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, softcover.

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 Son.

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.

Cover design and illustrations by Joshua Vossler

1978 father-son collaboration
Photo by Kathleen J. Ness

Related Articles:

Review of the book by Edna Boardman

Not Until the Combine Is Paid and Other Jokes

The price of the book is $14 plus postage and handling for each book.
The price of the CD which includes narration with jokes from the book by Ronald J. Vossler is $12 plus postage and handling for each CD.
The price of the CD when ordered with the book is $10 each.

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Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller