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The Guyshed: A South Dakota Institution
Feb 16, 2012
Since South Dakota’s earliest days there has been The Guyshed. It used to be painted red, filled with cattle, and provided the cover of appearing work related. As South Dakota became less agrarian, the modern South Dakota guy had to find some way and place to bond — outside of the confines of a well-cleaned home. Claiming to need a barn and wanting three token cows probably wasn’t going to cut it for the average South Dakota guy on a half-acre. He had to be innovative.
He needed to educate on the role of the guyshed as the modern monastery. It is a place where guys go to think, to pray, to ponder the great questions of the day. As guyshed dwellers can attest to, the guyshed dialogue is very cerebral. It may range from the meaning of life, touch on quantum physics, and rest at whether the Twins really have five good arms in the rotation this season.
It’s not clear what the early South Dakota man did for cerebral space. A large number joined the army, and the stoic life of a military barracks probably provided similar fulfillment. In winter months, when the South Dakota guy prides himself on the near-biblical nature of his ability to walk on water, the ice shack sufficed. But over the last twenty years there has evolved an idea of that stand-alone shelter for the nurturing of civilization — the modern guyshed. On the half section where we live there are 27 clearly discernible guysheds, and a couple of lesser temples (garages pretending to be guysheds). In fact, more properties HAVE guysheds than don’t.
Guysheds come in many forms. One neighbor, in keeping with his South Dakota roots, has a guyshed that is a miniature barn — red paint and all. Another neighbor, being a guy amongst guys, built a guyshed with a house attached on top. And above all, true to their roots, the guyshed remains a critical shelter for prized livestock — the hunting dogs.
In South Dakota, getting the guyshed is pretty much a prerequisite for getting your mancard punched. It’s sort of a shedmitzvah.
Guysheds come in many functional designs. Some are equipped with tools and power saws, but those remain optional. The problem with loading up on Black and Decker is that somebody up at the house is going to expect the guy to use his time in the shed building something. These chores would be fine if they were limited to that part of February between the Super Bowl and when pitchers and catchers report, but the other gender may find those dates too confining.
Above-average guysheds need a couple of things. Insulated walls — sprayed foam preferably — are a must. A guy has got to be able to get cerebral during those six months when the temperatures are hovering below freezing, and an insulated guyshed facilitates that activity.
Cement floors are something the frugal guy has to include. The contractor (a loyal and dependable guy-voucher) will explain to the Mrs. that if you add cement later, it takes a cement pump and a lot more labor costs. Therefore, to save the family money by incurring this seemingly not insubstantial cost during the initial construction, the dedicated guy will relent and accept a cement floor.
When you put in cement, the guyshed has to have a drain, with a septic tank and a drain field. You can’t wash the Mrs.’ car for her in the winter without a drain, and during deer season it’s important to be able to properly clean the family’s winter meat after you’ve dragged it back to the guyshed — this all requires a nicely tapered cement floor with a good size drain and pit. With what the family will save in car washes and not buying meat, this is a solid investment in the family’s future.
College is expensive, so including a pool table so your young scholars can learn to hustle a few bucks when they are away at school is a good idea.
If a guy is going to spend a lot of time thinking and working in the guyshed, the Mrs. is not going to want him tracking into the house to use those nice facilities. Since the place is insulated and has a drain field and all anyway — obvious components of a simple guyshed should be running water and a bathroom.
Every guyshed has electricity — I think it is required in the guyshed code the county adopted a few years ago. So as long as you have electricity, and the guy will be watching the kids a lot out there to give the Mrs. a break, it’s a good idea to have something to keep their fruit drinks cold in — I’d recommend a fridge with an ice maker. It’s also not a bad idea to include a padlock on that fridge — just to keep the kids from getting at the fruit drinks when dad isn’t around.
The possibilities for completing the interior of the guyshed are endless. For example, college is expensive, so including a pool table so your young scholars can learn how to hustle a few bucks on evenings and weekends when they are away at school is a good idea.
If you follow professional golf, those guys are making some serious jingle. Why not give your kids a head start in life — put a golf net in the guyshed and the kids will use it to hone those future PGA skills all winter long (and maybe the guy gets to take a few swings when the kids are tucked in for the night).
On those pretty summer nights when the Mrs. wants to join you on the little patio you poured on the west side of the guyshed for enjoying those waning hours of sunlight, what could be more romantic for her than a little James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, or anything by the Red Willow Band? So, you probably should add a stereo system, with surround sound, and zones. These days they only come — pretty much — with a cd player and an iPod docking station and a few other remote controlled devices — but nothing's too good for the Mrs.
After doing all that work for the family and the Mrs., I’d suggest the guy indulge himself just a little and panel off a corner of the guyshed. The technical name for these little spaces is mancave. In that little mancave corner it would be a good idea to put up a flat screen TV. Then, if any caveless guys happen to stop by to watch a game, they don’t make all that noise and mess in the house. Again, you can’t be too considerate where the Mrs. is concerned. The one thing you don’t need to splurge on is furniture — any old lazy boy and a couple of couches will do. This meager mancave space, if the ceilings are high enough, also saves the Mrs. from needing to dust your animal mounts — even if that elk head would have looked pretty special in the family room or over the stove in the kitchen.
Personally, I didn’t get my guyshed until after twenty years of marriage. When we built our house we faced the moral and economic dilemma of a guyshed, versus finishing the kids’ bedrooms in the lower level. The answer seemed obvious to me, but apparently I was a little too guy cerebral in the whole analysis. Anyway, the kids liked their new bedrooms, even if it deprived them of my suggested bonding experience of sharing a wide open, cement floor basement as a bedroom through their teen years.
There are many types of guysheds, and several factors affect what kind a guy should build. Some are purely looking for a place to clean game, and you can admire that meat gathering motive. Other guys are bigger-picture thinkers. My friend Scott is kind of the Mother Teresa of guysheds. He built a guyshed that can take in and provide shelter and nourishment for all the shedless guys in the neighborhood. Also, since his Taj makes all the rest of our plans look modest by comparison, Scott has assured that any guy that takes the time to show his wife the Taj will not be denied the simple amenities of his own guyshed design. But that’s what real guys do — sacrifice for each other.
Finally, a little personal advice for the new guyshed owner. I would really suggest against (unless you have very good major medical insurance) asking the Mrs. to clean up after the buddies in the guyshed. Besides, if you buy a powerful enough leaf blower, it doesn’t take that long to dust anyway.
Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.