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Top Shops: Fit to fabricate

Accommodating it all

The main entrance into the Gerstacker shop is this 36-foot-wide bifold door 
located in front of the building's trolley crane. "This door is ideal for big equipment," 
Clark says. "But it does let a lot of heat out. So we added a second 12-foot door 
beside it to get smaller machines and vehicles quickly in and out of the service 
bay behind it." (photos by Andy Sacks).

Inspiration for Gerstacker Farm's award-winning shop was found in their previous building, which, in its time, would have earned recognition as a Top Shops structure. Built in 1963, that old shop was loaded with then state-of-the-art features like spacious workbenches, multiple entrances, and a trolley hoist.

But machinery outgrew that shop, which stirred the creative juices in Earl, Clark, and Kirk Gerstacker.

The father and sons from Midland, Michigan, set out to design a new shop that was spacious enough to accommodate growing machinery. And in doing so, they designed one of the best welding and machining centers ever featured in this magazine and won the Best Welding Center category of the Top Shops Contest. With that recognition came a Lincoln Electric Model 140C Wire Welder (www.lincolnelectric.com) and a Montezuma LA400 Portable Toolbox (www.montezumamfg.com).

Something old, something new

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"You name it and we can build it," says Clark Gerstacker. "Fertilizer tenders, trailers,
boxes, and spray tank brackets are a few of the items we've built. The advantage
of a good welding center is that you can build equipment the way you want it."

When the Gerstackers began their quest for a new shop, they took notice of what they had done right with their previous structure. And one of its best features was a trolley crane. A similar hoist in their new shop would need to be much taller, however, to trolley over tall equipment like combines. "This is why we opted for a steel structure," explains Clark. "The clear-span trusses offered much higher ceiling clearance and provided the strength to hold a bridge crane."

That crane is positioned behind the shop's main 36-foot-wide bifold door. The hoist beam rides on tracks that extend back 30 feet back into the shop from the doorway. The entire structure was designed for a 5-ton lifting capacity. "There are 15 feet of clearance under the movable beam that holds two chain falls," Earl points out. "This allows us to pick up and move equipment anywhere in the front bay of the shop."

As capable as that crane was at servicing the Gerstackers' main repair bay, it lacked the ability to readily move items into their prize-winning machining center. "We couldn't get heavy items over to the welding table or the mill," Clark says. "Once, we had to move 300-pound weights over to the mill. It wasn't enjoyable maneuvering those by hand. So we designed a jib crane capable of swinging into the main repair bay where it could pick up welding work, which could be swung back into the fabrication area."

That crane's beam operates off a post positioned to the right side of their shop's main door. The beam swings over a massive industrial-style welding table, and it will also reach out to a mill and workbench. All welding equipment is positioned near the welding table along the shop's office.

Strategic placement of tools

To create the machining area, the Gerstackers strategically positioned related equipment like a grinding stand, metal mill, drill press, and metal lathe on the walls surrounding the welding table.

One of the best features of their layout is an industrial air vacuum system that "filters air and keeps it indoors rather than venting fumes and heat outdoors," Clark points out. "We were fortunate to stumble upon a used Dust Hog system, which made this investment affordable."

The Gerstackers were particularly concerned about the health hazards of both welding and plasma cutting fumes. "Plasma cutters, in particular, are extremely dirty," Clark says. "The beauty of this system is that it starts sucking fumes almost immediately after pushing a button. You can direct the suction inlet right by the area you are welding."

An innovative feature devised by the Gerstackers is the use of the 12-foot-long expansion joints in the floor located beside the machining area. Care was taken to make sure these grooves were formed at perfect right angles where they intersect. Doing so allows the Gerstackers to use the grooves to hold angle iron that serves as a floor jig for fabrication.

The Gerstackers also created a metal handling and storage space on the other side of the office -- away from the welding area's sparks and fumes. This area provides a storage rack, brake, lathe, 50-ton press, and metal saw. "Metal can be cut there and brought into the welding area to be assembled," Clark says. 

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Earl Gerstacker's original shop was at one end of a 40x90-foot building (shown
behind him). "We used it mostly for repairs," he remembers. "But we can fabricate
items in the new shop like the all-steel boxes on our trucks (also shown behind him)."

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