When we started this 90-day trial we knew we were taking some huge risks. Sandra and I have worked for other people at 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. jobs our whole lives. It hasn’t really gotten us anywhere. Anybody else have the same sentiments?
You would be surprised how many people in this country do something called work camping. They take seasonal jobs in the winter to make enough money to hold them over for the summer while working at a campgrounds. You have no housing expenses, so if you have additional income producing strategies you can literally live very cheap.
One of the jobs we decided to try was the Sugar Beet Harvest. I want to start by saying the people at American Crystal Sugar Company are some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure to work for. They were courteous and fair, but this was a complete bust for us financially and forced us to come home three weeks early due to uncontrollable weather conditions. We should have made around $9,000.00, we actually made about $600.00.
The job itself was not hard physically, you are working on a piling station with this huge machine that unloads dump trucks of beets that are being harvested from the fields. We would take the ticket from the truck driver, put our site number on the ticket and watch as the machine did its job. Then we would pull the trucks forward and dump the dirt they produced through a conveyor back into their truck and direct them around the piler. It was easy, but it was 12 hours on your feet non-stop work. If I ever do it again, I will invest in some memory foam boots. Also, it gets cold in North Dakota in October, so you are wearing 20 lbs. of extra clothes, it is not a job for the faint of heart. I think I forgot to mention we started at 8:00 p.m. and worked until 8:00 a.m. Ugh!
The weather was the real factor in this being a bust for us. We arrived in North Dakota on September 23, 2019 and attended orientation the next day. We should have started October 1, 2019. It rained for three straight days and flooded the Red River Valley that week. All in all, we worked one full day over the two week period. The day we left, Tuesday, October 8, 2019, I had to make a judgment call. A storm that dropped 24 inches of snow in Montana and Wyoming was making its way towards us camping in North Dakota. I knew if we got that much snow it would destroy the crops and we would be snowed in for two weeks or more. I woke Sandra up after our one and only day to work and told her to start packing we were leaving. She was not happy with me, but I knew this could get bad for us.
It took us a few hours to get everything loaded, after letting American Crystal Sugar Company know we were leaving and would not be working anymore this season, we departed the campground at 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday. We drove south as fast as we could, and judging by the wind speeds we were facing we made a good decision. Towns in North and South Dakota are few and far between, and If you have ever owned a diesel truck you know that gas gauges are a best guess situation. We were climbing a steep hill in South Dakota only 27 miles from the next gas station when it happened. The truck sputtered, then begin to die. The gauge said I had almost a quarter of a tank, but I knew it was probably running out of diesel. I could see the steam rising off of Sandra’s forehead, then I reminded her that I had a five-gallon gas tank in the back full of diesel, so in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere and freezing to death I poured the last bit of diesel into the truck hoping this was the problem. I hopped into my seat and said a little prayer; the truck cranked and we made it to the next gas station. Thank God!
About two o’clock that morning we stopped at a rest area and climbed into our camper and locked the doors. We slept until we were awoken by a dog fight between our two pups, Smiley and Mac. Mac has a bit of a temper, and apparently Smiley stepped on him in the middle of the night. Nothing like waking up in a rest area too dogs freaking out. After some screaming and whipping dog butts, we started driving around 5:00 a.m. because we weren’t out of the path of the storm yet. We drove until we pulled up in our campground in York, Nebraska about 9:00 a.m. What a night, but we escaped the blizzard.
The next part is the saddest part of the whole ordeal for me. Many of the friends we made stayed, and they were basically stuck. I think they may have worked two more days in the season. The harvest was a big loss for the American Crystal Sugar Company. They had to finally quit harvesting with much of their product still in the ground. This article from the Miami Herald explains the situation, American Sugar Ends Red River Valley Sugar Beet Harvest.
Things that I learned, or was reminded of, during this ordeal were:
- We should appreciate farmers in this country more than we do. Every time a kid driving a dump truck, who couldn’t be older than 16, would dump a load at 3:00 a.m. trying to help his parents farm get there crop out before the storm made my heart sank. These people work hard to make sure we have food and products on our tables and in our pantries.
- I miss my Father in Law, not many people know this, but I farmed with my father in law, Robert Davis for a few years when Sandra and I first were married. He poured his life into me for a short period and instilled a work ethic and can-do attitude that I still have today.
- Life is about making hard decisions, and no decision is actually making a decision. My wife was furious at me for leaving with no notice, but looking back we both laughed this morning about how glad we are we got the hell out of there. The town we were living in, Grafton, North Dakota, received over two feet of snow in the blizzard.
- Look for the Silver Linings – When we got to York it dawned on us that we were back in time for Davis’ birthday. We had celebrated in September before we headed North, but we were actually able to stay for two weeks and watch him play soccer. It was awesome!
- New Friends – We decided to stop in Bentonville, Arkansas on the way home. I have always wanted to check out the area, so we camped outside of Bentonville. We explored Bentonville and Rogers, that is where we found the Ozark Brewing Company. I love to go to local breweries. We met the most awesome couple there that we will be friends with for life, Pam and Hal from Little Rock.
- When you got to an half of a tank in a diesel truck you better stop and get gas.
I am sorry the length of this post, but I needed to catch everyone up on the adventure. We have been home now for three weeks, and we are struggling to adjust, but the Traveling RV Fools will be headed out on our next adventure soon.
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