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bushel / peck

Bushel. A dry measure, containing four pecks, eight gallons, or thirty-two quarts. — Webster, 1882

Peck. The fourth part of a bushel; a dry measure of eight quarts; as, a peck of wheat or oats. — Webster, 1882

R.B. Hannah tells of the popularity of the practice of grinding wheat in coffee mills for breakfast food, explaining that in his home in Esmond a bushel of wheat lasted almost a year for breakfasts. — The De Smet Leader, December 13, 1884

Since a bushel is a dry measure, a “bushel” of something can be carried or stored in a box, basket, sack, bag, or bucket that will hold eight gallons. The container may be tall and thin or short and fat, and still hold the required amount. Diameter and height of typical bushel and half-bushel baskets are shown at right.

What did the sixty bushels of wheat that Almanzo and Cap hauled in The Long Winter look like? In The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that Cap Garland and Almanzo Wilder hauled sixty bushels of wheat from where a farmer was storing it (for seed) twenty miles from De Smet. She told how much that wheat weighed when she wrote that Pa paid for a 2 bushel sack of it, and Almanzo noticed that Pa didn’t swing it up on his shoulder like a man normally would. “A man doesn’t like to admit that he couldn’t lift 125 pounds.” (The Long Winter, Chapter 29, “The Last Mile”) So the wheat weighed 62.5 pounds per bushel.

The weight of wheat can vary up to 50 pounds per bushel based on moisture content. At 62.5 pounds per bushel, the wheat was about 17% moisture.

At 62.5 pounds per bushel, this means that the sixty bushels Almanzo and Cap hauled weighed 3750 pounds. At 30 bushels per sled, that was 1875 pounds per sled. We know how it was supposedly packed: two bushels per sack. Any way you look at it, 1875 pounds was a lot of weight for one man to load repeatedly for twenty miles.

How can you visualize the SIZE of a bushel sack of wheat? Or a two bushel sack of wheat? Most people don’t buy “by the bushel” these days, but here’s a way to visualize the amount wheat supposedly hauled in The Long Winter based in terms of something most people can visualize easily: gallon milk jugs or 2-liter soft drink bottles:

1 US bushel = 1.24445608 cubic feet
The volume of a bushel of wheat (how much space it takes up) is usually calculated today at 1.25 cubic feet per bushel. So 60 bushels would equal 75 cubic feet of wheat.

1 US bushel = 9.30917793 US gallons
60 bushels of wheat would fill 558 gallon milk jugs (with a little left over).

1 bushel = 35.239072 liters
60 bushels of wheat would fill 1057 two-liter bottles (with a little left over).

For some reason, 558 gallons of wheat “seems” like more than thirty 2-bushel sacks of wheat, doesn’t it?

Note: The amount of wheat Almanzo “hid in the wall bin” in The Long Winter isn’t specified in the published book; luckily, Almanzo wrote a letter to daughter Rose in March 1937 (before the book was published) in which he spelled it all out for us. You can read that letter HERE. Almanzo wrote that he brought 50 bushels of seed from his 1880 crop grown in Marshall, Minnesota, but also that he only planted FIVE acres of wheat in 1881. While neither Royal’s nor Almanzo’s homestead file breaks it down by crop/year, Almanzo had 32 acres cultivated and 20 acres in crops by final proof in 1884, while Royal cropped 15 acres his first four years. If they only grew wheat, and broadcast 2.5 bushels of seed per acre (which was the average at the time), 50 bushels would have been just enough to plant Royal’s fifteen acres and Almanzo’s five. Using the same gallon milk jug / two-liter bottle math above, the 50 bushels of wheat-in-the-wall would have filled 465 gallon milk jugs or 881 two-liter bottles.


bushel (FB 10, 16, 20; BPC 25; TLW 3, 21, 23, 27, 29, 31; THGY 25; PG)
     bushel basket (FB 10, 17, 23; LTP 7)
     half bushel / half-bushel (BW 12; PG)

peck (TLW 10, 25)
     peck-measure (FB 25)