00:38:29 - 00:46:02 Computers
Computers, effect on employees, projects; monthly reports, manual process, history of, job description; punch cards, incorporation of; USDA finance center, New Orleans, computerized entry; Fort Collins computer center; FPL, computerized systems
Well I do have a couple other questions for you. Kind of going back to something that you were talking about a little bit about earlier, were here when the Lab started to use computers and how did that effect your work and the morale?
Oh yes, wonderfully. When I started here, when I was doing the travel position basically, I would help the people in the accounting group and when we did our monthly reports, which were of course all done on paper and typed up and sent it to Washington, for example, we would do like a monthly reporting of obligations. I would get a folder of like purchase orders or something and I would have to go down and manually write that down and add it all up, make sure it was right. I mean it was very, very manual, everything. I mean we didn't even use punch cards, nothing, it was a manual process. Then all of that got recorded on this big accounting machine that had a thing like that and I actually had to use that thing a couple of times and it was scarier than heck 'cause it would go back and forth. It was all manual, I mean everything was. We did our payments---the payment process was, by the time I got here, was kind of automated but you know, you would do the payment and then we'd have to send the information to treasury and that was all typed on a schedule.
I remember having to do that and hated it because you had to be so precise, if you made a mistake you had to ex the whole thing out and start again. You just listed on this car---it was like a three carbon set---you typed everything out like the payment address, the amount, the vendor name, the invoice number, the amount of the payment and then that all had total up and had to match the documents and then you had to mail those to the treasury office in Chicago, and then they actually issued the checks. It was a very time consuming process and just it would drive me to distraction at times to have to do that, but that was one of the things I helped out with, was do that. And then when---so this would have been in the late '60s---in the early '70s when Pat Art started---that lady I'd mentioned before---she'd come from the Air Force and of course they were doing automation and stuff---so it was at that point that we started with the punch cards. Big step forward. Of course we had key punch operators here and so we would send them the documents instead of [manuing?] them, they would punch them on the cards and then we would get a box of cards back. And then every month for obligations we would go through those cards and we would pencil---we still had to write in, we would have to write in the change or we'd throw cards out and we'd say yeah given them new documents on the ones that just say we made a payment, partial payment, we would write the new number on there. So it was still very---it was manual but at least we could get actual printouts of our statements and on the big paper of course.
So that was a big step forward. Then we went to, after that like in---well this kind of all started to happen in the '70s, a lot happened then. We went to---the U.S. Department of Agriculture started a finance center in New Orleans and at that point we started sending all of our---actually I think, were we mailing stuff? Yeah we probably mailed documents down to them and then they entered it into the computer system. They still had key punchers, I remember going down there just row upon row of people sitting there and I said oh my god. But then they produced our statements, our monthly statements for us, but there again, and every month---then it got to the point that we had a keyboard and we would enter, with cassette tapes, and we would enter, we would have to manually put in our obligation on these cassette tapes. Then we'd have to dial it up---that's when the Fort Collins computer center came into business---we'd have a dial up modem, stick the phone in there, and then watch the tape go click, click, click, click as it transmitted the data. Then midway through the phone line would do dead or something so it would take days to get that stuff in, it was just oh it was so frustrating. Then we eventually got a little black and white terminal that we could actually enter stuff in on, it was so cool. So we eventually got to you know where---and actually we were doing that up until oh gosh that was probably into the early '80s we were doing that and then we eventually got to the point where we are today with web based.
Although when we first started with even the new financial system we were still doing a lot of---it wasn't as automated, but now it's---not state of the art because we're never going to be state of the art, can't afford to be state of the art---but we're pretty good. So now a lot of it is web based, which is really great, but those year ends used to---I mean I remember the first couple years when we first went to the new accounting system and it when it would come to year end and we were trying to enter stuff and the system would keep crashing. I remember being here---I mean we'd just work into the night and one time we just couldn't get it in, we knew we couldn't and we were so frustrated because we had all the data there, but you'd type in a letter and then you'd wait, and then you'd type in another let and you'd wait. There was no way we could get it all in and then it would crash and you never knew what was there and what wasn't. It was, we used to---the three of us that would stay and do all this work---I remember one night we were so frustrated because the system just went down and that's is, but then we're not done yet and you told us it was going to be this time and you cut off early.
We went down to the Club Tavern and we were sitting there having a drink and something to eat and they finally asked us to leave, said we're trying to close down. We thought well we got to talk this out, we were so frustrated. I mean it was just awful because you were so frustrated, you had all the data there and you could not get it in, just couldn't. And the thing is, the Forest Service had told them that your system isn't going to be able to take all the data that we are going to send to you. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Well they couldn't. But now that's better, like I said, it's gotten better and now the Forest Service is going to be going to a new accounting system. I was talking to a friend of mine in Albuquerque and I said to her when are you going to retire and she goes well, she says, guess what, they are going to upgrade the accounting system. I don't think they are staying with the vendor so they're going to go through all this again. She goes I kind of decided I'm going to stick around for this. I says, Linda, don't you remember. She says yeah well sort of, but I want to work a few more years. So they're going to be going through it again and hopefully---it is better than it was, definitely. I mean I remember I started with the tabular sheet and writing it down, adding it up all the way up to the web-based. I'm glad those old days are gone, that was really awful.