A weekend in the West Wing

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Not since my first visit to the Pennsylvania Farm Show in 1986 have I been so bewilderingly, so absolutely, so undeniably lost.

I traveled to the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Ky., last week with Farm and Dairy advertising representative Billie Sekely. It’s a huge show. Huge. We’re talking 88 acres under roof. One million square feet of exhibit space. Wear your tennies and take your two-way radios or you’ll never find the person you came with.

Wandering in wonderment. It was my first visit; Billie’s fourth. I’m lucky I’m not still wandering around in the West Wing meeting hall, a series of little rooms and hallways that look identical and filled with doors that just go back into another part of the West Wing meeting hall.

I couldn’t tell you how to get to the West Wing meeting hall, but I can tell you that I went ’round and around in circles before I could find my way out.

I wasn’t the only one. I actually saw one man reach for a tiny compass pinned to his jacket, as he tried to figure out which way was which.

Billie patiently showed me each of the buildings the first afternoon. She introduced me to several of her account reps at equipment displays in the different buildings and jokingly told them to point me in the right direction if I looked lost the next day.

I tried to sneak past when they weren’t looking. It didn’t always work.

“Need help, Susan?” called Jim Dixon, a rep with H&S Manufacturing, after he spied me pass his booth for the fifth time in 15 minutes.

“No, thanks,” I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.

I dodged behind the grain bins in the exhibit across from him on the next pass.

GPS tracking cows. I scurried past the University of Kentucky exhibit with the GPS tracking collar on a life-sized cow for the seventh time, then stopped to actually look at it. They’ve started a replicated experiment to track exactly where cows go out on pasture, in three paddocks with different water sources.

A map is covered with tiny dots that pinpoint exactly where the cows wander when you’re not watching them.

Out West, the researcher tells me, they’re actually experimenting with an “invisible fence” concept on public grazing lands, with livestock fitted with these collars that control where they go. Interesting.

MasterCard or Visa? Forget the Mall of America in Minnesota, the real bucks get spent in Louisville (natives kind of pronounce it like “Lowellville,” which we all know is really in Mahoning County, Ohio). They were standing three deep at several of the collectible model farm equipment booths. The stands selling antique tractor tin signs couldn’t fill their orders fast enough and the Carhartt “store” was filled with bargain hunters.

And that was just the “little stuff.” I overheard more than one person on a cell phone conferring with other decision-makers back at the farm, “They’ve got a deal going on…”

I admit I was a little concerned with the beer sales at the show and how that affected purchasing decisions. (Gee, honey, guess what I bought at the show today!)

I’m looking forward to going back. It’s worth the trip. Just don’t get stuck in the West Wing.

But it’s better than 1986. The only thing I saw at the Pennsylvania Farm Show that year were the chickens.

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