Mr. & Mrs. John A. Earp Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Mr. & Mrs. John A. Earp

Sound car operator for Harry S. Truman during the 1940 senatorial campaign.

Independence, Missouri
January 3, 1979
by Benedict K. Zobrist


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. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
Independence, Missouri


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Oral History Interview with
Mr. & Mrs. John A. Earp


Independence, Missouri
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 that period?

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. I got


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 something from.

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 involved.

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 polish.

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 voice.

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 as well.

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 said, "I mean anything." Never once did I ask him for anything. But I valued his friendship and I felt like he was honestly a good friend.

ZOBRIST: Did you ever know John Snyder?

EARP: The name is familiar but...

ZOBRIST: He was later Secretary of the Treasury, and he was also an Army colonel as well. He and Mr. Truman had been at summer camps together and I thought perhaps that he may have...


EARP: I can't recall him. I can't recall ever meeting him.

ZOBRIST: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

EARP: Oh, I could go on and on, but those are the highlights.

ZOBRIST: I appreciate your doing this for us. How about you, Mrs. Earp?

MRS. EARP: I haven't anything else to say, except that I'm so glad that he got to be president.

EARP: We certainly liked that man.






John Alex Earp
Sound Equipment Operator

I first knew Mr. Truman when he ran for re-election to the United States Senate in 1940. The nature of the man was apparent to me early in the campaign, and my regard for him grew rapidly as time progressed.

I had never taken an active role in politics at that time, or since, but having sound equipment for hire, I decided that I wanted to campaign for Mr. Truman. With no political influence whatsoever, I contacted the Senator's Kansas City office. I was received rather indifferently by his campaign manager, but I met and liked Mr. Fred Canfil, who also was in the office at that time. I think that it was largely through the influence of Mr. Canfil that I got the job I did not meet Mr. Truman at that time, and did not meet him until I joined him some time later on the road.


A few weeks later, a competitor in Jefferson City whom I knew had tried to out-bid me openly asked me what that job had cost me. This made it apparent that he had offered someone in the Truman organization a kick back -- most likely the campaign manager. This was the first indication I had that some of Mr. Truman's followers were less than loyal. This man remained in the office through most, if not all, of the primary campaign, but when the time came to start the campaign for the general election he was gone. His going was without explanation, and I didn't ask.

The primary campaign was a grueling experience for all of us. Only four of us were directly involved on the road trips: Mr. Truman, his driver Fred Whittaker, Mr. Canfil, and myself. Mr. Canfil was present at only about half of the road engagements. The daily routine began with breakfast about 6 a.m., followed by as many as eight towns and eight speeches by Mr. Truman each day. The evening engagement was usually in one of the larger towns, followed by a public dinner and "smoke-filled


rooms" which often kept u