Is Record Keeping a Four Letter Word? (4/15/2022)

No! Record keeping is not a four-letter word. However, there are some agricultural teachers (past and present) who might have that opinion when it comes to teaching about record keeping. One such agriculture teacher is Joe Scatterscrew. In case you haven’t met Joe Scatterscrew, let me introduce him.

Joe Scatterscrew is a fictitious agriculture teacher. He was created in the 1950s by the Head of Agricultural Education at Texas A&M University, E. V. Walton. Professor Walton wrote Joe Scatterscrew stories to use in preparing future teachers. The characters and setting are from Texas; yet the message found in each story is universal. The stories are funny but typically have a definite point to them about conducting a quality agricultural education program. Professor Walton wrote at least 25 Joe Scatterscrew stories.

I was first introduced to Joe Scatterscrew as an undergraduate student at Tarleton State College (now a university) in Texas. The Scatterscrew stories were a regular fixture in our classes, and I looked forward to reading each new one. I have attempted to collect them all and have even written three new Scatterscrew stories, trying to imitate the style of Walton.

In my mind, Joe Scatterscrew looked like Jake who was a cartoon character in the Cowpokes cartoons. At one time the Cowpokes cartoons appeared in over 400 newspapers and were compiled into several books. They were penned by Ace Reid, a western humorist and cartoonist. Ace died in 1991. One of his cartoons is below. When I think of Joe Scatterscrew, this is what I see.

Figure 1. A Cowpokes cartoon by Ace Reid

As a Graduate Teaching Assistant at The Ohio State University during the 1970s, I used the Scatterscrew stories in the introductory agricultural education class I taught. My use of these stories was even featured in the student newspaper – The Ohio State Daily Lantern. However, the student who illustrated the story had a totally different image in mind of what Joe Scatterscrew looked like (see below). I guess it was a mid-west mindset.

Figure 2. Article from the Ohio State Daily Lantern, February 12, 1974

These stories have been used over the years with agricultural teacher education classes in Texas and neighboring states. They basically point out how NOT to teach agriculture. In reading the stories one must remember the era in which they were written — the 1950s. Therefore, there will be no female students and the curriculum and technology was different back then. However, the humor does remain, and the points are still valid today.

Last Friday’s Footnote examined the early days of record keeping in vocational agriculture. So let’s see how Joe went about record keeping.

Joe Plans Ahead
by E. V. Walton

Joe Scatterscrew came out of the principal’s office mad enough to bite nails.  He did kick a milk crate as he passed the back door of the cafeteria.

“Dad burn and dad blast it!”  he moaned.  “It looks like these district supervisors and school boards and school administrators are hooked up neck and neck to bedevil and plague us pore old ag teachers.  Always a-doggin’ a man to do better.”

He stormed into the agriculture classroom and dropped gratefully into his creaky old swivel chair.

“The very idea of them cussed fellers saying I got to straighten out certain things.  Even give me a list of weaknesses.”

He lit the medium longish cigar butt and glared at the paper the principal had given him.  It was neatly typed out and bore the notation that it was copied from the supervisor’s report.


  1. Not enough on the farm instruction.
  2. Too many boys with no supervised farming program.
  3. Record books poorly kept.
  4. Students given no aid in financing.
  5. Not correlated with the degree advancements program.
  6. Too many terminal short-term, get-by projects.

The more Joe looked at the list the madder he got.  He wanted to cuss and very nearly did.

“Dog it all!  I told that snooperviser that I aimed to start them V. A. kids off on a dozen broilers apiece come spring.  Learn ’em how to feed quickern’ anything.  Fog it all!  I don’t know how a good ag teacher can be expected to visit projects around all the time.  I am tail twister on the Lion’s Club, Epworth League Director, member of the voluntary fire department, chairman of the Sewerage Improvement Committee of the Chamber, and pretty doggoned busy with Forked Creek Coon Hunters Club.  On top of these duties, which show I am an outstanding citizen in this community, Myrt expects me to hang around the house some.”

He pondered the problem and went back to the project record bookshelf.  His feelings were soothed slightly when he found a pair of tin snips and a half box of shot gun shells among the books.

“Thought some dang kid stole this stuff last spring,” he thought relievedly examining the shot gun shells.  He slapped the dust off the books and looked at them sourly.  “Dab little in ’em that’s for sure!”

The door to the shop skreeked open on the broken hinges and Hollis Holt stuck his head in.

“Call me, Mr. Scatterscrew?”

Joe glared at him.

“No, but while you’re here, how come you haven’t put any feed or labor down on your sow and pigs for October and November?”

Hollis grinned and rubbed the back of a greasy hand across his freckled face.  “Heck fire Mr. Scatterscrew, I got two blamed all good reasons!”

“Watch that dad blasted dad gumed cussin’ when you talk to me, Hollis.  I don’t know how many formin times I told you that good English makes a gentleman.  Now answer me!”

Hollis replaced his grin with a scowl.

“Mr. Scatterscrew, us boys talked to you about them pistol packing cotton nabbing project books early in the year and we told you it would save time to wait until the project was over and then fill ’em in all at one sittin’ and you said it was a good idea.  ‘No guess work that-a way’ you said.”

Joe stared at Hollis a moment and rolled his cigar over to the other corner of his mouth.

“That’s right Mr. Scatterscrew, that’s what you said,” Buckeye Dugger joined in.

“W-e-l-l, come to think of it, that way does make sense–saves a lot of time” Joe answered slowly.  “Dang if you kids ain’t got more know-how than them State department smart alecs.  You ought to have, though.  I learnt you enough!”

The boys laughed and Hollis llolt winked at Buckeye.  “I won’t have nothin’ to fill out.  I sold my sow and pigs the 10th of November.”

Joe swallowed a mouthful of cigar smoke and very nearly threw the tin snips at Hollis.  “How come you done that?  Dad blast and dog-gone clear-to-the-settin-hen-nest!  It looks like you would of asked.  Anyway you got to have a project for six months to count!”

Hollis concealed a grin.

“You trained us right, Mr. Scatterscrew!  I got it in my head.  I don’t get paid until the first of March so legally them pigs and sow is still mine–only my brother-in-law has got possession of them and I ain’t got no formin foggin’ records to keep.”

For a moment Joe was speechless but the longer he thought about it the more he was sure it was air tight with no loop holes in it.  He scowled at the boy.  “Hollis, you’ve pulled a fasty but I reckin I can’t fault you.  You are dang sure going to get up them records up to the time you sold out.”

Hollis nodded.  “Worked four hours on the fence and bought a bushel of tolling corn.  That’s all my labor and expense.  Sold ’em for $10 cash in March and this ’39 Ford I’m workin’ on.  Figure $90 all told and I only paid $40 for the sow.  Vocational agriculture pays, all I gotta say!  I made a profit!”

Joe nodded, feeling a little better, but he decided he couldn’t show too much pleasure.  Hollis Holt had to be kept under a firm thumb or he would get smart alecky.

“You better be sure you clean up that mess of lube oil on the floor,” he ordered, looking at the litter of transmission parts under the car.

“Well, old Jakey Payne’s gonna do that.  Ain’t no use in me a-doing it.  Jakey’s gonna put a ’41 Mercury backend and Lincoln transmission in his rod.”

“In that old Ford?” Joe asked incredulously.

“Old Ford!  It’s cool, man, cool!  ’56 Olds engine in it!”  Joe threw his cigar down in a crank case pan.  “Blast it all!  Ain’t Jakey Payne the one didn’t want to buy one of them gilts on account of not having any money?”

Hollis winked at Buckeye.  “He didn’t have the money, Mr.  Scatterscrew.  Old engines cost so much these days.  Gotta buy adapters and all.”

The boys slid under the car until Joe subsided and stomped out.

Back in the familiar litter of the agricultural room Joe brightened up.  “I gonnies.  I can have them kids put down shop work as supplementary farm practices and that will help some.”

He looked out the window at the pile of old machinery, lumber and oil barrels.  “There’s more goes on here than looks like to them wheels, but I gonnies, if them kids think they’re gonna get out of buyin’ them chickens this spring they got another thing comin’.

Joe found a pencil in the bottom desk drawer and sharpened it slowly and with great care.  “I’ll write up a dang good report for them smart alecs,” he mumbled and began to scribble:

1. All boys have mechanics shop projects which cost money and require skill.

2. All record books to be filled out complete in May to save wasting time all through the year.

3. All boys have productive projects by April including them that had one and sold it, which is good business.

4. All boys visited in the near future as important duties of agriculture teacher can be postponed, although the community will suffer.

He felt better when he read the report over.

“It’s easy to get things in good shape once a man puts a brain like mine to organizing.”

Closing Remarks

It is somewhat appropriate that this Footnote is published on April 15 – the day typically associated with paying taxes. And we all know paying taxes involves the use of financial records. So, at this point in time you may be thinking record keeping is indeed a four letter word. However, if we do a good job of record keeping all year long, it doesn’t have to be a four letter word.

The point of this Footnote is to say – let’s not be like Joe! Since this is Financial Literacy month and one of the original purposes of the FFA was to promote thrift (which typically involves record keeping) we need to take the teaching of record keeping seriously.

The Friday Footnotes for the next two weeks will focus on the present status of record keeping in agricultural education.