The commercial exhibits, some 850 of them, at the recent World Dairy Expo ranged from the "tried and true" to the not yet on the market.
They included equipment wearing brilliant coatings of paint to others made of shiny stainless steel and even others that held no form, color or shape and existed only in the bowels of a computer.
All, however, had a common purpose: To make dairy farming easier, more economical and, above all, less labor intensive - goals farmers have held since the hoe replaced a wooden stick, the team of horses gave way to a tractor and milk machines replaced the milk stool.
I think of these changes when the subject of jobs and the economy comes up during the current election campaign: Every politician promises more jobs, meanwhile, every employer, including farmers, seeks to have fewer people employed, mostly using technology.
The old blacksmith shop at Maryville in northwestern Dane County, now known as Maryville Welding & Repair and owned by Carl Ketelboeter, always reminds me of what farming was like 100 years ago versus today's agriculture.
The blacksmith shop was built in 1861 (or thereabouts) by Jacob Back, a recent immigrant from Germany. The limestone building, built by someone whose name(s) seem to be lost in history, were probably traveling craftsmen who worked without computers or blueprints, but with strong backs and quick minds.
They would be proud to know that the sturdy building they built as a blacksmith shop 151 years ago is still standing strong and is still a blacksmith shop.
According to a Dane County study of rural hamlets done a decade ago, this is the oldest building built for a specific purpose in the county and perhaps in the state.
Blacksmith shops were an essential to the farming communities just springing up across the state: As essential as the church, general store and school.
Then, as now, farm equipment, regardless of how modern and efficient it might be, eventually breaks and needs repair. Thus, the importance of the blacksmith, who, without formal training, could see the problem and fix it aided by a forge in the past and by a welder today.
Jacob Back operated the blacksmith shop and served as postmaster for 29 years before selling the business to Gus Schumann. The blacksmith shop continued in operation mostly under the ownership of the Schumann family until it went vacant in the late 1950s.
Enter Carl Ketelboeter, a local boy raised on a farm couple of miles away who was working as a mechanic at Madison Truck Equipment.
"The old and empty building in Maryville caught my attention - it had been vacant for some time," Ketelboeter says. "In 1979 I bought it from the Schumann estate with the idea of having my own business."
In April 1983, after going into business for himself, Carl opened Maryville Welding and Repair in the then century-and-a-quarter-old building. The township of Berry again had a skilled mechanic available who could fix most anything from lawn mowers to tractors to broken steel that needed a skilled welder to put the pieces back together.
"Do you think a commercial building built today will be still standing in 2162 - 150 years from now?" I asked Ketelboeter.
"I have my doubts," he says. "Fifty years would be a long time for the type of construction used today."
When Jacob Back owned this building in 1861, his business centered on making sleds, wagons and fixing broken farm equipment. The forge spitting forth sparks and a big hammer were basics as parts were fashioned from raw steel and horseshoes were made to fit.
The old forge is long gone. Ketelboeter said that it was pretty much crumbled apart when he bought the building and he had to take it out.
Part of the overhead system of belts and pulleys that at one time powered the series of shop machines still remain and one can easily imagine the activity that took place within these old walls decades ago.
An ancient (in age), but still modern in use, drill press is solidly attached to one wall, next to a storage alcove with shelves that replaced a window long ago.
All was quite for an hour or so as we talked about the past - then the future interrupted our conversation in the form of Steve Ketelboeter (a cousin) who works for a manure lagoon pumping company. He was toting a piece of a manure pump that needed rethreading in order to connect to a shaft.
It didn't seem to faze Ketelboeter, who did the job in a few minutes.
A farmer dropped off several coulters for a tillage machine that needed a good bit of welding to get them back in condition to use.
Matt Wipperfurth, a young dairyman from Dane, brought in payment for a previous job that Ketelboeter had done for him.
And, so it went: Dropping off, picking up and some conversation with no cell phone interruptions - he doesn't use one.
Ketelboeter went into his adjoining house and returned with a half dozen photos of the blacksmith shop taken well over a century ago. One had only teams of horses in front and wagon wheels stacked up along the building. Another showed the building when it was new and still another showed the muddy and rutted Highway 19 when it was more a trail than road.
A piece of history
In the late 1800s, Maryville (formerly Halfway Prairie and earlier Meyer's Corners) served as the township's commercial center, with a store, several blacksmith shops and a couple of saloons. The hamlet is believed to be named after a German immigrant, Johann Marx, who was one of the area's largest landowners who showed up at the settlers' feast with a free barrel of beer.
It's easy to imagine the wagons, Model Ts and 1950's pickups parked in front of this old blacksmith shop as their owners dropped off, picked up and talked about the weather, politics and baseball.
The conversations are still the same, although the farm equipment got bigger, better and more complicated. But, a basic rule remains unchanged: Only important things break and they always break at the worst possible time and everything breaks if used long enough.
In the early days of modern agriculture, the village "smithy" and his forge, bellows and red hot fire were what made and fixed things. Today there are farm equipment dealerships who supply the parts and service for the big tractors and combines.
Then there are the Carl Ketelboeters of the world who can solve the unsolvable and fix the impossible, just as those who occupied that old, old building before him.
Of course history is still being made as the blacksmith shop at Maryville remains an active business and sort of a community center. Thanks to people like Virgil Matz, Black Earth and Carl Evert at Maryville, both members of the Mazomanie Historical society, it will be recorded, saved and enjoyed long into the future.
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.