Ever wonder about what working the sugar beet harvest actually means? My partner and I have worked this job for the past two weeks and have learned a lot about the beet piler.
If you’re a nomad living on the road you’ve probably heard about this job. It has a lot of mystery around it; some people say the job is hard, others do not. I’ve started daily posts like this one to help others understand this seasonal job.
Since night shift got called off due to lightning, we had an incredibly slow morning. So, instead of a journal daily post, I thought I’d explain the beet piler machine we use and how we use it!
🌡️ Temperature: 48 degrees F
☁️ Weather: Cloudy, Overcast, 25% chance percipitation
💨 Wind: 5 – 10 mph
What is a Beet Piler Machine?
A beet piler is a massive machine that creates giant piles of beets. The piles stretch up to a 1/4 mile long and anywhere from 22ft to 30ft high.
Most of the beet pilers used in North Dakota were made in the 1960’s through the 1980’s.
Each of the 9 beet pilers in the Drayton yard is slightly different. They’re all “unique” as they say here.
Each yard has a few mechanics always on hand to fix them up should a problem arise.
Parts of a Beet Piler
This is what the sugar beet dump trucks drive over. Here, they pause and dump their beet load and it feeds it into the machine. The primary job of the pile operator deals with controlling the two end dumps of the beet piler. Moreover, the pile operator directs the truck drivers on how and when to dump their sugar beet loads.
The B-Door is a moving part on the end dump that raises before the trucks dump sugar beets. It holds the beet load in place from spilling everywhere behind the truck.
After the truck dumps all its sugar beets and drive off of the end dump, this moving door swings upward. This creates a V-shape on the end dump and gets most of the stray beets into the machine before the next truck.
Main Elevator/Conveyor Belt:
Once the sugar beets get dropped onto the end dumps, they get onto the conveyor belt of the piler. This brings them upward into the heart of the beet piler.
In the heart of the beet piler, the beets bounce around on giant cylinders with sharp swirls. These do a primary cleaning of the beets prior to the pile. It helps to remove the excess dirt and mud.
The excess mud falls through the dirt screen into the dirt hopper. It’s very important to not overfill this with more than two trucks worth of dirt as it will clog. A clog in the dirt hopper will shut the piler down for cleaning.
The dirt return takes the excess dirt from a truck load of sugar beets and gives it back to the truck. The helper/sampler position (ground crew) guides the trucks off of the end dump to place the dirt return toward the back of a truck. The truck drivers have to scrape this out of the dump truck bed, so it makes it easier for them in the back. This sampler/helper positions control it, however, the pile operator can also control it in a pinch.
After the sugar beets go through the dirt screen, they fall into a wheelbarrow. It roughly resembles a wheel barrow and funnels those beets onto the boom. As the sugar beets get thrown into it, they sometimes fly out and you can’t stand too close to it.
The boom is the giant extension that does the actually piling. It can be raised and lowered from roughly 4 feet off the ground to a little over 30 feet. It swings from left to right and the ground crew (sampler/helper positions) control it.
Sometimes, a trucker will hand us a sample ticket. Samples get sent to a lab to determine the sugar content of the beets. These samples help determine how much the grower gets paid. The sampler/helper ground crew will take a sample bag and shimmy it onto the sample shaft. Then, they press a button that drops a bucket into the wheel barrow and comes up with 15-30 pounds of beets. It dumped it down the shaft into the bag.
👣 STEPS WALKED DURING SHIFT: 5,997
🌡️ Temperature: 54 Degrees F
☁️ Weather: Cloudy, Overcast
💨 Wind: 5 – 10 mph