Shop Ages Gracefully

May 15, 2009 02:09 PM

There comes a time in a farmer's career when it no longer makes sense to build a new farm shop. But you don't want the shop you have to show its age, either.

Just ask Brian Andrews of Rossville, Ill. While he plans to never completely retire, he has scaled his corn and soybean operation back from 2,000 acres to 400 acres. He now serves as township road commissioner.

"Earlier in my career, I did more mechanical work,” Andrews says. "Now I buy new equipment, and today's machinery holds up well, so I make fewer repairs. These days, I use my farm shop for general maintenance and hobbies and to build stuff for [the Vermilion County] Ag Literacy Foundation fundraising auctions.”

A few upgrades, often using salvaged materials, has ensured that the shop will continue to meet Andrews' needs for many years to come.

The 45'x45' shop bay, inside a 64'x136' building, was on the farm when Andrews moved there in 1975. One corner could have been turned into an office and bathroom, but with his residence just a few yards away, Andrews opted to install an overhead door and use the area for storage instead.

Andrews made the shop seem bigger by pouring a 24'x22' apron of 8" reinforced concrete, sloped for drainage, outside the door. "It extends the work area and provides a nice place to work in good weather,” he says.

More recent improvements include a new door, more economical lighting and new windows.

Andrews replaced the shop's original 22' sliding doors with a 22'x14½' hangar-type door, made by Hi-Fold Door (, with 14' clearance. He hung the new door with the help of a neighbor who furnished a fork lift.

"We had to reinforce the end of the building because some of the weight of the door extends outside when it is in the raised position,” he says.

The cost of the door was about $1,600. Andrews insulated it and paneled the outside to match the rest of the building. The paneling was—you guessed it—salvaged from a factory.
Andrews ran a cord from the door's control box to a portable generator, in case of a power outage. "I'm really pleased with the door,” he says.

More machinery storage.
Andrews used the old shop doors, along with salvaged lumber, to construct a new 3,000-sq.-ft. machinery storage area running the length of the north side of the building. He installed a sliding door on one end and used the original shop doors to provide access to the middle section.

Andrews then discovered that he could save even more money by replacing the shop's three banks of two 8' fluorescent bulbs with six banks of two 4' bulbs.

"The original lights were good, but they were much more expensive,” he explains. "I can get the new lights on sale for $9 or $10 apiece.” There are also two 4' fluorescent bulbs over the welding area.

The only thing the lights aren't adequate for is painting, Andrews says. For this purpose, he supplements them with trouble lights.

Andrews found several used double-pane windows at an auction for about one-fourth the cost of new ones.

Because they're 75% larger than the shop's original windows, "they help with the heating in addition to the lighting,” he says.

Two years ago, Andrews added propane-fueled radiant heat to use as a backup to the shop's waste-oil burner, tying together the exhaust from the two systems. The waste-oil system worked well for about a decade and still does, he says. It requires 800 gal. of oil per winter.

"With a smaller operation, I produce less used oil,” Andrews explains. "I wanted to make sure things didn't freeze if the burner ever went out. And radiant heat is a little more uniform.”

Ceiling fans, salvaged from a neighbor who redecorated his house, also help make the temperature more uniform. "Running them slowly moves heat down, off the ceiling,” Andrews says. "There used to be a 20°F difference in temperature between the floor and the ceiling.” That's not the case anymore. "And one fan,” Andrews notes, "draws some heat from the oil burner/radiant heater exhaust.”

You can e-mail Darrell Smith at


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