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Sugarbeet Flashback: ‘Beet Tale-ings’

Enjoy this Sugarbeet Flashback from 30 years ago. The story 'Beet Tale-ings' was originally published in the June 1991 issue of The Sugarbeet Grower magazine.

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Cover of the June 1991 issue of The Sugarbeet Grower magazine.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the June 1991 issue of The Sugarbeet Grower magazine.

‘Beat the Beet Contest’

How big is the biggest sugarbeet that was ever weighed and recorded?

That question started a contest that lasted for several years in our area of California and created loads of fun – and a few problems.

Every year at harvest time, someone brought a big beet into the parts store and placed it on the counter with the question “Have you ever seen one that big before?”

One quiet day, I was looking over the top of one of those big beets to read what was on the bulletin boards. It was used to note things of special interest or to swap service or parts. Only one notice was scribbled there. It said: “I am looking for any nice girl that is willing to clean the house. It will be nice if she is a good cook.” The note was followed by a phone number.

I was not running a hiring hall. I thought the sugarbeet harvester men had many opportunities to meet nice ladies and did not need that kind of advertising on my blackboard. So I cleaned the blackboard and wrote:

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"BEAT THE BEET CONTEST: The biggest beet weighed in before July 15th at 4 o’clock will win 2 cases of ice cold beer.

Second place will win 1 case of ice cold beer.

Third place winner will probably die of envy and thirst."

The contest grew like milkweeds, and the search for the biggest beet became an annual event. Field hands and bosses kept a sharp eye out for a big beet, and the rivalry and fun continued for many seasons.

One year, a beet dump was broken down and would not be repaired for a couple of hours. So a boss suggested that the harvest crew and truckers use the time to walk the ditches and headlands in search of the biggest beet. They found many big beets, but were beaten by a single beet that grew under ideal conditions near a pig pen.

It became apparent that special concentrated efforts would be needed to win the contest, and many competitors dropped out. But the rivalry had become so intense among the others that some people refused to quit.

The prankster got into the act and brought in a beet that was loaded with welding rods. They were pushed in through a small hole that was hidden in the green tops. The beet was so heavy that it was immediately suspicious. An autopsy revealed the dastardly deed, and the perpetrators were banished from the contest with a lot of scolding and joking laughter.

Tempers flared when two bosses got into an argument over a double beet. It was the biggest beet and had the shape that all beets should have; but it had two perfect tails. The men could not agree whether it was one beet or two:

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“That is two beets grown together. It looks like one beet, but it has two tails.”

“I don’t care how many tails it has. It is the biggest beet, and I win.”

“No you don’t. The prize is for the biggest beet – and that means one beet, not two.”

The argument got hotter and the anger was increasing, so I stuck my neck out.

“Hold it you guys! I started this contest for fun, and I will not let it grow like a government bureaucracy with hundreds of rules and regulations.”

There were four other guys in the store at the time, so I passed the final decision on to them. They voted, and it was four in favor of the smaller beet with one tail. That became the rule, and that particular problem never came up again.

But there were other problems. One year, for instance, a truck driver brought in a big beet. It was weighed in and the weight posted on the bulletin board. On the day of the deadline, the entire crew of that harvesting operation was gathered in the store, anxiously waiting to see if they would be bumped by a bigger beet.

At one minute to four o’clock, I started the countdown – and then awarded the prize to the waiting crew. I made the short trip to the ice house to retrieve the beer, and they took it back to the ranch, where a beer bust was started in the shade of an old barn.

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The break in the demanding routine of the long, hot harvest was welcome, and the beer bust got off to a great start. The prized beer was soon guzzled down and a volunteer sent to the closest country store for more supplies.

Time stood still as two boys told their funny jokes. It was almost impossible to top the humor which is such a large part of their survival in a very rough world. The laughter rolled on and on.

About two hours after the boys left with the beer, my phone began to ring as worried housewives started looking for their husbands. I did not know about the beer bust, so there was little I could say; but I began to worry, too.

So I jumped in the car and drove out to the ranch. I arrived at the scene just as a big Okie woman located her husband and was demanding that he come home immediately. He was having so much fun that he ignored her; so she started to throw clods at him.

To miss the barrage, he began running across the plowed beet field, dodging like a chased jackrabbit. But she was in hot pursuit. She let loose a shower of clods as she scooped and ran – and she scored some direct hits. The Okie howled with pain, and the rest of the guys cracked up and rolled on the ground as they enjoyed “The Okie Show.”

When the annual contest neared the deadline, many of the big beets that did not make the finals began to pile up at the back door of the store. A truck driver asked who owned the beets. Without thinking, I replied “Anyone who will haul them away, I guess.”

Many truck drivers agreed to throw them on their loads, but another idea and another rule came from my free-wheeling statement. It was decided that the beets should go to the grower with the smallest acreage, and that made everyone happy.

When I retired, the contest retired with me. But to the best of my recollection, the grand prize for the biggest sugarbeet of those times in our area went to J.C. Reeves Ranches for a beet that weighed 49 pounds.

The “Beat the Beet Contest” was indeed big beets and big fun.

Lloyd Schmidt, who lives and writes at Brawley, Calif., has been around the beet industry for more than 45 years.

Related Topics: SUGARBEETS
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