Retired Unity farmer has missed just 10 shows in 65-year history of Farm Technology Days

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Darold Seefeldt

MARSHFIELD - Darold Seefeldt has put on a lot of miles since he attended his first Wisconsin Farm Progress show 58 years ago.

The 71-year-old retired farmer returned to Marshfield — the site of the very first show he visited in 1960 with his father — to attend the opening day ceremonies of the 65th Wisconsin Farm Technology Days show.

In the show's 65-year history, the Unity man only missed 10, making him the winner of the Most Faithful Attendee contest. Public Relations Committee Chairman Pat Sternitzy said his committee came up with the idea as a way to recognize those faithful attendees who have traveled to shows all across Wisconsin since the show was launched in 1954 as a plowing contest in Waupaca County.

"We thought there had to be a lot of people who have been to at least 40 shows over the years," Sternitzky said back in June.

 Of those who replied, six entries had reported attending over 40 shows with Seefeldt leading the way with 55. Close behind was John Pagenkopf, Neillsville, 53 shows, Jack Kaltenberg, Sun Prairie, 52 shows, Rick Daluge, Madison and Dale Evans of Edgar, 44 shows, Bob Bosold, Eau Claire, 42 shows and Ronald Auchtung, Van Dyne and Joseph Pagenkopf, Neillsville, 39 shows.

Beginning a tradition

Seefeldt said he was just 14 when he traveled from their farm in Marathon County to attend his first Wisconsin Farm Progress show in Wood County. The show was held Aug. 5-7, near Marshfield on the Wood County Hospital, Marshfield Agricultural Research Station and the Wood County Fairgrounds.

Showgoers were treated to field demonstrations featuring forage harvesting eqiupment such as mowers, rakes, windrowers, self-unloading wagons and hay pelleting machine. One machine receiving much attention was a tractor operating in reverse with a mounted mower conditioner.

"We had a ball watching the equipment operators as most of them didn't know what they were doing," Seefeldt said with a laugh. "We ended up buying a new conditioner at the end of the show because we felt it was the best one we had seen there."

John Pagenkopf and his son, Joe, were also faithful attendees of Farm Technology Days.

Father and son, John and Joe Pagenkopf of Neillsville both received recognition for their faithful attendance. John attended his first show while he was a high school student on the Neillsville FFA soil judging team. 

He loved the experience so much that he kept coming back, and as the years went by he brought along his wife and their children, including Joe who has been coming since he was 2.

"We've been dragging Joe along to shows since he was a toddler sitting in a little red wagon," said John with a smile. "We brought all four of our children along. My wife should really get the award because if it wasn't for her we wouldn't have been able to get here year after year."

The latest and greatest

Growing up on a farm, Seefeldt has always had a keen interest in farm equipment, especially tractors.

"Driving tractor was pretty much my ball of wax throughout my life," he said. "I enjoyed fieldwork and would often plow all night long just to get the job done. Of course, back then I was pulling a two-bottom plow. When we bought a bigger tractor, we got a four-bottom plow with a hydraulic lift. Now that was an upgrade!"

While many teenage boys were cruising Main Street on Friday nights, Seefeldt and his friends would jump in the car and head out to the local implement dealerships.

"Even though we couldn't afford to buy it, we liked to look at the new stuff," Seefeldt said.

Pat Sternitzky congratulates those who have attended the most shows since Farm Progress Days was organized 65 years ago.

Road trips

Once they got their drivers licenses, Seefeldt and his farm buddies would pile in the car and head out to Wisconsin Farm Progress Days — after the morning farm chores were done.

"We always stayed at the shows as long as we could. A lot of times we were still there an hour after the show closed for the day because someone let us stay," Seefeldt said. "There were many shows when we got home late and were doing chores at 10 o'clock at night."

Seefeldt said that would not have been possible without the support of his father.

"My father did a lot of the work, but he knew when we got back the rest of the chores would be done, even if they weren't done quite on time," he said.

On a mission

The Wisconsin Farm Progress Show and now Farm Technology Days (since 2008) is the largest agricultural show in Wisconsin and one of the largest in the nation. With a 60-acre Tent City housing more than 600 exhibitors, the food, youth and family living tents and field demonstrations held in adjacent farm fields, there's much to see and do.

Most folks travel to the show for one day. Not Seefeldt. If at all possible, he would visit the show all three days. An experience at one of the shows held in Eau Claire taught him a valuable lesson about time management.

"On the first day of the show we just looked around a bit, figuring that we had two extra days to get a closer look," he said. "Well, the remaining days were cancelled due to rain. We were really disappointed and learned after that when you go, you look because you don't know what's going to happen."

At 71, Seefeldt says the extra days are necessary to help him take in the entire show.

"When I was younger, we could run through Tent City and hit all the implement dealers. And if it was a show that we traveled quite a distance for, we didn't stop to eat at the food tents. We didn't have time for that," he said.

Not even eye surgery a week ago could keep Seefeldt from attending his 55th show.

"Everything went really well and I can see pretty good again. I even drove myself to the show," he said.

Seefeldt says some folks are surprised that he will spend $8 to attend Farm Technology Days.

"I tell them I'm going to the show and that's the way it is. Being a dairy farmer all my life, I didn't take many vacations years but Farm Technology Days (and deer hunting) are priorities of mine," he said