Award-Winning Shop

March 14, 2010 07:00 PM

The 61'x80' bay in Dykhuis Farms' shop has room for "jobs that you are working on now; jobs waiting for parts; and jobs where you are investigating problems,” says Tim Bleeker. The shop serves both the farm's hog production facilities and 2,300 acres of row-crop. A former school bus is used to transport pigs between facilities.

Ask mechanics Tim Bleeker and Gregg Sheridan what they like about Dykhuis Farms' shop, and they quickly mention having room for multiple jobs, in-floor heating, a vehicle hoist, a service pit, easy access for vehicles and good cross-ventilation. In fact, they hardly know where to stop.

If it sounds like the Dykhuis shop is several cuts above average, bear in mind the farm it serves is not exactly ordinary. Based in Holland, Mich., Dykhuis Farms is one of the state's leading pork producers. The operation maintains 17,000 sows at 13 locations and contracts with 30 other farmers to finish 400,000 pigs per year. Dykhuis Farms also grows 2,300 acres of corn.

"Including everything from tractors to semi trucks, irrigation equipment, generators and manure tankers, we have 140 pieces of equipment to maintain,” Bleeker says.

A veteran of 26 years at an automobile dealership, Bleeker worked with shop owner Bob Dykhuis to design the shop, which now is in its third season of operation. The facility they created won the shop category of Farm Journal's "I Built the Best” Contest.

Plenty of room to work. The designers' first criterion was adequate working space. "To be efficient as a mechanic,” Bleeker says, "you need to have three things going on: jobs that you are working on now; jobs waiting for parts; and jobs where you are investigating problems.”

The building is 128' long. The shop bay, 61'x80' in size, occupies most of the eastern half. On the western half of the building, a 13' extension takes the south wall out from 80' to 93'. The extension encloses an 83' service pit (which is open to the shop bay) and two 93'x20' wash bays. The service pit area is 27' wide, so the extension includes 67' of the south wall.

The extension required some additional engineering by the building contractor, Overbeek Construction of Hamilton, Mich.

"With that length of wood truss, the webbing is 2' high on the lower end,” Dykhuis says. "We used steel I-beams across the bays where the wall would have been. To get additional length, we used half-trusses. That allowed sufficient height for the overhead doors. The ceiling in the extension is just slightly lower than the 20' ceiling in the rest of the shop.”

The concrete floor is 6" thick in the shop and wash bay and 12" thick under the legs of a vehicle lift. It is reinforced with rebar and contains Fibermesh polypropylene fibers to resist cracking. Walls and ceiling contain fiberglass batt insulation.

Floor heat.
In-floor heat is provided by a 182,000-btu NTI Trinity Ti200 gas boiler. The floor heating system extends under the wash bays on the west side of the building and under a "people area” on the east side.

"A shop where I used to work had a waste-oil burner,” Sheridan says. "It was so noisy, with the fans screaming all the time. And it's nice to have the heat when you are working under a piece of equipment.”

"The floor is always dry,” Dykhuis points out. "If you open a door, the shop is warm again a few minutes after you close it.”

The service pit is 5' deep, 42" wide and 83' long. A 16'-high and 18'-wide door at each end lets semis drive straight through. Electrical and compressed-air outlets are spaced around the sides of the pit.

Barrels of grease are located next to the pit for easy access. "We considered plumbing for grease, but we settled on a portable greaser instead,” Bleeker says. "It gives us more flexibility and we can take it outside, if needed.” A bulk soil storage system serves the service pit and vehicle hoist.

In the pit, oil is drained from engines and transmissions into a rolling pan that was built by Bleeker and Sheridan. The pan's casters roll in a lip at the edge of pit; the lip can do double duty if needed by holding sections of I-beams on which jacks can be placed for special projects.

From the pan, a wall-mounted pump transfers the used oil to a 500-gal. tank. A recycling company buys the waste oil, as well as the farm's used oil filters.

Easy access.
The overhead doors on each end of the service pit are 18' wide and 16' high. The overhead door that leads to the shop bay is 24' wide and 16' high, for wider equipment.

The shop's vehicle hoist is set at an angle inside the bay's access door, so vehicles can reach it even when semis or other farm implements are occupying the floor of the bay.

"We considered a separate door for the vehicle lift but found it wasn't necessary,” Bleeker says.

There are walk-in doors in the north, west and south sides. There are two windows in the south wall and one in the north wall and in each of the three walk-in doors.

"It's nice to have doors on each side of the shop for ventilation,” Sheridan notes. Opening doors and windows provides sufficient ventilation for most welding activities.

Wash bays. The wash bays are a separate function from the shop, overseen by another employee, Frank Cronin. Including crop and manure machinery, feed trucks, buses and livestock trailers, more than 1,000 pieces of equipment were washed in 2009.

Each wash bay is 93' long and 20' wide. Overhead doors at each end are 16' high and 18' wide. To drain trailers, the floor slopes 3½' from the front of the truck to the rear.

The two bays share a commercial-size 6½-gal. per minute, 3,000-psi power washer. "We flush trailers with a high-volume fire hose, then wash them with hot water,” Cronin says. The wash water drains into its own septic system, which is separate from the lunchroom/bathroom septic system.

Drying is accomplished by two 125,000-btu Re-Verber-Ray radiant tube heaters in the ceiling of each bay, set at 100°F, in combination with fans. Two industrial-grade box fans at the rear of the bay blow air onto the trailers, and two identical fans at the front recirculate it. The fans and radiant heaters are activated by flicking the same switch.

A fresh-air fan is automatically activated when humidity reaches a certain level, exhausting the moist air and drawing in dry air through a vent.

Let there be light. Lighting is from 26 banks of two 8' fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling and five banks along the wall next to the service pit. "Those lights along the wall really make a difference,” Bleeker says. "It had been kind of a dark hole.” White steel paneling on walls and ceiling
reflect the light.

Power is available from 15 110-volt outlets spaced around the walls, plus 220-volt outlets for the welder in the north and south walls. 

"Using the 220-volt outlets requires extension cords,” Sheridan adds. "We could have used a couple more outlets located near the service pit.”

Compressed air is available from 11 outlets spaced around three sides of the shop. There's also a 100' hose reel on the ceiling next to the service pit and a 50' reel on the vehicle hoist. To reduce noise, the air compressor is located in a nearby building.

Many of the shop's tools were purchased from an automobile dealership that went out of business. That includes the vehicle hoist, which is plumbed for engine oil and compressed air. A power greaser on a dolly can roll right to the hoist or anywhere else in the shop where it's needed.

Besides the tools you would expect in any well-equipped shop, there are a few less-common ones, such as a hydraulic fitting compressor and a tire safety cage (used to air large tires).

One handy item, Bleeker and Sheridan say, is a Genisys electronic diagnostic scan tool, which reads trouble codes for automobiles and semi tractors. "You can buy these scanners at an auto parts store, and they're easy to use,” Bleeker says. "You also can buy software for your laptop computer that will do the same job.”

Bleeker and Sheridan created a portable DC power station by mounting an automobile battery on a dolly. "We use it to run trailer lights and test electric brakes without having a vehicle attached,” Bleeker explains.

Rugged benches. A rugged welding bench built by Bleeker and Sheridan is framed with 2"x3" steel tubing. It features a 3'x6' deck made of punched steel. Angle iron welded onto one end of the deck provides a V to hold shafts. On the opposite end is a metal lip for clamping. Under the deck is a punched-steel shelf for storing steel. "The perforated top lets dirt and dust fall through,” Sheridan says.

The shop features three 2½'x8' workbenches, framed with channel iron and heavy enough to support an engine or transmission. One bench is located by the vehicle hoist and the other two form a divider between the shop bay and the service pit. The benches were purchased from the same car dealership as many of the tools.

Ample storage space keeps a shop neat, Bleeker and Sheridan figure.

Seasonal items are stored on metal Speedrack shelving (four shelves 32' long) along one wall. "We can adjust shelf height in 2" increments,” Sheridan says. "We built boxes to hold parts for each piece of equipment.”

There is freestanding metal shelving next to the service pit, and the 4½'x34' mezzanine storage contains additional shelves. Bulky items can be fork-lifted into the mezzanine by removing sections of the safety rail.

Maintenance begins in the shop's office, where Sheridan and Bleeker use a computer equipped with J. J. Keller's Maintenance Manager software to do maintenance status reports and scheduling. For each machine, all the way down to lawn mowers, preventive maintenance status reports show maintenance operations performed; date completed; days and/or hours since maintenance was completed; and days and/or hours until maintenance is due. The computer also keeps track of vehicle inspections.

Daily maintenance activities are recorded on a whiteboard. When finished, the work is recorded in the computer. Internet access is available for visiting Web sites, checking suppliers' parts inventories and e-mail.

"A preventive maintenance program is the key to managing vehicles,” Bleeker adds. "You have fewer breakdowns, they last longer and have higher trade-in values. A breakdown can cost you hours of unnecessary downtime, or it can cause an accident if a tire blows out on the highway.”

"People area.” On the east side of the building, an enclosed lean-to extension contains the shop office; a laundry room; a "mechanical room” that houses the heating system's furnace and boiler; a 7'x16' bathroom and shower area; storage rooms; an 11'x16' parts room; and an 11'x16' lunch-room/break room.

"It's nice to be able to get away from the shop for a few minutes and sit down in the break room when you need to visit with people,” Sheridan says.

Dykhuis calls the extension the "people area.” It includes a 7'x11' locker room, used by employees who work elsewhere on the farm. The people area has its own heating and air conditioning system.

Other buildings close to the shop provide room for painting, eliminating the need for a paint bay.

Surrounding all the buildings is a paved parking lot. "With a paved lot, you track so much less dirt into the shop,” Bleeker says. "And it makes it easier to plow snow.”

The shop lets Bleeker and Sheridan do almost all the farm's maintenance. "We send only one or two jobs a year to a dealer—for example, transmission work on big tractors, where you have to split the cab and pull the transmission,” Bleeker says. "You need specialized equipment to do that big a job safely. But we do clutches and transmissions on semis.

"If we can do it, we do it. If we don't know how, we teach ourselves.”

You can e-mail Darrell Smith at

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