The department of Agricultural Engineering Technology had its beginnings in the Division of Agricultural Education, which had been authorized by the Board of Regents in 1912. As noted in a college bulletin from 1944-45, “The work in agricultural engineering is conducted in an up-to-date building.” The curriculum was largely focused on repair and operation of farm equipment, carpentry, and mechanical and architectural drawing.
After 1957, training in Agricultural Engineering and Industrial Arts began to be available as a program outside of the Division of Agricultural Education. The college bulletin from 1958-60 listed the program within the Division of Agriculture and noted that the program’s faculty members were Thorvald Thoreson, Marvin Thompson and Russell Gerber. By the mid 1960’s the faculty had expanded to include Gerhardt Bohn, T. Luepke, and Z. Smolarek. Marvin Thompson remained with the parent department, Agricultural Education.
The department facilities were initially in the Industrial Arts Building, which stood in the area immediately to the north of the present Ag Science Building. In 1966 the Agriculture Science Building was completed with a connected wing for the Agricultural Engineering facilities on its southwest end. Later the wing was enlarged to include restrooms, locker rooms and a metals lab. In 1979, an extension to this wing was added to replace the demolished Industrial Arts Building. The Agricultural Engineering Annex now contains seven laboratories, one classroom, and offices for the department faculty and the Farm Director.
The curriculum has undergone many changes over the years. Originally the program served the Agricultural Education department’s teacher training program almost exclusively. The name of the department and its academic major were changed to Agricultural Engineering Technology in 1966. Since that time the program and its curriculum have been nationally accredited by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE). In 1994 the University of Wisconsin System approved an option in Environmental Engineering Technology in the Agricultural Engineering major. An option in Mechanized Systems Management was approved by the University of Wisconsin System in 1999.
A department newsletter published in 1989 stated that students entering the program need not have a farm background, although they should be interested in “making the theory practical.” The mission of the program was further described as being related to “the development of more efficient and profitable equipment to supply better food and fiber products to the world.”
During the 1980’s several new engineering courses were introduced, including Plastics Technology (taught by Russell Gerber); Solar Energy, Alcohol and Methane Fuel Production (taught by Charles Jones); Irrigation and Drainage (taught by Robert Butler); the Application and Use of Computers, and Electronic Measuring and Surveying Applications (taught by Jerome Nechville). Also in the 1980’s the department began teaching Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) and Design. This was facilitated by the addition of a computer laboratory and a Pen Plotter. The latter was also connected to the campus VAX computer.
In 1984 Russell Gerber spent three months in Saudi Arabia writing technical modules for the Saudi Technical Development Program. Upon his return Gerber assumed the roles of President of the Northwest Wisconsin Industrial Technical Education Association and became President-elect of the American Council of Industrial Arts State Association Officers. His outside activities were diverse and numerous, and included affiliations with the River Falls chamber of Commerce, the Lions Club, and the St Croix Squadron of the Civil air Patrol, where he was a Captain and the Squadron Commander. Dr. Gerber retired from the university in 1989 after 36 years of service. The department was not permitted to fill his position due to a downward trend in student enrollment. His classroom assignments were redistributed to Charles Jones, Bob Butler, and Jerry Nechville.
For many years the activities of the Department have been enhanced by an active student group, The Agricultural Mechanization Club, which helps with sponsored scholarships and has also conducted small building projects including a sign board in front of the Ag-Science Building, which is used for posting news and events for all student organizations in the College. One of the more enduring activities of the Ag Mech Club has been sponsorship of the annual Rubber Band Tractor Pull for high school students in conjunction with the annual Agricultural Technology Contest. In the late 1980’s the club built a hog roaster from a 250 gallon oil drum. It was considered unique because the chain drive and electric motor were connected to a variable drive transmission, which produced rotational speeds from 0 rpm to “very fast.” This roaster was very popular with numerous student groups which were able to rent it for cookouts for a nominal fee. The club also provided annual tune-ups for lawn mowers and snow removing equipment as fund raising activities.