Well, we survived sugar beet harvest 2016! In North Dakota, Minnesota and parts of Montana much of the country’s sugar beets are grown. In some areas there aren’t enough unemployed locals to fill necessary positions for the harvest so the sugar companies have started hiring workampers. We worked in Drayton, ND for American Crystal Sugar. Drayton is located on the boarder of North Dakota and Minnesota and very close to Canada.
For harvest we were stationed where the farmers bring their truckloads of beets to the processing plant. There are numerous “pilers”, machines that receive the beets from the truck, remove excess dirt and run the beets out the end of a boom in a large pile. The piles are up to 30 feet tall and hundreds of feet long by the time we’re done. We basically took tickets from the truckers, bagged samples of beets, operated the dirt return (each truck gets it’s excess dirt back) and operated the boom back and forth to keep the pile even. Megann also learned to be the back-up piler operator for when our operator went on break. This consists of running the end dumps where the beets are dumped and main conveyor from a control booth. One day when there was a big freeze over night I was in the “chop house” grabbing sample beets off the top of trucks as they came and chopped them with a machete to see if they were too frozen to pile. The other thing we did was shovel a lot of dirt and beets! Dirt is always accumulating on the ground along with spilled beets, etc. Just to keep the area where you’re walking safe it’s necessary to shovel a lot.
Luckily we had a good skid steer operator in our area to take care of the big messes. Our shifts were 12 hours long and we were outside except for a couple breaks and lunch in the car. Being in North Dakota in October the daytime temperature ranged anywhere from 35 to 65 but was mostly in the 40’s or low 50’s with some wind. On a daily basis we wore up to 4 layers on the bottom, including snow pants, 5 layers on top, 2 pairs of gloves neck scarf and balaclava. It was a joy to try and pee in the porta-potty!
It may sound like mild torture, and it kind of is, but for wanderers like us this is a way to make decent money. The pay is well over minimum wage, Saturday is time and a half and Sundays are double time. With 12 hour days you get a lot of overtime. Plus, at the end of the season you get 5% bonus on all hours worked. We were provided a full hook up RV spot while we were there. We were lucky to get to work with our friends and our piler operator was a great guy. Our foreman was also really nice and he said he’d pick us from the list in the future if he see’s our names. Working with good people makes a huge difference no matter where you work so we consider ourselves lucky. I don’t think everyone here had as good an experience as we did due to who they worked with or directly for.
We did get to do a little exploring while we were there since we had some days of down time when temperatures where too hot to harvest. We drove up in to Canada to Winnepeg. The city has beautiful parks and interesting shopping areas. It was a fun day trip.
Other than that there’s not much to see in this area – except the wood chipper from the movie Fargo. The grocery store here didn’t even stay open late enough for us to go there after work, but the gas station had some really good pizza haha. Will we do it again? Maybe. Next fall however we will still be in New England because of our summer job but the year after? It’s a consideration for sure. We are already in Tennessee for our Amazon job but we did some exploring on the way down that we’ll share in the next blog.