FTD Heritage display focuses on locally made machinery
ALGOMA - Farm Technology Days — formerly called Farm Progress Days — began in 1954 with a plowing contest in Waupaca County. From those early beginnings the three-day outdoor farm show was called into service to carry technological improvements to Wisconsin farmers.
Matt Glewen, general manager of FTD, Inc., the body that oversees and provides continuity to a huge show that’s in a different county each year, says University of Wisconsin officials didn’t think farmers were adopting technology as quickly as they should. So they pushed to get the information out to them through the annual show over the many decades of its history.
Farm Technology Days is one of the biggest outdoor farm shows in the Midwest and is expected to draw as many as 45,000 people to Kewaunee County this year on the Ebert Enterprises farm near Algoma on July 11-13. When those folks visit the farm they will see the latest and greatest farm technology from vendors, from UW experts and from the host farmers.
But they will also have a chance to take a look back at the history of farm equipment. The Heritage Committee is one of the many committees that have been working to make Kewaunee County’s first Farm Technology Days a success. That group is planning a lineup of antique machinery that specifically focuses on locally made equipment.
Visitors will be able to soak up local history, and if they are of a certain age they may remember machinery like the Calumet manure spreader, made in Wausau and in Algoma — just down the road from Tent City on the Ebert farm. The committee also focused on the Farmaster Tractor which was made in the Kewaunee shipyards.
“After World War II ended and when the shipyards were no longer needed to build war ships, they started to assemble farm equipment,” said Vince Cisler, one of the committee’s members.
Heritage committee members said there are only two of these rare tractors known to be in existence in the United States; the one that will be at the show was located in La Crosse. Jim Junion, one of the 25 members of the Heritage Committee, said a lot of these tractors were shipped down to South America after other makes and models took over the marketplace here in the States.
“Locating one of these Farmaster tractors was one of our top goals when we started planning for Farm Technology Days,” Junion said. The committee wanted to focus on the history of farm equipment manufacturing in Kewaunee County and the nearby counties.
Another project the Heritage committee has been working on for the show is an old pea viner – a pull-type combine for peas and lima beans -- that was used extensively by various canneries in the area. It was made in the early 1960s and preceded the large self-propelled pea viners in use today.
“We looked all over the state of Wisconsin and found that a local farmer in Kewaunee County has had one sitting in his woods for about 30 years,” said Cisler. “He was going to scrap it but he just never got around to it.”
Committee members have been working since January to get it out of the woods, a job that meant cutting down trees to get the old piece of machinery free. Another farmer donated parts to get the pea viner looking more like its old self.
That project is near and dear to Cisler’s heart since he worked at the Hamachek Company in Kewaunee during the era of the pea viner. It was his job to demonstrate its use throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. It was also used extensively by canneries in California, Washington and Oregon at the time.
The pea viner, he says, represented new farm technology when it was new. It was pulled through the field to separate peas (and Lima beans) from the vines rather than the older-school method of cutting the vines and hauling them to a stationary viner where the vines were fed into it so the vegetable could be taken off the vines.
The show’s Heritage display will include at least 150 older model tractors from 1955 and earlier, but the committee is accepting anything that was locally made, even if it is a bit newer than that.
Their committee was also in charge of the model “toy” piece of farm equipment to be sold in conjunction with the show. Traditionally Farm Technology Days host counties have paid to have a model made of a tractor or some significant piece of equipment for the host family or the region of the state.
This will reportedly be the last time a piece of farm equipment will be reproduced in the form of a toy for Farm Technology Days, so collectors are likely to snap up all the remaining “toys” before the show begins.
Heritage Committee co-chair Dale Swoboda said the group produced 1,000 of the farm toys and had sold almost 900 of them with a month to go before the show. “They will probably be sold out prior to the show,” he said.
The piece of farm equipment chosen to make into a commemorative model this year is a Gehl 800 Forage chopper. One of the reasons for that choice is that the Ebert farm’s machinery lineup includes the chopper, but there were couple of other reasons, said Swoboda..
Gehl originally made the forage chopper in nearby West Bend and Farm Technology Days has not had one of these for a commemorative farm toy in its 64 years. Those factors were part of the decision to make it this year’s model.
The chopper was produced from 1975-1985, Swoboda said, and is one of the many pieces of farm equipment that were produced in northeast and north-central Wisconsin.
Aerica Bjurstrom, Kewaunee County’s UW-Extension agent who is serving as executive secretary of the show, said that county residents – like the Heritage Committee members – have come out to support the effort in a big way. She and some of the committee members have been working on the show for almost five years now and interest is only growing as the show nears. More than 1,500 people had signed on as volunteers as the show entered the home stretch.
“We’ve had extraordinary sponsor support and nothing but complete buy-in from the community. This show came along at the right time to build community. We have volunteers coming to support the show from as far away as Fond du Lac County,” she said.