TOWNER, N.D. — I went paperless in my office this week, but just for a couple of days. And it happened right before the big annual visit with my tax guy.
I didn’t really want to go paperless but I ran out of ink for the printer on my computer. In a lot of offices, if you run out of ink, you just run down the street or maybe across town to go get some. In a ranch office, if you run out of ink, it’s a 60-mile drive to the big city where stores sell things like over-priced ink cartridges and underpriced printers. You can also trade in empty ink cartridges, and aluminum cans, for full ones, but remember your wallet because it takes quite a bit of cash to boot for the trade-in.
PDFs instead of printouts
So, instead of printing, I did up the reports on my computer and emailed PDFs of them to my tax guy and drove to the appointment. In case you don’t know what a PDF is, I just looked it up. Portable document format. Whatever, it’s the option QuickBooks gave me when I asked it to email my reports.
The appointment with the accountant went well; a year with $2 a pound calves will do that. I’ll always take a year where I made enough to pay some income tax over one where I didn’t make enough to pay some income tax. But my paperless visit went papered when I saw the reports printed out from my email when I got there. They obviously had printer ink in their office.
We’ve heard for years that all the money we spend on computers and software and mobile devices will pay off, in part, by saving on the cost of paper and ink and filing. I’ve been computerized for a long time and I don’t think I’ve eliminated enough paper to house train a puppy.
Maybe I just need to run out of printer ink more often.
Old school paperless
As I got to thinking about it, I was raised by a man with some paperless tendencies. He never knew there was such a word as paperless, but I find examples of his paperless life around the ranch in all kinds of places.
I remember moving the steel feed grain bin that sat next to our cattle chute and working alley for years. Most of one side was covered with tally marks and numbers scrawled on it with a lead pencil from all the years of counting the cattle that filed by it. Nothing but tin and a No. 2 pencil. Completely paperless.
Dad liked to keep track of the rising cost of parts for his haying machinery and his advanced fleet of two-cylinder John Deere horsepower. Inside the doors of an old wooden cupboard in his shop you’ll find those paperless records written on the wood with a big black marker. When he’d replace a head gasket on his John Deere 60 he’d write the date and the price of the new one on the old head gasket and hang it on a peg in the shop.
There are quite a few things scratched into wood with a jackknife around the ranch, from numbers to key instructions and directions to the deeply carved initials of kids who wanted history to know that “they were there.”
Maybe the next time my printer runs out of ink just ahead of a tax appointment, I’ll scratch the year’s important income and expense numbers onto a piece of wood barn siding with my knife — because going paperless is nothing new for this old ranch.