First Came the Crane

December 8, 2010 04:05 AM

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When he built his new shop, Darrell Corcoran wanted a good hoist. Reluctant to spend $6,000, the Ottawa, Ill., farmer built a jib boom crane entirely from salvaged materials. The boom won him $500 by receiving first place in the shops category of Farm Journal’s “I Built the Best” contest.

Because the crane was the central feature of his shop, Corcoran built it first, then constructed the building around it. After five years, the only change he has made is to expand the size to
accommodate ever-larger machines.

Support for the crane comes from 12' “legs” made of I-beams, extending outward from the upright and buried underground. The upright itself extends 9' below ground.

“We poured 9 cu. yd. of concrete around the upright and then put a load of rock on top,” Corcoran says. “It has never settled an inch, and the floor has never cracked around it.”

The upright is a 14" I-beam, ½" thick, extending 16' above the floor. “People told me the upright would bend, but it hasn’t,” Corcoran says. The crosspiece is an 8" I-beam, 20' long, reaching to the middle of the shop bay.

All of the materials came from a junkyard, except the shaft the crosspiece turns on. Corcoran made the shaft from the pivot of a dump trailer. He also made his own bearings and drilled holes for grease zerks.

The upright provides a handy place to mount hose reels for compressed air and grease, which reach the entire shop bay, Corcoran notes. He salvaged the hose reels from a construction company that threw them away.

The electric hoist was purchased at a closeout sale. “It’s a three-phase hoist, but I don’t have three-phase power, so I used a converter to change single-phase to three-phase,” he says. The hoist has a 1-ton capacity, with a safety feature that kicks out if the operator tries to lift more.

Like the crane, the shop building was built and furnished with bargain materials. “Very few components were purchased new,” Corcoran says. “We bought a lot of the wood at auctions.”

Corcoran’s shop occupies part of a 60'x120' FBi post-frame building. The shop bay is 60'x40', and the remaining 60'x80' is used for machinery storage.

The center section of the floor consists of 8" concrete, heavy enough to support a semi. The concrete tapers to 5" and finally, at the edge, to 4". It is reinforced with rebar and Fibermesh polypropylene fibers to prevent cracking. As a further measure to prevent cracking, the poles are wrapped with an insulating barrier.

The front half of the floor tapers toward a drain. The rear half is level, creating a 40' flat area to lay out machinery.

Cozy work conditions. The ceiling contains 14" of blown-in insulation, and the walls contain 14" of fiberglass batt.

“There is 2" of foam insulation board under the floor and a plastic moisture barrier. The floor never sweats,” Corcoran says.

“We sprayed a skim coat of foam insulation on the inside of the bottom 4' of sheet metal on the three exterior walls,” he adds. “That sealed the wall, keeps out drafts and insects and stiffens the corners. We also sprayed the insulation inside all four corners and around the windows and doors.”

The shop bay is warmed by a natural gas-fueled EnerRadiant XL radiant tube heater (made by Enerco). “The heater cost only $1,200,” Corcoran says. “I set the thermostat on 45°F during the cold months and only occasionally turn it up to 50°F. Our average heating bills run between $200 and $250 for the winter season.”

Machinery enters through a 16'x24' insulated overhead door. There is one walk-in door. There are three 3'x3' windows in the north wall and one in the west wall.

Corcoran opted for a 17' ceiling, rather than 18'. “My original plan was to put a 24'-wide door in the side of the storage area,” he explains. “Eliminating 1' from the height of the entire building and moving the door from the side of the building to the end saved enough money to allow me to put in a 17'x30' sliding door.”

Moving the door to the end of the building cut the cost because the truss could be used as a header. Putting the door in the side of the building would have required constructing a header to support the eave over the door.

In the shop bay, the bottom 8' of each wall is lined with plywood, “so cabinets fit tight against the wall and it’s easier to hang stuff,” Corcoran says. “It also made it easier to mount electrical conduit and junction boxes.”

Galvanized steel paneling, custom-made at a local plant, lines the upper 10' of each wall. “This steel is bright; it reflects light as well as or better than painted steel paneling, and it costs the same or less. It’s easy to clean because dirt doesn’t stick to it,” Corcoran says. The ceiling is lined with white steel paneling, which was included in the building package.

Illumination comes from several sources. In the ceiling are six sodium vapor light fixtures, salvaged from a high school gymnasium. There are two banks of two standard 4' fluorescent bulbs on the south wall.

Recently, Corcoran added two banks of two high-visibility fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling, in the path of the boom arm where sodium vapor fixtures wouldn’t fit. “Those bulbs are very bright and also energy-efficient,” he says. “If they had been available when I built the shop, I would have used nothing else.”

The shop bay has four four-receptacle outlets on two walls and three outlets on the third wall. To reduce the load on the main fuse box, Corcoran ran a line across the ceiling and installed a second fuse box on the opposite wall. It supplies power to the outlets on that side of the shop.

Accessories. Corcoran plumbed two 60-gal. compressed air tanks together to create a 120-gal. air supply. “It maintains 160 psi for a long time, and the compressor doesn’t kick in all the time,” he says.

To reduce noise, the air compressor is located outside the shop bay, in the storage area. For moisture collection, Corcoran installed a drop between the two air tanks and two drops in the line: one before it enters the shop bay and one inside the bay.

Inside the storage area, a reel with 50' of air hose lets Corcoran fill tires that have lost pressure during storage.

Clean equipment. Corcoran’s favorite shop tool is a power washer. “When you keep your equipment clean and don’t let grease build up, you can see where you need to make repairs,” he says. “You also can clean the shop floor after you paint. Regular washing just doesn’t come close.”

With 100' of hose, Corcoran can use the power washer to clean a nearby farrowing house. The washer is a 4 gal. per minute, 2,000 psi model made by AaLadin Cleaning Systems. “It’s powerful enough to strip paint,” he notes.

Corcoran also likes his air-powered greaser, with two 50' hose reels. “It eliminates battery-powered grease guns, and I never run out of grease,” he says.

The greaser was one of Corcoran’s best bargains—obtained at a sale for $5. But it wasn’t quite as good a deal as the parts washer, which was free.

Corcoran stores parts and manuals in salvaged cabinets. Other great buys include three metal-top tables, 4'x4', 4'x8' and 4'x12' in size, used for welding tables and workbenches. When needed, he uses the crane to swing a table into the middle of the shop bay.

Even the drain was salvaged. It’s a fiberglass U-trough, 7'-long drain with a cast-iron grate.
A 14" exhaust fan, designed for hoghouses, ventilates the shop for welding and painting. Corcoran picked it up at a sale for $14.

Painting equipment inside the shop requires no special provisions. “I put down sawdust for one painting project,” Corcoran says, “but I discovered it wasn’t necessary. I just let the floor get a bit dusty before I paint. Afterward, I sweep the floor and the paint comes right up.”

The shop includes a 10'x10' office in the storage area on the opposite side of the wall from the shop bay. The roof of the office holds the air compressor and storage. The office draws its heat from the shop bay’s radiant heater.

After five years, Corcoran says, “I wish we had gone 1' higher with the eaves. At the time, I never thought we’d need an 18' building. And I would make the storage area 20' longer.”

Except for that, the shop fits his operation perfectly. “It lets us park semis and other vehicles overnight, work in comfort and get our machinery ready by planting season during January and February,” he says.

Shop Snapshot

Darrell Corcoran, Ottawa, Ill.

Building: 60'x120' FBi post-frame; 60'x40' shop bay; 60'x80' machinery storage area
Eave height: 17'
Heat: Infrared radiant tube heat
Doors: 16'x24' overhead door in shop bay; 17'x30' sliding door in storage area
Lighting: Six sodium vapor light fixtures on ceiling; two banks of two high-visibility fluorescent bulbs in the path of the crane arm; two banks of two 4' fluorescent bulbs on the south wall
Storage: 10'x10' overhead storage; various cabinets
Office: Located in an enclosed lean-to, adjacent to the shop building
Favorite tools: Power washer, air greaser
Workbenches: Three welding tables, 4'x4', 4'x8' and 4'x12' in size
Unusual features: Shop was built around the jib boom crane; most components were salvaged or purchased used or on sale

Share your machinery ideas and win $500.

Entries are judged in 12 categories:

  • technology
  • livestock
  • planters
  • sprayers
  • harvesting equipment
  • chemical handling
  • drills/air seeders
  • shops
  • tillage tools
  • hay tools
  • service trucks
  • miscellaneous

Just send a photograph or sketch and a brief description of the idea to Darrell Smith, Farm Journal, P.O. Box 1188 Johnston, IA 50131-9421 or e-mail Category winners will receive $500 when the idea appears in Farm Journal. Any idea that is published, even if it’s not a category winner, earns you a check for $100.

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