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Saturday, November 26, 2011


Well, appparently a Huntington Bancshares employee happened to find an old box full of checks. The checks included the last known signature of Abraham Lincoln on a check dated April 13, 1865, the day before he died. There were checks by Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, FDR, and many other famous people. They had been sitting in a vault of a former Union Commerce Bank which had been taken over by Huntington 30 years ago. Not to worry. The checks were put on microfische and we think we can read the copies before the checks were destroyed.

No, I'm kidding. But Huntington was going to sell the old checks off, like so much yard sale garbage. However, the employees put together a display and public outcry led the bank to cancel the sale. I suppose that is because the bank was mystified about the value of the signatures. They never check signatures anymore. Now I'm being sarcastic.

I still am sore about the way the banking industry went paperless. When I got my first set of copied check images, my accountant said, "Where's the backsides? I can't read the checks." There were 18 check images to a page. Was my CPA being picky? He said that in an IRS audit or a court challenge, the first concern is, Is a check available as proof? It must be legible. There is no proof of check-cashing unless the string of endorsers from the backsides are also known and provided as proof. My banker fussed around about how it costs more to put 8 images on a page and would double costs to provide backside images. We persisted. The next month we got a terse letter that said we could have 8 images, front and back for an steep fee. Eventually I wrote a number of letters and the bank compromised to their current 12 images per page.

What happens if you get into a donnybrook with IRS and the courts hold that the bank images are insufficient? I guess you can sue your bank. And the bank will have already concluded that the losses due to such things aren't large enough to sway their policies of destroying and copying checks in small scale. That is exactly what they told me concerning check forgery where they don't check signatures anymore. So it is caveat emptor, buyer beware. Make sure you check your check images. I am happy to report that a more recent check dispute wherein I had to have a better image of my check, the bank had it still stored electronically and could provide an improved copy.

But the attitude reminds me of some of the crazy characters in the oil industry over the years. "Oh heck, just dump that doggone tank battery into the river. It's cheaper to fight the Water Resources Board than to change the way we want to do things." Oh, by the way, FDR only wrote a check for $1.65. That must have been before he got his hands on government. I saw a vehicle that had a license plate on the front that announced, "I got my car from F.D.R." and then in fine print beneath said, "Ford Dealers Ranch". I gather it's a car dealship, but it makes Democrats nostalgic.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Olin and Dusty

One week, two friends died, hard to take this in.

I owe Olin Branstetter a favor. Several years ago I was designing elderhostel classes and noticed that nowhere in the 20,000 classes offered nationwide was there one in petroleum. Now wasn't that interesting. We all have viewpoints on the price of gasoline and heating fuel and all the derivative products from plastics to lipstick, but there were no courses on the subject. (well not surprising that academia doesn't do business) What's more, Graydon Brown and I had researched Marland's fabulous first oil find in the South Ponca field. So here was a chance to offer folks a chance to learn about oil and gas from the ground to the glamour, history and all.

And so with help from Conoco friends, I began to bone up. Brad and Bill Bridwell taught me about refining and safety. I knew the exploration and production side. But I still didn't know the story about independent oil guys who drive around in pickup trucks in our area fixing stripper well lifts (pumps) and drilling stepout wells and re-stimulating (often using pressure fracturing, that much-maligned technique that has been around for about 50 years and no environmentalist worried about it for the first 45) One day I mentioned this to Olin as he and Dusty came in to eat at our restaurant. He practiced the most romantic thing. He would take Dusty out to eat and then read her poetry as she finished her desert. It's the only time I have ever seen waitresses retreat to the kitchen to shed tears of joy over an old couple who were just too precious. Next day Olin came to my front desk and announced, "I need you to come with me and I am going to teach you all about the oil bid-ness." He had a bottle of crude and a core sample he gave me as class props and took me on a whirlwind tour of local production, explaining not only his own projects but that of other guys in the business as well. I came away armed with examples galore of how independents are squeezing the earth for more oil than the majors are interested in.

So we became friends. And I asked Olin if he and Dusty could teach something on aviation. What they produced were three women who, along with Dusty have set records in flight. I was so staggered by their expertise we taught this class in conjunction with the state's Pioneer Woman Museum. It was the untold story since Amelia Earhart. Then one day, Olin, former state senator, gave me a business card of a colonel at Vance Air Force Base. York was her name. I visited with her about doing some sort of a update class on the Air Force and she got excited about it but first we did a dry run on some retirees who were having a reunion a few weeks away. And so WW II vets met a modern base. Amid stories of baracks they lived in during the war, were tours of modern base housing. Discussions of tactics, jet plane mechanicals, all that paled in comparison to the flight simulator. P-38 pilots met the F-22 in that simulator and came out of there with eyes wide and grins they couldn't get off their faces. Clearly, Olin had pointed me to possibly the best senior education class Elderhostel International would ever offer.

But then it never came about. Days later was 9-11. People stopped traveling. Elderhostel, under enormous money scandals and problems, cut back on classes. The Air Force had to institute new policies that will never make bases so accessible for retired civilians. Northern Oklahoma College, under which I organized classes was cut from Elderhostel International. Excuse: No one will travel to Oklahoma. Ho hum. Things always change.

Oh, did I mention, that the day we held the dry run on all those Army Air Corps guys, Olin and Dusty were along for the fun and were the last two to enjoy the F-22 flight simulator?