Don't Let the Pretty Fool You

America's Best Shops - Don't Let the Pretty Fool You

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Clinton Ryan's shop was designed, with all the doors including the smaller service doors, for efficient movement of equipment and maintenance workflow. (Progressive Farmer image by Mark Tade)

Clinton Ryan raised a pretty shop outside Wapello, in southeast Iowa, not far from the Iowa River. Ivory-colored with an evergreen steel roof, its front-end wall holds an 8- x 8-foot pinwheel maze barn quilt, festooned in the cardinal and gold colors of Iowa State University.

The turkey tail detail jutting out from the roof above the quilt echoes that barn architecture built for hay -- the tail supporting the rail and trolley systems once central to filling haymows. Three striking cupolas, window-framed sides and copper-colored tops mark the roof ridge. Lighting from within casts a lighthouse-like beacon out to travelers making the nighttime run down "Five Mile Lane," officially known as County Road G62.

Construction began in February 2020 and was finished in June.

Wrapped as it is in a pretty exterior, this Morton Building is designed for work. "This is a huge building. But I only wanted to build one building, big enough for all I have now and in the future," Ryan explains. He farms 270 acres and once housed his equipment at several rented sites. He was able to bring it all home with this new building, as well as the maintenance work that comes with it. "It's good to have the equipment in one place," he says. "It's going to serve me and the next guy, too."

Ryan works full time at Musco Sports Lighting, in nearby Muscatine, Iowa, where he has been employed for 30 years. But, he has a heart for farming. He began 17 years ago, he adds, with the robust support of his wife, Doris. "She calls the farm my mistress who takes all the money and all my time," Ryan says of their Nessly Sand Farms. Doris was strongly behind building the new shop, and for that Ryan gives her much thanks. "My dream of farming would have never happened without her," he says. Ryan owns most of the corn and soybean land he works.


The building measures in at just shy of 10,000 square feet and features 18-foot sidewalls raised on 120 loads of fill. It is a shop divided into two distinct spaces: an insulated workspace and a cold storage area.

The climate-controlled workspace is 48 x 40 feet. The space is urethane-insulated with Morton's Energy Performer Package and wrapped in acoustical steel, which is perforated by holes to reduce sound reflection. Banks of overhead, long-lasting LEDs light the floor. "The LEDs are very bright," he says. "But, they don't all need to be on all the time." Ryan concedes he should have installed switches to control light in specific areas.

The in-floor heat source lays within the 6-inch concrete floor. An LP (liquid petroleum) gas boiler tucked away in a nearby room heats and circulates liquid through PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) tubing in the floor. "No heat ducts," Ryan says. "I really like it." The boiler also supplies on-demand hot water to the shop's sinks and other fixtures.

This is space equipped with forced-air cooling for days when open doors and open windows fail to beat off Iowa's heat. The workspace includes a bathroom with a shower and a room for the boiler, well pressure tank and air compressor. The area above the two rooms -- built along one wall -- is loft space for storage that Ryan can access with a forklift if he needs to lift heavy loads.


The back of Ryan's building is cold storage. It is the building's largest space, with a footprint of 72 x 112 feet. It has a 6-inch concrete floor with a 40-foot trough drain. The floor is reinforced with No. 4 rebar every two feet. To control condensation in this space, Ryan purchased Morton's Dry-Panel upgrade. It is a feltlike material designed to hold and absorb humidity, and hold it until natural ventilation dries it out.

Doors are well-placed. Ryan can move equipment from the outside, through the maintenance area and back into cold storage by way of two 24- x 16-foot overhead doors. The interior second door divides the two spaces when it is closed. Both doors include a row of windows to better distribute light around the inside spaces of the building. Additional access to the workshop is provided by way of an 18- x 12-foot overhead door. For trucks and smaller vehicles, it is the door conveniently located closest to Ryan's home. Three 36- x 18-foot AlumaSteel sliding doors -- aluminum frame with Hi-Rib steel exterior liner -- give Ryan his largest access to the cold storage area.


There are two features important to the building. Ryan did not skimp on windows. They bring in generous amounts of light and improve ventilation. There are three well-placed service doors. One gives entrance to the main shop area. The second opens into the cold storage. The third, an interior door, connects the workshop and cold storage spaces. The pair of outside doors allows Ryan to enter either the workshop or the cold storage spaces without opening the larger doors, including that center interior overhead door. The outside service doors are well-lit, as is the entire exterior of the building, and are sheltered by awnings, known to Morton as "eyebrows," complementing the copper color of the cupolas.

Ryan customized the shop to support the type of work he does. Instead of draping 100-foot extension cords all over the floor space, he installed 16 110-volt outlets. That spaces out to one outlet every 16 feet, giving him easy access to power. He also ran 240 power to two outlets for his welding work.

A mistake commonly made is to build too small without a good vision of future uses. Ryan did not commit that error. He is content his shop meets his future needs. In hindsight, he wishes it had wall space for shelving and dedicated maintenance areas. "But, it is still a great place to work inside," he says. "It's a first-class shed."


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