Riding with Harry: 2016 Presidential Election Reflects Truman’s Iowa Revival at 1948 Plowing Match in Dexter
Unpredictable. Shocking. Historic. All have been used to describe the 2016 presidential election, but they also characterized the remarkable presidential election of 1948. Back then, no one thought Harry Truman had any chance of returning to the White House, although he accomplished one of the biggest upsets in U.S. presidential history—and it all started on a farm near Dexter, Iowa.
Bob Larson, an 18-year-old farm boy from Casey, saw it all. “Harry Truman was a farmer, not a politician, at heart,” said Larson, 86, who met Truman on September 18, 1948, at the National Soil Conservation Field Days and Plowing Matches in Dallas County. “We can thank him for the conservation practices that are now common in agriculture.”
A recent high school graduate, Larson was working construction in 1948 with his future father-in-law. The crew was recruited to help build a dam and pond in the conservation demonstration fields north of Dexter. Larson first saw Truman on the afternoon of September 18, when the president jumped off a hayrack at the national plowing matches and headed toward the conservation area. Truman visited with Larson and his friends and family, who were eating lunch under a shade tree.
“Truman said, ‘What the hell are you doin’ just sitting here? Get your dozers started and get back to work. I want to watch you,’” said Larson, who noted that the construction crews had been told to shut down their machines when the president was in the area. “Truman rode with me on my bulldozer for about 10 minutes.”
Truman came to Iowa to “Give ‘em Hell”
When Truman arrived in Dexter on Sept. 18, 1948, he was a 50-to-1 underdog against his presidential rival, New York Governor Thomas Dewey. Truman’s appearance in Dallas County stemmed from a White House visit months before when Iowa Farm Bureau President E. Howard Hill and other Iowa ag leaders met with Truman in May 1948 and invited him to come to the National Soil Conservation Field Days and Plowing Matches. The president tried to discourage the men, asserting that they’d have nothing but problems if he and his entourage came.
Dewey was also invited to attend the event but turned the Iowans down flat. “Dewey thought he had the election locked up,” Larson said. “The Midwest didn’t like Dewey, because he was an elitist who had no time for Iowa dirt farmers.”
Months went by with no word from the White House. Then three weeks before the big day, plowing match organizers were notified that Truman had accepted their invitation. Once Dewey heard Truman was headed to Iowa, he immediately arranged for a farm-press event to be held on his Pawling, N.Y., farm on the same day as the national plowing matches near Dexter.
While the media focused on New York, all roads led to the nation’s largest farm event in central Iowa on the September 18, 1948. As the sun rose and the mercury soared, bumper-to-bumper traffic soon clogged the roads near Dexter.
The crowd welcomed Truman in grand style. As part of his whistle-stop presidential campaign, Truman arrived in Dexter via the Rock Island Railroad, where he was greeted at the depot by the Dexter school band, a parade and a queen and her court. The president, his wife, Bess, and their daughter, Margaret, were escorted to the farm site north of Dexter by a motorcade that included Truman’s convertible limousine.
Much to Truman’s delight, a huge crowd of 100,000 people gathered on Lois Agg’s farm to watch the plowing matches, see new conservation practices in action and hear him deliver a speech about farm policy.
WHO Radio personality Herb Plambeck introduced Truman. During Truman’s 29-minute speech, which was the first major speech of his 1948 presidential campaign, he was interrupted by applause 13 times. The loudest cheers came when he referred to the 80th Congress as the “do nothing Congress.” This was the first speech that was referred to as “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry,” a slogan that stuck with Truman for the rest of the campaign.
Event ushered in the modern era of ag conservation
After the speech, Truman and his entourage dined on fried chicken before heading out to the demonstration sites to see terraces, ponds and other conservation practices. Truman jumped off the hayrack to get a closer look, as members of the Secret Service scrambled to catch up with him.
“Truman was very interested in soil conservation and asked us a lot of questions,” Larson said. “While some guys thought terraces and contour farming were crazy, many farmers were intrigued by new conservation practices that were being promoted by the Soil Conservation Service.”
Truman took off his suit jacket, rolled up his sleeves on that hot afternoon and continued asking questions as he rode on Larson’s bulldozer while the Secret Service looked on. Larson wasn’t nervous as he chauffeured the president. “Truman was just an old farmer who wanted to know practical things, like how much dirt I was hauling.”
The response Truman received in Dexter that day revitalized his presidential campaign and Truman himself. While the polls still had Truman trailing Dewey on the eve of the 1948 election, and his margin of victory was small, Truman went on to become the 33rd president of the United States.
Truman’s appearance at Dexter also helped usher in the modern era of conservation in agriculture. Larson’s conservation work left a lasting impact, as well, since the dam and pond he built in 1948 are still there. His story, along with photos from that unforgettable day, are preserved at the Dexter Museum and on a historical marker north of Dexter.
“Truman made a good impression on me,” Larson said. “If I’d been old enough to vote in 1948, I probably would have picked Truman.”
Explore more rural Iowa history
Want to discover more stories and pictures that showcase the unique history of small-town and rural Iowa? Check out my top-selling “Calhoun County” book from Arcadia Publishing, and order your signed copy today.
P.S. Thanks for joining me. I’m glad you’re here.
@Copyright 2016 Darcy Maulsby & Co.
2 responses to “Riding with Harry: 2016 Presidential Election Reflects Truman’s Iowa Revival at 1948 Plowing Match in Dexter”
- Do Press Releases Still Work?
- Erasing History? Budget Cuts Threaten to Gut Ag History at Iowa State University
- Machines that Changed America: John Froelich Invents the First Tractor in Iowa
- Bob Feller on Farming, Baseball and Military Service
- Classic Restaurants of Des Moines: A Taste of Thailand Served the "Publics" and Politics
- Want to Combat Fake News? Become a Better Researcher
- Communication Tips
- Dallas County
- Food history
- Iowa food
- Iowa history
- Small town
Archive by year
- When Agriculture Entered the Long Depression in the Early 1920s
- The Corn Lady: Jessie Field Shambaugh and the Birth of 4-H in Iowa
- Sauce to Sanitizer: Cookies Food Products Bottles Hand Sanitizer Made with Ethanol
- Myth Busting: No, Your Pork Doesn't Come from China
- Long Live Print Newsletters! 5 Keys to Content Marketing Success
- Shattering Silence: Farmer Helped Slave Find Freedom and Racial Equality in Iowa
- Meet Iowa Farmer James Jordan, Underground Railroad Conductor
- George Washington Carver Rose from Slavery to Ag Scientist
- Remembering the African-American Sioux City Ghosts Fast-Pitch Softball Team
- Want to Combat Fake News? Become a Better Researcher
- Classic Restaurants of Des Moines: A Taste of Thailand Served the "Publics" and Politics
- The Untold Story of Iowa’s Ag Drainage Systems
- Stop Rumors Before They Ruin Your Brand
- Finding Your Voice: The Story You Never Knew About "I Have a Dream"
- Warm Up with Homemade Macaroni and Cheese Soup
- Can a True Story Well Told Turn You into a Tom Brady Fan?
- Baking is for Sharing: Best Bread, Grandma Ruby’s Cookies and Other Iowa Favorites
- 4 Key Lessons from Bud Light’s Super Bowl Corn-troversy
- Could Your Story Change Someone’s Life?
- What To Do When the Travel Channel Calls
- Tex-Mex Sloppy Joes and the Magic of Maid-Rite in Iowa
- How Not to Invite Someone to Your Next Event--and 3 Solutions
- We Need FFA: Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig Reflects on His FFA Experiences
- From My Kitchen to Yours: Comfort Food, Conversation and Living History Farms
- Smart Marketing Lessons from an Uber Driver--Listen Up!
- Hog Trailers to Humidors: Two New Iowa Convenience Stores Reflect “Waspy’s Way”
- A Dirty Tip to Make Your Social Media Content More Shareable
- Are You on Team Cinnamon Roll?
- Senator Grassley on Farming: Any Society is Only Nine Meals Away From a Revolution
- Why We Should Never Stop Asking Why
- What’s the Scoop? Expanded Wells’ Ice Cream Parlor Offers a Taste of Iowa
- Independence, Iowa’s Connection to the Titanic and Carpathia
- Memories of Carroll County, Iowa, Century Farm Endure
- Iowa's “Peacemaker Pig” Floyd of Rosedale Helped Calm Racial Tensions
- How to Cook a Perfect Prime Rib
- How Did We Get So Rude?
- Mmm, Mmm Good: Soup’s on at the Rockwell City Fire Department
- Quit Using “Stupid Language”
- In Praise of Ham and Bean Soup
- Recalling a Most Unconventional—and Life-Changing--FFA Journey
- Events Spark Stories That Help Backcountry Winery Grow in Iowa
- Sac County Barn Quilt Attracts National Attention
- Doing Good, Eating Good at Lytton Town Night
- Young Entrepreneur Grows a Healthy Business in Small-Town Iowa
- Digging Deeper: Volunteers Showcase Thomas Jefferson Gardens in Iowa
- How to Tell Your Community’s Story—with Style!
- DNA Helps Sailor Killed at Pearl Harbor Return to His Family
- It’s Time to Be 20 Again: Take a Road Trip on Historic Highway 20
- The Biggest Reason You Shouldn’t Slash Your Marketing Budget in Tough Times
- Are You Telling a Horror Story of Your Business?
- Pieced Together: Barn Quilt Documentary Features Iowa Stories
- Unwrapping Storytelling Tips from the Candy Bomber
- Barn Helped Inspire Master Craftsman to Create Dobson Pipe Organ Builders
- Butter Sculptures to Christmas Ornaments: Waterloo Boy Tractor Celebrates 100 Years
- Ag-Vocating Worldwide: Top 10 Tips for Sharing Ag’s Story with Consumers
- Growing with Grow: Iowa 4-H Leader Guides 100-Year-Old 4-H Club for 50 Years
- High-Octane Achiever: Ethanol Fuels New Driver Tiffany Poen
- Shakespeare Club Maintains 123 Years of Good Taste in Small-Town Iowa
- Iowa’s Ice Queen: Entrepreneur Caroline Fischer’s Legacy Endures at Hotel Julien Dubuque
- Darcy's Bill of Assertive Rights: How to Communicate and Get What You Need
- Celebrating Pi Day in Iowa with Old-Fashioned Chicken Pot Pie
- Cooking with Iowa’s Radio Homemakers
- Top 10 Tips to Find the Right Writer to Tell Your Company’s Stories
- The “No BS” Way to Protect Yourself from Rude, Obnoxious People
- Learning from the Land: 9 Surprising Ways Farmers Make Conservation a Priority
- Leftover Ham? Make This Amazing Crustless Spinach and Ham Quiche
- Iowa’s Lost History from the Titanic
- Coming Soon--"Dallas County," a New Iowa History Book!
- How to Clean a Burned Pan in 6 Simple Steps
- Iowa Beef Booster: Larry Irwin Takes a New Twist on Burgers
- Get Your Grill On: How to Build a Better Burger
- "Thank God It’s Over:" Iowa Veteran Recalls the Final Days of World War 2
- How to Thank Veterans for Their Military Service
- Imagine That! Writers, Put Your Reader Right in the Action
- Remembering Ambassador Branstad’s Legacy from the 1980s Farm Crisis in Iowa
- Busting the Iowa Butter Gang
- Lightner on Leadership: “Everyone Has Something to Give”
- Show Up, Speak Up, Don’t Give Up
- Small - Town Iowa Polo Teams Thrilled Depression - Era Crowd
- Ethanol:Passion by the Gallon
- Cruising Through Forgotten Iowa History on Lincoln Highway
- Why I'm Using a Powerful 500-Year-Old Technology to Make History--And You Can, Too
- 5 Ways a “History Head” Mindset Helps You Think Big
- Behind the Scene at Iowa's Own Market to Market
- Let’s Have an Iowa Potluck with a Side of History!
- Iconic State Fair Architecture: Historic Buildings Reflect Decades of Memories
- Iconic State Fair Architecture- Historic Buildings Reflect Decades of Memories
- Iowa Underground - How Coal Mining Fueled Dallas County's Growth
- Ultra-Local Eating: Jennifer Miller Guides CSA, Iowa Food Cooperative
- The Hotel Pattee and I are Hosting a Party—And You’re Invited!
- Tell Your Story—But How?
- Mediterranean Delights: Iowa Ag Influences Syrian-Lebanese Church Dinner
- 6 Steps for More Effective and Less Confrontational Conversations
- 6 Steps for More Effective and Less Confrontational Conversations!
- 6 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write—Even When You’re Not in the Mood
- Always Alert-How to Stay Safe in Any Situation
- Does Accuracy Even Matter Anymore?
- Soy Power Shines at Historic Rainbow Bridge
- Free Gifts! (Let’s Talk Listening, Stories and History)
- How to Connect with Anyone: Lessons from a Tornado
- Soul Food: Lenten Luncheons Carry on 45-Year Iowa Tradition
- Top 3 Tips for Writing a Must-Read Article
- Darcy's Top 10 Tips to Better Writing
- Top 8 Tips for Building a Successful Freelance Business
- 10 Steps to Better Photos
- Reinventing the Marketer of 2010
- Extreme Writing Makeover
- My Top Social Media Tips for Farmers: REVEALED!
- Honoring the Legacy of Rural Iowa's Greatest Generation
- Iowa's Orphan Train Heritage
- Dedham’s Famous Bologna Turns 100: Kitt Family Offers a Taste of Iowa History
- Iowa Barn Honors Pioneer Stock Farm
- Darcy's Top 10 Tips for Better Photos
- Soup and Small-Town Iowa Spirit
- Savoring the Memories: Van's Café Served Up Comfort Food for Six Decades
- Mayday, Mayday—The Lost History of May Poles and May Baskets in Iowa
- Iowa's Vigilante Crime Fighters of the 1920s and 1930s
- Very Veggie: Iowan's Farm-Fresh Recipes Offer Guilt-Free Eating
- Iowa Public TV's "Market to Market" Features Expedition Yetter, Agri-Tourism, Des Moines Water Works' Lawsuit
- 62 Years and Counting: Calhoun County, Iowa, Families Maintain 4th of July Picnic Tradition
- “A Culinary History of Iowa” Satisfies: Iowa History Journal Book Review
- For the Love of Baking: Lake City's Ellis Family Showcases Favorite Iowa Farm Recipes (Caramel Rolls, Pumpkin Bars and More!)
- Remembering Sept. 11: Iowa Community’s Potluck Honors America
- Talking Iowa Food and Culinary History on Iowa Public Radio
- Talking "Stilettos in the Cornfield," Taxes, Trade and More on CNBC
- FarmHer #RootedinAg Spotlight--FFA Attracts More Women to Careers in Ag
- Rustic Cooking Refined: Iowan Robin Qualy Embraces Global Flavors
- Voice of Reason: Iowa Pork Producer Dave Struthers Offers Top 10 Tips to Speak Up for Ag
- Iowa Eats! Why Radio Iowa, Newspapers and Libraries are Hungry for "A Culinary History of Iowa"
- Iowa Turkeys Carry on National Thanksgiving Tradition
- Riding with Harry: 2016 Presidential Election Reflects Truman's Iowa Revival at 1948 Plowing Match in Dexter
- All Aboard! Rockwell City’s “Depot People” Offer a Taste of Iowa History
- Is This Iowa's Favorite Appetizer?
- O, Christmas Tree! Small Iowa Towns Celebrate with Trees in the Middle of the Street
- Slaves Escaped Through Dallas County on Iowa’s Underground Railroad
- Adel Barn Accents Penoach Winery in Iowa
- Celebrating New Year's Eve in Style at a Classic Iowa Ballroom