Talking Shop: Farm Shops and Rooms

By: Cody McClain
agriscience education

This month for “Talking Shop,” I am focusing on two historical documents that reflect on shops and rooms for farm shop and agricultural engineering during the early years of agricultural education (1919~1936).

The first document, “Rooms for a Department of Vocational Agriculture,” was published in 1919 by W. F. Stewart and E.F. Johnson, first department chair and assistant professor of the Department of Agricultural Education at Ohio State, respectively. This publication concentrated on the locations, plans, and equipment needs for vocational agriculture programs.

The second publication, “Farm Shop and Agricultural Engineering,” was prepared in 1936 by C.S. Hutchinson, a faculty member in the Department of Agricultural Education at Ohio State. This publication focuses on the objectives, rooms, and equipment needed specifically for farm shop and agricultural engineering courses. Both of these publications show the fundamental beginnings of the agricultural mechanics and engineering in the early years of agricultural education.





Talking Shop: What are we learning today, Mr. Teacher Guy?

Throughout the history of agricultural mechanics in education, students have been asking this question has fast as teachers have been trying to figure what objectives to teach in a vocational agriculture program. Because the scope of farm and homework continued to change with different advancements and technologies (i.e. farm machinery and electricity), agriculture teachers have to revise their curriculum in order to keep up-to-date with society. With endless amount of job opportunities in industry, the skills that students have learned in an Ag Mech course has led them to immediate employment after graduation.

Agricultural education programs have always had a strong involvement in their communities, and as a result, their curricula would change based on community needs. Involving the community into the curriculum is a common practice that exist today. Teachers will create an advisory committee that consist of local industry professionals, school administration, FFA members, and other teachers who will helped design a curriculum that best suit for the students living in their communities This is a valuable practice of connecting industry, community, and education.

When I did my first Early Field Experience in agriscience education at Marysville High School, I had the opportunity to observe first-hand an “Advisory Committee Meeting.” This committee consisted of teachers, school administrations, industry professional, and community members, and they collaborate on designing a curriculum and course sequence met the goals of the students and community. This was an incredible opportunity to see the impact that an agricultural education program can have on students when people come together to better education.

Agricultural Mechanics Curriculum in the 1910s
What did students learn in school in the early 20th century? 

Photo Credits: Garland Armor Bricker, 1912

Agricultural Mechanics Curriculum in the 1930-40s
During and after World War II, there was a demand for farmers to increase food production, yet National Defense slowed down production on farm machinery.  This was a challenge that many farmers weren’t prepared for because they were short laborers, functional farm machinery, and knowledge to upkeep and repair their equipment. Vocational agriculture became a pathway for farmers to meet these demands through the offering of “defense classes” or “farm machinery repair clinics,” which were courses offered to local farmers on metalworking, woodworking, electricity, and machinery repair and maintenance. This is the method of deliver the modern-day practices to farmers. Because the teacher developed a connection with the community through these courses, the teacher had a better opportunity to create his own objectives for teaching farm mechanics. A farm mechanics course in the 1930-40s consisted of classroom learning and field experience that allowed students to practice: 

Photo Credits: The Agricultural Education Magazine, 1942


Source: H.T. Shields, The Agricultural Education Magazine, 1937

Agricultural Mechanics Curriculum in the 1970s
As the 1970s began, career technical education focused curriculum in the areas of vocational education, general education, and college preparatory, which prepared ‘youngsters’ for a wide range of job options. Regardless of a student’s educational pathway, people believed it was still vital for students to learn basic agricultural mechanical skills, especially if they were interested in production agriculture.

How was an Ag Mech curriculum taught in the 1970s? What skills were necessary to teach? Wiley B. Lewis, a PhD graduate from The Ohio State University, Department of Agricultural Education in 1972, conducted his research on “Agricultural mechanics as performed on Ohio farms in comparison with offerings in vocational agriculture.” His researched reveal that students were most successful when they were provided with an individualized instruction and curriculum. At first glance, this would seem to be a challenging task for an Ag teacher; however, this practice was successful when integrating student’s individual curriculum with the department’s curriculum and with the student’s Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects. Individualized instruction became a necessity in teaching agricultural mechanics.

A model representing individualized instruction in agricultural education.

Source: Wiley B. Lewis & T.J. Wakeman, The Agricultural Education Magazine, 1973


Examples of Content Priorities in Agricultural Mechanics Source: C. Don Knotts & Earl S. Wobb, The Agricultural Education Magazine, 1974

Agricultural Mechanics Curriculum in the 2010s
During the first 10 years of the 21st century, agricultural education transitions away from Ag Mech and shift their focus on agrisciences. Nevertheless, the pendulum swung back around and Ag Mech became major corner stone in the curriculum. With the growth of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in education in agricultural education, agricultural mechanics had an incredible opportunity to expand their curriculum. Undoubtedly, STEM has always been major pillars in an Ag Mech curriculum.

In today’s modern world in agricultural education, students are learning applications essential to machinery management, structures, soil and water management, and material handling systems. Students are prepared to understand the theory and practical skills needed on production farms. With the rise in agricultural production, sales, and processing, there is a great demand to train students and adult for careers in mechanic technicians.

This is a following description of the “mechanical principles” course taught today in Ohio’s agricultural education:

Students will engage in the mechanical principles utilized in animal and plant production systems. They will learn electrical theory, design, wiring, hydraulic and pneumatic theory, along with metallurgy in relation to hot and cold metals.  Students will apply knowledge of sheet metal fabrication applicable to the agricultural industry along with identify, diagnose, and maintain small air-cooled engines. Throughout the course, students will learn critical components of site and personal safety as well as communication and leadership skills (Ohio Department of Education).

Kids love to weld! Students who want to pursue careers in mechanical principles take multiple courses in order to have skills to enter the workforce. Welding, for example, students have to complete a basic welding course that prepares students in SMAW (stick), Oxyfuel, and MIG and learn to cut metal with Oxy-acetylene and plasma cutter. Once they learn the basic skills, they take advance courses in metal fabrication where they explore concepts like the different variables affecting welding, American Welding Specifications, and the chemistry of metals at a deeper level.

Myself teaching FFA members and pre-service teachers GMAW welding at Ohio FFA Convention

What does the future hold?
The United States is facing large skilled labor shortages, and we are needing people to enter careers in welding, construction, electrical, and much more. The American Welding Society predicts that the industry will need 290,000 people to fill welding job positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor projects that there will be 50,000 new jobs in diesel mechanics. Society will soon be facing the reality that there won’t be enough people to be service technicians for dealerships and welders for manufacturing.

With that, agricultural education is one piece of the puzzle in solving these problems by continuing to teach agricultural mechanics and ‘farm shop’ in their curriculum. Agricultural education is more than capable in preparing secondary education students with the essential knowledge and skills to be career ready and successful in the real world.

Talking Shop: The Growing Need for Farm Mechanics in the Early Years of Agricultural Education

Before the 1900s, the repairs and maintenance of farm equipment were quite simple. The engineering of farm equipment did not have the complexity of modern day farm equipment, which made servicing an easier task. The early 1900s was a time when homesteads and farms used candles for lighting, small plows for tilling, manual labor for planting, and a sickle for harvesting. There were a few schools teaching vocational subjects, where young boys learned mechanical work and young girls’ learned homemaking. According to Willard Wolf (1969), 50 of the 225 township schools in the state of Ohio in 1908 were offering agricultural education as part of their science courses. Communities recognize the need to teach youth the basics of agricultural sciences. The passing of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 helped agricultural education gain its momentum in the 1920s. This act provided more funding for high school instruction in agricultural sciences.  

What agricultural sciences did vocational education programs teach? Agricultural education experienced rapid change with the increasing adoption of the tractor.  Mechanical work on the farm shifted from simple tools like plows and rakes to tractors and electricity. Because of this modernization, everyday tasks on the farm in the 1920s changed dramatically.  Farmers in the 1920s transitioned to overhauling an engine, repairing worn mechanical parts, and wiring the farm shop. Modern day farming in the 1920s allowed farm machinery to reduce labor cost, increase food production, and improve farm management practices. Mechanization changed the job description of a farmer. Farmers became more than just producers; they became a farm mechanics. Because of the growth in mechanization and production agriculture, the industry faced the challenge of not having farmers who were mechanically skilled. This led to teaching more farm mechanics in Vocational Agriculture Programs. 

FFA Members Learning about Electrical Circuits (Photo Credits: Ohio FFA Archives)

With farm mechanics and shop experiencing this major shift, there was a concern with whether or not teachers were teaching skills that match the demands of farmers and industry. A.C. Kennedy, a graduate of the Department of Agricultural Education at The Ohio State University with a master’s degree 1926, explored this inquiry by performing a study on the needs for training in farm mechanics in Ohio. This study was vital to developing effective instruction in farm mechanics. Kennedy studied the following problems: 

  1. What kinds of mechanical jobs do farmers perform? 
  1. What is the ratio of the amount of construction and repair work done? 
  1. What, in the opinion of the farmer, is the relative importance of the difference phases of mechanical work done on the average farm? 
  1. Would farmers do a greater variety of jobs if they were trained to do them? 

By the 1920s, people were wiring their homes, using tractors to plow and plant their fields, and combines to harvest their crop. The classic blacksmithing, harness making, and carpentry work were skills that vanished quickly because of mechanization and modern technology. This change generated a need to train young farmers the necessary skills to maintain and operate an efficient farm. Kennedy studied this need and found that new construction in woodwork, farm machinery repair, harness repair, and painting were the most important tasks performed on the farm.  Consequently, vocational agriculture education taught these skills more effectively.  

A Study of the Needs for Training in Farm Mechanics in Ohio” by A.C. Kennedy. This map shows by countries, the location of the farms where the Farm Mechanics Surveys were taken.

It was easy to convince farmers and young boys to participate in farm shop programs because young farmers took pride in their mechanical skills, were eager to get their hands dirty and learn new technologies. Farmers saw farm construction and woodworking jobs for livestock, crops, gardening, shop, and household appliances as the most important job task for young farmers to prepared for. They also needed to learn metalworking, farm machinery repair, concrete work, painting, plumbing, tool sharpening, rope work, and harness repair. Along with the traditional farm mechanics, farmers wanted to install modern conveniences like electricity, water system, sewage disposal system, hot water, and heating plant. Kennedy studied determined that farmers were interested installing these modern day conveniences, but they did not know how to do the work themselves. Even though agricultural education was on the rise, there was an uncertain with what teachers should be teaching in the classroom. Indeed, they knew that teaching farm mechanics and business management was a vital skill that these young farmers needed to know. 

Agriculture Teacher providing instruction on the farm tractor (Photo Credits: Ohio FFA Archives)


Students Learning about Machine Maintenance (Photo Credits: Ohio FFA Archive)


Agriscience education student Cody McClain researched and compiled the information in this post.

This post is part of a series on our blog. To read all of the posts on the history of agricultural mechanics throughout the last 100 years, visit our archives.


Talking Shop: Agricultural mechanics throughout 100 years

We’re starting a new series on our blog, which will be shared on the second Tuesday of each month. The posts for “Talking Shop“, written by Cody McClain, a junior in agriscience education, will discuss the history of farm shop and farm mechanics as related to the history of the Department and the agricultural education profession.

In the Department, we’re celebrating 100 years of cultivating educators, communicators and leaders. Cody has led much of the historical research for our celebration and we can’t wait to share information, facts and photos from our first 100 years!

Take a minute and get to know Cody, then come back to check out our first post!

I’m Cody McClain, and a student at The Ohio State University studying agriscience education. Since I was in the fifth grade, I aimed to be a high school math teacher, but my final experiences in an agricultural education program inspired me to pursue a career in teaching agriculture.

My passion for agriculture stems from a deep pride of being raised on a grain farm in Wyandot County, where I learned the joys and discomforts of agriculture life and developed a passion for agriculture. The experiences of growing and harvesting corn and soybeans, scouting fields for weeds, servicing tractors and plows, and much more farming task have cultivated my passion for the agricultural industry and most importantly, I have a passion for agricultural education.

By studying agriscience education at Ohio State, I have had the opportunity to discover and deepen my interest and skills in learning and teaching science, math, and technical knowledge in agriculture. Taking a small engines course at Ohio State ATI sparked my interest studying agricultural mechanics and technology and preparing myself to teach this subject.

People and passion have guided my purpose in pursuing a career in agricultural education, and my career goal is focused on making a difference in students’ lives through education. I am looking forward to teaching and sharing my passion for agricultural mechanics and technology and provide them with opportunities for successful futures.

As a student in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership (ACEL), I have had opportunity to research and organize the history of department and agricultural education for the centennial celebration. Along with the departmental research, I have focused on researching the history of farm shop and mechanics in agricultural education. Agricultural mechanics has rich history of traditions, challenges, and advancements, which have impacted the futures of young agriculturist and improved farming practices for many community farmers.


McClain instructs students in a small engines lesson during his early field experience.

This post is the first in a series on our blog. To read all of the posts on the history of agricultural mechanics throughout the last 100 years, visit our archives.