WAUNAKEE, Wis. – “Heritage comes alive” is the tagline for Schumacher Farm Park located near Waunakee. The park is designed to showcase farming practices that were popular between the 1920s and 1940s in Wisconsin. It has been designed by the Friends of Schumacher Farm to be a living-history museum, giving visitors the chance to experience what farming was like in the early half of the 20th century.
Bob Forbess is a past board member of the Friends of Schumacher Farm. He donated to the park use of his steam-powered threshing machine and binder.
Attendees at the park’s Heritage Fest in September could see how a binder worked back and forth while a big wheel cut grain. Oats, wheat and other small grains would be tied with twine and then bundled. They would be left to stand for one to two weeks before being threshed – generally about the first week of August when grain reached the right stage of ripeness. About eight bundles would be combined to form a shock, Forbess said.
Forbess is a native of Colorado; his father was a thresherman. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Bob Forbess pursued a mechanical-engineering degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said in the 1940s there was a federal program to encourage officers in the U.S. Navy to pursue degrees in engineering.
“I listened to lectures from some of the top professors at the university,” he said.
After graduating from the accelerated-engineering program at UW-Madison he became an engineer at Pratt and Whitney, an aerospace manufacturer in Connecticut. He spent 20 years in the aircraft and space industry. A highlight was working on specialty-ignition equipment that was used in the Apollo flight to the moon, he said.
Forbess eventually returned to Madison, Wisconsin, where he now lives. He’s currently serving on the accession committee for the Friends of Schumacher Farm. He’s using his engineering skills to help renovate vintage equipment that will later be demonstrated at the farm.
Ron Schuler, agricultural-engineer professor emeritus from UW-Madison, said the first forage harvester was developed by UW-Madison’s Floyd Waldo Duffee. Duffee had built and tested in 1926 a silo filler with an attached hay loader. He would a year later present specifications for a complete forage harvester to the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. The J.I. Case Company built a field machine for Duffee, which he tested and improved until 1936.
“(The invention) significantly reduced the cost and labor to harvest, store and feed forage,” stated the American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
Duffee collaborated with the Saiberlich family, owners of the Fox River Tractor Company in Appleton, Wisconsin. That company had in 1930 been testing a machine to harvest hay and corn silage. The collaboration resulted in a forage harvester with pickup and mower attachments. The machine was ready for market in 1936; sales to farmers steadily increased thereafter. The success of the machine was attributed to the Fox design and the development of the transfer of rotary power to a trailed implement, according to Fox River Tractor.
The land on which Schumacher Farm Park sits was originally owned by Henry Schumacher. He had in 1892 purchased 40 acres east of the village of Waunakee. His daughter, Marcella Schumacher-Pendall, in 1978 donated the farm to become a park. She formed in 1986 “The Friends of Schumacher Farm.” At her death she left the Marcella Schumacher-Pendall Trust to provide for the farm’s basic financial needs. The organization has since annexed another 120 acres for a total of 160 acres, Forbess said.
Jim Ableidinger, the organization’s vice-president, said the land is used to demonstrate the planting and production of small grains – such as oats, wheat and barley – as well as corn and hay. Seed is sourced through UW-Madison; it’s planted with a vintage planter or a Van Brunt grain drill.
One of the organization’s recent accomplishments was completing the Center for Rural History. It involved remodeling a barn to serve as a venue for educational programs as well as receptions. The Friends Schumacher Farm Park hosts a number of educational programs and events throughout the year in celebration of Wisconsin’s agricultural heritage.
Visit schumacherfarmpark.org for more information.