"I can walk anywhere in this country with this book in my hand," says Jud Hale, "and people will recognize it immediately. They look at it and smile."
The Old Farmer's Almanac, with its familiar yellow cover and hole in the top left-hand corner -- "that hole cost us $72,000 this summer" -- plays everywhere, including Peoria. And when its publishers put the $1.75 almanacs in a big, bright yellow display rack there, sales quintupled.
"So now," says editor Hale, "we have 20,000 bins across the country."
Hale, 51, the almanac's 12th editor in its 193-year history, is on his annual swing around the country, talking up "the oldest continuously published periodical in America."
The almanac is big business now, with sales last year at around 4 million copies. The 1985 edition was published earlier this month.
Robert B. Thomas, the almanac's first editor, sold 3,000 copies the first year, at 8 cents per copy. The next year he tripled sales, still at 8 cents a throw.
"The Old Farmer's Almanac has been in the black from the beginning," says Hale. "Eight cents in those days you had to work harder to get than the $1.75 today."
The almanac, published in Dublin, N.H., is perhaps best known for its weather predictions, and Hale is quick to point out that its accuracy stands at around 80 percent. ("We always claim 80 percent accuracy. That's a traditional claim of all almanacs. We're very big on tradition.")
The original forecasting formula was devised by editor Thomas around 1793. Although it was added to by other editors over the years, "We still have the original formula in a black tin box in our office."
Since 1969, the almanac has used forecast predictions worked out by solar scientist Richard Head, chief scientist for the National Aeronautics & Space Administration during the 1960s. "We provided him the funds, office and so forth," says Hale, "for him to continue his solar research and long-range weather forecasting research, and in return we had the forecasts for the almanac."
Before Head began his forecasts, the almanac printed one forecast -- in rhyme -- for the entire country. Now there are specific forecasts for each month for 16 regions across the country: data on precipitation, atmospheric conditions and temperature. The predictions, says Hale, represent "a really serious effort to make an accurate forecast for the 16 regions."
Is Hale pleased with Head's work? "Dr. Head definitely still has his job."
Another almanac feature Hale takes seriously is the astronomical data, "the backbone" of The Old Farmer's Almanac.
"Our astronomer is Dr. George Greenstein, professor of astronomy at Amherst College. Even back in Robert B. Thomas' day he used a professional astronomer. You couldn't make the calculations for those pages as an amateur."
Some of the more lighthearted features of the almanac come from free-lance writers; others are commissioned. Among the features in the 1985 edition is "Three Ways to Hypnotize a Chicken": The Oscillating Finger Method, the Sternum Stroke Method and the Chalk Line Method. Hale says pheasants also are likely candidates for hypnosis, but "You have to watch the pheasants. They're nervous and high-strung and kind of go bananas when they come out of hypnosis."
Another feature is "Sure-Fire Home Remedies for the Hiccups." These methods are tried and true, says Hale. None, however, has worked for one unfortunate: "the fella who's had the hiccups for 63 years, out in Iowa." He told the almanac staff that he tried all the methods, unsuccessfully.
"That," says Hale, "was a little bit of a damp rag, because we thought all of those cures would be pretty good."
It turns out the man had tried once to pick up "an almost 300-pound pig and snapped something. Had the hiccups ever since." He even tried Hale's favorite cure: "Take a red thread, wet it a bit, put it on your forehead and look at it. That always works." One of the few features in the book that's not original is "Rules of Thumb," from the book by Tom Parker. Among the rules:
*"A sex-change operation will age you five years."
*"If you see one mouse in your house, you probably have 12."
*"The distance from your elbow to your wrist equals the length of your foot."
Hale, editor of the almanac for 14 years and also editor of the 1 million circulation monthly, Yankee magazine, says the almanac staff is approached by all sorts of people. Some want to work on the almanac. Others have something to sell, including one reader who tried to sell Hale "the stone David used to slay Goliath. He said the Angel Gabriel gave it to him. I was very cautious with him."
Although they are among the least-read pages of The Old Farmer's Almanac, Hale's personal favorites are the calendar pages and their astronomical information.
"To look at those figures and know that they're 100 percent accurate . . . To look and the sun goes down in front of Lake Winnipesaukee exactly when we said it would, 17 months ago. There's something comforting about that."