My, how record
keeping has changed
by Delbert Trew
computers, calculators, spreadsheets, instant messaging and professional
accountants make good record keeping a breeze. It wasn't like that
in the old days.
Larry Touchon sent information on early records kept in what his family
called a "tobacco book." It was about the size of a shirt pocket,
contained about 30 pages with blue lines and had a heavier cover sporting
tobacco advertising, hence its name.
All cotton farmers and field hands had such a book and kept meticulous
records of how many pounds of cotton each person picked, how many
hours worked or rows whopped. Some kept financial records of bills
paid and checks written. Amazingly, the figures in the books were
considered correct to the point they stood up in a court of law. The
integrity of this method of record keeping was accepted as the gospel
in that circle of people.
My father, J.T. Trew, had a similar book with the same tobacco advertising
on the cover, but he called it his "tally book." Each pasture or field
was named along with the number of livestock the area contained. He
also kept breeding and birth dates, and one page held the totals of
livestock lost to death during the last year. Records of livestock
sales were recorded in detail on the pages.
About once a week, Dad would transfer certain items from his tally
book to larger books at home. When his tally book filled up, he started
a new book, placing the old book into the pocket on the back of that
month's page of our Farmer's Almanac Calendar. At the end of the year,
he had a pretty good day-to-day record of what had taken place in
Dad was a smoker who carried a sack of tobacco along with cigarette
papers and kitchen matches plus his tally book. Mother had to make
bigger pockets on his shirts to hold his record-keeping system and
smoking materials. At an estate sale, I once bought the personal papers
of a deceased carpenter from Glen Elder, Kan. He had a "detail book"
similar to the tobacco book in which he kept a running list of carpentry
work done for the public. There were lists of materials for his jobs
along with the hours worked and expenses incurred. Also included were
notes to himself about the jobs, plus a detailed account of the weather
each day. Why he kept the weather in such detail was never learned.
My favorite "true" story of record keeping involved an old rancher
who lived pretty far back in the hills. It seems the IRS had drawn
his name for an audit. They wrote a letter asking him to be at the
local courthouse at a certain time and bring all his financial records
for the past five years. The auditors arrived on time to find the
old man waiting, sitting beside the wooden door removed from his saddle
house at the ranch. The door was covered from top to bottom with figures
written in pencil. The notations were in great detail and covered
the ranch's financial records for the last 40-plus years of business.
I'll bet the audit was brief.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
January 1, 2007 Column