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Posted by Admin on October 30, 2021

With all the rain in the weather forecasts these days, it’s no surprise that some meteorologists are letting audiences know which ones are regular rainstorms and which ones are gullywashers. But what exactly is a gullywasher? A gullywasher is a short-lived but intense rainstorm.

The interesting thing about gullywashers is that they don’t happen outside of the U.S., and many northern states and Pacific coast states don’t deal with gullywashers. They may deal with turtle floaters or duck drowners or or toad stranglers, and they might deal with bridge lifters or mud senders or even Baptist dam breakers, but in the Southern, Western, and Midwestern states and all the way up into Wisconsin, gullywashers are what people worry about when the clouds roll in.

In an article in The Oklahoman titled, “Birthplace of the Gully Washer” by journalist and sports writer Frank Boggs (1 May 1928 – 10 August 2017) and published on 30 September 1986, the author claimed:

Oklahoma is where the gully washer was invented.

That alone was reason enough for Idiomation to set off researching this interesting word.

A gully is a large ditch or small valley that usually runs along a hillside, and that ditch or small valley happens when running water erodes the soil to the point where a ditch or a small valley is created. Every time it rains, more water moves soil out of the gully which leads to a deeper and wider gully. But the thing is, it takes a lot of water gushing through that ditch or small valley for it to fill up to the point where soil is dragged away.

The word gully first appeared in the English language in the 1650s and is from the Middle English word golet which means water channel.

In 1999, gullywashers weren’t just happening in the U.S. Editor Gardner Dozois included the Bruce Sterling (14 April 1954 – ) story “Taklamakan” in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Sixteenth Annual Collection.” Texas-born Sterling’s stories had appeared in ten of the previous fifteen annual collections, and was a favorite of many scifi readers. In his short story “Taklamakan” the following was written.

Pete scanned their surroundings on spex telephoto. They were lurking on a hillside above a playa, where the occasional gullywasher had spewed out a big alluvial fan of desert varnished grit and cobbles.

In April 1963, the statement of J.H. Hanson, Co-Chairman of the Western Montana Citizens Committee and president of the Security State Bank at Polson (MT) represented 63 organizations as well as 500 individuals who were against the Knowles Project was recorded in the publication of “Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Flood Control of the Committee on Public Works.” The Co-Chairs were Charles A. Buckley (23 June 1890 – 22 January 1967) of New York and Clifford Davis (18 Novembwer 1897 – 8 June 1970) of Tennessee.

MR. SCHWENGEL: Do you want to testify about the population decline?

MR HANSON: We are not concerned about the population declines. Over the years, we have had a population increase, We have had a firming of the industry. In our little town alone U.S. Plywood came in there and within the last five years our little area has been the recipient of some $7 million in capital expenditures. The thing we don’t need is this economic gullywasher. We can do more with $1 of private money spent than we can with $10 on Federal funds.

MR. SCHWENGEL: Say that again.

MR. HANSON: We would rather have private development on the river for one-tenth of what the Federal Government could spend.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: The Knowles Project was also known as the Knowles-Paradise Project and we recommended by Army Engineers as a key dam of a comprehensive plan for harnessing the Columbia River and its tributaries in the Lake and Saunders Counties.

Barrel and Box and Packages was published by the Lumber Buyers’ Publishing Corporation, and Edgar Harvey Defebaugh (3 September 1869 – 22 November 1924) was the owner and publisher of that magazine as well as Lumber and Veneer Consumer and a number of related publications. In the 1947 edition of Barrel and Box and Packages, a fable was shared that allegedly has its origins in North Carolina among mountaineers. It read in part:

The farmer he sez, “King, if’n you ain’t aiming to get them clothes wetted you’d best go back home, because its a-comin on to rain, a trash-mover and a gully washer.”

And the kind says, “I hired me a high-wage prophet to prophet the weather and he allows it ain’t even coming a sizzle-sozzle.”

So the king went ahea and it came a trash-mover and a gully washer, and the king’s clothes was wetted and his best girl she seed him and laughed at him. And the king went home and throwed out his prophet.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Edgar Harvey Defebaugh visited Europe in 1900, visiting all the principal markets, and become knowledgeable in the exportation of staves and other timber products. Upon his return to the United States, he partnered with a number of organizations in other lines of industry to launch trade newspaper publications. By 1902, he was the head of an important organization of trade publications which were known around the world as the “Defebaugh publications.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: This fable was also printed in The Plainsman edition of 18 February 1947. The Plainsman was a weekly student publication from Alabama Polytechnic Institute of Auburn (AL). That year former WWII GI Jimmy Coleman was the Editor-in-Chief (he was studying Applied Art and was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity) and former WWII GI Ralph “Stringbean” Jennings was the Managing Editor. Both had put their college careers on hold to fight in the war effort.

In the December 1908 edition of The Helping Hand magazine published by the Women’s Baptist Foreign Missionary Societies of Chicago (IL), the publisher pleaded with people to subscribe to their magazine. For 100 new subscriptions, seven reference library books would be sent to supplement the year’s study book, “The Nearer and Farther East.” If you only secured 75 subscriptions, one could look forward to receiving a 7 foot by 12 foot “Missionary Map of the World” with every Baptist station clearly marked. With 50 subscriptions, a year’s subscription to “Outlook” was added. To encourage followers to help with the subscription drive, the publisher wrote:

Perhaps the term “shower” is a misnomer, leading some to think that our aim is a gentle flow of subscriptions, when on the contrary we are willing to see the subscriptions pour in like the rain in The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come prayer for — “a regular sod-soaker and gully-washer.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come was a book written by American journalist, novelist, and short story writer John Fox Jr. (16 December 1862 – 7 July 1919) and illustrated by artist and illustrator, Frederick Coffay (F. C.) Yohn (8 February 1875 – 6 June 1933), and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1903. It was written in April 1898 and the dedication page read: To Currie Duke – Daughter of the Chief among Morgan’s men. The novel told the story of a rags-to-respectability story of an Orphan and was the first novel in the U.S. to sell a million copies.

In 1898, John Dickey’s book “The Genealogy of the Dickey Family” was published. After the author’s passing at Leominster on 25 July 1894, his widow approached F.S. Blanchard and Company of Worcester (MA) and asked them to publish the genealogy so that what her late husband had written “might not be lost to future generations and all might share alike the fruits of his labor.”

The publisher stated in the Publisher’s Note that John Dickey (13 February 1824 – 25 July 1894) had not contemplated the publication of the work until the latter part of his life, and the wealth of material gathered was a rich legacy that would benefit others, not just descendants of his great-grandfather, Samuel Dickey, and his great-grandfather’s brother Elias and sister Elisabeth.

The genealogy began with William Dickey (1683 – 9 October 1743) and his wife Elisabeth (1678 – 21 October 1748) who immigrated from the north of Ireland to America, landing sometime between 1725 and 1730 since there was no exact date of their departure from Ireland or their arrival in America. What was known was that by 1730, the Dickey family had settled in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

At entry 1084, Edward Parker Keach (4 November 1851 – 30 December 1918) He graduated from theological courses in 1878, and married Julia Maria Russell in November of that year. They moved to Marble Hill (MO) where he began work as a Presbyterian home missionary. In the entry, which shows the term was known in 1878, John Dickey wrote:

It was a dry time, when a union service was held to pray for rain; a brother of another denomination arose, and after telling the Lord how dry it was, said, “And now, Lord, send us rain: none of your drizzle-drozzle, but a regular grand soaker and gully washer.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Edward Parker Keach was repeatedly elected to represent his congregation at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5.1: He is known as Edward Parker Keach as well as Edwin Parker Keach based on the genealogy.

One dictionary puts the first published version to 1825 without providing any indication as to where it was published. That it was used in conversation in the 1870s means it was already an accepted and understood expression so it is possible the expression dates back to 1825 but without proof it’s hard to definitively say it was around in 1825.

Idiomation therefore splits the difference and pegs the expression to the 1850s. Research continues in the hopes of tracking down the 1825 reference and perhaps an even earlier published version.

And in case you were wondering, Idiomation found no evidence that Oklahoma was where gullywashers were invented. They have gullywashers in Oklahoma — no doubt about that — but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to substantiate the claim they invented gullywashers.

Idiomation is also including other names for gullywashers and where you might hear these expressions used.

Toad strangler: Alabama, Louisiana, Texas
Goose drowner: Midland states
Mud sender: California, Maryland, Virginia, Mississippi
Bridge lifter: North Carolina
Nubbin stretcher: Kentucky
Palmetto pounder: Miami

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