Shoveling sugar beets paid by the ton

Photo courtesy of the Mark French Collection, Berthoud Historical Society – The Berthoud beet dump was located near the railroad tracks on North Fourth Street. Sugar beets that were not dumped directly into boxcars were shoveled by hand later.

By Mark French

The Surveyor

October is the month for harvesting sugar beets in Northern Colorado. Beginning in the early 1900s the Great Western Sugar Company conducted annual harvest campaigns during which time sugar beets were harvested, transported from fields to factory, and processed into sugar. These campaigns continued from October into the first months of the following year when the process of producing sugar had been completed.

For agricultural communities such as Berthoud, the campaign was an important time of year when farmers not only earned money from selling their beet crop but also by shoveling beets into boxcars at receiving stations or “dumps” where beets had been collected for transport by rail to processing plants in Loveland or Longmont.

While great quantities of sugar beets were dumped directly into boxcars, a significant amount of beets were piled or “siloed” on the ground at the dump to be shoveled into boxcars when they became available.

Men who shoveled beets into boxcars at local beet dumps were not paid by the hour but by the ton. One impressive beet-shoveling effort was reported by a Loveland newspaper in November 1918 when the tabloid noted: “Windsor—One hundred, twenty-six tons of beets loaded from the dump by two men in a little less than nine hours is a record for Weld County at shoveling beets, and is held by Henry Schneider and John Clous, who had the contract for shoveling beets at the Connor dump. Every ton of the beets was handled by forks, and the men only quit work because night came.”

The work of shoveling beets naturally evolved into competitions similar to contests in coal mining communities where miners competed at shoveling coal to win prize money at local fairs. In 1941 the Longmont Junior Chamber of Commerce held such a contest. In November of that year a headline on the front page of the Berthoud Bulletin announced: “Berthoud Man Won Second in Contest.”

The article that accompanied the headline noted, “In the world’s championship beet shoveling contest held in Longmont Thursday of last week, Emil Starck of Berthoud won $40 for second place having shoveled a ton and a half of beets in 5 minutes, 24.2 seconds.

“First place was won by Joe Fruhwirth of Fort Collins who tossed the ton and a half of beets in 5 minutes, 13.9 seconds. He received $75.

“Albert Beauprez, 22, of Johnstown, won $25 for third place, and Anthony Beauprez, 27, of Longmont, $10 for fourth place. Their time was 5 minutes, 41.2 seconds and 54.6 seconds respectively.

“David Peterson, John Schleiger jr. and Emil Johnson were three other Berthoud men who entered the contest. There were fifty contestants from eighteen different countries entered in the first annual battle of beet shoveling sponsored by the Longmont Junior Chamber of Commerce.”

Today Berthoud’s sugar beet farmers make scant use of beet forks since every aspect of raising, harvesting, and processing the crop is highly mechanized. There’s no more need to declare a beet-shoveling world champion, and that is too bad.

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