Station: [2] The Mechanic's Workshop

In the 19th century, an oil mill owned by the Zindel and Gasser families stood on the site of the present workshop. In 1837, the families had dug a mill race – a channel to the village stream, so the oil mill could be powered by a water wheel. In 1889, a millwright called Kiebele acquired the property and entirely rebuilt it. However, two years later, he ran into financial problems, and the new building had to be sold at auction. An innkeeper from Röhrenbach purchased the building, but seven years later, it burnt to the ground.

And yet that fire marked the beginning of a success story. The first Karl Widmer, a carpenter, acquired the site for his son and came up with plans for a new building that included a mechanic's workshop. A mill wheel powered the new machines. The second Karl Widmer repaired all kinds of agricultural machinery right here in this building. Demand was high; the workshop benefited from the heyday of mechanisation and steadily expanded. It reached its present size in 1919, after twice being extended. At that point – after the end of the First World War – the third Karl Widmer joined the business. Having been born in 1901, he trained as a mechanic with his father and then spent his entire working life in this workshop.

The Widmers responded very cannily to all the needs of farming as it then was. As early as 1902, Karl Widmer the younger acquired a threshing machine, which he powered with a mobile steam boiler. He travelled throughout the region threshing grain.

Later, the Widmers, father and son, mounted small Fichtel & Sachs motors on horse-drawn mowing machines to drive the cutter bars. They converted old cars into mobile sprayers to be used on fruit trees. The conversion consisted of simply removing the chassis and installing an intermediate transmission. A V-belt drove a pump, which pumped the spray mixture from a wooden barrel mounted on top. The fruit trees, which were up to six metres or 20 feet tall, were then sprayed against pests using pressure hoses.

What a relief that must have been, compared to walking up and down the orchards carrying the heavy backpack sprayers that had previously been common.

The cooperation between the Widmers, father and son, was unique: with their inventiveness, their developments and their ideas, they tackled the hard physical labour involved in farming and made it easier. They always came up with solutions and were always able to satisfy their customers’ demands.

That held true until the 1990s. This workshop reflects the beginning, the heyday and also the decline of mechanisation. As long as machines could be repaired and manufactured with inventiveness, experience and precision, the tinkerers found solutions to any issues that arose. It was only with the spread of electronics and digitalisation that the knowledge and skills maintained here lost their significance.

To illustrate the point, just glance at the machines in the workshop and also look up at the ceiling. Note how the drives of all the machines converge without interfering with each other, how drive belts run over pulleys, and gear wheels mesh with each other – you can immediately see why the workshop is now called the "Tinkerers’ Museum".

All depictions: © Gemeinde Fricklingen