Tracking Essentials with Ledger Books

article image
Photo by Farm Collector staff
This pocket ledger is representative of many distributed to farmers as premiums from leading manufacturers. Now collectible items, pocket ledgers were handy, portable notebooks with ledger pages, blank pages for notes and basic reference information. Ledger books like the one referenced in this article were typically larger with a hardback cover and rarely left the house.

Many of my columns in the past have been based on personal correspondence, a diary, journal or album, written or kept by a Panhandle resident. Thanks to Bob and Becky Keel of Amarillo, Texas, this column will present excerpts from an accounts ledger of a small family farm during the years 1947-57. Two ledger books were found in an abandoned house; no names will be mentioned to keep the deceased owner’s privacy.

The family owned 320 acres, of which some 200 acres was farmed in wheat and forage crops and the remainder consisted of native grass. Milk cows, range cows, hogs and poultry were raised, bought, sold and traded as needed for expenses. The man often worked as a laborer when the opportunity presented itself. Of interest, the ledgers were neat, written in detail in longhand with checks recorded in black ink and cash payments recorded in red ink.

In 1947, the farm produced 4,500 bushels of wheat that sold for an average of $2.10 per bushel. Weaner pigs sold for $8-10 each and cull hens sold for 21 cents per pound. The family sold an annual total of 760 dozen eggs, bringing from 32 to 51 cents per dozen.

The home was heated with coal, using about 1,600 pounds per year. They cooked with kerosene, using some 118 gallons per year and purchased 200 pounds of carbide to fuel their acetylene lights generator. Water from a windmill and storage tank was piped inside the house for bathroom and kitchen use. 

Each year they purchased young hens from neighbors and baby chicks from hatcheries. The bulk of farm expenses came from purchasing livestock feed and minerals or expenses related to farm equipment. Very little expense came from personal expenditures.

On Jan. 30, 1950, they paid $4 for the inspection of their newly wired house in order to receive electrical service for their new Rural Electric Assn. A month later they added a yard light on a tall pole and wired the milk shed for lights and plug-ins.

A check to Montgomery Ward & Co. purchased a 100-foot electrical extension cord and a trouble light. No doubt these old-timers thought they had reached the height of luxury with these purchases. The annual cost for carbide was eliminated but the total annual cost of electricity for 1950 came to $105.14.

There must have been a good hay crop in September 1951, as several purchases of binder twine, hay hooks and gloves were recorded. Substantial extra income was realized by the man working for the neighbors, hauling and stacking hay.

Progress occurred again in 1954, when a 500-gallon propane tank, a bathroom gas heater and a “Warm Morning Gas Heater” were purchased and installed. Although use of coal and kerosene was curtailed, an occasional purchase of propane was noted. 

The family butchered its own beeves and hogs, but took the quarters to the locker plant for cutting, wrapping and frozen storage. I’m sure each of these things was done by all the farm families in the Panhandle, but this is the first time I’ve had access to the day-to-day costs. FC

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; email:

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment