HIGGINSVILLE, Mo. (DTN) -- As awful as it was, the Great Depression did teach people to be creative. They found ways to use things they once might have discarded.
Scott Rasa said he learned that valuable lesson from his grandfather Paul Tracy: "He would not throw away anything. Even when a tractor died, and there was no way to fix it, he would take it apart and save every nut and bolt."
Rasa applied that lesson two generations later when he built his new farm shop in Higginsville, Missouri. Beneath its new and shiny white metal skin, the shop's bones and internal organs are transplants removed from older buildings. Donors included a hospital, several grain elevators and a barn or two. In all, Rasa estimates 30 structures contributed I-beams, trusses and even doors and windows to the 75- by 100-foot shop, the connected 95- by 100-foot machinery storage building and the 40- by 50-foot office.
Inside each "new" building are dozens of other salvaged items. A spiral staircase from a feed mill. A set of operating lights from a surgery suite. The head of a machine that once bored tunnels under roads.
The project is a testament to the generational lessons Rasa learned from both his grandfathers -- Paul Tracy and Robert Rasa -- and his father, Don, who said: "Use what you can get."
Scott Rasa is a busy man. Besides planting about 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat, and tending a 120-beef cow herd with his father, he also runs an excavation business. That keeps him and 12 employees moving, especially in the farming off-season. Key to this story: He also deconstructed other structures -- water towers and churches, billboards and cement swimming pools, among them. He sells some of the salvaged materials, but can't bear to part with all of it. Over the years, he accumulated stacks of used iron and wood.
A few years ago, when he and Don noticed they were running out of room in the 54- by 96-foot farm shop they built in 1995, they laid out plans for a larger facility. They knew they had plenty of construction materials on hand.
(As a side note: The old shop's structure included wood beams salvaged from railroad bridges Scott and a crew dismantled in Alabama.)
To get a bird's-eye view of the new shop, climb the spiral staircase (salvaged from a grain elevator) to the 20- by 40-foot second-story storage area on the east side. Now, open the double access doors, and immediately below is floor space easily capable of holding Rasa's largest equipment. To the left, the south side is mainly doors: a 4-foot-wide man door and two overhead doors, one 12 by 16 feet, the other 24 by 20 feet.
Straight ahead to the west is the welding area, a central focus of the shop's maintenance and repair activities. A 3-ton-capacity hoist sits just inside the door to serve that area. On the other side of the welding area is another hoist, this one with a 5-ton capacity. Beside it is the west entrance, a 20- by 18-foot overhead door. Rasa can pull equipment in this door, work on it and then exit by the south door.
The north wall is all wall except for the basketball hoop that folds to the ceiling, the recycled big "M" that stands for Mizzou and the Firestone sign Rasa could not resist at an auction. He also framed into the wall a 24- by 20-foot door -- just in case he wants to expand someday. A man door already joins the two buildings.
Coming full circle, the east side also features a 16- by 14-foot overhead door.
The shop's sidewalls are 24 feet tall and, from the metal ceiling, hang 20 banks of fluorescent lights.
Rasa is especially proud of his welding area, which he and employee Paul Freking use for all kinds of work. Above a workbench is raised storage for light steel and iron. The floor is covered with steel tread plate, and a wall is covered in steel plate. A drill press and mill press sit in a corner.
Unique accessories include a 5-foot-diameter rotating circular welding table. Rasa and Freking made it from the head of a boring machine designed to dig tunnels under highways. It sits on a pellet mill press and rotates 360 degrees. "It works," Rasa said with a "what's-the-big-deal" shrug.
Above the table is a movable light from a surgical suite. If a surgeon could use it to repair a heart valve, Rasa reasoned, it is bright enough for a welder to use to repair a broken planter bracket.
Projecting from the walls in the welding area is an open, raised platform. It is primarily for storage of small tractors Rasa has restored for decoration and for posterity. They include a John Deere L and a John Deere LA from the 1940s, and an Allis-Chalmers G, also from the late 40s. The platform also holds bulk containers for antifreeze and windshield wiper solution. Spigots below make accessing the fluids easy.
Rasa noted he has a scavenged pool table stored up there, which he can bring down with a forklift just in case a party breaks out.
Running under the west overhead doors are four 70-foot-long recycled I-beams buried in 24 inches of concrete floor. They extend from the shop to a concrete pad outside. Along the I-beams are access holes, which hold chains anchored to the beams. These serve as tie-downs, which Rasa can use when he needs a solid base for heavy-duty projects such as straightening a piece of iron or a bent tractor frame.
A 20- by 40-foot two-story area on the east side of the shop is devoted to parts storage. The second floor is for odds and ends, and can be accessed either by the spiral staircase or by a 6-foot-wide double door. A forklift can reach to this door for larger or palletized items. Rasa said he regrets not salvaging the elevator in a hospital he deconstructed: "Would have come in handy."
On the first level of the parts area is a room full of labeled bins for nuts, bolts and other fasteners. Rasa didn't salvage them, but he bought them at an auction at a defunct cement plant in Kansas. Said Rasa: "It was all in one room, it was late in the day, and the auctioneer was getting tired. He said, 'The whole room for one money.' I paid $5,000, and we got 48,000 pounds of bolts and nuts. It's a lot, but we're in here every day for something."
The office/kitchen is a separate building connected to the shop by a hallway. The 40- by 50-foot structure started life as a 400-foot-long railroad storage building. You guessed it: Rasa salvaged the whole building and used parts of it to build office space.
It is divided into a half-dozen rooms including an office for Rasa, one for a secretary and one for another employee. All the furniture came from a hospital. Likewise, the kitchen features stainless steel hospital countertops and a night deposit box from a bank. Employees deposit weigh tickets into the box, and they slide into a tray in the secretary's office.
The front entrance to the office lobby is a 4-foot-wide glass electric door salvaged from a hospital. Push a button, and it swings open. "We're handicap accessible," Rasa said.
Also in this building is the mechanical room for the in-floor heating system for both the office and the shop.
The office is the beneficiary of salvage projects that involved wood. The floors are of beautiful wide planks, and trim is of rough-cut barnwood. Old signs adorn the walls. Rasa's son Thad, who is a budding welder, has used scrap iron pieces to create metal sculptures, which adorn the office.
Beyond the north wall of the shop is a 95- by 100-foot storage space, which originated as a cowboy saloon in Springfield, Missouri. It featured a mechanical bull-riding arena. Where metal bulls once bucked, Rasa now stores combines, tractors and toys, including a dune buggy and a bass boat. For access, the building has two 24- by 20-foot overhead doors on the east and west sides, and a man door directly into the shop on the south.
Even the floor of the storage building is recycled. Rasa razed a nearby community swimming pool, crushed the concrete into gravel and used it for the floor and much of the outside parking lot.
A tour of Rasa's storage wouldn't be complete without a stop at the mountain of wood he has neatly stacked there. Planking, dimensional cuts and flooring sit patiently waiting for their next use. Rasa has something special in mind: a new/old house for his family. "I don't know what it will look like yet, but, it will be something kind of rustic," he said.
And it will be mostly recycled.
This is the first story in DTN/The Progressive Farmer's series on America's Best Shops where growers share their resourceful and innovative ideas for indoor workspaces.
Next in the series: A shop that added capacity to serve farm needs for decades to come.
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