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'The Farmers' Almanac' a good guide for life

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Among my early memories as a boy was watching my parents and grandparents consult "The Farmers' Almanac" before commencing any serious work.

Whether planting crops, working livestock, planning farm work, going fishing or even going to the doctor, out came the almanac for study.

Why was this effort important? Because its predictions and advice were almost always right, and if you did not adhere, you probably paid the price.

Another publication that was consulted without fail was the feed store calendar that hung on the wall by the crank telephone. This displayed the signs of the moon, any notations of things in the past, such as the date the milk cow was bred, financial obligations to be paid and bills already paid.

Research shows that Robert B. Thomas designed the first edition of "The Farmers' Almanac" in 1792, for publishing in the early spring of 1793, during the term of George Washington, our first president. This is the longest publishing tenure in American history.

Of interest: Until the 1840s, the almanac had no cover, to save expense, yet ranked with the Bible as the nation's best-selling publications.

Now, the difference between a calendar and an almanac is, a calendar records time and an almanac records and predicts astronomical events, tides, weather and other phenomena with respect to time.

Calendars appeared more than 5,000 years ago. Almanacs appeared later, in the form of wooden blocks inscribed with the seasons and astronomical phenomena. A calendar may exist without almanac information but an almanac cannot exist without the dates and times of a calendar.

As a reminder of the respect awarded to the originator, Robert B. Thomas, none of the 11 editors since that time have added their names to the book. It is still under his name.

The first printing sold 3,000 copies at about 9 cents each. The second year sold 9,000 copies and has grown each year since. As the populace of the time was dominated by males, the almanac was basically a men's magazine.

The page most studied by my forebears showed a naked man standing amid a circle of 12 icons or the Signs of the Zodiac. Each human part was assigned an icon with the man's stomach drawn open with the intestines shown.

This illustration literally fascinated both young boys and girls and would be classified as X-rated today.

If you had a decision to make about what day to castrate or dehorn your livestock, the signs indicated which days were the safest. Believe me, I never knew it to fail. Even when plowing the fields, certain days killed more weeds than others.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was an ardent admirer of "The Farmers' Almanac," as he once said, "The Almanac is one of those institutions which is perennially young in the appeal which it makes. From long custom we depend on it. It is an invaluable friend."

Eventually, the almanac expanded, with bits of wisdom, advice to all, with strange stories. A book titled "The Best of the Old Farmer's Almanac, the First 100 Years," by Judson Hale, is a must-read for those who remember its use.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" September 7, 2010column
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail at trewblue@centramedia.net. For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears weekly.


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