First Time at the Beet Harvest – Days 22 through 24

Friday, October 21, 2016

Last night I asked how many straight days we had worked, Lee said “Guess”, and I said 5.  Well it was 8.  Wow.  I gotta say I shouldn’t have asked because I immediately felt tired when I knew the answer.  Our 9th straight day was a tough one.  The good news is the temperature was good, we had some sun and in the high 40’s (which isn’t as cold as it sounds when you’re working and the sun is shining and there’s no wind) and Marie came back “home” to our piler (Marvin went down to #3 and seemed to be enjoying it down there).  We had Marie, Robert, Bridget, Lee, and me, and we were jamming it.  I, however, was definitely the weak link today.  My stomach was bothering me for most of the day and I just didn’t feel well. Piler 4 was still down and then Piler 1 went down for a bulk of time and we were busy! I just was having a tough time, and even thought about asking to go home a couple of times.  I am sure they would have had no issue with it, since the crews from the down piler were available to cover breaks, etc, but since Lee and I were in one car I decided to tough it out. Since everyone on the team was super nice about it, I also felt I could rely on them to pick up the slack, which they absolutely did.  Everyone is going to have their off days, and good teams watch out for each other.   The last three hours were definitely rough though, and towards the very end of the day I was throwing a beet in the hopper, misjudged, and it hit the cross bar and ricocheted back and hit me right below the knee.   Lee and Robert didn’t even notice I was limping around, but the truck driver who pulled in asked me if I was OK and then gave me a Reese Cup, which was very sweet. (The things this woman will do for a Reese cup – Lee)

When we got home we were both exhausted and stopped and got McDonald’s for dinner. Then Lee picked up a package at the office for me from my daughter Kyrston.  As a side note, one of the nicest things about this campground is the manager Kim who will go and pick up packages at the post office for us.  Since we work the entire time the post office is open, we wouldn’t be able to get packages any other way.  Then she will come down to the office and give them to you as late as 8pm, which is really, really nice.  Anyway, Kyrston commissioned a painting Mt. Denali for me as a remembrance of our Alaskan summer.  It was very nice, and I called her and we talked until 7:45pm, then I just had to go to bed. I was exhausted.

Kyrston did say something interesting, though.  She said she heard more excitement in my voice about piling beets than she heard all summer about my camp hosting job in Alaska.  And it’s true, despite the 12 hours days and less than optimal weather conditions, I really like the work itself and the people we are working for and with are fantastic. For the record I would absolutely come back and do this again.  It really surprises the heck out of me, but it’s true.  I like it that much.  I will say though that you need to know going into this that for the days of the harvest you don’t have much of a life outside of work.  We drive an hour each day, work for 12, and sleep for 8 (the couple of times we tried to sleep less we paid for it).  That leaves only 3 hours a day for everything else.  That includes showers and dressing, eating, cleaning up after eating, laundry, EVERYTHING. You find out very quickly what’s really important to you under these conditions, because your free time is so very, very precious.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Took a couple Tylenol PM last night and slept pretty well, then woke up at 3am, so since I promised I am going to talk a little about the bathroom situation at the yard.  If you find talking about this distasteful, I definitely encourage you to skip the next couple of paragraphs, but I do think it is important.  There are no plumbed facilities at the yard.  Down near the sugar shack there are 6 port-a-potties and they are marked women or men.  Between each piler there is also one port-a-pottie that everyone (including truck drivers) uses and that’s what most people use throughout the day.  They are cleaned at least once a day, deodorized very well so the smell is generally fine, and most importantly, they are moved frequently.  It’s genuis really that as we move the pilers back to add more beets, they move the “facilities” to keep pace with us.  All that being said, they are still port-a-johns, and I know some people hate them.  I have a kid who is  “freaked out” by them and hates using them, so I get it.  (She also has a husband who hates them. – Lee) There is no better solution though, considering the work environment, so you just need to know going in that that is the deal.

Good news, you can go to the bathroom frequently.  Anytime there is a long truck with a little ticket (no sample needs to be taken) there is ample time to walk there and back.  Bad news, on cold days, they are COLD!!  More of an issue for women than men, but first thing in the morning in particular this can be a little jarring.  Plus, it is a 12 hour day and unless you can control your poop schedule enough to do that during the 3 hours you are home and awake, that’s probably going to happen as well.  If you are a woman who still has periods, you will need to deal with that.  Sorry about the detail here, but you should think about these things before going in.  None of it is a deal breaker for me, but I never really thought those things through prior to doing this.  One last thing and then no more bathroom talk, I promise.  Absolutely, positively knock prior to entering and make sure it is locked if you are inside.  It’s easy to get a surprise or be surprised if you are not careful about those two things, and I will just leave it at that!! (I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t care if the door is locked, or says vacant, or whatever. I knock first. – Lee) 

OK, sorry about that, but as always I write the blog I wanted to read.  Saturday was on the cold side, but we were doing very well until fate played a hand.  Our piler has broken down the fewest times of any of the pilers, but today was definitely our day for slow downs and shut downs.  First, one of our first trucks of the day burst a hydraulic line and sprayed his entire reservoir of fluid on the ground. At Bill’s direction we got a bobcat to pour several loads of dirt on the fluid to keep the ground from being slippery, which was a good thing.  Then, a driver had one of his air lift bags go out. It was under the cab and I guess for the suspension, but that caused a little delay.  The next fun happening was the hydraulic line for the lift system that lifts up our piler so we can drive it starting spraying fluid.  Lee shut us down immediately and it took awhile for them to replace the hose.  That was a nice little break.  But the really long break happened when a hole developed in our big beet funnel. After the beets go up the main incline conveyor belt, they go through a series of rollers to knock the dirt off, then they drop into a big funnel that then puts them on the boom. A small hole had appeared in the funnel, dropping out the occasional smaller beet. But it kept getting bigger, and bigger, until we were losing about 30% of the beets, and making a whole new unwanted pile of beets under the piler. Eventually the pile got big enough that it stopped the boom from swinging back and forth, which is how it spreads the pile so large. Lee said he was so excited about piling beets he was making two piles.  We were shut down a long time on this one as they had to weld a patch onto the hopper.  Long enough actually that I took a little catnap.  Then I got very lucky because right when we were up and running it was my lunch time, so I got an extended break which was well needed.

Master mechanic fixing the hydraulic hose, This guy is a very busy man

Master mechanic fixing the hydraulic hose, This guy is a very busy man

Tyler checking out the hole in our hoppper

Tyler checking out the repaired hole in our funnel

During these downtimes, Piler 6 started to catch up.  Oh, and did I mention Russell has been down there for the last two days, darn him, and they are really making some progress.  We were told they weren’t going to remove any beets from our pile, just let us go all the way to the end of the field, and we are thinking that will happen sometime tomorrow.  We had no idea at that point if we will be reassigned or let go, but at least we are getting one more overtime weekend in.  They also had a church dinner again with two kinds of chili, lasagna, and some excellent pot roast.  It was a long day, but a good one, except for the wind.  It really kicked up late in the day and was full of grit.  My tactic is to bundle up as if against the cold and minimize the amount of skin that comes into contact with it.  Bearable, but still not all that pleasant.

Best picture I got get of the wind. Doesn't really show how much it's like being in a dust storm

Best picture I got get of the wind. Doesn’t really show how much it’s like being in a dust storm

This water truck seems to help a little, but it's a big yard

This water truck seems to help a little, but it’s a big yard

Sunday, October 23, 2016

It was cold today and everyone was getting tired. Thankfully though there was very little wind so the dust was at a minimum.   Even Robert who seems indefatigable had a rough day. It didn’t help that it was the weekend, and we got lots more little trucks from the smaller farms.  Couple that with the fact that Piler 1 went down numerous times and we were very busy again.  We did find out that as a group we would all be moving down to Piler 6 on Monday.  On the one hand, I was really glad they were keeping the team together, but the thought of learning a whole new machine as tired as we all are is a little daunting.  Luckily Bridget and Marie both worked down there so they can show us the ropes.  Lee went down on his break to check it out and says it is very different and will require a major change in our process.  Not looking forward to that as tired as we all are. Piler 2 is almost to the sugar shack and will only be used as a backup at that point.  There is definitely a cumulative effect to these long days and we are all feeling it. Bill thinks we may go until Friday as we are 75% done, but we will see.  We are also hearing the pace slows down considerably which would be a really good thing.  We could all use a breather from the relentless pace.  We did tell our repeat drivers where we were going and they seemed really bummed.  Got several compliments on what a great team we have been, even from the most crusty drivers, and that was very nice.

Thiis message on the back of the truck tickled Lee. I guess it's a tank thing

Thiis message on the back of the truck tickled Lee. I guess it’s a tank thing

One big, beautiful pile of beets. Farewell Piler 2 you were good to us

One big, beautiful pile of beets. Farewell Piler 2, you were good to us


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7 thoughts on “First Time at the Beet Harvest – Days 22 through 24

  1. You all have the “can do” Spirit. I love your sharing this,even though you are dog tired. The Employer ought to be happy too. The best team is the ones that the workers make work.God bless you all. (So very interesting) A whole new world out there. A very awesome post even with the port a potties. Thank God for those little shacks..


    • Great question. First off the noise is rhythmic so it’s not annoying at all usually at least to me. Still you definitely need to protect your hearing so I wear ear plugs constantly which work well

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