The Dozing of the Beets, 2024 Honorable Mention

By Dorita Hoff and Ray Brooks

The lean and fit Ketchum team sweated, while dump trucks clamorously dropped huge loads of freshly harvested sugar beets behind them. Of course, the Ketchum team was dressed in white linen, with red sashes and scarves, and trim red berets. Each wore the latest and greatest running shoe available. The team from nearby Rupert, which had won the team trophy twice in previous races, favored bib-overalls, cowboy hats, and boots. There were a fair number of female runners, but Burley sponsored a women’s team fashionably attired in potato sacks. As other runners pushed in towards the starting line, the air started shaking with the sound of huge front-end loader diesel engines starting up. The watching crowd of thousands cheered.

Butch was a local. He took a drag from his ready-roll, exhaling slowly. “I’m bettin on the tall skinny one with a red beret, in the white sneakers” 

Buzz shot back: “Naw, I’m figurin on the big guy in the cowboy boots and tan overalls, he won it last year, and just might go the distance again.”

Butch pondered for a moment, then said: “Well, I wouldn’t count out the lanky kid with the blue heeler, that there duo looks fast and nimble!”

Buzz took a puff of smoke, while thinking deeply. He replied: “You know, that tall Alice Beetblossom girl from Burley, was the star athlete on their track, basketball, and volleyball teams. Besides, she looks mighty fetching in a potato sack too.”

As diesel smoke from the massive loaders filled the cool morning air, and the crowd surged forward, local booster John Beety had a difficult time believing that once forlorn Paul, Idaho’s fastest growing city, had hit gold, sponsoring its now famous festival, “The Dozing of the Sugar Beets.”  The small farming and beet processing town, 10-miles north of Burley, had been a little town of only 600 people, until Beety and some of his promotionally minded friends, had come up with the idea of an Idaho version of Pamplona, Spain’s famous “Running of the Bulls.”

For the first event on October 12th, 2024, the promoters publicized a “Run for Your Life” event through the somewhat desolate streets of downtown Paul, with two giant front-end loaders pushing a twenty-foot high pile of recently harvested sugar beets towards suddenly frantic participants, who would race through the streets of Paul —— for their lives. Sugar beets average about a foot in diameter and weigh between three and five pounds each. The 20-foot- high stacks of sugar beets made an ominous rumble, as the mammoth front-end loaders pushed them forward. A noise like a breaking tidal wave, shook the runners at their most primeval levels. Although sugar beets are not quite as lethal as bulls, individual beets tended to bounce ahead of the piles being pushed. On the 2024 run, one contestant had been knocked out by an airborne beet, and six more had been knocked flat by slightly less deadly beets. All had been barely dragged to safety by officials. In subsequent years, as attendance grew, injuries from flying sugar beets also grew.

Five years after the first Dozing of the Beets, Paul now had a dozen fashionable hotels, fine restaurants, and a worldwide reputation, due to its annual “Run For Your Life” event, which was the keystone of a three day celebration. Other beet-centric activities included bobbing for beets, beet bowling, a beet carving contest, and the locals favorite, a beet tossing contest. The Dozing of the Beets event drew hundreds of competitors, and many south Idaho communities sponsored teams for the race, although individual runners were also welcomed. Starting at the old railroad water tower in downtown Paul, the course ran three blocks west to Highway 27, then south on it for three blocks, before turning east onto the highway to the sugar company’s huge sugar factory. On that wider highway, two more gigantic front-end loaders and another 50 tons of sugar beets were added. The race ended at the sugar factory, after 1.5 miles of terror for the adrenalated runners lucky enough to make it to the finish line.

As the huge smoke-belching front-end loaders throttled up, the ground started shaking. The gathering crowd lining the streets began to cheer, as the massive loaders inched giant piles of sugar beets toward the starting line. Money was changing hands fast, as those who chose to gamble about who might win the race, gathered at betting booths. Nervous runners positioned themselves in front of the mountainous piles of beets. Static cracked from the loud speakers, when the announcer barked: “Runners and loaders ready?”  

Bret, from Ogden, smiled to himself. He had run track in high school and college, competed as an individual in several of the sugar beet races, and had been among the top 5 finishers. However, this year he had trained harder, even moving to Paul for the summer, so he could run the race course daily. He had also made friends with one of the front-end loader drivers for the race. After some tavern conversations, he found out that the driver had learned how to get his load of sugar beets to bounce and then fling, suddenly lethal, airborne sugar beets up to 200 feet ahead of his loader. A few beers and $1,000.00 convinced the driver that he would use his driving skills to fling beets at any runners ahead of Bret in the race. Bret had also managed to secretly bet all the cash he had left, on himself to win the race. The fix was in!  

“YEE HAW” the announcer yelled, tossing his hat into the air!  The running had begun.

 Tall Skinny from Ketchum, quickly took the lead, forcing the front-end loader behind him to throttle up, beets spilling in every direction. The lanky kid and his blue heeler stayed close, while the previous winner from Rupert, ran a strong 3rd, and Bret, cautiously staying well away from the front-end loader his driver was in, hung close in 4th place. The crowds screamed themselves hoarse, the sugar beets rumbled, and suddenly occasional sugar beets started flying ahead of the piles. A dozen runners went down in the first mile. Most were dragged off the road in time, but one was buried in sugar beets, before being freed by officials. That man was lucky, and only suffered two broken legs and a skull fracture. By the time the leaders were a quarter mile from the finish line, most of the runners behind them had wisely stepped aside from the carnage, but twenty were still among the front-runners.

Suddenly, Bret’s driver started bouncing his sugar beets. A fusillade of airborne beets nearly took out all the front-runners. The lanky kid’s alert blue heeler jumped up and nipped a sugar beet out of the air, just in time to save him, and the lanky kid, was suddenly in first place. Bret closed in on him, knowing his training and experience would win the race. Then the blue heeler, turned on Bret, adroitly “heeling” him and forcing him to stumble, while the lanky kid sped on. Suddenly, Alice came out of nowhere, sprinting towards victory. The willy lass had discarded her potato sack and was now racing in nylon shorts and a singlet. Quickly, the blue heeler planted himself in front of her, rolled over, and wagged his tail. Smitten with the cute and heroic dog, she paused to pet him, so the lanky kid won. Bret had a punctured calf, but limped on to finish third, then started to protest. As the crowds cheered the lanky kid and his dog, Bret whined to officials to no avail. Of course, there were no rules on the books against dogs biting competitors.

The lanky kid won the grand prize, a two-foot-tall golden sugar beet trophy and 100 pounds of sugar, and everyone, except the seriously injured and Bret, moved on to the potluck dinner, food trucks, or fine restaurants. Of course, many thirsty racers and spectators took time to visit the beer, or beet-sugar flavored soft drink tents and buy souvenirs from the many vendors. Nearly everyone purchased one or more “I BEAT THE BEETS!” t-shirts, except for the locals, Buzz and Butch, who had wagered on the wrong winner. They headed straight for the beer tent and were content tucking into the potluck dinner. It was another memorable day in Paul.

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