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Farm Tech, Day 1: 'It doesn't get much better'

Merrick Ward is all smiles while he sits with his father, Mitchell, aboard a tractor Tuesday at Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. They are from River Falls. Chad Richardson photo.1 / 4
Farm Tech opening day New Richmond Airport manager Mike Demulling said he's been following plans for Wisconsin Farm Technology Days and keeping an eye on web site and had seen lots of ground-level photos published but not nothing yet from the air. Demulling snapped this frame about 11:45 a.m., Tuesday. Traffic appeared to be moving smoothly through the area and all appeared "extremely well-organized" from above, with parking lines perfectly straight. Organizers used a GPS-controlled c...2 / 4
John Nicolai of Hampton, Minn., snaps a photo of his brother, Leo, on their uncle's Oliver 1800, one of more than 200 antique tractors on display at the otherwise modern Farm Technology Days near River Falls. The show runs through Thursday. Don Davis photo.3 / 4
Dan Boettcher, left, and his son Joel look over a John Deere combine. The pair are from Fairchild, Wis. "We were going to hotwire it and steal it," Joel joked about the combine. Chad Richardson photo.4 / 4

The first day of Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in River Falls came and went seamlessly, save for some long traffic backups and early anxiety by hundreds of volunteers, trying to make good impressions.

State troopers, deputies and local police were out in force by 6 a.m., shepherding motorists and shuttle buses.

At 9:30 a.m. traffic on westbound Hwy. 29 was stop-and-go from the show grounds all the way into River Falls - about two miles - but the bottleneck cleared quickly. The show grounds remain open until 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and 4 p.m. Thursday. Gates open at 8 a.m. daily.

River Falls police reported no major problems with traffic through mid-afternoon, Tuesday.

There was some congestion and delay on Cemetery Road and at the intersection with South Main Street between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., but adjustments to speed-up parking at the FTD site are planned for Wednesday, according to Police Chief Roger Leque.

Radio traffic indicated local EMS personnel treated or transported three people from the exhibition grounds through the day, but one official said none appear to be life-threatening.

Greg Andrews, the show's executive secretary, confirmed a traffic bottleneck on Cemetery Road across the south end of River Falls, early in the day but officials were going to try bringing in two lanes at a time to the lots off County Road E on Wednesday to accelerate the process.

Andrews encouraged visitors planning to attend Wednesday or Thursday to consider traveling Hwy. 10 to County Road E via Ellsworth or Prescott. Hwy. 35 seemed to be the route-of-choice for Tuesday's attendees.

No attendance figures were available as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, but Andrews said he was told "we exceeded Day 1 expectations for gate." Committee members were to gather for a debriefing at 6 p.m. during which admissions co-chair Ann Webb would likely provide a rough figure.

Grounds co-chair Terry Kusilek said things flowed smoothly from his crews' observation. They cruised the perimeter mid-afternoon in search of a reported downed fence, but it had already been repaired, he said.

While Pierce County Board Chairman Paul Barkla sent an invitation to the White House earlier this year, the only confirmed "dignitaries" to visit Tuesday were interim chancellor UW-Extension Marv Van Kekerix, who took office three weeks ago, UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen, and AgStar Financial Services CEO Paul DeBriyn, who presented youth activity organizers with a $10,000 check.

Food services were "superior", said Andrews, "with little or no waiting anywhere."

And the "Taste of Pierce County" appeared to be a big hit. The Taste is a collection of 10 area vendors offering various homemade candies to Asian noodles, cooked to order. Some vendors reportedly ran out of ingredients but were scrambling to restock for Wednesday.

Officials from Prom Catering Inc., the Oakdale, Minn., business contracted to provide food for thousands, told Foods Committee co-chair Heather Johnson that volunteers "were the best we've ever worked with. If we could package them up and take them along, we would."

As for the weather, Andrews gave this verdict: "I'm sitting here on bench and there's a little breeze coming up. It doesn't get much better than this."

The FTD exhibition continues through 4 p.m., Thursday.

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.