Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Ranch...

K - so this hay probe thing reminds me of some nutrition classes I took in college and my first "real" job out of college at Ranch-Way Feed Mill.

Ay yi yi. I was the second woman EVER to be hired in the mill. I shoulda known what that was gonna be like but ignorance is bliss to stoopid 20-somethings.

The mill made all sorts of formulated rations for local ranches. Big semi tractor trailers would come and deliver different grains and meals and other feedstuffs. The feed would run through the mill to be mixed with minerals, additives and then it travelled up through these various screen sizes making different size pellets according to the type of animal eating the pellet. Sorta like a cookie cutter or one of those play-doh things where you can press the play-doh out to make spaghetti type tubes or stars or whatever. It was really very interesting... only maybe not so much at the time.

I was hired as the Hand-Ad Operator. When the feed was being mixed, I had to throw all the smaller amounts of protein, minerals, vitamins and other additives into this hole where it was mixed with the bulk ingredients of the mix. I didn't have all day to do it either. I had a timer and a buzzer and I had to get EVERYTHING in before the buzzer went off or production was slowed waiting on me.

I wore a hard hat, a respirator, earplugs, a back brace thing and there was big, noisy equipment all around me with pictures of that stick man losing a leg or being electrocuted or otherwise dying and being dismembered.

NONE of the guys that worked there could figure why a woman would be there. I'm not really sure why I was there either, only that I wanted to work in Agriculture and I was strongest in my nutrition and reproduction classes. The feed mill fit into my nutrition niche or so I thought.

This guy named Alex was my trainer when I started. I didn't know this at the time but he began wearing aftershave to work once I started. He got a lot of shit from the other guys about that!

I had big, big barrels of vitamins A, D, E etc. behind me that I'd scoop into an empty tub on a scale to measure it all out. I had bags of other trace minerals - cobalt, magnesium, selenium... you name it... to add to the recipe. A lot of them were weird colors... there was something that was glacier ice blue, something else that was bright yellow... and it was toxic if ingested in other than micro quantities so when I was done with my shift, I kept my clothes in a plastic tub with a lid at home. It probably wasn't deadly, but I worried my dog and cats would be poisoned if they sniffed or licked or slept on my clothes.

The vitamins looked like sawdust and sometimes when I was scooping it out, there would be a dried up, dead rat... you didn't have time to think about it - you tossed it aside and hustled your ass to get your ingredients added before the buzzer went off. And you could NOT be girlie... that would have been a death sentence with all those guys. Having boobs and no dick was bad enough to them.

Dairy cow rations were the worst. Many of them had blood meal and fish meal - like 10 - 20 bags of each and the bags were all 50lbs. I had to load them up on a dolly, run over to the hole where I added the ingredients, cut big Xs in the bags with one of those carpet knives, flip it over to dump it in, tossing the empty bags aside to clean up later.

I would try to keep my mouth closed and breath thru my nose, but hustling and throwing 50lb sacks and moving my ass to get it all done before the buzzer sounded, left me breathless and inevitably I'd get blood or fish meal in my mouth. It was hard to breathe heavy in a respirator and I didn't wear it all the time. I remember looking in the mirror in the bathroom and having dark red powder (blood meal) all around my face and in my teeth. Uck. And yeah - blood meal is really blood that is instantly dried... just add water and you have blood. Fish meal was fish ground up fine into a meal/powder like substance.

The jokes the guys made on the days when I worked with a lot of blood and fish meal? I'm sure you can imagine.

Sometimes the bags I had to add were small and 50+ lbs - really low center of gravity - if you've ever carried a bag of quick-crete you know what I'm talking about. When I put those kind of ingredients on my dolly, the center of gravity was so low that I couldn't get the dolly back on it's wheels to move it... I would literally be on the handle of the dolly with my feet kicking in the air trying to get it tipped up onto the wheels. Most of the guys would stop what they were doing, and watch me laughing before one finally would come and give me a grudging hand...
Geez. I write this and I really don't know how in the hell I survived this job!

Most of the guys really didn't like me or know how to talk to me and my boss would send me down into the basement to sweep on the slower production days so he wouldn't have to look at me.

Grain dust is highly explosive and it's essential to keep things clean. The amount of feed processed caused a lot of dust. I would descend into this basement full of machines, tubes, pipes etc. so loud that you could hardly hear your own voice if you yelled. It was dark and cob webby and you could see the foot prints of rats in the dust all around you. I tried to bang around so the rats would know I was there and keep away. I don't know if I ever actually saw a live rat but I knew they were around. I'd sweep and sweep - out of the way of my boss who really didn't like me at all. Gawd he was an asshole.

I remember him always telling me I wasn't fast enough and that I didn't know my ass from a hole in the ground. (Tho' after I quit I heard the guy he hired to replace me was worthless - way more worthless than "the woman" and he bitched and bitched which made me laugh!) He had a brother - Jake - who worked at the back dock driving a fork lift and loading trucks. I remember Jake giving me a hard time but it seemed more joking than serious. I went out with him and a buddy of his once for a couple beers - nothing romantic at all. Afterwards there was a rumor around the mill that I'd given him a blowjob and I was a whore. Nice. So much for any camaraderie with my co-workers! Another guy who thought he was a ladies man would always ask me out.... I always said no. Inevitably a rumor circulated through the mill that I was a lesbian. You couldn't win. I tried and it was impossible!

I did befriend a couple guys. Bill was way, way cool and very normal - I hung out with him a lot. Course that meant he and I were getting it on in the mind of the other mill guys. (rolling of eyes - Bill wasn't my type) An older guy Don was so very kind to me when I was having a particularly hard day once. I remember him - I can see him in my mind right now - he was a really good guy.

The second-in-charge on my shifts was this guy named Dennis. He was o.k. He acted tough but was always fair with me. He had this funny habit of coming into the basement where I was sweeping... climbing around on the machines or equipment until he was right behind my unsuspecting sweeping self and he'd shout as loud as humanly possible just a hairs breath away from my ear... 'SHANSTER!' It always sent me leaping out of my skin. He'd chuckle and wander off leaving me to my sweeping.

I moved out of the mill and into the retail store after a year. The retail store was where all the ranchers would come in and order their feed. My new boss Chris and I got a long fine. The guy who took orders and organized the delivery trucks, Scott, was great too. In fact, I still talk to Scott every now and then. He is way out in Eastern CO somewhere brokering feed deals.

I was really happy to be out of the mill and to spend my day in the retail store where my clothes stayed clean. I made friends with some of the other guys that worked in the office - the purchaser and the nutritionist. They were older than me, married and had kids. I remember the purchaser had sheep... he'd always talk about lambing and shearing and all the other things sheep producers do to maintain a flock.

I asked him once if I could come to his house and see his family's sheep. I wanted to learn and I'd never really seen sheep production in school. I remember being really hurt and shocked when he told me that a married man couldn't bring someone like me home because there would be talk. I wasn't asking him out on a date or to bed. I wanted to come to his place in full daylight, with his family there and see his SHEEP.
It was a really different world. I went in there once when we moved back to Ft. Collins to buy some feed and it was too weird for me. We buy our feed at another feed mill now and we love that place.

And when Furry Husband and I come home with feed for our animals? I struggle to pick up and carry ONE measly little 50lb feed bag!


Kelley said...

I love your stories!!

Tracy said...

Sounds like the same guys that worked in the small towns around where I grew up in Minnesota.

I think you are awesome for doing that kind of work. Aren't the young fearless?

Shanster said...

I don't know if fearless is the word... maybe stupid! If someone told me how it would really be I may have thought twice?

Eh - I probably still would have.

I was (ahem - AM) pretty stubborn and tend to want to experience it myself rather than take someone's word for it.

Oh - when will I ever learn?? grin

Dedene said...

Good for you for standing up to those guys. What a great story!

Shanster said...

Sure brought back memories and seems like a lifetime ago!!

Glad to be in the world of cubicles, business casual dress, computers and much much more civilized male co-workers...