When their combines would no longer fit in their old pole barn, the Guettermans of Bucyrus, KS, knew it was time to build a new farm shop. The 60- × 100-ft. pole barn was too small for all the equipment they needed to run their 6,000-acre corn, soybean, grain sorghum and wheat operation. And it had a dirt floor and wasn't heated, which made it difficult for Ted, his dad Paul, and three brothers Tom, Mike and Nick to work on their machinery during the winter.
“We'd try to stay warm around a space heater,” Ted Guetterman recalls. “The working conditions just weren't very good.”
The Guetterman Brothers Farm needed a building that was bigger, heated and also versatile enough to accommodate the farm's varied business operations. In addition to farming, the family sells seed, fertilizer and chemicals, and it custom sprays. They also run a small elevator in town where they buy and sell grain. “I guess you could call us a farm service center,” Ted says.
To meet their growing needs, the Guettermans contracted Strickland Construction, a local builder, to put up a 70- × 120-ft., pre-engineered, steel Butler building. The building features all-steel beams instead of wood trusses to allow for more overhead clearance. And it has three heated bays for machinery maintenance. What's more, it has two finished offices, a kitchen, men's and women's rest rooms and an overhead deck for parts storage.
“We're really pleased with it,” Ted says. “Everybody says it's a real nice shop.”
Ahead of its time
The Guettermans' shop was built in 1995. At the time, it was the largest shop Strickland Construction had put up on a farm. Today the company is building farm shops even larger, up to 80 × 165 ft.
However, according to Glen Richardson, Strickland's general manager, the Guettermans were ahead of their time in terms of the size and features they requested. And now, eight years later, farmers are echoing the Guettermans' demands.
“Large is the number-one thing,” Richardson says. “Clearly, as with most things in ag, farm shops continue to get bigger and taller, just like tractors, combines and everything else. Second, farmers want finished office space — and not necessarily a living area, but a kitchen area because they spend so much time in the shop building. And they want it well insulted with a heating system to make it comfortable in the winter so they can repair their equipment and get it ready for spring.”
Wick Buildings, a manufacturer of pre-engineered, post-framed buildings, is seeing the same trends. “Buildings are doing double duty now,” says Tami Newman, marketing coordinator for Wick Buildings. “Whereas in the past people had a storage building, now they are building bigger, taller buildings with a lot more versatility. Some have an office for their farm operation; others have heated shop space on one end and cold storage at the other. Still others are doubling as residences. Not all are necessarily primary residences, although Wick builds those too, but some bigger operations are asking for buildings designed to accommodate guest facilities.”
Newman says farmers also want more aesthetically pleasing buildings that blend with the rest of their farm. “Typically, we are not building just a plain box building,” Newman says. “We are building buildings with deeper facades, fascia, overhangs, mansards and porches — buildings with a little more curb appeal, or as Wick terms it — storage with style.”
Take a tour
The Guettermans' building, which cost around $150,000 to build, incorporates all these elements. The front of the steel building is a timber-frame porch with a colored standing-seam roof for looks. The front door opens to a large 20- × 30-ft. finished office, where Ted's mother Rosie and his sister-in-law Jodi work full time doing paperwork for the elevator, sprayer and seed businesses.
“Running three different businesses makes for a lot of book work,” Ted says. “We have to send bills to customers and need the office space to do it.”
Next to the office is a kitchen where they have lunch year-round and make most of their meals during harvest. On the other side of the kitchen is a second, smaller office, where a full-time agronomist works. The agronomist scouts the family's fields and sells seed for them. Ted and his father and brothers use the same office to keep their crop records and check DTN reports. “We call it the guys' office,” Ted says.
Above these rooms is an overhead deck where machinery parts are stored. All of these rooms make up the first quarter of the building.
The remaining three-quarters consist of three heated 30- × 70-ft. machinery bays. The family uses two of the bays to fix machinery and the third bay to store three semi-trucks they use year-round to haul grain and deliver fertilizer. “When it is cold, the trucks are in the shop where it's warm,” Ted says. “We don't have to worry about plugging them in overnight to keep them warm.”
Each bay has its own overhead door, which allows equipment to get in and out more easily than a conventional end door would. The doors measure 24 ft. wide and 14 ft. tall, tall enough to accommodate their combines and self-propelled sprayers. In the winter, the Guettermans pull the sprayers into the two maintenance bays overnight to keep the lines from freezing.
The entire shop is insulated with fiberglass blanket insulation and is heated by two Re-Verber-Ray radiant heaters. Installed in the shop's ceiling, the heaters are designed for a shop to heat objects first and ultimately the air around them. “We can work in here if it is 10 below outside and we can get the shop up to 50 degrees or more. So it is a lot more comfortable,” Ted says.
They light the shop with large fluorescent lights, which Ted's father-in-law and brother-in-law installed and wired.
The Guettermans maintain their own equipment to cut machinery costs. “We try to do things ourselves here,” Ted says. Their maintenance routine includes changing oil and filters, lubing, changing and fixing tires and getting equipment ready for the field.
“Before long we will be getting our planter in the shop to get it ready for planting,” he explains. “We'll be putting new planter discs on, repacking bearings, and things of that nature.” The only thing they don't do is engine work.
The equipment they maintain includes two self-propelled sprayers, 12 tractors, four combines, and a mix of planters, cultivators, no-till drills and haying equipment. Everyone who works on the farm also works on the machinery. “We try to make it so that each person maintains the machine he drives,” Ted says. The farm also employs a part-time mechanic who works on the trucks.
All the basic tools and equipment required for maintenance are stored in the shop. For example, they have three Hobart welders: the Stickmate LX stick welder to weld large metal; a small wire welder, the Handler 135, for small, thin metals such as that used in feed bunks or grain bins; and a welder/generator, called the Champion 10,000, that they keep on their service truck. Ted says the welder/generator is popular in his area.
They also have a small parts cleaner made by Iron Smith, which they bought at Tractor Supply, and two air compressors. One of the air compressors, an Industrial Air Machine, stays in the shop, and they keep the other smaller one in the service truck.
Most of their hand tools are Snap-On, but they also buy Craftsman tools. They also have various drills, saws and air wrenches.
To save trips to town, the family stocks as many parts as possible, including nuts, bolts, hydraulic fittings, chain links and brass fittings. They also have an entire assortment of pipe fittings, which Ted bought for half price from a hardware store that was going out of business.
Oil for their tractors, combines and trucks is delivered in bulk using a John Deere Bulk Oil System. “We keep a 200-gal. oil barrel here with an air pump on it. It is a lot easier than pumping it by hand and we don't have to worry about disposing of quart or gallon jugs or 5-gal. buckets,” Ted explains.
Organization takes time
Ted says the most difficult part of having a large farm shop is keeping it organized. “When you have half a dozen people who work here, you have to know where everything goes,” he says. “And it takes time to do all that.”
He says storage bins are the key to keeping things organized. “The more storage bins you have the better,” he says. The Guettermans have storage bins for all of their tools, parts and supplies. They made most of the storage bins out of lumber and bought the rest at a discount at farm sales or from businesses that were closing. They store large parts upstairs and store small parts like nuts and bolts downstairs for convenience.
The family keeps hand tools on the main floor in a KRL-761 Snap-On toolbox on wheels. They also have a smaller Snap-On toolbox in their service truck.
Parts manuals and operator manuals are stored in a metal cabinet in one corner of the shop nearest the office.
In addition to their farm shop, the Guettermans have two other storage sheds right next to the shop to store equipment. Both buildings are 60- × 120-ft. steel Astro buildings. In one of the sheds they store their straight trucks, seed, farm chemicals and soybeans when the grain bins are full. The other stores planters, drills and tractors.
Ted says keeping their equipment inside is important to keep it from rusting and to maintain its resale value. “But you need the space to do it,” he says.
For that reason, he advises farmers who are planning to build a new shop to build big. “I don't think you could ever build one too big,” he says. “A lot of space is just utilized by all your tools, parts bins and work benches. Those take up a lot of space in a shop. So you have to be careful to allow plenty of space.”
FARM SHOP TRENDS
Bigger (80 ft. wide × 165 ft. long and up)
Taller (18 ft. for more interior clearance to fit bigger equipment)
Heated (especially heated floors)
More doors (especially bi-fold and overhead doors)
Finished office space
Deeper facades and fascia