Road Not Yet “Broken” After the Snow Storm

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, February 15, 1914:  Didn’t get to Sunday School this morning as the road is not much broken. Felt quite vexed about it as I didn’t want to miss more than what I could possibly help.

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Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

The road must still be impassable due to the snowstorm that Grandma wrote about the previous day:

. . . the roads were rendered impassable from the snow storm. The snow lies 18 in. deep on the ground.

What does “the road is not much broken” mean? If I had to take a guess, I’d guess that not many horses had traveled over it yet—so the snow was not tramped down (broken); but I’m not really sure.

31 Responses

  1. No valentine and now no Sunday School? It must have been quite the storm.

  2. Curious expression.

  3. Broken refers to a couple of methods used. A person “breaks a path” through the snow and with each successive pass of other people in the path in either direction it becomes easier to traverse. Laura Ingalls Wilder mentions it occasionally; when the character Laura teaches school for the first time, she faces a dilemma of having a few students arriving late one morning because they lived far away and had to trudge through new snow. “Breaking a path is hard, I know,” she tells them…but she marks them tardy anyway, because she fears what might happen if she does not stick to the rules and/or is perceived as dishonest. (These Happy Golden Years, chapter 3, “One Week”)

    The other meaning, which is most likely to what Helena refers, is using the snow roller. The snow roller is a very large barrel-shaped contraption that is drawn by a team of horses or other draft animals to smooth the snow-covered surface of the road. (A modern equivalent would be the steamroller used to smooth out newly applied asphalt on streets and highways.) Towns often used snow rollers to create a hard-packed surface for easier travel with all vehicles. Ideally, in winter, anyone who had access would opt to use a sled. You can’t take a buggy or a wagon through much snow; just like with cars and trucks of today, the wheels would get stuck almost immediately. Thus, the snow requires either a sled of some kind or the use of a snow roller. The deeper the snow the longer it takes to get the paths in use able condition…much like the snow plows on the roads today. A snowfall of 18″ would take a long time to smooth with the snow roller and would be extremely difficult to break through on foot for any distance.

    • Thanks, Melanie for sharing all of this wonderful information. It does sounds like it would have been a really slow process to get the roads into usable condition.

  4. Probably not related, but farmers “break” (plow) the land in the spring to prepare it for planting.

  5. Her weather sounds pretty much like what’s happening today!

  6. r I lived, the road was broken open when the snow plow went through.

  7. I think you’re right on your interpretation of broken!

  8. An no modern equipment to clear a road with!!

  9. I really like the way she expresses the day “as the road is not much broken. Felt quite vexed about it as I didn’t want to miss more than what I could possibly help.” It is a delightful way to express the road being ‘closed’ but I most liked her concern about missing more…

  10. I wonder if she is eager to get to Sunday school because of the Valentine she missed earlier in the week – maybe the sender will be there.

  11. Having 20+ inches of snow the other day her in WV, I understand that concept.
    Oscar

  12. It’s so weird to be sharing the same experience with snow clogged roads 100 years later! I’m sure “not broken” means not cleared yet. And she must be going stir crazy.

  13. I also wondered if the reason Miss Muffly did not want to miss Sunday school was because of a “love” interest there… ;-)

  14. interesting information on the snow roller…

  15. I love the language. “Not quite broken” and “vexed.” By the way, I hope you are keeping a diary for your granddaughter to enjoy.

    • I keep telling myself that I should keep a diary, but somehow I never do. Sometimes I think that I won’t have enough interesting things to write in it–thank goodness my grandmother forged ahead with her diary even though there were days when she wrote–“Nothing much happened.”

  16. I agree. I’m glad your grandmother forged ahead. For my own sake, I wish I had kept a diary or journal. One of those things I recommend for others, but never did myself — excuse, too busy. But now I’m sorry.

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