A little history -- The Big Chicken Barn near Novelty Hill Road
Big chicken barn hatches profits as high-tech storage warehouse
by Sarah Koenig, Redmond Reporter Staff
At 85, Leroy Olson could be a poster child for the way the Eastside used to be. While some lament the changes time has wrought by time and technology, Olson has used some of those changes to his advantage. Standing across from the gigantic circular green barn on the homestead he shares with his wife, Vera, near Novelty Hill Road east of Redmond, he told his story.
"It was a chicken barn, "he said. "It's 500 feet all the way around. It's so big it shows up (on satellite pictures) from outer space. Some people wanted me to tear down the thing. "
"In 1969, I paid $40,000 for 12 acres, and people said I paid too much, " he said. "I get a lot more than that a year in income on the thing. " Read More >>
How? "I'll show ya, " he said, walking toward the building. "When I show people around, especially guys, it's like a kid in a candy store. "
He unlocked the door and moved into a warehouse-style space filled with a tremendous jumble of machines and office furniture. For 23 years, Olson has rented his barn as storage space to what is now Honeywell, a large corporation with an office in a Redmond business park. Typical of the new Redmond, the company supplies automation and control systems, components, software, products and services for homes and buildings, industry, space and aviation.
Including the money he charges a handful of locals and small companies for storage, Olson rakes in more than $70,000 a year in storage fees, he said.
``Vera used to work for Sundstrand Data 23 years ago,'' he said. ``They made little black boxes for airplanes and lots of parts. Now it's Honeywell, and they make a lot of the same stuff.''
A call to Sundstrand
Two decades ago, he gave Sundstrand a call and asked if it needed storage space. At first, the company kept 2,000 boxes of records in the building, but over time, began trucking in machines it didn't need anymore. The company, as it morphed from one name to the next, also hauled in surplus office chairs, cubicle walls, desks, shelves and barrels of high-temperature wax, among other things.
Olson worked his way through the profuse clutter.
``This is a special oven used in manufacturing,'' he said. ``It gets 400 Fahrenheit degrees hot and goes to negative 100 degrees.''
He moved on, touching a forklift.
"They locked this up and didn't let them use it because they didn't have an operator's manual for it! " he said. Next came a blue machine larger than a refrigerator.
"It's a furnace,"he said. "They make it cold, too."
The tour continued past seemingly endless gadgets, including panels with buttons, knobs and switches, stacks of shelves, stainless-steel work tables, air compressors, a laser cutter and roller carts. Olson pointed out brown barrels stacked in rows.
The world's supply
"That's a special wax, a high-temperature wax, " he said. "The world's supply!" The wax is used to encase black boxes in planes to keep the devices from melting, he said.
Rounding the corner, he ran into Bob McRae, working at a table. The former owner of the Cinemond Theater in Redmond, which went out of business in the 1980s, McRae travels the country looking for antique movie machines -- projectors, speakers -- and stores them in Olson's barn.
Among his treasures are two Western Electric 15 A horn speakers.
"They're over 80 years old, " McRae said, walking over and putting on a Billie Holiday recording. "Doesn't that sound like Billie Holiday is right here? "
Leaving business behind
Though Olson's storage space is making money from companies and individuals like McRae, Olson will leave the business behind this winter when he moves with Vera to a retirement home in Redmond.
He will fetch almost $3 million for the farm and houses on the property, he said. The chicken coop's treasures will go to the new owner, who wants to sell the surplus items online, Olson said. He thinks more than $1 million can be made that way.
The storage space isn't the only way Olson has made modern Redmond work for him. Olson, the owner of Cleveland Street Square, a Redmond strip mall, also worked in the area's lucrative real-estate market before retiring.
There's a lesson in his homely rental space, he believes. "I was born on a farm in North Dakota, and there was a use for everything; that's what I learned back on the farm, " he said. "I don't throw anything away, and it pays."