Hauling Milk Over to the Spring for Storage

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

Monday, May 20, 1913:  Ruthie and me a nice little wooden wagon in which to haul milk over to the spring, and this would save us from breaking our backs for that can of milk is almost a dead weight.

milk can (photo source: Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site)
Milk Can (Photo Source: Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site)

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

Grandma’s family had several milk cows. The milk from the cows was put into large cans. The cans filled with milk were then stored for a day or two until it was sold to a dairy or made into butter.

Spring houses were used in the days before electric refrigeration to keep the milk cold. A small building was built over a spring, and the milk cans were placed in the cool water that flowed through the building.

an example of a spring house (This spring house is not on the Muffly farm.) (Source: Wikipedia)
An Example of a Spring House (This spring house is not on the Muffly farm.) (Source: Wikipedia)

I’d have demanded a cart, too. Milk cans filled with milk were heavy. I don’t know where the spring house was located, but it probably was some distance away from the barn.

Did Grandma’s mother take the suggestion seriously—or did the request go in one ear and out the other?

Flowering Shrubs a Hundred Years Ago

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

Friday, May 9, 1913:  The weather has quite suddenly changed and it is very cold.  That’s all I have to write about.


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

Brrr—cold weather in May is no fun. But even cold days are almost tolerable when I see all of the beautiful flowers and flowering shrubs erupting into bloom. .

Today, I’m going to share pictures of flowering scrubs that were in the April 1913 issue of Ladies Home Journal.  Some of the plants are still popular today—others I don’t recognize or seldom see anymore.

Weigela Rosea
Weigela Rosea
Tatarian Honeysuckle
Tatarian Honeysuckle


White Lilac
White Lilac
Kerria Japonica
Kerria Japonica



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

Monday, November 18, 1912:  I’m half way out of something that I worried about before school started, and that was that I was afraid I’d have to miss school when Pa had his threshing done. They started today and well I went to school today, too. So glad I don’t have to miss, that would be too bad for me.

Picture of an antique threshing machine demonstration (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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

In the days before combines, threshing machines separated wheat (and other small grains)  from the straw.  Huge steam-operated threshing machines went from farm to farm. It took lots of labor to operate them —and the men who came to help expected a big meal.

I’m amazed that Grandma had worried about the possibility of missing school for months. (I think that I might have looked forward to missing school when the threshers came, rather than dreading the possibility). In any case, I’m glad Grandma didn’t have to stay home and help with the cooking, serving, and cleaning up if she didn’t want to.

The wheat would have been cut in late July and put into sheaves to dry for a while before it was threshed. I’m surprised how late in the year it was threshed. The previous year, it was done on September 13.

Here’s a YouTube video that shows a demonstration of how wheat was threshed years ago.

What is the Difference Between Butternuts and Black Walnuts?

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

Saturday, September 28, 1912:  Mater went to a sale today. I got busy this afternoon and went for to gather some butternuts. Was rewarded by getting almost a bushel, any way it was dreadful heavy to carry, but I got them home at last.

Butternut (Photo source: Wikipedia)

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

I never heard of butternuts until I read this diary. What are they?  What does a butternut tree look like? Are there still any butternut trees around?

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources:

Butternut: Also known as White Walnut, this relative of Black Walnut is slower growing and much less frequently encountered than its well-known cousin. Butternut prefers moist bottomlands and ravines like Black Walnut, but its lightweight wood is beige-pink in color and is not nearly as sought-out for making veneer and furniture. Its kernel within the fruit gives it the common name of Butternut, as it is sweet and very oily.

Butternut trees have oval nuts; black walnuts have round nuts.

I now realize that maybe I can’t tell the difference between butternut and black walnut trees—and that I’ll need to look more carefully the next time I see a walnut tree to figure out which type it is.

An aside—

Last week-end my husband and I gathered black walnuts. We hulled them and set them out to dry. I can hardly wait until they are dry enough to crack and use. I absolutely love their wonderful complex, sharp, rich, nutty taste in cakes and cookies.

Here are the links to the posts I wrote last year about black walnuts:

Hulling Black Walnuts

How to Crack Black Walnuts

Old-time Black Walnut Cake Recipe 

Driving Horses

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

Friday, August 2, 1912:  Had to does some work today, but I guess anyone would get tired of playing all the time. Was out helping in the field this afternoon.

Horse-drawn roller. (Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, German Federal Archives)

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

I think that I know what Grandma was doing in the fields She was probably leading horses that were pulling a roller over a recently plowed field. It probably was a field from which oats had been harvested in July.

The field would have been plowed, and a roller was smoothing the soil, so that wheat could be planted in September. Back then farmers typically followed a four-year crop rotation: corn, oats, wheat, hay.

How do I know what Grandma was doing?

Farm work varies by season—corn is planted in the spring, wheat and oats are harvested in July, and so on.

Amazingly exactly one-year prior to this diary entry on August 2, 1911 Grandma wrote about driving horse through the dust of a plowed field. That post is repeated below:

Grandma wrote:

Wednesday, August 2, 1911: Took lessons in driving, but even though I would like to learn to drive, I did not like that kind of lesson for the horses were old and slow, and I had to drive them in the field behind choking clouds of dust.

My Comments

I read this entry to my father and asked him what Grandma was doing. He says that she probably was using a roller on a plowed field. The roller would level the plowed earth in preparation for planting winter wheat seeds.

The horses would have been hitched to the roller and Grandma would have needed to tighten one rein or the other to make the horses go in a straight line.

I can almost picture the clouds of dust stirred up by the roller swirling around Grandma as she drove the horses.

Why Do Cows Kick?

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

Wednesday, July 3, 1912:  Did the same things today as I usually do on other days. Got so mad at a cow who took a notion to run over the whole creation.

Advertisement in June 30, 1911 Issue of Farm Implement Magazine

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

Sounds like Grandma again was having problems with a cow escaping from the pasture. Grandma also occasionally had  to deal with other cow behavior problems. For example, on March 31, 1911 she wrote:

I got kicked today, and it was such a violent one that it caused me to land on my back. It was by a modest cow, who happened to kick me and the bucket at the same time. I guess I was as much surprised as she was.

Here’s an abridged version of what a 1908 book called The Farm Dairy by H.B. Gurler had to say about cows that kick:

Find the Cause of a Cow’s Kicking.—When a cow kicks, the first thing the milker should do is look for the cause. Do not fly into a rage and scold the cow, but remember that the cow must have had cause for the kicking. You may think the cause was not sufficient, especially if she hit you where it hurt, as she probably did for cows have a facility for doing that.

When a cow kicks she is either frightened or hurt, and if she is frightened and kicked you it is strong circumstantial evidence that you have at some time hurt her and she is afraid that you are going to hurt her again, and she feels that her safety depends on her ability to defend herself.

Sometimes cows are hurt. For example, the cause for one cow that kicked was a pond of water in the pasture in which the cow stood fighting flies, getting her teats wet, and causing them to chap, but not so deeply that the milker discovered it until the healing process had commenced. A few applications of linseed oil on the teats remedied the trouble.

There is always a cause for a cow’s kicking and it is not to our credit not to be able to find it.

Milk and Cream: How Rich was the Milk?

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

Tuesday, July 2, 1912:  Ruth tried to deceive me this morning about the quantity and richness of Mollie’s milk. I had saved some last evening to see how rich it was, and Rufus dumped nearly all of it out and filled it up with cream. Wasn’t she mean?

Photo source: The Farm Dairy (1908) by H. B. Gurler

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

Hmm—I grew up on a dairy farm and I barely understand this diary entry, but I’ll give a whirl at trying to explain it.

Each of the Muffly children apparently had their own cow—and Mollie was Grandma’s cow.

Milk that has not been homogenized separates after sitting for awhile. The cream floats on top of the skim milk.

Cream is worth more than skim milk because it can be used to make butter.

Cows vary in the ratio of cream to milk that they produce. And, cows that produce lots of cream were considered more valuable.

Here’s a quote from a 1908 book about the importance of having cows that produce a lot of cream (butter-fat).

A cow that produces less than 200 lbs. of butter per year should not be kept in the herd, and the 200-lb. cow should only be retained in such a time as is necessary to secure a better one. No one will become rich milking 200-lb. cows.

You can afford to pay $130 for a cow that will make 250 lbs. of butter yearly as to pay $30 for a cow that will only produce butter-fat to make 200 lbs. of butter.

The Farm Dairy  by H.B. Gurler

Grandma probably wanted to know if her cow Mollie was a profitable cow. Her sister Ruth (also called Rufus in this entry) apparently decided to tease her—by making it look as if Mollie was an exceptional cow who produced almost all cream.