Wheat Montana = Awful Irony

Okay - so whenever we travel home to Montana, we drive past the headquarters for Wheat Montana in Three Forks. Over the past decade they have grown from having a bakery in a small town, to having delis all over the state and a product line available nationwide. Their business concept is solid - work with Northwestern farmers to buy wheat, make custom breads and packaged wheat products, then sell products via their storefronts and retailers like Wal-Mart.

So here's where my issues with Wheat Montana come in. Let's do a re-wind.

Before I was born my dad was a Regional Engineer for a nationwide bakery chain. He had dedicated years to building large-scale bakeries (think 100,000 loaves of bread per day) from the ground up, training the men who would maintain the equipment, then traveling to a new location and doing it again. My dad knew the schematics of each bakery by heart before the foundation was poured... and he knew how to get the equipment installed ahead of schedule. He loved his work, but he also loved his family and by traveling so much he one day realized he was missing out on family life.

Together my mom and dad took a leap of faith. They sold their home, bought some land on the Western side of Montana, and built their dream home in the woods on a mountain...

My mother began working as a teacher's aide, my father got into working construction (sometimes calls came in for him to travel and help his old company with bakery remodels). Money was tight, but it was well managed. We shopped for clothes at Goodwill, bought groceries in bulk, and I worked to have money to participate in school programs (I bought my own uniforms, paid for gas - nothing was covered by the school district).

There was a point I began having some health problems. I had no stamina for sports, I was blacking out, there were indescribable chest pains, and I was losing feeling in my arms and legs occasionally. A visit to the doctor led to referral to a heart specialist... I seemed to be in good physical condition, but he said my heartbeat "sounded irregular".

Specialists weren't covered by our insurance, so dad needed to make some more money in order to cover tests that were being recommended for me. Dad made a few calls, and soon heard from an old friend at the big bakery. An associate bakery in Three Forks was having equipment problems... something right in line with dad's expertise. The friend said the bakery admitted they hadn't been maintaining some of the equipment, they needed to do an expansion, and they had no idea where to start.

With a couple of more phone calls, dad packed up a small suitcase and traveled 4 hours to the small town to see how he could help out. After a full day of fixing a few problems and talking with the bakery owner, Dad had about 5 weeks worth of work ahead of him. He was going to be doing installation on 3 new pieces of equipment, overseeing the electrical, handling maintenance on equipment, and working as a full-time employee 5-days a week to ensure everything would get done. Since my father knew what parts were needed and where to order everything from for repairs and maintenance, the owner simply asked dad to put it on his credit card and make it a part of the bill. They locked in the plan with a handshake, and dad checked in to the local motel, then called my mother and gave the go-ahead for her to schedule my tests knowing the money would be coming in to cover things.

Two days later I was lying in the hospital having ECGs, PET scans, and all different types of diodes hooked up to my chest to try to find out what was going on. Then the waiting began.

In the meantime, Dad bought about $3,000 worth of parts and supplies for Wheat Montana. He was working full time, then coming home each weekend to be with the family. Three weeks in to the project he submitted his first invoice which included the parts he had ordered. The owner only paid labor, apparently because he wanted to be sure all of the parts Dad ordered were used. Reasonable enough.

Test results were confirming I indeed had an irregular heartbeat, but even the specialists were unsure if it was a deformity in my heart or something being caused by my brain...

Dad finished the project for Wheat Montana. Machinery had been restored, cleaned, rewired to meet safety standards, new equipment was installed and running swimmingly, and the owner gave Dad a pat on the back. The closing invoice was submitted, and Dad was to pick up his final check the following morning before leaving Three Forks to come home.

The next morning came, dad stopped in at Wheat Montana, and picked up the check. As he opened it, he noticed it was again only for labor and not the parts or hotel. He asked to speak to the owner, who was nowhere to be found for the first time since Dad had started the project. The secretary made a few calls, and Dad was finally told that it was an honest mistake and that a second check would be dropped in the mail that afternoon once the owner came in to sign it.

A few days went by, no check. Dad called again. He was told that things had gotten busy, and it was overlooked, but would go out the next day. A week passed, no check. Mom called. She was told that the check wasn't cut before the owner went on vacation, so it would go out once he got back into Montana. A month passed, no check.

Then Dad got a call from the owner. He asked Dad to come back to Wheat Montana to help with making a change to one of the new pieces of equipment... and to straighten out the outstanding bill. It would just be a couple of days work, but with interest charges coming in on the credit card, and the bills for my hospital tests were showing up, so dad couldn't say no.

He traveled again to Three Forks, and made the changes, and set an appointment to sit down and talk with the owner about future business practice beyond settling up the invoice. The owner mysteriously forgot the appointment, dad came home - - this time without receiving money for the most recent hotel stay or labor, on top of the past balance.

Another round of calls and promises happened, and my parents looked into filing a small-claims case against Wheat Montana, but with the money they were already out they were afraid to file and lose since there wasn't a contract - only that first handshake. Mom and Dad took money out of their small retirement fund to pay the bills so they wouldn't lose the house.

I was finally diagnosed with a disorder that can happen when a teenager grows too quickly... a combination of the body's reaction to hormonal changes and stress on the body causing a heart flutter. My symptoms would eventually pass.

Wheat Montana took my family for over $4,000... and the owner was awarded the "Montana Family Owned Business of the Year" the next summer.

Well yeah... he's done amazing things for Montana farmers, for without their product he wouldn't be in business. As for people he considers expendable, he doesn't care if he throws them out like trash. As long as he can take his spoiled kids on trips to Hawaii, it doesn't matter that he sucks the finances away from struggling families by not fulfilling his agreements. If he gets to sit in his shiny new pickup, the world is great - while he crushes the spirits of small businesses that are where he was 20 years ago.

Everyone gets theirs in the end, though. I can only recommend that if you shake his hand, you make him sign a contract immediately afterward... because he is completely incapable of doing business the way it used to be done.


Blogger dinahjo said...

What a jerk!

7:40 PM  

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