Out of the Dirt

This farmer worked on the ground for decades before building a new shop.

Image by Greg Latza

Leroy Erickson got his new farm shop just in time for his 70th birthday. For decades, the Ramona, South Dakota, farmer used an old barn with no heat and a dirt floor to store tools and repair machinery. He always wanted a new shop but could never pull the trigger on it.

Finally, tired of the primitive conditions, he and his wife, Lois, “just decided to build a new shop.” Constructed in 2014, the shop was finished in time to host Leroy’s birthday bash. “We got done at 4:30, and the party started at 6 p.m.,” he says.

After more than four years, the shop has passed the test of time. Leroy and his son Brian report the shop has delivered by providing a big, pleasant space with plenty of features to take the drudgery out of repairing equipment. The building includes a 60- x 80-foot shop, attached 20- x 24-foot office and two concrete pads outside two large doors. The new shop complex helps Leroy, Lois, Brian and his wife, Tracey, handle all the equipment needed to farm 2,700 acres of corn and soybeans.

RADIANT HEAT. With South Dakota’s prairie winds and winter blizzards, heating is a priority. For the Ericksons, radiant tube heating sits at the top of the shop’s best features. During construction, Leroy considered in-floor or radiant heat. He chose radiant because of its price. It cost a third of an in-floor system. Mounted to the ceiling, the radiant tube heater runs the length of the shop. Adequate insulation keeps the shop warm. Two inches of spray foam insulation followed by 6 inches of batt insulation and a vapor barrier keep the outside cold outside. “The shop is quite efficient to heat,” Leroy adds. “We’ll go through not quite 1,000 gals of propane to heat that building all winter.”

Working temperatures run 60 to 65ËšF and 40 to 50ËšF when the building isn’t in use during the winter. Two ceiling fans keep the building cool in the summer. A ceiling exhaust fan removes fumes. “If we have a tractor running, we turn on the fan to remove the smoke and smell,” Leroy explains.

After working on a dirt floor for years, the cement floor is a big plus, to say the least. Leroy applied a sealant to the new floor to deter stains from oils and other liquids.

Two large doors accommodate the farm equipment. A 32- x 19-foot door swings out on hydraulic cylinders for the largest equipment, and a 24- x 18-foot overhead door was installed for the smaller pieces. A side benefit of the hydroswing is the shade it throws over a portion of the 80- x 30-foot concrete pad poured outside. The pad runs the width of the shop and office. A 30- x 50-foot concrete pad was poured outside the smaller door. It doubles as a wash rack.

WELDING AND AIR. A 4- x 10-foot welding table and workbench is a favorite. “I’m most proud of being able to work on the welding table,” Leroy says. A 1-inch steel slab serves as the worktable top. There is ample storage underneath. The shop includes several steel cabinets for storing tools, including Leroy’s favorite battery-operated impact drills and saws. All cabinets can either be rolled or lifted with a forklift to a work area.

The Ericksons installed a large, 7½-hp air compressor with 120-gallon tank. “There’s plenty of air to power all the air tools and make it a lot easier to mount duals,” Leroy says. “We also mounted three air hose reels alongside the big doors.”

The inside shop walls are finished with white steel siding. There is a 4-foot band of red wainscoting around the bottom. The Ericksons figured if equipment hit the side of the building, that 4-foot section is easy to replace.

Leroy selected high-efficiency LED lights. Eight ceiling fixtures do the job. Supplemental lighting is rarely needed. Leroy foresaw the need for natural light. “We put in two (2- x 4-foot) windows under the eaves on the south side, and you’d be surprised how much that helps in the winter,” he says. In addition, four 2- x 3-foot windows are installed in the large door. Four 1- x 2-foot windows bring in light through the smaller door.

Another seven 4- x 4-foot windows are spread around the shop for additional natural light.

OFFICE. The office was a surprise for the Ericksons, especially Lois. “I love the office more than I ever thought I would,” she says. “When salesmen come, they go to the office and not to the house.” The family also finds it more convenient to eat in the office during busy times instead of the house. Tracey appreciates the Wi-Fi capability in the office. She is Extension dairy field specialist for South Dakota State University and needs to be close to a computer, even on off hours when helping out on the farm.

Half of the 20- x 24-foot space is office, kitchen and bathroom. The other half houses the air compressor, spare parts, storage, a 40-gallon water heater, washing machine and water softener. The area is plumbed for a dryer.

A septic tank handles wastewater. An outside firm picks up waste oil for recycling.

Cellular and Wi-Fi to the shop and office was set up by an outside service. The service installed a receiver on the house and a receiver and a router in the shop to ensure robust cell and Wi-Fi signals. The cost was $500. “It used to be when we walked into the shop, the cell phones went dead because of the steel walls,” Brian explains. “But, now, we can hear just like we can up at the house.”

MINOR CHANGES. One change the family made from its original plan was to raise the ceiling to 19 feet, up from 18 feet. “Now, we can drive the combine with extensions on the hopper into the shop,” Leroy says. “If we have bad weather, we can drop the heads and drive right inside. We have a drain in the floor so we can wash down the combine.”

If they built their shop again, the Ericksons would make a few changes. “We just put in a round drain in the center of the floor, and I would probably put in a longer 12-foot trough,” Leroy says.

Another change is the parts washing area. “We just have a garden tub to wash up things and a little countertop next to it,” Brian says. “I’d make a bigger countertop and wash area, because we just don’t have enough space there. We didn’t think about it before, but after using it, we knew we didn’t make it big enough.” He’d like to put in a restaurant-type stainless-steel sink and countertop that provides more room.

The Ericksons do plan to install a larger water heater using a special plan with their electric co-op that provides a price reduction for the ability to cut power to the heater on peak usage days.

But overwhelmingly, they are pleased with the new shop and office. They now do more maintenance and minor repairs on their equipment, and reduce trips to the dealership. In addition, their dealership is more willing to work on their equipment at the farm inside the new space.


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