Feature, Profiles, V4I6

A Grand Old Gentleman of Sheds

Harlan Shedell, escort for TDS Portable Buildings. Behind, Anthony and Brandon Roberts.

Harlan Shedell of Gentry, Arkansas, spent more than 40 years building sheds. 

He stopped building in 2013, but once sheds get in your blood, you can’t leave them behind. Today, he does lead escorts on deliveries for TDS Portable Buildings in Colcord, Oklahoma.  

Shedell became friends with the owner, Scott Loper, while he was still building sheds. When he stopped building and delivering for himself, Loper asked if he would be interested in doing escorts. That was in late 2014. 

He’s still at it today at 76 years old, and he’s still up to the challenge of reducing the stress from the building hauler and enhancing the safety of all traffic from point A to point B.  

“He finds the best part of his job is arriving safe, being involved in the transport, and being able to contribute to a job well done,” says Loper.  

When asked how long he planned to continue this job, Shedell says, “I’m gonna escort as long as I can get up and see down the road.”

This is the story of one of the “grand gentlemen” of the shed building industry. 

ENTER THE SHED BUSINESS

Shedell’s story begins around September 1970, when a local lumber yard manager, Leo Anderson, approached him with the idea of making some dog houses out of scrap material. Shedell would take the scrap material home, build a dog house, and return it to the lumber yard to be sold. Anderson would split the profit with him. 

One day, Anderson said to Shedell, “I saw something that looked like a big dog house on skids. Why don’t you make us one about 8 feet wide and 10 feet long?” 

Shedell asked, “What do you want it to look like?”

“Like a big dog house,” Anderson replied.

Shedell didn’t have the money for material; however, Anderson told him he could get the needed material from the lumber yard and build the building. Once the building was complete, Anderson would have someone pick it up, and it would be displayed at the lumber yard. Once again, the two would split the profit once the building sold. Shedell soon went to work and built the building.  

After it had been displayed for one week, Shedell went back to check to see if anyone had looked at it. Anderson replied, “Yes, we’ve sold three of them. Go home and get to work.”  

Thus began Shedell’s shed building business.

Leo Anderson (left), a lumber yard manager, got Shedell started back in 1970 by building a dog house.

“I’m eternally grateful to Leo Anderson for giving me the opportunity to build,” he says.

For the first year, he built the structures in his front yard, during which time the city inspector told him after the first complaint he would be shut down. So, Shedell and his wife began to look for a place out in the country. They found a place and relocated in 1972. 

When this move took place, he began to build the buildings for himself instead of just for the lumber company. He named his company Stor-Mor.  

But Shedell still had no facility in which to build sheds, so what did he do? He built them under a shade tree.  

His business office was a shelf nailed to a nearby telephone pole with a rotary dial phone sitting on the shelf.  His filing cabinet was the glove compartment of his truck.  

Once a telephone serviceman was working on Shedell’s phone and received a call from someone at the telephone office. She asked where he was, to which the serviceman replied, “Green Acres.”  

The shade tree worked well … until it rained. When it began to rain, Shedell had about three minutes to get his tools put away before the tree started leaking.  

One winter while working under that shade tree, he needed to roof a building. About an eighth of an inch of ice had formed on the decking. Eager to get the job done, he decided to hook up a water hose to his water heater and spray the decking to remove the ice.  It was so cold he actually increased the layer of ice to a quarter of an inch.  

Around this time in 1976, a man from FHA came along and offered to help him get a loan at 3 percent if he could meet the qualifications. To meet the qualifications, Shedell needed to get … a cow.

So, he, along with his wife and kids, headed to an auction to buy a cow. During the auction, he saw what looked like a cow and calf combo that looked good and started to bid. While the more experienced bidders made subtle moves to bid, Shedell determined that he needed to make big gestures to be seen.

So, he started gesturing.

“I didn’t know that you could bid against yourself,” he admits. “When the auctioneer yelled out, ‘Sold!’ I said, ‘Well, somebody just paid a lot for that cow.’ My wife turned to me and said, ‘You bought that cow!’”

Not only did Shedell spend all he had, what he thought was a calf turned out to be just a runt. No matter. With the cows in his possession, he was able to meet the qualifications for an FHA loan and built a 40 by 60 fully enclosed shop. In 1978, he added another 40 feet to the length, making it a 40 by 100, and that’s how it stands today.   

MR. DELIVERY

Shedell got involved with shed delivery early on in his career. Around 1972-73, he had a trailer built to haul the buildings. 

It was initially built to handle structures up to 8 feet wide and 14 feet long, but it did not tilt. In order to get the buildings off of the trailer, he would slide them off of the back of the trailer onto a ramp down to the ground. This worked well as long as the building was at least 10 feet long. 

But then came the day when he needed to deliver an 8 by 8 building.   

Because the building was so short, when Shedell slid the building down the ramp to the ground, it tilted over, landing on its back, leaving the doors facing skyward. It was then he realized that he needed to modify his trailer so that it would tilt.  

Shedell modified his trailer to make deliveries easier.

Other modifications Shedell has made to his trailer over the years include converting it to a goose neck, adding an electric winch, and adding his own invention of a hydraulic scissor lift that would pick up the rear of the trailer and move it left or right to assist him in the placement of tight spots.  

Shedell came up with many inventions over the years in order to be able to deliver sheds to the customer.

In 1979, he purchased a 1977 three-quarter-ton Chevrolet four-wheel drive. This was an upgrade from his half-ton, 6-cylinder Ford two-wheel drive. But, he discovered that he needed more than what the four-speed transmission could offer him because the gear ratio was too far apart. That wasn’t a good thing delivering sheds in the foothills of Arkansas.

Shedell went to work to improve his transmission performance. First, he found a five-speed transmission that would fit the Chevy. Then, he came across an antique Brown-Lite three-speed transmission, which had underdrive/direct drive/overdrive. When the Brown-Lite was added to the five-speed, it became a 15-speed tranny. 

But Shedell wasn’t done. He added another auxiliary three-speed, bringing the system to a grand total of 60 speeds.

“There are a lot of hills in Arkansas, and I’ve got a gear for every one of them,” he quips.

He even created his own jack. 

When Shedell started out, he used hand crank scissor jacks to level the buildings, but over the years, buildings became larger and larger, which would bend the handles on the jacks. 

He moved from the hand crank scissor jacks to hydraulic floor jacks. Shedell would set the jacks on steel plates to keep them from sinking into the ground. This worked well, but the drawback was that this method proved too labor intensive. He would have to get out from under the building, raise the jack, crawl back under and place the shim, crawl back out, and lower the jack again.  

So, Shedell made his own jack and named it Samson.  

The idea of Samson took its first form as an OSB model in his shop. The model was fully functional, so he could make any modifications on it before he had the real jack built. The model provided dimensions and proper working order.  

In 2005, Samson became a reality. 

CHANGE AND WISDOM

From 1970 to 2013, the years Shedell was a builder, he built 2,171 structures. 

Of course, he has seen many changes over the years. An 8 by 16 used to be considered a large building. Most of the buildings built were 8 by 10s, and 8 by 12s.  

He says he’s seen big change in the styles of the buildings. They have become much more attractive and have much more variety. He says today’s siding is a great improvement over the Masonite siding that he used to use.

As for the delivery of the buildings, Shedell says trailers are longer, with remotes, tilt, and other helpful additions. The Mule is pretty much a necessity. 

“Twenty years ago, what would have taken a whole day to set a 16 by 40, now takes one to two hours with an experienced hauler and helper,” he says. 

And Shedell has lots of experience, and after all these years in the shed business, what’s his advice for others in the industy?“Know your costs, keep overhead low, and thank our Heavenly Father for His many blessings.”   

One Comment

  1. I went to school with Harlan and have always had a great deal of respect for his honesty and his ingenuity! He deserves the great success he’s had!

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