Farm Horizons, February 2017
Plato garage goes from horsepower to horse products
By Marie Zimmerman
A building on Plato’s Main Street that once housed the horsepower of Farmall tractors and GM cars is now home to a local manufacturer of products for horses. Great Oak Equine hand crafts fencing, pens, hay feeders and other oak products. It’s owned by Stephen Tusha.
Tusha was driving through Plato when he happened upon the old Plato Garage, which had sat unused since 1989. An inquiry at city hall led to the building’s purchase; Tusha closed on it late last year. Plato has been a welcoming community, Tusha said, and he plans to expand his business there.
Built in the 1920s, the Plato Garage followed a blueprint for GM Dealers that could be found in small towns across the country. It also served as a Farmall dealer, said Tusha, who took an interest in the history of the place. The triangular front showroom is flanked by enormous panes of glass looking onto the crossroads of Plato’s main streets. The room opens to the manufacturing floor through sliding doors. Two cars could be driven into the show room. The original hoists and lifts remain in the back, and have been put to use moving heavy lumber.
A Minnesota kid with an English literature major from the University of Minnesota, Tusha’s career has been spent in general contracting and design. He and his wife, Connie, live in Waconia and own four horses. Great Oak Equine was inspired by Tusha’s horses, and a pen he built for them.
“I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t afford my own round pen,” Tusha said. “That was thousands of round pens ago.”
He started selling his pens on Craigslist. Then he leased a barn near Waconia, complete with company mascot Maggie the barn cat, who also made the move to Plato when demand outgrew the space in the barn.
Tusha’s team of four employees receives a semi load of dense white oak boards about every two weeks, sourcing from 10 different sawmills to keep up with demand. On average, they turn out four round pens a week, but the goal is to get to six. Other products include oak feeders, fencing, barn doors, gates, dog kennels and custom orders.
The northern white oak in Great Oak Equine products has naturally occurring tannins that act as a preservative and give the wood a bitter taste, which keeps horses from chewing on the wood. All the hardware for the pens and fencing is made in-house, and panels are designed to discourage a head or foot getting stuck.
“It’s all about the horse,” said Tusha, whose focus is the safety of horse and rider.
The premium products come at a price, but are built to last three generations. It’s an investment that’s not out of reach for most horse owners, Tusha thinks.
“Our competitors in this industry, their products really aren’t long lasting,” Tusha said. “I’m not after the wealthy horse people. I’m really after the everyday horse enthusiast.”
Not just horse enthusiasts in Minnesota, either. Great Oak Equine ships constantly to Texas, which has the highest horse population in the country, and across the United States. Most orders come from the Midwest.
Tusha is driven by an interest in design and the appeal of beautiful products that are useful.
“Everything is done by hand,” he said. “After they’ve worked for me for a year, (my employees) are craftsmen.”
For more information, contact Stephen Tusha at (952) 232-7115, or visit Great Oak Equine’s website, www.greatoakequine.com.