keep up the good work!

  4. Although I like a more controlled environment, I am really following your experience at the beet harvest with interest, Lee and Trace. You have put forth a very honest picture of what happens there. I’d heard horror stories about it, and it really sounds like a pretty decent experience, despite its’ pitfalls in reading your accounts. Anyone contemplating the harvest should definitely read these posts, as they lay it all out there.

      • I think you will like it, Tracy. It’s definitely a production environment, but since it is short term, it’s kind of fun. I have profound appreciation for the people responsible for getting us our Prime packages on time. Good, good people.

  5. Being only a couple hours east of you we are sharing much of the same weather. When it snowed the other day we could not help but think of you and how it must be affecting your harvest. Looks like we have 4-5 days of good weather headed our way, hope you get your hours in!

    • The weather has gotten much better and I really think you guys would excel at this by the way. Your outdoorsy, mellow people, and work hard. Really the perfect combination for this type of work. Is am a weather wuss and high maintenance and I’m doing ok, so you guys would rock it !!

  6. Hi Guys, I haven’t commented in awhile but just wanted to say thanks again for the great write ups! We’ve been following along and really enjoy the blog. Hope the rest of the time goes quickly for ya’s!

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