Record rains in the West. Bone-numbing cold in the Midwest and East. Snow in the Deep South. For much of the country, it is turning out to be the harshest winter of the century—a fact that only the tried-and-true Farmers’ Almanac could have foreseen, right? Wrong. The winter of 1981-82 was, according to the Almanac, supposed to be “normal.”
“That’s why we don’t go into too much detail,” shrugs Ray Geiger, editor of the Almanac for 48 of his 71 years. “I try not to get out on a hook. I tell people that the bands on woolly bear caterpillars indicate how cold the winter will be, but I really don’t believe any of it.” Besides, Geiger doesn’t do the predictions—he isn’t even sure how they’re done. For 26 years Harry Buie was the Almanac’s weather “calculator.” When Buie died in 1980, what his widow, Martha, knew of his secret weather formula was passed on to a new calculator, known by the pen name of Caleb Weatherbee. “It has something to do with sunspots,” says Geiger. “There may be other things, but I’m afraid if I knew, I might tell. My wife says I’m a blabbermouth.”
Ann Geiger is right. Her husband travels 100,000 miles a year talking up the Almanac, and his efforts have paid off: Circulation has climbed from 86,000 in 1934, when he took over as editor, to six million today. (The 165-year-old Farmers’ Almanac is given away by banks, insurance firms and other businesses as a promotional gimmick, as opposed to its chief competitor, the 190-year-old Old Farmer’s Almanac, which is sold in stores.)
Instead of watching weather, Geiger concedes, his major function is to collect “corn pone” for each annual issue—such humor-on-the-husk as “Old gardeners never die, they just go to seed” and “Why did the farmer feed his cattle marijuana? He wanted them to make good pot roasts.” He also collects poems from among the 25,000 letters he receives each year. His favorite verse is an epitaph: Here lies the body of Detlof Swenson,/Waiter./God finally caught his eye. “A prisoner on death row in San Francisco used to clip stuff from newspapers and send it to me,” says Geiger. “But I never hear from him anymore.”
While Geiger relishes being called “the King of Cornography,” publishing the annual is not his full-time job. “The Almanac represents only about eight percent of my company’s sales,” he says, “but it’s 97 percent of my fun.” Geiger Bros, of Lewiston, Maine grossed $20 million last year printing diaries, calendars and advertising items. “I’m not comfortable thinking I’m a millionaire,” says Ray, who is chairman of the board. “I’m considered kind of a country boy from Maine.”
Actually, he was born in New Jersey, where his grandfather Jacob co-founded the printing company in 1878. In 1934, after graduating from Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Ray became the Almanac’s fifth editor. During World War II, while serving as an Army captain in the South Pacific, he continued running the Almanac—even after being wounded. He recovered by the end of the war and in 1955 moved the company and the Almanac to Maine.
Meantime he met and married Ann Hueber, a schoolteacher. “She was meant for me,” recalls Ray. “She knew lots of recipes and household hints.” While raising their five children, Ann collected for the Almanac such valuable bits of advice as how to poach fish filets in your dishwasher, iron a grilled cheese sandwich and boil the dents out of your Ping-Pong balls.
Ray Geiger is grateful. Nine years ago he borrowed a Goodyear blimp to float overhead with the message: “Thank you, Ann, for 25 good years.” That worked out better than their 20th anniversary in 1968, when Ray hired parachutists to float down and present Ann with bouquets of roses. That stunt had to be scrubbed—because of bad weather.