A detailed record was kept by Dad every year that he farmed. I have the originals of these books beginning in 1923. They are precious for their historical value and the detailed portrayal of Dad’s character, willingness to work and his habit of accountability.
The Table of Contents
Farm Inventory, Household Inventory, Net-Worth Statement, Debt-Payment Record, Money Received, Farm Expenses, Family Living Expenses, Record of Accounts, Annual Summary of Receipts and Expenses, Cash Balance and Debt-Progress Analysis, Conserved-Food Summary, Farm Products for Use in Home, Map of Farm, Crop Production and Disposal Record, Livestock Production and Disposal Record, Record of Livestock, Financial Summary, Measuring Success, Farm and Home Information. Every page is completed in his neat handwriting, using a sharp pencil.
In addition to the summary pages, there are two full-spread pages for each month where money received, farm expenses and family living expenses are recorded. All 48 pages of this 9″ X 12″ record book are filled in and tell me pretty much what the family was doing 72 years ago this month, three years before I was born.
On January 4 — They sold 6 1/2 dozen eggs for $1.62 total; 650 pounds of hogs for $39.00; 73 cents was spent on clothing; and $1.75 on house upkeep. Dad paid a $91.45 tax bill. He bought some piston rings for 90 cents and made a note to himself to double check on the discount. He paid our eldest brother (15 years old at the time) $47.57 and the second oldest (age 13) $16.05 for work they had done.
On January 6 — the fire insurance premium of $1.05, a life insurance premium of $2.00, and license and tax for his car ($6.00) are paid.
On January 8, 7 dozen eggs were sold for $1.75. Based on the recorded egg sales for the entire month, they were getting from 12-25 cents a dozen at the little store in our little town, which figures–since the price was determined by how badly the store owner needed eggs on the day they brought them in.
They sold 420 eggs (35 dozen) in January, 1941. At first I thought that I must be misunderstanding the figures he entered, but you would only need 14 hens laying each day to get that many eggs, so the figures are right–there were usually anywhere from 20-35 chickens in the hen house throughout the winter.
There was a double row of nesting boxes, two high, built against one wall about three feet off the floor. We kept a little nest of clean straw in each box so that the eggs would be less likely to roll around after they were laid. Once in awhile, of course, we would get one of those broody-hens that had decided she wanted a family. Their determination to sit on a collection of eggs when it came time for us to collect them was easily matched by Dad–he just laughed and scooped the eggs out from under them. Ten years after this 1941 record when I was beginning to learn about “picking eggs” it wasn’t such a simple matter for a young girl. It was a little frightening to face down that irritated hen and even with Dad’s thick gloves on, it took some courage to take her eggs as she protested and squawked and pecked at my arm.
One thing that was semi-pleasant about picking eggs in the winter time was that the hen house was always warm. There was a small wood stove in the middle of its 20′ X 25′ floor that would be fired up when subzero weather settled in for days at a time. The chill that started to bite during the 100 yard walk from the house would be offset as the hook of the hen house door was lifted, and we stepped into the warm hen house air. It also normally stunk to high heaven, but there was a January trade-off–once the temperatures were subzero (F), the smell was not nearly as bad.
I actually don’t remember myself doing much egg-picking in the winter time. In our farm homes, the girls were welcomed into all kinds of farm activities, including those that got us dirty and grubby and sweaty, however, in families with both boys and girls, the girls were not given dirty outdoor jobs as regular responsibilities. Girls were treated like young ladies and our responsibilities were “girl responsibilities.” The boys were treated like young men and were given “boy responsibilities.”
On a voluntary basis, we could help with anything we wanted to, up to and including cleaning manure out of the barn. The manure clean-out was a boy responsibility, of course, but I remember helping my brother more than once just for the companionship of working together.
On January 17 — Dad paid $1.15 for 4 gallons of gas and a quart of oil. They must have gone to town to do general shopping that day because they also spent $4.29 at the grocery store, $4.04 on clothing, $.26 for something that was listed in the personal column, and 50 cents for a gift.
On January 27 — Dad paid $4 to re-register his cattle brand with the Montana State Department of Livestock.. Brands were registered for a ten-year time period and had to be re-registered—starting in 1911—at the start of each decade (1921, 1931, etc.).
Our cattle brand was a rather wonderful one. It was the I/bar/L–my father’s initials side by side and a broad line underneath. A man’s individual brand and his own custom branding irons were a big deal even for those who were not ranchers per se. We were not ranchers. We were farmers who ran around a hundred head most years, but our brand was the only one of its kind in all of Montana, just like any other farmer’s or rancher’s. These brands were registered and carefully guarded–it was our equivalent of a Coat of Arms, I guess.
Now one of the realities of farming in that area was that about half of the fields had to be left idle every year because the land was so poor. Let’s just say that the word “topsoil” was not often used in conversation in eastern Montana so while we had several hundred acres under cultivation, each field was allowed to lie fallow in alternate years; nevertheless, grain production was pretty good in 1941.
These detailed records show that wheat came in at 18 bushels/acre and the oats at 43 bushels (that’s pretty amazing) and the corn came in at 18 bushels. The 1150 bushels of wheat were sold, and the 1550 bushels of corn and oats were kept at the farm for feeding livestock through the next winter (1942-3)
The 1941 livestock population was only 16 head of cattle, 8 hogs, 90 chickens and 175 turkeys–and those were turkeys in every sense of the word: a pain to try to care for in those parts. I think I remember only one year of turkeys from my very young years (I was born in ’44) and the one clear memory I have is how terrified I was of them. They were mean. I was three or four at the time and the silly birds were probably actually taller than I was.
Total farm receipts in January of 1941 were $85.64 and total expenses for the month were $178.71, but 1941 turned out to be a decent year for them. The year end figures show their total expenses were $1,129.21 and their income was $3,878.89. It was actually a very good year.
― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac