In the runup to the sugar beet harvest, the Herald speaks to truck driver Gary Johnson, about his experiences on the job.
Q: How long have you been driving a beet truck, and why do you do it?
A: I've been driving for (local farmer) Frank (Matejcek) for eight years. I’m retired, and it just gets me out of the house, gives me something to do. And besides that, Frank is such a good guy, so that's why I keep doing it. I worked for KFGO radio in Fargo, as a marketing executive. I grew up in Dahlen, North Dakota, which is about 50 miles west of town.
Q: Now that we're in a pandemic, how will harvest be different this year?
A: It’s different at the scales. All the scale attendees, and everyone in the plant have face masks, of course. When we would go in there, we would hand them a field card, so they know where the beets came from. Now we just hold it out and scan it. We used to get a paper receipt with our weight and stuff on it, but we don't get that anymore. And then we just go and unload like always after that, back out of the way. We don't get final receipts to show how much we actually had in beet weight. I would imagine they have that on a computer, but I'm not privy to that.
Q: What has been your most challenging harvest?
A: Last year, no doubt. Some of my co-drivers got stuck. We had to get wreckers out there; they cost like 1,000 bucks to get pulled out. It was just crazy. And then we just never really got any harvest done, basically.
Q: What does it take for someone to be a beet truck driver?
A: You have to like working 12-hour shifts; that's one thing. The other thing is, I guess you should have a little bit of moxie about how farming works, and driving. There's a lot of weight involved with the trucks. They don't need any special licensing because it has a farmer's plate, so they can go with a regular driver's license. I’ve had a CDL all my life, so I guess that's a little unnerving to have all that weight with someone used to driving a car, but, for the most part, they do pretty well.
Q: What shift do you like? Do you drive other harvests?
A: Everybody likes days, but I think this year I'm going to take nights just to stay out of the traffic. You have to work in the dark, but that's OK to me because there's no cars on the road. No, I grew up on a farm, but like I said, I retired nine years ago and I just do it for Frank.