In Praise Of Minimalist Shops
Aug 13, 2012
There are farm shops that are nicer and better equipped than our dealership shop. Many of the farmers who work from those shops are ace mechanics--they could easily step into our shop and do the work of a dealership mechanic. But there are farmers with equal mechanical skills who work from cramped, dimly lit, low-ceilinged old farm sheds. Or they work outside the open door of an old tool shed, because none of their modern equipment will fit inside their aged shop. THOSE are the mechanics that get extra respect from me because they do so much with so little.
I was at a customer's place this week, working on his combine. His shop is a dirt floored wooden shed that he might be able to get his pickup into if he moved enough tools and debris to get it through the narrow sliding wooden door. I feel right at home in that shop. The walls are lined with an assortment of storage cabinets, bolt bins, old refrigerators, and oil-soaked work benches. Myriad parts from his farm equipment, his dad's farm equipment, maybe his grandfather's farm equipment, hang from the walls and overhead joists. There's a couple castaway chairs positioned in a spot that catches the sun shining through a window on a winter day, and 12-drawer tool chest with 15 drawers worth of tools in it. It's downright homey.
The cool thing is that if I needed to borrow a tool, a special welding rod, or something I forgot to throw in my service truck, he not only had it, he knew exactly where it was. "Hey, do you have some 1/8 inch 6011 welding rods I can borrow?" Two long steps, a hop over a pile of rusty parts, and a tug on a drawer, and he's offering me exactly what I needed. If I needed an odd-length carriage bolt, or a funky roll pin, it only took a little scrabbling under one of the benches, and he had the parts in hand. No matter what I needed, it seemed he had one, maybe two, of the tools or items stashed somewhere in his shop.
I was there to help with repairs on his combine. He'd already disassembled most of it, and I had to admire his creativity in getting things apart. In the shop I'd have used a forklift, maybe borrowed another mechanic's arms and back for a few minutes, but the customer had figured out ways to get things apart all by himself. All the parts were laid neatly on the floor inside his shop, in the exact order they'd been removed. The new parts were laid alongside the old parts, ready to be assembled and installed in the proper sequence. I made a note to myself to try and be that organized the next time I did that particular repair, back at the dealership.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, if your shop has polished concrete floors, daylight-quality lighting and is on the local Snap-on tool salesman's weekly route---I'm truly happy for you. I wish everybody could have their dream shop. But...if your shop is a cluttered wooden building with three generations of tools and farm equipment parts layered on the floors and walls...that's cool too. As long as you can find what you need when you need it, and are able to fix what you want to fix, that's all that matters.
(Disclaimer: I withhold the right to rescind this blog any time the temperature falls below 25 degrees and the wind is blowing at more than 20 miles an hour. Those are the conditions when polished floors and a good heating system earn my sincere appreciation.)