Fixing, fixing and farming

John Oncken
Now Media Group

If you are a mechanical clutz like me (and so many others) it's nice to have someone in the area who can fix things — from the simple to the complex. That's what Don Faber does at his Faber Welding and Fabrication shop in nearby Sun Prairie.

Welding and fabrication sounds pretty technical, but I know from experience that he will do simple things like drilling holes, straightening things, making missing parts — basically doing what is needed to get things working.

The last time I really talked at length with Don Faber was almost 20 years ago when he and his dad, Bob, were the subjects of this column. At the time, the father-and-son team were working together, but a year later Bob retired and son Don bought the business.

A John Deere tractor filled the door of the Faber shop when I pulled (unannounced) into the parking lot last week. 'Good' was my first thought — after all, this column is about agricultural subjects, and nothing is more farming oriented than a tractor.

It turned out that it wasn't the tractor that was being fixed; it was the forage chopper attached to the rear of the tractor.


Don Faber, who was just getting ready to put on his welding mask when I walked in, explained that the machine had a broken frame that he was about to fix. A local farmer drove it in for repair earlier in the day, Faber said. 'I'll have it fixed shortly.' he said. 'It will be as good as new.'

Earlier this spring, Faber said he worked on three different soil finishers over a three week period: one with a twisted frame that required the use of chains and a jack to straighten and added reinforcement; a second one with snapped pivot pins at the three sections ('I made bigger, stronger pins,' Faber said); and the third, a tube on the front of a disc that raises and lowers ('I put in a heavier tube').

Faber said he did a lot of work at the Statz Bros. farm (just a few miles away) in preparation for the 2015 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, which they hosted.

Faber doesn't see himself as competing with the farm equipment dealers. 'The dealers have the parts and technical equipment, but if something breaks and I can fix it, the farmer can bring the equipment in or I can come to their farm with my portable welder and save them some time,' he said.

'You know how we have fought rust on equipment for many years, actually forever, a with little success?' Faber asked. I nodded in agreement. 'Let me show you something,' he continued.

Rust is in

He led me outside and pointed out a long, steel, flat piece of metal with smooth lines that had obviously been fabricated with a plan in mind.

'This a 7-foot long fireplace mantle that I fabricated for a home builder,' Faber explained. 'He will treat it with a hydrogen sulfide mixture that will cause it to rust and then apply a clear coat finish. I also made a long railing that will be made 'rusty' for another house. I guess rust is 'in' these days.'

For many years, Faber has been making 8-foot-long, aluminum, reverse L-shaped posts from which signs are hung at golf courses.

'I started this when John Blaska was building the 'Oaks' Golf Course near the Interstate, Faber explained. 'He needed a different type of post than was available from the signage company he was working with, and they came to me. I now make sign posts for two to three golf courses a month for that company.'

Faber likes working for himself: 'It's steady or too much work,' he said. 'I'm my own boss, and everyday is different.'

As I wrote many years ago: 'Fortunately for all of us, there are people like Don Faber who can see the unseen and fix the impossible; without them we'd be overrun with pieces and parts and things that didn't work. Most every community has a 'fixer' who silently goes about keeping things running. Sun Prairie is lucky to have Don Faber.

Saving a barn

Friend Ross Halvorson — the visionary who moved and restored the long vacant and 'in a horrible condition' Lone Rock Flour Mill into a beautiful home that was featured in this column several times — called me recently. He told of a very old barn that had been falling apart for years that was now being restored by someone. He was happy to see the barn was being saved and thought I might be interested, which of course I was.

With a drive-by look see, I have a few photos, and a bit of research got me in contact with the owner. The result will (hopefully) be a story of another restoration of a farm building that was in its final throes of life on its way to a new beginning. The owner and I plan to meet in the near future, and I'll hear the plans for the barn.

I see restoration as a near impossible task considering the state of deterioration of the building, but the owner is confident of completing the job, which is already in progress. I'll relate the full story in coming weeks.

The barn is unusual in that it is an eight-sided (octagonal) structure that found some favor in the late 1800s and early 1900s, mostly in the Ozaukee county area. Although not a true round barn, they are generally listed as such in historical records. Many of the round barns, of which some 200 were built, were located in the Vernon County area.

From Connecticut

This column of a few weeks ago described planting tobacco at the Halverson farm near Deerfield, how tobacco was raised in Wisconsin for over 100 years and how it was Norwegians who adopted the crop as their own.

A few days ago, I received a phone call from Bernard Dzielinski of Plymouth, Connecticut, who is longtime subscriber to The Wisconsin State Farmer. He said he found the column really interesting because he also grew up on a tobacco farm in Connecticut and how raising the crop in the two states was about the same.

One difference was that his state also raises shade-grown tobacco that is used as cigar wrapper in addition to the broadleaf type raised in Wisconsin. Dzielinski explained that the big difference in tobacco-raising history and culture in the two states is that while it was a Norwegian crop in Wisconsin, it was a Polish crop in Connecticut.

'You can tell by the names,' he said. 'Halverson in Wisconsin; Dzielinski in Connecticut.'

He said he quit raising tobacco years ago and now operates a 30-acre vegetable farm with tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, cabbage and pumpkins as the main crops. I note that he is also president of the Fairfield County Extension Council.

Thanks for the call Bernard. Now we know that Polish farmers, like Norwegian farmers — as my Norwegian friends proudly say — 'have strong backs and weak minds' that qualify them as true tobacco raisers.

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at