Steve Berger's shop stands out even from a distance. The bank of clerestory windows mounted high along a wall sets his structure apart from others dotting the countryside outside Wellman, Iowa. Borrowing from American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's ideas on passive solar heating, the 4-by-6-foot panels of glass channel morning sunlight down onto the shop floor.
To truly appreciate the planning that went into Berger's 82-by-90-foot building, however, it's good to note the capabilities he built into the shop that you don't see.
-- Built to grow. Berger's maintenance facility occupies open ground across a gravel road and 200 feet from any other building, including the 1,600-square-foot, 1960s-era shed that once served as his primary shop. The building he erected was intentionally sited here to be unobstructed by other buildings so the shop's footprint can grow.
With that in mind, Berger oversized his geothermal field to heat and cool that future space. He also has dedicated enough electrical service to operate it.
Similarly, the interior of the shop was designed to accommodate additional functions. The steel skeleton of the building will accommodate a 10-ton bridge crane. The crane's hoist will move assemblies and supplies most places in the shop. "That's why we went with 22-foot sidewalls so we can get that hook height to put a combine underneath it and still move things to it," Berger said.
The other capability "plumbed" into the shop is a truck lift to perform engine and tire work. "This shop was built for expansion. It has flexibility for whoever has the shop in 20 to 30 years."
-- Natural light. Light is an overarching theme in his shop. Berger is a fan of natural illumination. "I don't want to feel boxed in," he said. Those high panes of glass that give the shop an unusual distinction from afar bathe his workspaces in natural light. "You're going to give up a little heating efficiency by adding those windows, but it's a balance," he said. "When you're inside the shop and everything is closed up in the winter, there are enough windows to still let in that natural light (and warmth)."
A south-facing, 46-foot-wide hydraulic door gives entrance to Berger's largest implements -- and through its double row of windows more natural light.
Berger's choice for artificial lighting is rows of ceiling mounted, six-bulb, T5 light units. The fluorescent light sets are highly economical, long lasting and cast a visibly comfortable level of light.
-- Easy access and space to work. Not surprisingly, Berger wanted space. "Like every farmer, we outgrew our old shop," he said.
"We wanted a facility where we could have multiple projects going on at the same time." That means his shop accommodates a 16-row planter torn apart for three weeks waiting for parts, plus semis and tractors.
Four overhead doors, including the large hydraulic door, give entrance to the inside of the shop. Importantly, several service doors allow Berger and others to enter the shop without having to open the larger doors. The hydraulic door creates a 20-by-46-foot covered workspace when it's open. It opens over a concrete apron 40 feet wide and 93 feet long.
"I really value access. If you have to move something out of the shop, I don't want to have to move everything else first," he said.
-- Efficiency of movement. Berger considered efficiency vital to his new building. "In my old shop, all you had to do was reach out and grab a screwdriver. But, the center of the shop floor now is at least 40 feet from any wall. You don't want to have to walk 40 feet to pick up a wrench. It's not efficient. Everything has to become mobile," he said. "Everything has to come to you."
Berger put larger pieces of equipment on wheels. Compressed air, lubricants and power are delivered to the farthest reaches of the shop by retractable hose reels and extension cords, the latter Berger hardwired into outlet boxes around the shop. By each of the overhead doors, Berger installed a service center that conveniently includes power washing and compressed air.
-- Comfortable working conditions. The geothermal system and insulation (8 inches of foam blown into the walls) keeps the shop within a comfortable working range in winter and summer. "Probably the biggest surprise is the cooling part," Berger said. "I've had 113F index outside. (The geothermal system) took the humidity out and cooled this space down to 80F."
A cool working environment in the summer generates more working hours. "We hadn't really considered that," Berger noted.
As for shop do-overs? Berger's immediate answer to this question is even more space. "I think any farmer would say they would build it bigger." Also, side doors. They are now 20 feet wide. "We might have gone a little bigger. That would have given us a little more room to work."
This is one in a series of America's Best Shops. If you have a farm shop you'd like us to feature, send a note to: firstname.lastname@example.org. If we publish your shop story, we'll pay you $500.
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