Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sugar Beet Harvest - Day # 10 - Only Day 10? That can't be right!

There have been times in each of our workamping jobs when I have come to a point where I ask myself "Can I do this for x number more days?".  I came to that point on this job around 11:30 pm last night (Wednesday) as it started raining.  The cumulative effect of not enough sleep, not enough rest breaks, constant loud mechanical noise, dust, mud, beet slime, the smell of ripe beets, flying beets striking my person, the never ending flow of trucks bringing more and more sugar beets to be unloaded and piled finally made me think I may not be cut out for harvest work.

I'm going to be very frank here.  Company policy, as related in our orientation meetings more than once, is that we are to be given a 10 minute break every 2 hours, and a 20 minute lunch somewhere in the middle of our 12 hour shift.  That would amount to 4 10 minute breaks, plus the 20 minute lunch break for a total of 60 minutes.  On the few days at the beginning where we had long breaks of inactivity as the harvest was ramping up and not all the trucks were running it did not matter as we have plenty of time away from the piler and its attendant noise, dust, smell, etc.  But now that harvest has been in full swing for a week we have been getting the odd 15 minute break here and there about every 4 hours.  To be fair we are being given a 30 minute lunch break, which frankly isn't long enough, but that's my issue.  I agreed to a 20 minute break for lunch.

What I didn't agree to was to work, in one case, 7 straight hours with no breaks.  Or 4 hours in a row with a 15 minute break.  There is something about being able to walk away from the noise, dust, mud, smell for 10 minutes every 2 hours to clear your head, and recover a little.

The problem, partially, is the nature of the work we are doing in that it does not lend itself to any structured intervals for these needed breaks.  Additionally, we are understaffed on the night shift.  On the day shift you will see 5 people working on the pilers:  1 operator and 4 "ground" people....2 on each side of the piler.  At night we run the same piler with 2 people....1 operator, and a ground crew of me.....I handle the trucks coming through both gates, clean up spills, collect beet samples as required, and direct traffic.  Originally we were going to have 3 people on our piler, but the third person , Danielle, had her ID stolen just prior to arriving for the sugar beet harvest, and was unable to get all her documentation replaced....specifically her SS card.....the SS offices all over America are closed due to the government she was let go. If we had Danielle, we could work out our own breaks within our group, and thus I would probably not be addressing this subject in this blog.  But we don't have the extra person, so here I am in this pickle.  

It is not that our manager does not want to give us breaks.....she does.  The problem is there are only 6 people on the night shift.....two "skidder" operators (Casey and Joe) who also clean all the pilers EVERY night.....then Dallas and I on the piler....TLE in the Scale House, and Amanda, the night manager.  The "skidder operators" are the ones our manager uses to give Dallas and I a break, but since they are under pressure to get the pilers cleaned every night our breaks come when they are free.  So what we have here is mostly a staffing problem.....not enough bodies for the amount of work to be done.  Our manager is busy fulfilling the requirements of her position and can't be in two places at the same time.

So that is my I quit?  I have never quit a job in my is not in my nature.  Do I complain?  I have.....politely insisting we be given regular breaks.  Unfortunately, the problem is there are not enough bodies on the night shift for anyone to get a regular break....that is just the reality of the situation.

Thankfully it only rained hard for about 20 minutes, and then just drizzled for anotehr 40 minutes, but we spent the rest of the night scrapping mud off our shoes, and dealing with a wet mess.  The trucks just keep coming......just like the mail....relentlessly....hour after after day.  I took my lunch break around 1:45 am.  TLE had some great chile con carne for me for lunch, and did it ever hit the spot.  I ate that quickly so I could lay down for a few minutes and just rest.....well, I fell asleep, and before I knew it Casey, one of the "skidder" operators was trying to wake me up.  Apparently Dallas also fell asleep over in the break hut.....the result is our lunch break stretched from 30 minutes to 50 minutes.  The rest of the night was uneventful, but I am whipped.  This is one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I have done some hard things in my life.  I'm not afraid of hard work, or even difficult conditions, but in this job I have met my match.

Just as we arrived back "home" TLE announced to me that I should take a long hot shower, and that she would then give me a massage.  Wow, I was not expecting that, but then again she is not The Lovely Elaine for nothing.  Thank you don't know how much that meant to me.  I know without her support I would have no hope of making it 7 more days.

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. have been following and enjoying your blog for the past few months. Have enjoyed your journey into the sugar beet harvest, kinda like an armchair quarterback, get to see and know what happens but don't have the long hours or the pain, which brings me to why i am posting. I can't help but wonder why you would do such a job, but i do remember you saying it was for the money, but really, is the money worth the pain. I would worry a bit if i can fall asleep on a break, what else could happen. As you work further into your time, perhaps you become more exhausted, perhaps your a bit less alert. perhaps you are heading for an accident??...which would then bring up my next question, is it really worth it, the money?. There is a solution, of course, and that is to make a choice, because isn't everything we do really about choices? You can choose to stay, inwhich case you will continue to have short breaks/no breaks and you can "suck it up buttercup", or you can make the choice to leave, which does not mean you were defeated and a failure but made a judgement call and we more concerned about your welfare, and TLE'welfare and chalk this whole thing up to experience.
    Hope you don't cut me from your blog because i really do enjoy it but i've "been there done that"..not sugar beet harvest but a much harder job and realized after struggling life was too short and the money not worth it in the end. Best of luck to you and "read you tomorrow"

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. We are doing it fur the money and the experience. If I get that tired I'll take myself if the station. I knew it would be difficult when I signed up. I'll finish out my obligation in style.

  3. be careful clarke. we worry about you too. elaine...make sure he doesnt get hurt...

    my guess is you will find something next time that isnt quite so difficult.

    take care

    tom and darlene

  4. I can appreciate that you don't want to quit, but I recommend that you insist on the breaks that were part of the agreement. You are not a machine, dammit!


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