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Serving: MN

Ready for repairs

Slideshow: Robert Johnson’s farm shop and service trucks ease the inconvenience of breakdowns.

If working on machinery breakdowns can be “fun,” Robert Johnson has what is needed to enhance that experience: a fully equipped 60-by-100-foot farm shop, complete with an office, kitchen, bathroom and shower, and two repair trucks loaded with tools, parts and then some.

Johnson, who raises corn, soybeans and spring wheat near Clearbrook, Minn., built his shop in summer 2010 after outgrowing his previous shop — a 40-by-40-foot partition in a large pole shed.

“Sixteen-foot-high doors hindered getting in with equipment, and it was small,” Johnson says.

He spent a couple years visiting other farm shops to gather ideas, and he worked with a nephew who is a building contractor. Together, along with local professionals in electrical, plumbing and engineering, they designed Johnson’s dream shop and coordinated work schedules to get it done efficiently.

Extensive stability, comfort 
Along with conveniences, Johnson focused on comfort and stability in his new shop. He wanted warmth inside and decided to go with a closed geothermal heat recovery system that required 12 heat recovery wells to be drilled. Geothermal uses well water to keep the shop interior warm in winter — including the floor — and cool in summer. Johnson keeps the inside temperature around 68 to 70 degrees F.

Twenty-foot-high building sidewalls are 12 inches thick, with insulation that is double-wrapped in plastic, he notes. Last winter, it cost $165 per month to heat the building.

It turned out to be fortuitous that Johnson wanted his shop to be designed to withstand 90-mph winds. That meant installing 18-inch I-beams to support end walls and doors and using 12-inch C-channels. When 88-mph winds ruined on-site grain bins in 2016, his shop withstood the damaging gusts. He currently has six 50,000-bushel grain bins, and a 35,000-bushel wet grain holding bin that feeds the dryer.

Shop security
Security inside and out of his shop is very important to Johnson, too. The farm shop site has a full security monitoring system that includes three 360-degree zoom cameras (two outside and one inside), and smoke detection and automatic direct-dialing of the sheriff and fire departments. In addition, Johnson can access the cameras via an app on his cellphone and iPad.

“When I’m harvesting, I can watch the grain dryer and trucks unload,” he says. Another plus? When he is on vacation, he can check the app to see his shop and grain bins.

“This lets me monitor them from anywhere,” he adds.

Quick tour
Walk around the inside Johnson’s shop and you’ll note these features:

• a large cabinet filled with Lawson products — nuts, bolts, clamps and electrical supplies — that a local sales rep visits to restock

• hydraulic line repair supplies — hoses and all required fittings

• a welding hood on a chain hoist to raise and lower the hood as needed

• a red coiled tube suspended from the ceiling that hooks up to machinery exhaust and pipes it outside

• a large air compressor system with copper tubing that runs around the perimeter of the shop, allowing access via ½-inch and ¾-inch quick couplers inside and outside

• floor drains that carry potential oil spills to outside storage containment

• a full kitchen and dining area

Repairs in the field
Nearest to the kitchen side of the shop, two service repair trucks are parked.

There’s a 1-ton 1976 Chevy that Johnson outfitted in 2003 with everything imaginable to make repairs in the field. From the cab to the back, there are toolboxes, welding supplies, an air compressor, lights and a fuel tank.

Later, he upgraded to a Ford F-550 — the first Ford Johnson says he has ever owned — and loaded that with parts and equipment for in-field repairs. From a Tommy lift in the back, a hydraulic lift, an air compressor and eight compartments storing parts and tools, Johnson has everything within reach to fix machinery on the go. Plus, the truck carries a first-aid kit and a fire extinguisher.

“I’m really pretty satisfied with my shop,” Johnson says. If he were to add something, he might install a floor lift, so he could hoist vehicles to work underneath them.

Other folks like Johnson’s shop, too.

“Last fall, I had two mechanics here to do work on equipment under warranty that needed specialty tools,” he says. “They were happy to be here.”

Factor in two fully stocked trucks that streamline in-field repairs, and you’ve got some well-outfitted farmers ready to tackle whatever needs fixing.

“My brother commented that it was going to be fun to have a breakdown with all of this,” Johnson says.

Well, maybe not quite “fun,” depending on the circumstances. Definitely, well prepared, though.


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