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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First Time Working the Beet Harvest – Orientation

Monday, September 19,2016

By design we arrived at the Bagnell RV Park  very early, because we wanted to be able to change our spot if it was a first come, first serve situation.  We lost an hour to time zone crossing the border and now we’re settled into Mountain Time for the duration.  The campground is pretty small and being an “in town” RV park, it’s hemmed in on all sides by roads and businesses.  Our site did have 50 amp (a big concern for us while the furnace is broken) and also backs up to a road.  It definitely has a trailer park feel with many permanent units people are living in and a general rundown appearance.  Honestly it didn’t bother me because I had pretty low expectations, but the folks a couple of spots down in a very high end Class A seemed a little agitated.  We are supposed to have cable (currently not working although I was told a repair man would be coming today and he showed up less than an hour later and now we have 50 channels), supposed to have WiFi (we can’t get it to connect, but that may be on our end), and we have a lovely view of the giant trash cans across from us. Seriously though, we are here to work and sleep, so the only things that concerned me were a neighbor with a permanent structure and a barking dog, and the road noise. There are rumble strips on the road very near us and since people refuse to slow down that noise will probably be a permanent fixture and anything that interferes with sleep will probably be a big deal.  On the plus side, there is both a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut within walking distance, and there is a very nice full size grocery store in town.  We also have 4 bars of ATT 4G.    The camp host (associated with the beet harvest operation) was very nice and was slightly apologetic, but again, we weren’t expecting much, so I went out of my way to thank her for her help.  It’s not her fault.  We were thrilled the RV park has mailboxes and accepts packages, so with a $25 refundable deposit we got a box and a key. Folks have been wanting to send us stuff for a while, and I have a couple birthday presents coming my way!  Our information packet says we have a paperwork meeting at a nearby hotel tomorrow at 1pm. So that’s what we will do, and get some information about what shift we will be working, and what our jobs will be. Our next door neighbor Juan is really nice and he has done the beet harvest four previous seasons, so that is encouraging.  He says we will have fun.  I hope so.  – Tracy

Lots of beet fields

Lots of beet fields

The campground

The campground

Our front view

Our front view

Our back view. Despite the rumble strips cars go flying down this road right outside our windows

Our back view. Despite the rumble strips cars go flying down this road right outside our windows

After getting set up we took a little tour of the town to try and acclimate ourselves.  It didn’t take long.  It’s a typical small town farming community, and it’s also the county seat, so it did have a Main street and a couple of other business areas.  We stopped in a store called Shopko Hometown  (which is like a mini Kmart) and found my Corelle dishes pattern on sale for 40% off!!! We originally only bought 6 of everything and occasionally when we have larger dinners I don’t have enough plates.  Plus, they had a serving platter in the pattern which I had never seen.  Score!!  We also decided to go ahead and buy a new Igloo ice machine.  Ours has not been working well for awhile (we have owned it three years) and they had one on clearance for $139 which was actually cheaper than what we had seen online. We found the bank, grocery store, a Mexican restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, hardware store, car parts store, and they even have a local Ford dealership which is great, because we need another oil change. We went into the car parts store and bought some cheap seat covers for $24.99.  Everyone says you get very dirty doing this job, so no point in messing up our upholstery.  We also stopped at M3 Meats.  We love local butchers, but this was more of a processing center and they don’t have a storefront.  The clerk came from Alaska though, and when she found out we had just come from there she went in and checked their freezer.  We bought some great looking local Montana ribeye for $12.99 a pound.  Can’t wait to try it out.  Just to be clear, this isn’t really a butcher shop, but they do sell meat if they have it, and are planning to expand and add a small storefront in the next couple of months. I really liked the whole vibe of the town.  Everyone we met was very friendly and it had the small town feel of where I grew up.  – Tracy

The residential streets are nice

The residential streets are nice

Our temporary seat covers

Our temporary seat covers

Picked up 4 of these beauties. Hope they taste as good as they look

Picked up 4 of these beauties. Hope they taste as good as they look

The nice strip mall in town

The nice strip mall in town.  The main street is a little rundown

My new ice machine

My new ice machine

And the serving platter I have been looking for forever!!

And the serving platter I have been looking for forever!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Well the first night sleeping with the road noise was ok.  With fans on, I only heard a truck once, but again this was at night the road was much busier during the day.  This probably wasn’t an issue for most folks because their bedrooms are in the front, but ours is in the back so keeping an eye on it.  It may turn out to be a complete non-issue because we will be so tired, and otherwise I like our site because it is wide, so for right now we are going to stay where we are.  Will see what happens.

Our orientation was at 1pm at the hotel next door.  They had rented two small rooms and one had chairs and a TV and the other a couple of desks.  The room was full with 17 people and they walked us through filling out the paperwork.  It was pretty extensive and afterwards we went into the other room 4 at a time and presentation our ID’s for more paperwork. Then we watched a training video and walked through a short quiz.  We were told we would be paid at the end of the harvest for a two hour orientation but it ended up taking 3 hours.  Not sure if the pay will be adjusted or not.  We also found out that the lowest level helper this year would be making a base rate of $13.35 (32 cents more than last year) and for other jobs the base rate was $14.27 or higher.  Unfortunately we were still not told what our jobs or shift would be, but we were told that our site would be Sugar Valley. We were allowed to request day or night shift and we were told our foreman would take our preference and our job preference into account.  Whether or not that is the case, we will see.  I know the folks who come back for a second year all get to pick their jobs, shifts, and locations and I would imagine we will all take what is left.

What surprised me the most was the age range of the people in the room.  Over half were in their 20’s or early 30’s and the oldest of the rest of us was what looked to be a pretty healthy 70.  The kids were fun.  Some had RV’s but most lived in worker housing (bunk style trailers) provided by the harvest. Most of the people here knew someone well who had done this before, so we heard some secondhand information, but until it’s all official I am not sure I trust it.  We did find out that our trucks would be parked close to the sites and we could bring food, extra clothing, etc and it would be accessible to us during the shift.  Overall for me it was fine.  It did run a little long, but it was a large group and I actually thought the safety video was pretty good, from a content standpoint at least.  Looking forward to getting to the training on Thursday and seeing how that goes. Oh and I know I am saying we will see how it goes lot, but honestly there isn’t much point in speculating.  In my mind at least we have done as much as we can to prepare getting all worked up isn’t going to help.  – Tracy

Wednesday, September 21, 2016  

We had nothing scheduled for today and briefly talked about visiting the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which is an hour away, but it was both cold and rainy.  Instead we both worked on housekeeping items that had built up.  I did spend several hours on learning Adobe photo shop for my recipe book and Lee spent some time on the phone with the nonprofit he used to work for, helping them with their annual report.  We didn’t mind the extra downtime at all, but I can see why some folks might be annoyed with the downtime.  Since we have a free place to stay and things to get done, it is fine by us.  It actually have been hard to come straight from Alaska and jump right in, so we are grateful for at least the first couple of days.  Tomorrow we have training at 9am and hopefully will find out our shift.


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