Oral History Interview with
Sound car operator for Harry S. Truman during the 1940 senatorial campaign.
Mr. & Mrs. John A. Earp
January 3, 1979
by Benedict K. Zobrist
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Interview transcript . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . .Pages 1-15
Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16-31
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate
the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened November, 1979
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Mr. & Mrs. John A. Earp
January 3, 1979
by Benedict K. Zobrist
ZOBRIST: Mr. Earp, I am pleased to have you and Mrs. Earp with us this
morning. Why don't you identify yourself and tell me a little bit about
EARP: We are John and Vernia Earp, and at the time of the 1940 senatorial
campaign we lived in Jefferson City. At that time I came to the Kansas
City office of the Senator to try to contract my sound car for his campaign.
the job over some people who were trying to buy it and it didn't cost
me a cent.
But many things happened during the campaign that are very typical of
Mr. Truman. He was a very humble man, would take time for anyone, and
he often made the remark that he never met a man that he couldn't learn
So, as the time went by, about six weeks during the primary campaign,
and another six weeks during the general. After the primary was won, we
traveled the entire state, often making as many as eight stops a day.
ZOBRIST: Did you travel alone or did the two of you travel together?
MRS. EARP: On one or two occasions.
EARP: Usually I arrived at towns ahead of the Senator and his driver,
so that I could publicize the meeting and get people out.
ZOBRIST: How did you get your instructions? Were the instructions directly
from Mr. Truman or were you working with Mr. Canfil and some of the others?
EARP: I received very little specific instruction. I had the itinerary
for the whole campaign. I knew the dates and the times that I was supposed
to be at each place, and I'd try to get in there an hour before the Senator
did and run around the streets to get a good crowd for the meeting --
let people know he was coming.
On one such occasion, up in Hannibal, Missouri, there was a judge there,
whose name I have forgotten, who was supposedly a very loyal friend and
booster of the Senator. I got there ahead of Mr. Canfil and Mr. Truman,
and went down to see the judge. The judge assured me that everything was
arranged. But something led me to question that, although I had no reason
to doubt his loyalty except it just didn't ring true to me.
I went down to the Police Department to see if it was as represented.
And sure enough, they told me they had a warrant to pick me up as soon
as I started the sound equipment on the streets. The warrant had been
issued by the same judge who had assured me that everything had been arranged.
That incident made Mr. Truman just a little bit puzzled shall we say.
We went on through the state, and it was a very grueling experience for
both the Senator and myself, and for his driver and other people involved.
We'd start out by sunup every morning and usually wind up about midnight.
Often during the course of the day we'd travel three or four hundred miles
and usually made about eight stops everyday. He gave more or less the
same speech. But he didn't read it off per se; he'd
put in a little local color, things he knew about a particular area. I
have never known a man that knew so much about the politics of Missouri
as Mr. Truman did. He knew every little detail.
On one occasion that dates back to the 1934 campaign when my partner
was running the sound car, he started through some little southern town
in Missouri playing "Marching Through Dixie" on the sound equipment.
Here came Harry running out, waving his arms, "Get that _____ thing
off." He said, "They'll kill me down here." He knew the
history of every little vicinity, the characteristics of the people. And
furthermore, they knew him. There was no doubt about anybody knowing Harry
Truman. They either liked him or they didn't, there were no lukewarm responses.
In the primary we beat Stark and Milligan, much against everybody's predictions.
ZOBRIST: As I understand it, the primary was the real contest, and the
final election was just
not as controversial as the primary.
EARP: Not really. Milligan was stirring up a lot of business in the primary,
and of course the Stark people would say anything, and there were no ethics
ZOBRIST: Pretty rough and tumble I take it.
EARP: They'd make their accusations and Harry would ignore them. He never
recountered. They'd say he was a Pendergast man, but he didn't say pro
or con; he'd let it go. He won strictly on his own merit, not because
of what the others did or did not do. He told people what he would do
and they believed it.
MRS. EARP: On one occasion I was with Mr. Truman and my husband when
he made a speech. He came up to me after he gave the speech and he said,
"Mrs. Earp, how did you think the people reacted to my speech? Do
you think they were for me or
against me?" Of course, I told him I did not hear anyone say anything
against him, and I thought it was a wonderful speech. Now, I think that
takes a big man, to come and ask me -- after all, I wasn't a well-known
person -- to ask me what I thought his speech was like. He was
a really humble man.
EARP: Responses were always good. He constantly asked the crew traveling
with him if there was anything he could do to improve himself, if he was
doing anything wrong. We were frank in telling him and he did gain a little
ZOBRIST: Tell me about the word that was suggested that he not use.
EARP: On one occasion, I think it was Fred Canfil that had the nerve
to open up and say it. He said, "Yes, for God's sake, Harry, quit
using that word assinine."
We agreed with him that it wasn't a very good word. He didn't use it so
much, but it kept creeping out in the future; and that continued even
through his Presidency when he would occasionally use it. He had a bad
habit at first of emphasizing by slapping his hands together. So, during
one of those sessions, when he asked about what he could do, I said, "You
could refrain from slapping your hands together in front of the microphone,
that makes the speaker cones jump right out and grab the audience."
Once was enough on that. He developed pretty good microphone techniques,
so much so that when some local politician often blew into the microphone
to see if it was hot, Harry told them to just begin speaking in a normal
ZOBRIST: In this period, perhaps you wouldn't call him a polished speaker,
but how did he speak? How did he relate to the crowd?
MRS. EARP: Very well, I thought.
EARP: He had a message; he didn't pull any punches. He delivered it and
it was short. He always cited an old Baptist minister he knew that said
no soul was ever saved after twenty minutes. So he cut his speeches to
twenty minutes; on that I could depend right on the dot. I could set the
controls on the sound equipment and go buy a coke or something, come back
nineteen minutes later and be there to wind things up.
MRS. EARP: I thought he was a wonderful speaker.
EARP: Well, he was effective. He wasn't what you might call a good orator
by any means, but he was effective.
ZOBRIST: I think after the people of the United States got to know Mr.
Truman, they compared him unfavorably with Franklin Roosevelt who
was such a polished speaker, and had such a gift of English. The reason
I'm asking these questions is that I don't think that Mr. Truman was a
speaker of that type, but on the other hand, as you're stating, the way
he put it people listened.
EARP: He used common language that people understood, and he was in sympathy
with people, obviously.
ZOBRIST: I think that probably he touched on issues that the people understood
EARP: He knew the local issues as well as the statewide issues, and he
didn't ignore them when he spoke at a small town someplace out in the
corners of the state.
ZOBRIST: With how large a staff would he usually travel?
EARP: Regularly, there were only his driver and myself.
ZOBRIST: Who was that, do you recall?
EARP: In the primary his driver was Fred Whittaker. In the general, it
was Bruce Lambert.
ZOBRIST: Bruce Lambert?
EARP: Yes, Bruce Lambert of Independence.
ZOBRIST: Well, what role did Mr. Canfil play? Was he there sometimes
and not at other times?
EARP: He was running the Kansas City office while the campaign manager
was in primary campaign headquarters in Sedalia. When he could he'd come
out to the various places; he kind of served as liaison. He made, perhaps,
a third of the engagements. But he played it very low key; he didn't want
to be too prominent. As a rule people didn't understand Canfil's ways,
his blustery voice. He felt that he could be embarrassing to Harry in
some circumstances, and no doubt he could.
ZOBRIST: Did Mr. Truman's secretary -- whose name escapes me -- play
any role in the campaign at all?
EARP: Oh, definitely.
ZOBRIST: Who's the individual I'm thinking of?
EARP: I can't remember his name, but I'll speak in very definite terms
if you want it that way.
ZOBRIST: I certainly do.
EARP: This man apparently was dealing with one of my competitors in Jefferson
City who wanted this sound job. He was trying to pay this secretary for
the job (the reason I know that I'll get to later), but I got it and I
didn't pay for it. Some time later, after the campaign,
this individual in Jefferson City came by to see me and asked what the
job cost me. During the general campaign this secretary disappeared. He
was out, I don't know why.
ZOBRIST: Well, I know enough of the history of this early period to know
there was a falling-out. I don't know the details, but perhaps this was
when the fight came on money.
EARP: There were a lot of coattail riders that took advantage of Harry
and, being loyal to his friends, sometimes he didn't see it. However,
I wouldn't question the loyalty of most of his followers. There were a
few cases however, where Harry's loyalty didn't come free.
After he became President, I went down to the Muehlebach when he was
here to see him. In those days it wasn't easy to get in to see him. But
he found out I was there and he had me ushered right in. There must have
been a dozen
or more people there, of whom I was the least important. At that time
he asked me what he could do for me, and I said, "Harry, there isn't
anything I want; I just came down here to see what a President looks like."
He said, "Well, John, I want you to know that if there's anything
I can do for you, I'll do it." He