Machinery Chatter

America's Great Shops Contest

By Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
The Future Vision Farm of Kathryn, N.D., built a monster shop to store and service machinery to keep the operation humming. (DTN/The Progressive Famer photo by Rob Lagerstrom)

I'm always amazed by the ideas and features you all pack into your shops -- ideas that make them efficient in their ability to process maintenance work; features that control the cost of operating these warehoused-sized boxes.

Hydraulic doors, 20-feet tall and 42-feet wide, lift to give wide entrances for the largest machines. Those same doors when open provide covered, outdoor workspaces. Windows are positioned not just for the view, but also to capture the warming rays of the low winter sun. Floors aren't just concrete. Half a foot of heavily reinforced concrete and more, covers miles of Pex heating tubes, insulation products, electrical runs, compressed air, water, even empty conduit for future applications.

The newest buildings are wired for data management, have super-insulated walls and ceilings, and are lighted by high-efficiency fluorescents.

Shops have evolved from buildings organized by "fixed-in-place" work centers to vast, infinitely flexible spaces where pre-supplied, implement-specific maintenance packages are rolled out onto the floor to repair machinery.

And then, there are the other ways you use your shops. I've seen plenty of old cars being restored, also a plane or two, an antique piece of furniture. But also basketball courts -- full-sized basketball courts. One shop had 40-meter hurdles run set up for the farmer's daughter to practice during the off-season. In another corner, a very nice batting cage was set up for his son.

One shop held an impressively large pallet of beer -- cases of Budweiser, if I remember correctly. Not a beverage critical to work flow. But it is interesting to note, nonetheless.

I've seen shops used for big community events (sometimes they are the biggest building in town), for weddings, graduations, anniversaries, and to serve as backdrops for the odd presidential candidate rolling through some Iowa town during caucus season (that is now only two years away, you may want to note).

So what's all this shop talk about? Well, I want to use this space to point you to a package of shop stories coming in the August 2013 issue of The Progressive Farmer magazine (of which, DTN is the parent company).

In that issue, we'll give you a photo and word tour of the four winners in our 2013 America's Great Shops contest. They range from the very large to one very old and rehabbed to work again. But common to all these shops was the thought and planning that went into each, to make them function for the best benefit of operation.

Here are previews about each featured shop.

-- "We were tired of being average," said Vaughn Zacharias. His grain farm, now named Future Vision Partnership, resides outside Kathryn, N.D., and no longer claims "average-ness." Look for the farm on Google Maps and the name Future Vision pops up like the name of a nearby town. His shop is not average, either. This one is a giant, all 37,500-square feet of it. Three hundred feet long, with a 40-foot wide wash bay, the building boasts a clear span, 125-feet wide.

-- Ron Brooks' farm near Waupaca, Wis., reveals a strong ethic for energy efficiency. All new heated buildings include solar technology, passive or active, for heating and lights. All the buildings have been retrofitted with energy efficient light bulbs. Fifty-degree ground water is pumped to pre-cool the dairy's milk, cutting energy costs for that operation by 40%. It's no surprise then that Brooks would turn to Frank Lloyd Wright for energy-saving ideas as he planned his 8,400-square-foot shop. Wright is one of America's best-known architects and Brooks borrowed an idea from him that today supplies a quarter of his winter heating needs.

-- "I wanted a nice facility with a big area to do work," said Kendall Isley, of his 2,400-square-foot shop. "This," he said, pointing to the building, "has been going on for a few years. I've been here, there and yonder. I got these ideas going from farm to farm." Visitors will notice the clever architecture of the overhangs. Extending out like wings from both sides of the building, they shelter ground without support posts. It's a design that gave the Haw River, N.C., cow/calf producer 1,440 square feet of covered and inexpensive outside workspace.

-- Five days after Larry Crowder purchased the shop, the weakened roof collapsed under a half-foot of wet spring snow. Most of the rest of the building went down with it. "You've got to be kidding me," Crowder recalls thinking. With a laugh, he remembers half-seriously looking skyward and reminding God of the work his pastor-wife was called into, that he might catch a break because of her ministry. "I was disgusted," said Crowder, from Bowdon, N.D. But there was a "Phoenix" ready to rise out of that rubble. "The collapse forced me to build it back better," Crowder said.

Look for the full stories in the August 2013 edition of The Progressive Farmer, and here on the pages of DTN/ If you're a subscriber to The Progressive Farmer, you'll also find video tours of each shop in your digital editions of the magazine.

By the way, we are planning to repeat this contest in 2014. Look to this space and to The Progressive Farmer for details in the coming months.


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