LITTLE FALLS -- Lucy Tanner and Sandy Morse have found horseshoes, yellow foundation bricks, golf balls and shoes in their line of work each fall.
Tanner and Morse face the task of removing debris, including vines, cornstalks and undersized potatoes, from thousands of Russett-Burbank potatoes as they roll on a conveyor belt at the Bob Anderson farm north of Little Falls.
The conveyor belt carries the potatoes and dumps them inside a storage warehouse that is 110 feet wide and more than 170 feet long. Once this building is full the potatoes will be stacked 18 feet high and will total about 70,000 11-pound bags.
Good potatoes rolled off the conveyor belt on their way to the warehouse after being checked for size and debris at the Bob Anderson farm north of Little Falls. (Dispatch Photos by Clint Wood)
Some of the potatoes will be sold to a french fry plant in Park Rapids.
For six weeks in the spring, Morse and Tanner, who both retired as teachers from Charles Lindbergh Elementary School in Little Falls after more than 30 years, also work at the farm grading potatoes and cutting potatoes.
To grade potatoes, the pair checks the potatoes as they are moved via a conveyor belt from a warehouse where they are stored during the winter. The potatoes are classified as either being able to be sold as seed potatoes or kept as seed potatoes. The 2-pound potatoes also have to be removed.
A tandem truck containing an estimated 350 100-pound bags of freshly harvested Russett-Burkhart potatoes dumped its load into an even-flow machine that regulated the flow of the potatoes moved to the dirt eliminator. The eliminator removed dirt and undersized potatoes. The potatoes were then moved by a conveyor belt to be stored in a warehouse.
In the cutting task, the pair removes potatoes that weren't cut by a cutter or were cut into pieces that are too small. Once again the potatoes move by a conveyor belt.
So why take a job like this when they could be enjoying retirement?
"That's how we got to know each other," Morse said, noting her job is more than just standing by the conveyor belt.
Lucy Tanner had been working an hour and already the debris pile she pulled from the potatoes moving along the conveyor belt had become pretty large. Sandy Morse said they have pulled horseshoes and yellow foundation bricks from the potatoes.
"I've learned to crawl under equipment to shut off buttons," she said.
The pair also works when it is "nice" outside -- when the temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit and below 65 degrees.
The reason is these are the only temperatures that the potatoes can be harvested. If the temperature is colder than 45 degrees, the potatoes bruise too easily; if the mercury rises above 65, the potatoes take too long to cool down.
Lucy Tanner poked a thermometer into a few potatoes every 30 minutes to check the temperature. If the temperature falls below 45 degrees Fahrenheit or rises above 65 degrees the operation is shut down. The potatoes bruise too easily if they get too cold and are too hard to cool down if they get too warm.
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