The old record book


Handwritten thank you notes are making a comeback, so I was rummaging through desk drawers in search of blank thank you cards. Mutters of “I know they’re around here somewhere” filled the house.

From the depths of a dusty drawer, I exhumed a drab-looking book that has “Record” embossed on its cover. Good grebe! I had forgotten about that thing. 

The book contains all of the official meeting records for the Brookings County Dairy Herd Improvement Association, from its humble beginnings in 1970 to its fizzling out in 1997.

A couple of hours were lost while I nosed through the old book. To the untrained eye, its contents may have seemed as humdrum as its cover, but for me, the book was a saga of high drama.

The first few pages catalog the association’s original incorporators. Perusing the list, I realized that I had known most of the dairymen. All have since gone the way of all flesh.      

The first official meeting of the Brookings County DHIA was held Sept. 30, 1970. A board was elected, and rates for testing cows was discussed. Key to this discussion were the wages that George Bliss, the DHIA supervisor, would receive. It was decided that George would be paid $422 per month – minus $20.26 for Social Security.

I don’t recall much about prices in 1970 but can’t help but think that George was flirting with poverty.

My association with the association began in 1979, when I started milking my herd of 30 Holsteins. George was still the supervisor. The record book indicates that he was receiving a much better wage by then.

George was an affable older guy and very proficient at his job. My youth and cluelessness prompted him to share a story.

“I remember when I was a young farmer,” George said as he recorded milk weights. “I had a John Deere A and a three-bottom plow and thought I had the world by the tail.

“I was plowing one day and wondered, why not tie the lift rope to the clutch lever? That way, if I lost the plow, the tractor would stop automatically.

“I hit a rock and lost the plow, and the rope yanked the clutch lever as planned. But, the lever also hit my knee. I had to get off the tractor and run in circles for a while!”

A casual flip through the pages of the record book reveals awards given for high milk production and the elections of new board members. The penmanship abruptly changes whenever a new person assumes the role of secretary.     

Somewhere in the mid-1980s the word “computer” makes its first appearance. George eventually retires, a new supervisor is hired, and the association finds itself on a twisting road.

The new supervisor holds the job for a couple of years before abruptly quitting. About a year later, there’s an entry regarding a board meeting held at a lawyer’s office to discuss a lawsuit brought by the former supervisor. She claims to have been injured on the job and thinks that the association should pay.

The book mentions the lawsuit several times over the next two years. The matter is eventually settled for a sum that pretty much wipes out the association’s checking account. 

Some startlingly familiar handwriting appears in 1993. Mine! It’s hard to believe that I was ever elected to a position of responsibility.

The association was like any small-town governing body: Show up at the meetings often enough and they’ll put you on the board.

I served a term as president but found that the secretary held the real power. This was because the secretary recorded all the goings-on, so his or her version of events became the official last word.

For instance, I could have written something along these lines:

“Motion made by Johnson that Jersey herds be charged extra due to the annoying nature of that breed. Countermotion was made by Anderson, a Jersey herd owner, that Johnson go soak his head.

“Johnson replied with a statement that alluded to the marital status of Anderson’s parents. Anderson responded vociferously with an assertion regarding Johnson’s immediate ancestry. Johnson and Anderson then engaged in fisticuffs. The heated discussion ended when Nelson moved that the meeting be adjourned to the Coachlight Lounge and that the association buy the first round. Motion passed unanimously. Clamorous huzzahs erupted for Nelson as he was carried to the Coachlight on the shoulders of board members.”

The record book doesn’t say otherwise, so it would seem I’m still the secretary of Brookings County DHIA. As such, I move that the above be approved as read.

All in favor say, “Aye.” Motion passed.

    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry works full time for Dairy Star as a staff writer and ad salesman. Feel free to email him at [email protected].


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