Disclaimer: The company we are working for this summer has a very specific media policy. I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences. Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part.
Overall, it’s been a really nice summer working and playing in Oregon, but as we are heading out soon I thought this would be a good time to write up our summary. If you would like to read our daily account you can start here. I’ll start by saying these are absolutely the nicest seasonal employers we have worked for since being on the road. We have had direct contact with managers/supervisors and every single interaction with them as been professional and pleasant. Not that we haven’t had moments of frustration or conflict in this job, but because we are working for a corporation, those situations were handled with a “rule book” that I was familiar with, and very much appreciated. This type of behavior has not been our experience with most of our seasonal positions, so for me it was one of the best benefits of the job. It wasn’t all great of course. The work was harder than I expected, and cleaning bathrooms and emptying trash all day every day was definitely not something I would sign up for again, but the overall experience was so positive that for the first time we are planning on coming back to the same place for another summer. This is no small thing, as we have a list of places we would like to explore during our summers, but the combination of the people, the pay, the weather, and the many places to explore in this area make us both want to return. Ultimately that is the highest praise I can give a position. The devil is in the details though, so let’s walk through it.
Pay – Lee and I both earned $14.25, which is the highest hourly wage I have earned while on the road. Lee earned $15 an hour while in Alaska, and of course we earned more with overtime during the Beet Harvest. Despite the high wages though, we barely broke even this summer. Yes, we earned more, but we also spent more as there were many places to explore in the area. We also only worked 35.5 hours a week and the combined loss of 9 hours per week definitely had a financial impact. Overall we made a combined $16,527 and our expenses for the same time period were roughly $14,333 for a net gain of $2,194 for the summer. I say roughly because we started getting paid on May 10th and left on May 24th, so I removed some of the monthly expenses like fuel and food at each end. Also, if you remove the $750 we spent on a new cell phone for me we would have made around $3,000, which isn’t quite enough to cover our expenses prior to starting our next job, but that’s also because we are traveling across country back east. Again, our choice.
I knew coming in we would be breaking even because of the hours, I was fine with it because I thought we would be working a light schedule. What I didn’t understand was we would still be working 5 days a week and split shifts on the weekend, and as I told our boss in the exit interview it felt like we were working at least 40 hours. We never really went anywhere during our long break on the weekends and I at least couldn’t just turn off the work switch and turn it back on when it was time to go back in. So a lesson learned for us is to have a handle on the work schedule prior to accepting the position and not to assume because we would be working less hours that would mean we would have more available time off. And to be clear I in no way felt we were taken advantage of here. We made assumptions and didn’t ask the right questions and since many people don’t have an issue with split shifts, how could they know? Going forward we will definitely ask more questions in this area.
Benefits – Every seasonal job we have worked has some extra benefit, but this company by far had the most available to us. We had a free site and it was a really nice one with a beautiful view of the river so this was about $1,400 in savings. Medical insurance was an option, but we stuck with our ACA plan. We did sign up for dental and life insurance. The dental coverage was an amazing bonus and very inexpensive; only costing $2 per paycheck. We took full advantage of the insurance and because we both had cleanings and X-rays, and I had some detailed periodontal work, I estimate those benefits alone as being at least additional $1,200 in savings, which is no small amount of money especially for a seasonal job. We could have signed up for 401K, but we chose not to. If we come back next year we will be vested for 1 year and the 401K match is pretty good based on that. We also receive a small “profit sharing” bonus at the end of the year and that is based on hours worked and hourly wage. Again, it’s not a ton of money, but those small extras do add up and it’s nice as a seasonal to be eligible for “regular” employee benefits. We also had access to a company vehicle which we drove for work every day and since we were allowed to stop in Estacada for a quick errand here and there I estimate saving at least 20 miles a week on wear/tear and gas for our personal vehicle. We had a couple of potlucks (free food) and an end of the year party where each of us received a gift and a $25 gift certificate. We could have rented a boat down at the marina and gotten a 20% discount and the marina also provided free coffee to the employees. Plus, for my job I was able to grab recyclables as we emptied trash and I think I made around $250 over the summer, although I could have made more if I would have started sooner. But my favorite benefit of all was free firewood. On the one day each week each of us worked in the campground proper, when we cleaned up the sites we were allowed to keep any firewood campers left behind, and since so many people were weekend campers that was quite a bit. We had enough for tons of fires and enough to fill up our truck for departure which saved us about $100. I don’t put any of these extras into revenue column in the accounting, but it was definitely a few thousand dollars in benefits which was very nice.
Working Conditions – Of all the jobs we have had this category was the most varied depending on several factors. We worked outside, so of course weather played a huge part. It wasn’t much fun doing our jobs in the rain during the beginning and ending of the season, but then we had a stretch of almost 90 days where the weather was nearly perfect. We had a couple of weeks where the heat was pretty intense, but compared to other places in the country this was minimal. Towards the end the smoky days were really unpleasant, but since the entire state was being affected by fires, not much we could do about that. The most important thing was that throughout the season, our boss gave us a ton of flexibility on how to handle the weather. He encouraged us to do our tasks when the conditions were the best and the company provided weather specific information and gear to help. That being said, there were times when we just had to power through, but being given the flexibility to use our best judgement went a long way for me.
Type of Work – It’s worth noting we received more training in this job than almost any other we have had so far and that included getting First Aid certified and some cool “Verbal Judo” training to help with customer interactions. I also received three days training on the Hercules Reservation system which was another nice thing to add to my work kamper resume. Despite the training, since our position was somewhat new, we kind of had to figure things out on the fly. Lee didn’t mind so much as he likes working with minimal supervision but I could have used some more structure in the early days. The work itself of course was not that difficult. Cleaning bathrooms and emptying trash cans isn’t rocket science, but because of the large amount of traffic our locations were experiencing there were many days where I felt stressed that we couldn’t keep up. There is no doubt in my mind that we overthought the job, but since that’s how we do things, finding an efficient route and schedule took a while. That pressure was largely self imposed, by the way, and our bosses seemed very happy with the quality of our work, but I don’t know that it ever came up to our own personal standards until we started working opposite shifts on the weekends. We also worked one day a week in the campground and that was largely a mixed bag. Although we both enjoyed the variety that came with doing something different, walking into other people’s work routine is always a little tough. Overall, the best part of the job was the river view, which never failed to please, and the worst part was when we would open a bathroom door and get a “surprise.” Never fun, and ultimately we judged our days on whether or not the bathrooms were a mess. I also struggled with how physically demanding the job could be at times. Big trash bags are heavy and mopping floors can take a toll. Again, it all depended on the size of the crowds, with many days being a cake walk and others leaving me wrung out and very tired.
Living in the Area – We liked the small town of Estacada very much, and the local events they had were definitely fun. Our Tuesday/Wednesday days off were perfect for avoiding the crowds and we were able to run some errands during our breaks on the weekends. The very best thing about our schedule was having Monday afternoon/evening off, then Tuesday/Wednesday off and having between Thursday afternoon and Friday evening off. That gave us lots of time for grocery shopping, doctors visits, etc during non-peak times which was good because Portland traffic is pretty crazy, and we didn’t waste many of our days off running errands. We also got to see lots of friends who were passing through the area. Most of our errands were in Gresham or Clackamas/Happy Valley, and both of those areas had almost anything we might need. The people were also very nice and my experiences at the grocery store, local gas station, and getting my hair cut were all very pleasant. That’s how I judge a place, by the way, by those common, everyday interactions. The only downside to the area was a pretty weak ATT signal, even in town. Without our WeBoost on the 22 foot FlagPole Buddy, we wouldn’t have had any signal at all.
Exploring the Area – Of all the places we have been, this area had the most to do and see. When we came to town I made a list, and there are still many items left on it, which is a main reason we are interested in coming back. We used our new Coleman Steel Creek tent a few times to explore different areas and took several long driving trips to see new things. Unfortunately, we did not do nearly as much hiking and exploring as I originally intended. Part of that was that we were physically tired on our days off during peak season. We also lost a couple of weekends to smoky conditions or extreme heat and although we certainly could have pushed through, neither one of us felt up to it. Thankfully we had a beautiful site off by ourselves with a nice view of the river, so we still felt close to nature while we stayed home and “vegged out”. And we got to see some pretty cool things. As always, I judge our life based on the pictures, so here’s the pictures of our summer. As always you can decided for yourself if you think it was worth it.
So was it all worth it? Absolutely yes. Certainly we cleaned a lot of toilets and emptied a lot of trash, but we also got to explore a beautiful state and reconnect with many friends in the process. It was a jam packed summer and there is enough left to do here in this beautiful part of the country that we hope we will be able to come back next summer.
Now that the season is over, the workload is significantly lower, and we’ve been busy this week wrapping things up, taking care of last minute pre-travel details, and getting ready to hit the road for our 2300 mile drive back East. Tomorrow we roll out headed for Indiana, where we’re getting our rig suspension replaced, and then on to Ohio and possibly Charleston, SC to see our oldest daughter before we head to Campbellsville, KY for the Amazon Christmas season.
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Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks You can preview the kindle version on Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes. It is also available in paperback.