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Field Man: The Chronicle of a Bank Farm Manager in the 1940s.

Field Man: The Chronicle of a Bank Farm Manager in the 1940s This is certainly not a book to cuddle up with on a rainy day. It is marginally useful, and hopelessly dull. Harold Clingerman supervised farms as a field man for the U.S. National Bank of Omaha. The bank, as had hundreds of others, came to own an extensive amount of farm property through foreclosures during the Great Depression. To maintain those properties until they could be sold, banks worked out lease arrangements with tenants. Clingerman rode his circuit from 1941 to 1948, visiting each farm at least once a month to see to the upkeep of the properties.

Replete with reconstructed conversations, Clingerman's narrative provides more detail on a field man's duties, procedures, and pay than even most specialists would ever need. He leads the reader through house shingling, windmill repair, evictions, fence mending, filling out of forms, and field inspections, day after day until the reader longs for the relative excitement of a car repair manual or an Internal Revenue Service guidebook.

Clingerman has, however, buried a few jewels. His pay was not bad--$1,800 a year, plus an expense account, a moving allowance, and a company car. He and his family endured conditions that modern bank employees probably would not tolerate, in the U.S. National required him to leave Omaha, a thriving metropolis compared to the small town where they relocated. He walked on the wild side occasionally, when he encountered lonely--and as Clingerman would have us believe, lusty--farm wives. But the most important revelations in Field Man emerge from Clingerman's detailed, and often tedious, discussions of the bank's efforts to work out solutions for the benefit of both the bank and the farmers. The bank had a deep concern for those who had entrusted their savings to the bank, while maintaining a healthy sympathy for the farmers who through no fault of their own found themselves in financial difficulty. As Clingerman aptly characterized the bankers, "They were not stingy, but they were careful, men hard with a buck, and doubly so with other people's money" (p. 13).

U.S. National had written plenty of new farm loans in the 1920s to farmers who wanted to refinance their indebtedness. Clingerman does a workmanlike job of explaining the process of making and maintaining those loans. When the loans started to go sour, the bank on longer than most other institutional investors. As Clingerman explained, "Our recovery of investment objective made us wait until the open land market regained [its] price level" (p. 160). As a consequence, U.S. National had time to rehabilitate the farms and increase their resale value.

Unless readers really want to taste the wheat stalk between their teeth, however, it will not be worth a daily trek to U.S. National's farms with Clingerman to obtain those few small pearls he occasionally leaves lying in the barn.

Larry Schweikart is associate professor of history at the University of Dayton. He is editor of two volumes on banking and finance in the Encyclopedia of American Business History and Biography, and he wrote the essay on Michael Milken in the second volume.

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Author:Schweikart, Larry
Publication:Business History Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1990
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