Farm Electricity Plants a Hundred Years Ago

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

Wednesday, August 5, 1914: Ditto

Source: Kimball's Dairy Farmer Magazine

Caption: The washing of the greasy, smoked lamp chimneys and the dangerous practice of carrying a lantern into the hay mow are done away with. Source: Kimball’s Dairy Farmer Magazine (October, 1914)

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

The previous day Grandma wrote that she, “Forgot what I did today.”

Since nothing was happening in Grandma’s life that merited mention in her diary, and since I’m still fascinated with how technology was changing a hundred years ago, I’m going to go off on another tangent.

In 1914 electricity was widely available in larger towns—though it had not yet come to McEwensville. However, some farmers were beginning to install generators and batteries that could be used to produce electricity.

I don’t really understand how the systems worked, but here’s what an article in the October, 1914 issue of Kimball’s Dairy Farmer Magazine said:

The Farm Electricity Plant

For the operation of the little plant, less skill is required than to run the simplest automobile. It contains a gasoline engine of 1 1/2 horsepower, an electric generator or dynamo, a storage battery of 16 small cells, which can be placed on a shelf 8 inches wide by 5 feet long and a simple switchboard. The generating part weights but 160 pounds.

The cost of lamps and wiring will be about $3 per lamp, more or less, depending on the conditions and grade of materials employed. An estimate of materials and wiring may be obtained from a local electrician or contractor. Or the farmer may buy the materials and do the wiring himself at odd times. This is a simple matter with the aid of a good book on wiring.

Injured While Loading Hay

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

Wednesday, July 22, 1914: I’m feeling awful sore in my lower region. Have a sore nose and two sore front teeth. /Was loading hay this afternoon. While at work on the last load the train rounded the bend. I glanced in that direction. This next moment I was lying on the ground with the breath knocked out of me.

The train that surprised Grandma would have come down these tracks.

The train that surprised Grandma would have come down these tracks.

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


Whew, are you okay? Do you think you should go to a doctor (or a dentist)? It sounds like a bad mishap—and like you‘re very lucky that you weren’t hurt worse.

I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I think that it was a mishap with the rope and pulley system used to lift hay or straw from the wagon, and take it up into the hay mow. There was a huge hook at the end that held the hay that was being lifted. If care wasn’t used (or if the rope broke) hundreds of pounds of hay would fall back onto the wagon. This would jolt the wagon—and could throw a person standing on it.  The falling hay could also potentially hit a worker.


There were train tracks that ran along the edge of the Muffly farm—and the Susquehanna, Bloomsburg, and Berwick Railroad had regularly scheduled passenger trains that used the tracks. I suppose Grandma was surprised by the train—and somehow failed to properly attend to whatever she was supposed to be doing with the pulley system.

For more information about hay pulleys you might enjoy this previous post:

Hay Pulleys and Ropes

You may also enjoy this link to a YouTube video what shows people using the old-fashioned pulley system to unload hay. (Thank you Jim in Iowa for finding this link and sharing it when I did the previous post on this topic.)

CSAs of Yesteryear

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

Thursday, July 9, 1914: Nothing doing.

Source: Vegetable Gardening (1914)

Source: Vegetable Gardening (1914)

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

Since Grandma didn’t write much, I’m going to go off on a tangent. I was surprised to discover that some vegetables were marketed using a method similar to modern CSAs (community support agriculture) a hundred years ago.

H.B. Fullerton, of Long Island, has developed a package which he calls the home hamper. This is filled with a seasonable variety of vegetables and expressed directly to the consumer at stated times as may be agreed on.

This gives the customers the variety of vegetables they may desire and enables them to obtain them fresh. A cut of this hamper is shown in Fig. 58.  A certain priced hamper is usually agreed on for the season or for the year.

Vegetable Gardening (1914) by Samuel B. Green

Had to Carry Hay Rope

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

Friday, June 26, 1914:  Oh, I had to carry the hay rope, while Ruthie led the horse.


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

There is a seasonal ebb and flow to the diary—and generally I really enjoy looking at similar diary entries that were written in different years from a different angle each year. But, I hope that you’ll bear with me because I’m going to repost a post for the third time since it so aptly explains what Grandma was describing in this diary entry.

Hay Pulleys and Ropes

(Previously Posted on June 24, 2011 and November 23, 2013)

A hundred years ago hay was not baled. Instead dried loose hay was brought into the barn on a wagon and then hoisted into the mow using a rope and pulley system.

I called my father to get help figuring out what “carry the hay rope” meant. My father guesses that Grandma was half carrying and half dragging the hay rope to keep the horse from inadvertently stepping on it. Let me explain how they used to get hay from the wagon into the haymows.

(Some of you probably know much more about how hay was made in the old days—and please feel free to jump in if I’m not explaining it quite right.)

Dad said that when he was young there were pulleys on a track that ran down the center of the inside of the barn roof. Depending upon where the farmer wanted to pile the hay the pulleys would be moved along the track. A young man with excellent balance would climb up onto a beam in the barn rafters and move the pulleys along the track as needed.

One end of the rope was attached to a large clamp (hay hook) that was used to pick up a large bunch of loose hay from the wagon.

The rope went then went through the pulley system—and the other end of the rope was attached to a horse. On command the horse walked forward and the pulleys lifted the hay into the mow.

The hay was then released and the rope went limp and a portion of it would fall to the barn floor. The horse would then be walked back to the original position and the process would be repeated.

My father says that when he was a child, the adult men did the heavy work, and the children did the easier jobs. His older sister Marjorie would lead the horse as it pulled the hay upward—and then circle it back to the original position after the hay was released.

And my father would pick up the rope when it fell to the floor after the hay was released and keep it away from the horse’s feet. Dad says that if a horse stepped on the rope it would damage it by breaking some of the strands. Then there would be the risk of the damaged rope breaking, which might result in a dangerous accident if it broke while the hay was being lifted.

Hundred-year-old Advice for Raising Ducks

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

Thursday, June 18, 1914:  Jimmie and I were in the carpenter business this morning. I could pound my fingers, drive nails crooked, and make the boards stick together. The result is to be a home for the duck hatcher (as Jimmie calls her) and her ducks.

Source: Farm Journal (May, 1914)

Source: Farm Journal (May, 1914)

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

I wish that I could see what the pen or small building that Grandma and her eight-year-old brother Jimmie built for the duck and her ducklings looked like. What a fun activity for the two siblings to do together!

I couldn’t find any pictures or information about duck houses, but I did find to two short articles about ducks in 1914 issues of Farm Journal:

A lover of fowls will find duck raising interesting and profitable. The Pekin is the duck most generally reared for market purposes. It is ready for market in a short time. A Pekin duck grows faster than any other fowl, except the goose.

Farm Journal (August, 1914)

The illustration on this page shows a flock of Pekin ducks and a swimming pool. Undoubtedly they are in the height of their glory, for a duck naturally takes to water. While it is possible to keep ducks profitably without bathing water, if the breeders can have access to a pond or creek for several hours a day it will be the means of keeping them in better condition. Unlike a hen, the duck can not scratch, and consequently, does not get the exercise the hen does. But when allowed bathing water it will obtain the needed exercise and thus keep down fat.

Ducklings, however, intended for market, must be deprived of this luxury, or they will not be able to secure the required weight. Baby ducklings, before they grow their feathers, should not be allowed near water, except for drinking purposes, as they are easy prey to cramps (which often means death) when their down becomes water-soaked.

On Long Island, where the business is conducted on the largest scale, those in the breeding pens are allowed in the creek at any time they choose during the day, but at night they are driven into a house where they are kept until late in the morning. This is done so that none of the eggs will be lost, for ducks, as a rule, lay at night.

Farm Journal (May, 1914)

Did Both Men and Women Garden a Hundred Years Ago?

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

Saturday, May 2, 1914: Ditto

Source: Vegetable Gardening (1914)

Source: Vegetable Gardening (1914)

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

Grandma probably was still doing the spring housecleaning. May is also a busy time for gardening. Did the Muffly women take any breaks from the cleaning to plant a few seeds?

Here’s some advice from a book published in 1914 by Samuel B. Green called Vegetable Gardening:

If one were to figure the actual value of vegetables that may be raised on a half-acre plot of garden, it would amount to at least $100—ten or fifteen times what any common field crop on the farm will produce in the same area.

Besides, there is the satisfaction of having vegetables fresh, and of much better quality than can be bought in town or from a neighbor, unless it be a very near neighbor. Vegetables lose their freshness and character when much time elapses between their harvesting and use.

Caring for the garden is a bugbear of many farmers. If properly laid out and managed, the labor required will not be much more than for corn.

The garden should be near the house. It may be that much of the labor of planting and care will fall upon the housewife and children; although this ought not be unless they desire it.

The garden pays well enough to be given proper attend from the men of the house. However, the women will probably prefer to harvest the crop, and perhaps plan the apportionment of the garden space.

Backyard Fences a Hundred Years Ago

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

Wednesday, April 15, 1914: Nothing much doing today.

1914-03-44-aThe picture above shows the simplest variation of an old fence. The boxed in posts are finished with a square board with a ball placed on top of each one for decoration.

Ladies Home Journal (March, 1914)

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

Now that spring is here, I’m taking stock of my yard. It needs work. . . a fence might be nice.

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’ll share some backyard fencing suggestions from the March, 1914 issue of Ladies Home Journal.

1914-03-44-bThis is a good fence if the view beyond is particularly pleasing. and does not, therefore, need to be shut off.

1914-03-44-dIn the fence above the monotony is broken by connecting two fence posts with a trellis on which a pretty hardy shrub can be trained.

1914-03-44-cSome of us possess yards in which plants will not grow. The fence above is a happy solution. Gay boxes of flowers are placed between the posts and ivy or other vines on top.


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