Sunday, September 16, 2018

Free at Last: Completed our Work-camping Gig at the Crazy Horse Complex

Prior to this summer, my parents had never talked negatively about an employer.  But unfortunately, this was a rough, unprecedented summer work-camping season for them.  It started with the Grand Teton Association (GTA).  Although my parents signed commitment letters in November 2017, GTA advised us after we arrived and set up in May 2018 that we must forfeit our RV site (which they assigned to us a month prior to our arrival via a group e-mail) to accommodate a returning Park volunteer.  Furthermore, they advised us they had no other site to accommodate our large setup, despite my parents sharing our rig information both verbally and in writing at various times during interview/employment offer communications.  The downward trend continued when my parents were compelled to do something they never did before in their years of work-camping—resign—from Forest Service Management, a concessionaire for Black Hills National Forest, due to the misogyny/male chauvinism/disrespect shown to Mom by the lead host and management’s disregard for workplace safety.  And, unfortunately, it ended with my parents completing a very long, tiring, disappointing season at the Crazy Horse Complex in Custer, SD.

Mind you, every job has its perks and quirks.  And no job turns out to be exactly what the employer/manager described.  But when my parents worked at Crazy Horse in 2015, they decided the perks overwhelmingly exceeded the quirks.  In fact, my parents shared their evaluation of working here in a Workamper News article entitled “Our Sensational South Dakota Experience,” published July/August 2016.  Unfortunately, this season was not as satisfying.  So what was different?  What changed?

In 2015, Mom worked in the Visitor Center for the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation (CHMF), the 501(c) non-profit organization governed by a Board of Directors, while Dad worked for Korzak’s Heritage, Inc. (KH), the for-profit business operated by the sculptor’s family, through which they donate a portion of their net proceeds to the Foundation.  Though family members are involved with both entities, the management styles and treatment of employees between the two companies differ greatly.

In 2015, Mom’s CHMF manager was proactive and consulted Dad’s KH manager to ensure my parents had similar 40-hour work schedules.  Since Dad worked 7:30-4:30 Monday-Friday, Mom’s manager scheduled Mom to open two days a week at 7:30 (to fill in for the usual “opener” on her days off).  The other three days, Mom started by 9 a.m., which meant she always was home by 6 p.m., and we ate dinner together as a family.  We had our evenings free for leisure activities.  And we enjoyed spending their two consecutive days off together exploring the Black Hills.

This summer, both my parents worked for Korzak’s Heritage, Inc. (Mom worked Gift Shop, Dad performed Bus-to-Base tours).  Ironically, they reported to and were scheduled by the same manager.  Yet my parents were like two ships passing in the night.  Dad would work days, Mom evenings or vice versa.  There were days Dad would be getting home from work within an hour of Mom just going to work.  While my parents agreed to work 40-hours/week, they certainly didn’t expect to deviate from the 8 hours/day, 5 days/week.  But Dad would be required to work one 12- and one 11-hour day each week.  What!  Working those number of hours is tolerable when you get to reduce your work week to 4 days.   But that was not the case.  He still had to work 5 days a week to complete the 40-hour commitment.  For the most part, Dad’s schedule was consistent from week to week (for example, every Wednesday 8-8.)  Mom was not so fortunate.  Her start times changed daily, AND they fluctuated from week to week (so one Tuesday she would start at 10, Tuesday the next week might be noon).  And even worse, she was subjected to “split shifts” at least once/week (and sometimes twice/week), working 4 hours, being sent home for 2-4 hours, then having to return for another 4+hour shift.  What!  This was a nightmare for Mom, Ms. Regimental, a planner and scheduler in her personal life!  It was like musical chairs each day, with my parents trying to determine transportation for that day’s schedule and weather conditions.  Who was driving our truck Big Boomer, walking, riding their motorcycles, taking our side-by-side Rat Patrol, or playing chauffeur that day to accommodate these ridiculous, inconvenient schedules.  (We are lucky that we have multiple means of transportation, including Mom’s Barney Rubble feet to hoof the two miles into work.  But most work-campers only have one vehicle and would have to waste both time and fuel transporting each other to and from work).  Because of their schedules, my parents rarely were able to join friends for evening socializing and evening activities.  One might say if my parents expected the same schedules, they should have worked in the same department.  Au contraire mon frere, even the one couple who worked together in the Gift Shop were not given similar hours (thy subsequently resigned).

My parents shared the same two days off from work (many other work-campers only enjoyed one day together), but they did not get two consecutive days off, limiting our ability to explore more distant areas or even spend a weekend “out of town” like we did during other years of work-camping.

And as I mentioned in my prior post, the unusually rainy spring/summer and ever-changing weather also hindered our plans for fun on many an occasion.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say that perhaps my parents’ attitudes and tolerance levels changed, too.     Once they accept a job, they see it through to fruition, dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly.  They have never entered into employment with a “list of demands” (I want this, I won’t do that), something many work-campers do.  My parents are employer-centric and accommodate the business’s needs, even when it is less than satisfactory to them.  (Case in point, Mom would have preferred to work again in the Visitor Center, but instead honored management’s request to fill the void they had in the Gift Shop).  But after two prior bad experiences with employers this summer and this less-than-stellar gig, I think my parents now realize that the “good guys finish last” idiom is factual.  They witnessed too many times the squeaky wheel getting the grease, at the expense of the accommodating, dedicated team-player. They saved and planned their early retirement from “the rat race” (not to disparage my species, of course) of corporate life, wanting to work only a few months a year at a simple, stress-free job to supplement their savings while exploring America the Beautiful.  And Dad’s heart attack last fall has reminded us that life is short and can be extinguished in an instant.

Of course, there are folks who may not mind seeing their spouse/partner on a limited basis and therefore could easily tolerate the schedules (and other stressful circumstances there are perks to working at the Crazy Horse Complex.

  • It is REALLY cool place and the family’s commitment to seeing the mission through to completion is commendable.  The sheer size of the endeavor is mind-boggling (All of Mt. Rushmore fits just in the head and hair of the Crazy Horse sculpture).

  • Heritage Village Campground, where work-campers stay for a nominal cost (less than $7/night, including electric), now has Wi-Fi!

  • You will get a daily dose of love from my canine friend, Bella, who is the Heritage Village Campground welcoming committee!

  • The unpredictable weather can produce magnificent phenomena.

  • The VIP pass is terrific, giving you free or discounted access to a variety of tourist attractions.  We saved nearly $500 in admission fees by taking full advantage of the pass.

  • You are located within the spectacular, panoramic Black Hills of South Dakota.

I only award this work-camping gig a 3 out of 5 cheese rating.  Although my parents were invited to return next year, they respectfully declined.  Instead, they conveyed their disappointment with the current season to the new H.R. Director at the Crazy Horse Complex and explained to him the work-camping/full-time RVing lifestyle.  He was quite appreciative of the feedback and understands that work-campers’ needs/wants may differ greatly from local employees.   We are hopeful that these discussions will result in some positive changes at the Crazy Horse complex, particularly with the Korzak’s Heritage entity.

But that’s all in our rear view mirror now.  We head to Goshen, Indiana, for a Montana Owners Rally, touring other areas of interest along the way.  Tell you all about it real soon!   

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

 Escapees RV Club



rvillage logo

RV Dreams

Image result for rv-dreams