By Robert Lucke
A group of six to eight mostly young people go out each morning in sometimes the most adverse of conditions to fight the weed problem in Hill County and surrounding areas as needed. The pay is low and the job can be hazardous, but out they go and surprisingly, most come back year after year for more of the same.
Hill County weed supervisor, Terry Turner explains the job.
"We have from six to eight in a mostly summer only job and they get organized early every day and go out and fight the battle," said Turner. "Sometimes they work four ten-hour days and other times they work right through the weekends depending on the weather."
There are four trucks used by the weed district and Turner has a problem identifying the worst problem for trucks and personnel to attack each day.
"The worst is leafy spurge. It is the toughest to get rid of. That and Dalmatian toad flax. There are not too many acres of it, but we don't seem to be getting rid of it as soon as we should be," added Turner.
Ever wonder what the green patches are along roadsides when weed people leave? Well, it is actually blue and it does have a purpose. Turner explains.
"It is a blue dye that we put into the mixture. That way people can see when we have sprayed and I can see if any areas were missed and it saves us having to respray an area sometimes. And we can see what good the spray has done."
Weed personnel travel lots of miles. On the day of the Daily News interview, one truck had been north of Havre spraying on CRP land. One group was north of Rudyard on the Canadian border spraying rangeland. Still another was south of Hingham spraying thistles and still another was spraying south of Gildford.
With the low pay that weed persons make, comes other setbacks to the job. Each must take a three-day course and pass a difficult test to get the job in the first place and then there are the snakes. Last year they killed seven rattlesnakes. Only one so far this year. Worse than that sometimes is the fright of a bird flying out of a bush when not expected. Then there was the one occasion when weed personnel were shot at by a person not wanting them to even come down his road.
The job can end when they go back to school or when the snow flies. Turner said that some of the most effective spraying of all is done in the late fall.
One day last week, during the noon hour, several of the weed crew stopped long enough to answer questions about the job.
Sheila Siefert is starting her first season with the weed crew. She likes the work and has no trouble telling what is the best about it.
"Being outside is what is best about the job for me." said Siefert.
To a person the biggest downside is no air conditioning in the weed trucks that they are in so much of the day.
This is Jim Branden's second summer. The MSU-Northern senior knows what is best for him.
"The rest of the employees. They are a good bunch of people. I don't know if I will be back for a third year, but I will be working part-time this fall between classes," said Branden.
Julie Schweigert is in the middle of her first summer. She is a junior at MSU-Northern in automotive technology. Her worst experience was, well, let her tell it.
"I put water in the gas tank in one of the trucks," she said with an embarrassed smile. "But the water was in a red container, so I thought it was gas."
She is going to be back next year even though her son doesn't like to even hold hands with her because that blue dye doesn't wash off very easily.
Mark Lippard is in his third year with the weed gang. He is a junior at MSU-Northern majoring in drafting. He likes the job because it is outdoors. For Lippard there is no downside to the job. There was that one embarrassing moment though when in the middle of a Beaver Creek Bridge, Lippard and Turner got the spray hose entwined in the dual rear wheels of their truck and another crew came by and saw the mess. No one has lived that one down yet.
Jason Swinney is a third year weed person also attending MSU-Northern in computer information systems. Swinney says he likes being outside and getting to drive off the road without getting a ticket is a real plus.
The down side is that in weed work there are a few obnoxious people to deal with. Sometimes organic farming and spraying can meet with less than desirable consequences.
One employee was hurt on the job. The others wish her a speedy recovery and hope that she will be back soon.
And they have some advice for all the rest of us.
"Tell the traffic to slow down when they see us," said all of them. "Highway Two is a killer!"
Turner summed up what is best for all of them.
"We are lucky to be doing this job in Hill County where the people around here are very cooperative. State and federal agencies are good to work with. Our commissioners understand weeds. That makes our job a lot easier."