Just as grain elevators once dominated the landscape of prairie towns, large farm workshops now dominate the landscape of prairie farmyards. Not having one seems to be unthinkable for most farmers. And I agree. A state-of-the-art shop may be one of the most valuable investments producers can make, these days.
Back when I was a kid, big workshops were very rare sights, indeed. The notion of a farm having a building in excess of 2,000 square feet with 14-foot, 18-foot or higher walls would have been considered absurd. A simple one-car garage was what passed for a shop on most farms, something barely big enough to squeeze a 50 horsepower tractor into with a few tools hanging on the walls.
But the needs back then were different. Equipment was smaller, and a lot of repair work could be done in the shade just as easily as indoors. Tractors didn’t run all that often in the winter, either. So there was no great need to keep them warm and ready. Most winter chores involved good old manual labour. And I can remember more than a few farmers still had a team of horses to pull a stone boat loaded with small square bales to help get those daily chores done.
I’m certain mentioning that has now caused the under-30 crowd of producers to wonder aloud, “were farmers back then afraid of being attacked by a T-Rex dinosaur while out in the open?”. But it really wasn’t all that long ago. Change in farming, like everything else, has been fast and furious in the past few decades. Today, of course, most farms need their tractors and equipment to work frequently through the winter. So they need to be kept inside.
But it is really the value big shops offer as a place for repair and maintenance that probably brings their biggest value. I once tallied up the number of oil changes, repairs and maintenance procedures that took place in my shop and applied a shop-rate cost to them to try and get an idea of what value the workshop brought to my farm. The commercial cost of what went on in there was surprising, making the cost of building it well worth the money.
That said, building a workshop and stocking it with tools and equipment isn’t cheap, nor is acquiring enough knowledge to know how to use them to get jobs done. And in many cases you still need to turn to a pro for some repairs. But even then having the shop as a place to get someone to come to and do work is invaluable. Depending where you farm, hauling machines to town to get work done in a dealership or repair shop can be quite an adventure.
And this week I was reminded that if you have vehicles and equipment you have a constant need for repair and maintenance. Our Project CJ3A Jeep, which recently underwent a complete restoration was once again in the shop for some updates. There seems to always be one more thing to do on project vehicles and farm equipment alike.
Getting greasy with a wrench in your hand on the farm is a job that is really never finished. There are just gaps when you take the machines out of the shop to break them again so you can continue with the work.