Not Until the Combine is Paid and Other Jokes: From
the Oral Traditions of the Germans from Russia in the Dakotas
By Ronald J. Vossler
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University
Libraries, Fargo, 2001, illustrations by Joshua Vossler, 97 pages,
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection is pleased to announce
the publication of the new book, Not Until the Combine is Paid
and Other Jokes: From the Oral Traditions of the Germans from Russia
in the Dakotas, by Ronald J. Vossler, freelance writer.
As the author indicates, the book grew out of a 1998-1999 Larry
Remele Fellowship that he received from the North Dakota Humanities
Council, a fellowship that focused on the humor of the Germans from
Russia. Much, if not all, of this material came from short anecdotes,
stories, and jokes jotted down by the author, over the past decades,
in what is an attempt to record what remains of this fast-disappearing
oral traditions of one of North Dakota's unique ethnic groups.
This book of some seventy-five jokes and short anecdotes also includes
the author's introduction, as well as cover art, and illustrations
by the author's son, Joshua Vossler. Almost all of the jokes are
in English, though German punch lines and translations are also
provided in many cases. Also included are full German and English
texts of the title-joke, "Not Until the Combine Is Paid,"
which, as the author indicates is his introduction, resembles an
earlier German dialect form of the Biblical parable of the Prodigal
There appear to be many sources for this humor, both modern and
not so modern jokes that reflect the history of the Germans from
Russia in the Dakotas. The setting for this material invariably
is the prairie, the small towns and farms of the central Dakotas
where the members of this ethnic group originally settled between
1884-1914. The joke titles clearly show that the themes are those
near and dear to the humorous heart of this ethnic group.
There are jokes about rock hauling ("How to Pick Rocks Fast");
the misunderstandings of words, like the farmer who is told by the
eye doctor that he has "cattle-racks"; and jokes about
farm animals ("No Pigs Have Died Yet"). The often-irreverent
material tells of a different time and different place - the prairie
frontier, where the rough humor reflects the hard lives of the people
who settled it.
Vossler writes: "The first pioneers, the Germans from Russia
farmers, left few, if any, direct records, like diaries and the
like, of their settling the Dakotas. That is at least one reason
why this material may have additional importance. Constituting the
literature of a distinct people, and revelatory of long-hidden attitudes
and struggles, these jokes point towards a deep ethnic culture."
"My hope is that readers will not only laugh, or at least
smile, at some of these, but that they also come away from this
small collection with a better sense of the Germans from Russia,
and their descendants. Someone once told me that members of this
ethnic group had both a hard nature, and a strong faith in God.
To those two attributes, I hope readers of this collection might
add one more attribute - the strength of laughter."
of the book by Edna Boardman