By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. No air ship can ever compare with the great age of American railroads. Air vessels are good for one thing and one thing only, speed… for arriving and leaving just as fast as possible. There is no allure in this… no bliss… no romance… and most certainly no grandeur and luxury.
But it is very different with railroads… very different indeed. It is the difference between eating to live and dining for fulfillment and total satisfaction. It is the difference between a pedestrian thing of mere utility… and an essential experience of life which once had you must have yet again, or pine and regret you have settled for less.
Grandeur on the tracks… History in the making.
Now, I’ve got your ticket to travel as a passenger on one of the grandest railway cars of all… the Ferdinand Magellan.
For the incidental music to this article, I have selected one of the best known railroad songs, “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.” It was written by Johnny Mercer for the 1946 film “The Harvey Girls” where it was sung by Judy Garland. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year. This much sung song (available in any search engine) makes you want to play hookey for a few days, rushing out and grabbing a ticket to — anywhere. Because you see, with a railroad it is not only where you are going… but, always, how you’re going there.
And on the Ferdinand Magellan you were on your way to the White House… if your name was Harry Truman.
The 1948 coronation for future president Thomas E. Dewey… governor of the great Empire State.
Harry S. Truman was President of the United States in 1948, but from the way the media (which meant newspapers, radio and film) discussed him, you’d think he was a laughable reject who slipped into the Oval Office, and now refused to go back to Missouri. Every known form of ridicule and ribaldry was used to define this man and make fun at his expense. “To err is Truman,” said Mrs. Robert Taft, wife of the lordly Senator from Ohio, a man who thought he was born to follow in his father’s footsteps and so gain the White House without perspiring.
Governor Dewey and all the others felt the same way and decried the little man in the job, the job he was so clearly not up to handling and, besides, was an embarrassment to a great nation which, by right, should be secure in the hands of men like — them! Nor was this the view of just one party, either; these sentiments were aired, and robustly, too, by gentlemen of every political complexion. Truman not only spoke for the common man… he was the common man. And this, it was universally agreed, would never do.
And so all the princes of the land saw themselves as kings…. until the 1948 campaign came down to a three-way split in the Democratic party — Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina the Dixiecrat candidate of race baitiing segregationists… former Vice President Henry Wallace, the candidate of One World progressives, soft on Communism and “Uncle Joe” Stalin… and then Governor Dewey, the Republican candidate, who narrowly failed to defeat President Roosevelt in 1944 and was measuring his morning suit for January 20, 1949 the day he became president, and a Man of Destiny.
It was at this moment in America, that Harry Truman ensconced himself in the Ferdinand Magellan… and changed everything for everyone… surprising everyone but himself.
What a way to go….
When I speak of Harry Truman’s great railway campaign across America in 1948 as unique, I mean exactly that. It was the only private railway car ever fitted out for the exclusive use of the President of the United States. .. eighty-three feet in length and painted the standard dark green of the Pullman Company, once headed by Abraham Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert. It was built in 1928 as one of several luxury cars named for famous explorers, including Marco Polo and David Livingstone. The government commandeered it for President Roosevelt in 1942, overhauled to become a mobile fortress, luxury and armaments mixed in immediate proximity.
From this flexible palace, this man of Independence, Missouri, this reviled little man so far behind in the polls pollsters didn’t bother to poll any more, this man of fiery spirit and determination meant to go forth and make his case… He told his sister “It will be the greatest campaign any President ever made. Win, lose, or draw people will know where I stand.” And he was as good as his word.
He had one chance… and he seized it with avidity, joy, fortitude and gratitude. It was a cocktail we all could use.
On Friday, September 17, 1948, Harry Truman, accident of history, went to Washington’s Union Station ,Track 15, where his 17-car special train packed with some 70 folks stood waiting for him. It contained diners, lounges, sleepers, a press car, a dynamo car for power, a communications car where radio teletype would provide continuous contact with Washington and the rest of the world near war because of the Soviet blockade of ravished Berlin. Everything was there — including unprecedented security — but the last, most essential thing… the passenger for whom all this was assembled….
Truman arrived exactly on time, looking “positively bouyant”, his daughter Margaret remembered. Vice presidential candidate Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky, about to begin his own odyssey by plane, shouted “Mow ’em down, Harry.” And Truman shouted back, “I’m going to give ’em hell,” and so one of the most famous political phrases was thrown down as a gauntlet to the world…
Never before, never after, never say die.
The 1948 campaign was built on a series of “certainties”:
* Harry Truman was a certain loser. * No man had ever won the presidency with his party so splintered. * There was no point in polling because people had made up their minds and that was that. * You couldn’t win the highest office in the land with so little money. * And you couldn’t win with so many people thinking you so incompetent and over your head.
Yet in 33 days, from the platform at the back of the car, where he greeted his fellow citizens and introduced them to “the Boss,” Bess Truman… and his beautiful daughter “Miss Margaret’,” Harry Truman touched people, opened minds, and made friends, in the process firmly establishing him as a likable man who knew them, not just as politician but as neighbor, so very different from disdainful Governor Dewey, who thought even unbending condescension too good for the people who made America great…
And so, indefatigable (whilst all the members of his party wilted), feisty to a degree, always positive, determined to rouse America and bring the importances of this campaign starkly into focus for all… little by little, at each whistle stop, he inched ahead. And so as Dewey floated aimlessly above the fray, arrogant, disliked, mouthing nothing but platitudes that touched and uplifted no one, Harry Truman got in there and fought for the right to be the chief representative of the nation and their engine for a better life.
This great railroad extravaganza did not win Truman the presidency… but it transformed him from a certain loser to a possible winner, a man gone from hopeless to plausible while riding in the greatest railway car ever built, over the greatest network of track ever laid, en route to the greatest people on earth, asking them to confer the greatest office on earth on him by first giving him a listen. And they did.
On January 20, 1949, Harry S. Truman was inaugurated as President of the United States for a full term in his own right.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses.
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Republished with author’s permission by Daniel Fischer http://SuccessClicks.com.