Leave it to my husband to find a fun way to explore North Dakota. About nine months ago, he mentioned working the Sugar Beet harvest in Eastern North Dakota. He had a contact from one of the RV website boards he is on that mentioned driving a Beet truck for the harvest - I said sure, but I didn't think much about it. So, as we got closer to the fall, I realized there was no turning back.
|Entering North Dakota|
We arrived in Reynolds, ND, on September 22nd and were in for a huge treat. When we followed our GPS to find where we would be parking the motorhome, it kept wanting to turn us down these long gravel roads. Well, I later found out that all there was in Reynolds were long gravel roads except for the main drag through town. Reynolds, you see, is a tiny town with a whopping population of 273. So being that size, everyone knows everyone, like where I grew up.
For the first few days, Mark and I got familiar with the area as we drove this monstrous tri-axle truck around, practicing going to the "piler station" and dumping our beets. This was quite the process.
|This is the "farm."|
The Piling Location is where the sugar beets are brought from the fields. As the trucks dump their loads at one of the four Piling Stations, the piler conveyer carries the beets up to the top of the “pile” in a continuous process of building up the pile and moving backward to increase the length of the pile (hence “Piling Station” name).
|Sitting at the piling station, waiting to unload my beets.|
This was a huge learning curve for me. This truck was immense; I had been driving the motorhome off and on to prepare for this adventure, but still. When fully loaded, the truck weighed about 44K lbs ~ 30K of it was sugar beets. The part that made it ok was that I was not driving on the freeway and dealing with traffic.
The harvest did get delayed a few days due to temperatures being too high. You can't harvest beets when the ground temperatures exceed 55 degrees. However, as the time when on, a few days later, the temperature dropped, and it was Harvest time.
So, October 4th at 10 p.m. was the day Harvest kicked off this year. Mark worked the night shift (usually 7 pm -7 am), so he was up first and brought the truck to me at 7 am. He did a run-through on what was expected as he went through the piling station for his last load, then brought me back to the campsite, hopped out, and sent me off on my own. Honestly, I was thinking to myself, what did I agree to?
|The lunch that I packed every day.|
When I arrived at the sugar beet field we were harvesting, I had one of the leading workers (Maverick) ride along with me for a few round trips. It wasn't hard, but I had to pay attention to every little detail as this was not something I was used to or familiar with. As Maverick and I were headed to the piling station to dump my first load, one of the Schumacher trucks had gone off the road. The truck driver had gotten sleepy and veered off the right; he overcorrected and ended up on his side. Thank God he was ok; he had a few cracked ribs, but overall he was ok.
My first day was cut short as the temperatures rose and caused the harvest to be shut down. Temperature plays a significant role in beet harvesting. Too hot, as I mentioned previously, they shut down harvest until it cools down; too cold and the beets freeze and cannot be harvested (when temps were in the ’20s, they would check your load before the weigh station, and if frozen they could reject the whole truckload). I learned so much about this entire process, more than I probably cared to, but at the same time, it was fascinating.
|Harvested beet field|
So as time went on, I became more comfortable with the process, but I also made friends with the ladies at the weigh station. They were more intrigued with me being a female, driving a truck, and being a not-so-familiar face around town. In small towns, you ask many questions when you see a face you have never seen. Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you here? Have you ever been to North Dakota before?
So every time I entered the weigh station, they weighed me in, and when I left, they weighed me out and sometimes had a minute or two to converse before heading over to the piling station. I later came to find out that they were all related. That made me laugh out loud! You have to be from a small town to appreciate this.
|Driving alongside the loader|
The whole process was fun initially and became very exhausting over time. Well, extremely exhausting was a better way to put it:
Drive to the field, Load the truck, Drive to Piling Location, Weigh-in, Drive over to the Piling station - offload, Drive to weigh station - weigh-out, Drive back to the field, and repeat, about 10-18 times in a 12 hr shift.
On our last day, I was cranky, tired, and done with the entire process. I wanted a cup of coffee so bad, and there was not even a coffee shop for miles in this small town. The last day was a test; as the weather changed, temperatures dropped, and winds picked up along with the snow. In my book, this was a day from hell. But I made it; I'm still alive and realized that for this fair-weathered Washingtonian, this weather was nothing for North Dakota.
|The day it started snowing and everyone got stuck|
That night Mark texted me asking me about the clutch in the truck. I felt like I was having issues with it, but I attributed the problems to my inexperienced truck-driving skills. I later went to bed because I knew I needed to wake up for just one more day. At about midnight, Mark came in and woke me up to tell me that we were finished. The clutch had gone out on our truck. At that very moment, I had a whole basket full of emotions; the first was sad because I didn't want the Schumacher's to have to fix a truck that we messed up. Mark assured me we didn't do anything wrong. Then I was elated, and we were finally DONE. I didn't have to deal with being a truck driver; it was over; YAY. But then, on the other side, I was sad. The experience was unique; the people we worked with were excellent, fun, and supportive, and they allowed us to be a part of something so educational kind of warmed my heart.
When the harvest finished, there were four long mountains of sugar beets 250’W x 20’H x 1200’L at the Reynolds Piling station. So about 6M cu ft or 300K tons. ( average sugar beet is up to 1 ft long and weighs between 2- 5 lbs).
Because of all the above, Mark and I agreed to come back next year and help with the next beet harvest. After doing it this last time, I will be better prepared for all involved.
We ventured into Grand Forks, the largest city near Reynolds, about 20 minutes away, for some Buffalo Wild Wings and watched some Seahawks. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, even when I wore my "Game Day" jersey.
So, Monday, October 17th Mark and I hooked everything up and headed out for our next adventure. We are running from the snow as we will spend a few days in Rapid City for follow-up doctor appts and then off for Las Vegas, where we will spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in Yuma.