Saturday, October 10, 2015

Piled High and Deep: The Story of the Sugar Beet Pile

American Crystal Sugar Company
Hillsboro Processing Plant
Hillsboro, ND
GPS: 47.434612, -97.062921

That phrase used derisively to describe a PhD surely fits a sugar beet pile. A piler is able to make piles of sugar beets over 200 feet wide at the base, and over 20 feet high, containing between 70,000 and 90,000 tons of beets. There is no angle from which I could take a picture that would capture the size of these beet piles. Maybe this diagram along with some pictures will do the job.

Compare the pile to the piler and the trucks

Looks like gravel but every particle is a sugar beet the size of a coconut

The pile grows 24/7 and the top of the boom is 30 ft above the ground

When we started, I could see the factory buildings under the stacks

Sugar beets are harvested quickly and stored up to 180 days to await processing. It is during this storage period, that sugar is lost through normal respiration. Respiration causes about 70% of sugar loss during storage, and decay accounts for 10%. The remaining 20% is the result of fermentation when the oxygen content is low because of poor ventilation, freezing and thawing cycles, and root desiccation. Storage losses caused by respiration have been controlled through the utilization of forced-air ventilation and subsequent freezing of storage piles after mid-December.

“forced-air ventilation and subsequent freezing” brings up an important part of the beet pile story and our work, but first an important side story. (I love these little adventures off into the encyclopedia to learn something new)

The Skidsteer

Darting around the Piler, like pilot fish around a shark, is a Skidsteer. The Piler could not function properly without the Skidsteer.

This Cat Skidsteer is the same as the one at our piler

Time for the information from Wikipedia
A skid loader, skid-steer loader, or skidsteer, is a small, rigid-frame, engine-powered machine with lift arms used to attach a wide variety of labor-saving tools or attachments. Many manufacturers have their own versions of this vehicle, including Kubota, Bobcat, Terex, Case, Caterpillar, Gehl Company, Hyundai, JCB, JLG, John Deere, Komatsu, LiuGong, New Holland, Volvo, and Wacker Neuson.

Skid-steer loaders are typically four-wheel vehicles with the wheels mechanically locked in synchronization on each side so the left-side drive wheels can be driven independently of the right-side drive wheels. The wheels typically have no separate steering mechanism and hold a fixed straight alignment on the body of the machine. By operating the left and right wheel pairs at different speeds, the machine turns by skidding or dragging its fixed-orientation wheels across the ground. The extremely rigid frame and strong wheel bearings prevent the torsional forces caused by this dragging motion from damaging the machine. The skid-steering vehicle is turned by generating differential velocity at the opposite sides of the vehicle. Skid-steer loaders are capable of zero-radius, "pirouette" turning, which makes them extremely maneuverable and valuable for applications that require a compact, agile loader. Skid-steer loaders are sometimes equipped with tracks in lieu of the wheels and such a vehicle is known as a multi-terrain loader.

Unlike in a conventional front loader, the lift arms in these machines are alongside the driver with the pivot points behind the driver's shoulders. Modern skid loaders have fully enclosed cabs and other features to protect the operator. Like other front loaders, it can push material from one location to another, carry material in its bucket or load material into a truck or trailer.Wikipedia

“it can push material from one location to another, carry material in its bucket or load material into a truck or trailer” and that is what it does around a piler 24 hours a day.

The Skidsteer cleans up trash around the piler. From beets spilled from the hopper because the driver dumped too fast to debris from the tare dirt dump, there is an endless stream of trash accumulating around the piler. Especially behind the piler and ahead of the pile. If this debris is not removed frequently, it will be buried in the pile.

Beets spilled by the trucks as they dump are run over by the trucks that follow, quickly covering the concrete pad with a covering of mashed beets that becomes slippery and dangerous for both trucks and workers.

The most important job for the skidsteer, and the job requiring the most skill, is laying down the culvert piping for the forced-air ventilation system.

When I first saw these sections of culvert pipe I did not understand their purpose

The Skidsteer uses this gadget to pick up pipe

The Skidsteer lays the pipe sections end to end in from each side of the pile but not completely across

The Skidsteer piles beets in front of the pipe to prevent rolling or sliding

As the pile advances, it fills in behind the culvert and buries it

The ends of the culvert pipe are connected to ventilating fans

As soon as the weather turns cold, the ventilating fans are turned on to chill then freeze the core of the pile.

Posts about the Sugar Beet Harvest

Hillsboro, North Dakota, we have arrived

Some paperwork to get us started

A trip to the Hillsboro factory for some OJT

Notes and pictures on our ten days of work

A quick summary of the annual campaign of sugar beet processing

Bigger than a coconut, smaller than a football. Here is the story on the sugar beet

I was very impressed with the big machine we worked on. I thought you might like to learn more.

How big is a pile that contains 90,000 tons? Here are some pictures and figures

Harvesting root crops produces dirt. How to handle and dispose of it is an interesting side story

A $20 billion industry with 142,000 jobs in 22 states. Take a look at the Sugar Beet Industry

Get a closer look at the company providing this workamping opportunity.

If you are a workamper interested in short term hard work for big bucks, here’s the link

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