Opinion

Bob Mitchell: Campaigns from whistle stops to Air Force One

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Almost any time the president travels, he’s aboard Air Force One, but what was before that aircraft?

It was train Car One.

The first president to arrive at his inauguration by train was in 1836. One-time railroad attorney Lincoln, went by train, stopping 33 times between his home in Springfield, Ill., and Washington, D.C., as the Civil War was ending, a special car was prepared for him, named United States. His only journey in the car came after his assassination, since he mostly avoided luxurious trappings.

In 1881, Garfield was shot as he boarded a train. The next president to use a special car was Franklin Roosevelt; his car had two escape hatches fashioned after a submarine, air conditioning was by fans and ice. Roosevelt traveled some 50,000 miles in his car, Ferdinan Magellan.

Harry Truman’s whistle stops

In 1948, during his re-election campaign, Harry Truman traveled over 28,000 miles, making over 300 whistle stops for his campaign speeches from the rear platform.

One of those stops was in Monett, which had a couple of Cassville residents appearing on the back during his speech; they were my uncle Means Ray and Dr. George Newman.

The two men had been selected previously to board the train in Oklahoma and make the trip to Springfield with the president. Newman was Barry County Democrat chairman at the time. Their appearance in the stop caused quite a treat for some of the local people who gathered at the Monett station.

Uncle Means called to meet him

I was in college at SMS at the time when my Uncle Means called me to come to the Springfield station that evening and go to the next to last car and tell the Secret Service to inform him I was there. After some argument, I agreed and followed his directions. Truman’s down-to-earth speeches in the hometowns of people were rewarded by his upset defeat of Thomas Dewey.

At the train the Secret Service was accommodating and Uncle Means appeared, and I was ushered to the back car to meet the president.

Two years later in Key West. Fla., the president remembered this meeting, or maybe he had been reminded by my uncle.

Truman used the train considerably, and was said to have often washed his socks in one of the sinks. He later acquired The Independence, a propeller driven aircraft for long distance travel.

Ronald Reagan took a note from Truman’s successful campaign and went on a couple of trips by rail.

Eisenhower was the last one

Dwight Eisenhower was the last president to use Train Car One, favoring highway and airplane travel. His program of federal interstate highways reportedly did great damage during those days to the railroad industry.

A number of succeeding presidents have used railroad travel, President Biden was a strict traveler by rail during his senate and vice-presidential terms.

Air Force One

The coming of the jet age brought Air Force One to virtually the lone way to travel any distance by modern-day presidents. The Air Force unit had a close Cassville connection for a couple of years.

Chief of communications aboard the aircraft was Leonard Stansberry who had entered the Air Force after our graduation from high school in1947. “Berry” as he was called by some, had started college with several of us, but quickly joined the service. His assignment to Air Force One often took him to special places, constantly attending training on new equipment that was being installed in the aircraft.

Leonard was quarterback of the Wildcats in 1946 when Cassville returned to football after World War II. He had also been an outstanding basketball athlete. He was a boyhood friend of mine when we owned the place on Old Exeter Road and his family lived on adjoining property.

Berry and I usually walked along the ridge to school each morning, going along the ridge to the back side of the School on the Hill. His parents were Jim and Susie.

He was found dead in a Cassville motel while here for the funeral of a relative.

The Cassville and Exeter Railroad (C&E)

The Cassville and Exeter Railroad, affectionately called the Cream and Eggs Railroad, was the shortest standard gauge commercial railroad in the United States. There was no special car in the inventory of the railroad, but the Dingler family, principal owner during most of the history, did on occasion have a passenger car that made the four-mile run on special events.

The road went out of existence when corporate owners objected to the use of the transporting of material by businesses that were in competition with them. The right-of-way between Cassville and Exeter was deeded back to the original owners. The C&E tracks are still in the highway, crossing Main Street in Cassville near the intersection of East 10th street.

What a tourist attraction that train might have been for Cassville.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.