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.

25 thoughts on “Driving Horses

  1. Can you get 2 crops a year where you live? Or are you just sowing for next season? Here the grain is green yet. And we grow just wheat, barley and rye, no maize. Climate is too cold for that.

    1. They only get one crop a year, but they plant Fall wheat in Pennsylvania. The wheat is planted in September and grows about an inch or two tall before winter. Then in the early spring, hay/grass seed (often clover) is spread on the wheat field. The hay will sprout in the growing wheat. The wheat will be harvested in mid- or late-July. After the wheat is harvested, the hay will really start growing–and it will be harvested the following year. (Hay is cut several times over the course of a year.)

  2. Yes, she’s rib-rolling! If I might be so bold, I’ve posted a couple of things about that myself over the last couple of years if you’d like to see how they look 100 years on (and across in England)!…You don’t have to read the articles if they’re not of interest, but there’s a couple of photos. 🙂



    1. Thanks for sharing the links. The posts are wonderful. In some ways it’s surprising how little rollers have changed. One was pulled by horses–the other by a tractor; but they look amazingly similar across the years.

      1. Thank you, I’m glad you liked them! (I did feel a bit cheeky posting my links on someone else’s blog, but it is so rare that I come across anyone who knows about rib-rolls!) Yes, the rolls really do look alike, don’t they? I wonder if they might have gotten heavier over the years? I’ve seen some monstrous ones that are so wide they have to be folded up vertically to travel on roads!

  3. I would have liked doing that when I was your granma’s age. Now,not so much. You need the teenagers to do that. Glad she was philosophical about it.

  4. From about the same era — perhaps 2-4 years later –I have a picture of my Aunt Loise driving a team of horses, following her dad on an really quaint tractor. He was planting dry land grain, and perhaps she was rolling or dragging as was the more common term out west. Thought you might be interested in that tidbit.

    1. Oh, I see now… she was 17… She didn’t seem too distressed about it this year… I felt a maturing in her response to the duty.

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