The Urge to Organize

From Design Through Execution, Nebraska Farmer had Tidy Farm Shop in Mind

Jim Patrico
By  Jim Patrico , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
JR Breitkreutz keeps his 60- by 120-foot workspace clean and well-organized. (Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)

You don't have to talk to JR Breitkreutz for very long to realize that here is a man who loves organization. A quick look around his immaculately clean, 4-year-old shop confirms it.

As you enter, you see a long row of low storage cabinets on the left topped with stainless steel for the neatest work surface imaginable. Above that are shiny clean wrenches hung on the wall, each with a label that indicates the size. Beyond the cabinets is a 9-foot-tall bolts bin JR's father built. You guessed it: Each bin is labeled with the bolt size. Heaven help the guy who puts a bolt in the wrong bin.

Such organization is not only compulsive, it's efficient, Breitkreutz said: "That extra 20 seconds it takes to put something away means next time, you don't have to go looking for it."

The urge to organize probably comes to Breitkreutz naturally, but personal history also plays a role. When he started farming with his father, Doug, more than 20 years ago, the family ran its farming operation out of a 42- by 50-foot shop. "In a small building, you are forced to have clutter," Breitkreutz said. "I knew the one thing I did not want in a new shop was clutter. I wanted things organized and put away."

Today, Breitkreutz and his wife, Pam, raise corn and soybeans near Wisner, Nebraska. JR has been planning a new shop for "10 or 15 years," and broke ground on his current shop in the fall of 2013. Six months later, he moved into a 60- by 120-foot workspace with 24-foot-high sidewalls. The shop faces south. On the east and west sides are 20- by 120-foot outcroppings that slope toward -- and meet -- the main building. Above their roofs, six 4- by 4-foot windows on either side let lots of light into the shop's main room.

LET THERE BE LIGHT

Light is one of the elements Breitkreutz holds in great esteem. Besides the natural light, he added four rows of high-efficiency fluorescent fixtures that stretch from the front to the back of the shop. He put a switch on each row so he could supplement the window light as much -- or as little -- as necessary, depending on the external light. Breitkreutz also painted the floor with bright epoxy paint so that ambient light would reflect off it and illuminate the underside of vehicles under repair.

The shop has three-phase electrical service. To maintain a clean look, Breitkreutz ran a single raceway for conduit all around the shop about 10 feet up on the walls. He can drop down from the raceway if he ever has to add a new receptacle or switch box. Cord reels are strategically placed so that at least one of them can reach the middle of the shop.

To reduce clutter, he also ran his air compressor lines just below the electric raceway. They are barely visible unless you look for them. Strategically placed hose reels also allow easy access to air pressure anywhere in the shop. In a clever move that combines convenience and energy efficiency, Breitkreutz placed a light switch near the main man door. When the light is on, so is the air compressor. One flip of the switch turns off both as you leave the shop.

SAVING ENERGY

Breitkreutz's big building is energy efficient. He has R28 insulation in the walls, R48 in the ceiling. The heat source is natural gas radiant mounted on the ceiling. He also has central air-conditioning. To minimize his energy bills while maintaining a clean work environment, he installed a Camfil air filtration system, which sucks in internal air and pushes it outside to large filters for cleaning. The same air then returns to the building. The recycled air retains most of the heat or cold it had in the building, reducing the need to use more energy. The system runs a couple of times a day for 10 to 15 minutes. Its outside filters automatically purge particulates to keep the system running smoothly and cleanly.

Clean air is important when you do a lot of welding, and Breitkreutz and his employee Dale Havelka do a lot of welding. Besides his own farm equipment, Breitkreutz tackles outside work that involves welding. The volume of work that generates led him to design a unique welding area on the north side of his shop space. On the wall nearest the welding station, Breitkreutz attached 8-foot-tall sheets of smooth aluminum. Welding smoke sticks to painted metal walls but not to unpainted aluminum, he said. The sheets help keep the welding station clean.

Behind the station are several racks for steel storage. Breitkreutz oriented them so he could use a forklift to slide metal onto the racks ... no hand labor. Adjacent to the racks is a steel bending station. Sliding steel off the racks and bending it is almost a seamless process.

OTHER ROOMS

The steel storage racks are in a recessed area created by one of the outcroppings on the shop's west side of the building. Also on the west side -- but accessed through doors -- are a meeting room/break room with kitchen, two office areas and a parts storage area. All have heat and air-conditioning. Breitkreutz said he wanted his parts kept comfortable because fluctuations in temperature and light can deteriorate some parts, especially those with rubber or plastic fittings. The parts in Breitkreutz's storage area are organized in two aisles and catalogued for easy retrieval.

On the east side of the building is a storage room with a man door for access and an overhead door to roll in larger loads. The air compressor sits in there to keep its noise from the main work areas.

A second room is dedicated to working with hydraulic hoses and fittings. It also contains a tire-changing machine, parked next to which is a shop vacuum to suck up dirt before it can contaminate the rest of the shop.

A third room on the east side is an oil and hydraulic fluid service area. Breitkreutz built a pass-through in the wall so he can access 100-foot hose reels when filling his equipment's fluids. A rolling receptacle catches used oil and pumps it back through the window to storage tanks. He sloped the area of that room to a sump with no drain to catch any spills. "It's a safety feature I wanted," Breitkreutz said.

This same room has an overhead door to the exterior so he can store his utility vehicle and other larger items.

SUNNY FRONT

The main door on the south side is a 30- by 20-foot overhead, large enough for any of Breitkreutz's equipment. He said his shop is big enough that he can work on even his 120-foot sprayer. But, if he has to unfold it, he laid a 140- by 60-foot slab of concrete in front of the main doors.

That brings us back to storage cabinets as you walk in the front man door. Breitkreutz bought rolling storage cabinets from John Deere, removed the wheels and laid a steel top work surface on top of them. But, before he permanently placed the cabinets, he built models of them with 2-by-2 lumber. That way, he could be sure he had them exactly where he wanted them, and he had electrical outlets exactly where he needed them.

That's a little trick he and Pam learned when they designed the new kitchen in their house. He built models with 2-by-2s there, too. "There weren't any second thoughts," he said about placement for either the kitchen cabinets or the shop cabinets.

By the way, JR married well. It seems his wife is every bit as organized as he. Actually, Pam said, "I'm way worse than he is."

LLC SHOP

JR Breitkreutz tried to think of everything when designing his shop.

He even thought of legal liability. Since he does commercial work for hire in his shop, he formed a limited-liability company (LLC) to protect himself in case one of his projects somehow went awry.

Breitkreutz does a lot of work on trucks and trailers, for instance. If a hitch he fabricated fails, and an accident results, the LLC shields the farm from unnecessary repercussions. The same LLC protects his family in case work done in the shop on his own farm equipment causes an accident.

His semis are in a separate LLC for the same reason, and he can buy commercial-liability insurance through the LLC.

Pam Breitkreutz, who does the farm's bookwork, does separate accounting for LLCs, as well. "It's a lot of work, but worth it," she said.

Jim Patrico