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Fred L. Truman Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview
with
Fred L. Truman

 
Son of Vivian Truman and nephew of
Harry S. Truman.
Prairie Village, Kansas
March 17, 1983
by Niel Johnson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 


Notice
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..

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
Fred L. Truman

 

Prairie Village, Kansas
March 17, 1983
by Niel Johnson

[1]

JOHNSON: The first question, Mr. Truman, is to tell me when and where you were born. Of course, we know your parents' names, but you might repeat them as well.

TRUMAN: I was born at 6033 Swope Parkway here in Kansas City where my grandparents Campbells lived. At that time father and mother, John Vivian Truman and Louella Truman, lived in Belton. They had moved up here from down south a little ways. From Belton they moved to Grandview, and then down to a farm west of Hickman Mills. It had

[2]

a big orchard on it then.

JOHNSON: What was the date of your birth?

TRUMAN: Well, I was born in 1915, May 7th.

JOHNSON: As I recall, your father and mother were married in 1911.

TRUMAN: Yes, 1911, I believe is right, and it was October 27.

JOHNSON: So your father helped manage and operate his father's Grandview farm from 1905 to 1911, when your father, Vivian, got married.

TRUMAN: Yes. My parents then moved into a place on what is called the Duck Road, at Grandview Road and Duck Road. That is where they started housekeeping.

JOHNSON: Their first home?

TRUMAN: Yes.

JOHNSON: Is that house still there?

[3]

TRUMAN: I believe it is. I think it is.

JOHNSON: Someone took me out in that area a couple of years ago when I was out interviewing, and I don't recall if the house was still there. We were looking for farm equipment that had been abandoned in that area, and we didn't see any. There wouldn't be any farm equipment that we could salvage, or retrieve?

TRUMAN: Well, you know, there's a walking plow over there in the Agricultural Hall of Fame that belonged to our family.

JOHNSON: So that's a genuine Truman plow then?

TRUMAN: A genuine Truman plow; I plowed with it.

JOHNSON: Well, how far back would that go in the family, do you have any idea?

TRUMAN: I don't really know how old that plow is. It was there when I grew up.

JOHNSON: Where were you using it when you first used it?

[4]

TRUMAN: Out there on the farm.

JOHNSON: And that would have been about what year would you say?

TRUMAN: Oh, around 1930-32, someplace in that area.

JOHNSON: We want to talk about equipment and all of these other things too, but I also want to try to bring up to date our genealogical information. Do you recall the birthdates of your brothers and sisters?

TRUMAN: J.C., that would be John Curtis, and my sister Callie Louise, his twin, who is dead, were born August 20, 1912. Then Martha Ann, I believe, was born on January 31, 1918. I'm not sure about that. Harry was born on September 18, 1923, I believe. Gilbert Vivian was born June 26, 1926.

MRS. TRUMAN: Didn't Martha Ann send you all that stuff one time?

JOHNSON: We may have that. I will check..

[5]

Okay, you said you were born here on Swope Parkway?

TRUMAN: And that house is still there.

MRS. TRUMAN: That was when his grandmother and grandfather lived there.

TRUMAN: Curtis Campbell.

JOHNSON: Was that a city house or was that a farm?

TRUMAN: It was city.

The farm where mother grew up was just off Blue Ridge at about 96th or 98th, someplace in there. Do you know where the Hen House is out there on Blue Ridge? It's about a mile south of the Hen House. It's about a mile north of Ruskin High School. They lived on the west side of what is now Blue Ridge. Some of their family, the Bryants, which is Mamma Campbell's family, lived over on the east side, about a half a quarter north of that. That is where the farms were kind of joining.

[6]

Mamma [grandmother] Campbell's name was Bryant to start with, and her brother then owned a farm across the road there. Papa Campbell owned this one on this side. Then they got into this bank down here on Swope Parkway and Prospect, that isn't there anymore, and moved into town. That's where I was born in that house; it's still there.

JOHNSON: When your parents were first married, that is in 1911, when your father Vivian moved off the farm, they moved into a farm house that was just off of old Grandview Road?

TRUMAN: On the west side of Grandview Road, just north of Duck Lane there. That's about half a quarter south of where Blue Ridge crosses Grandview Road at the present time.

JOHNSON: Not too far from the railroad right-of-way there is it?

TRUMAN: No, it's not, just a little ways.

[7]

JOHNSON: And they lived there a little while and then they...

TRUMAN: I think the next place they moved was over east of town.

JOHNSON: Was that called the "Good" farm?

TRUMAN: No. It was across the road from what we called the "Good" place. I believe it was called the Strode place.

JOHNSON: So they lived there awhile?

TRUMAN: Lived there a year or so and then rented a farm in Amarugia.

JOHNSON: In where?

TRUMAN: I thought that would catch you. At that time he was the only person that lived in Amarugia. It's a couple of miles west and a mile or so south of Harrisonville. They call it the Amarugia Hills now, and people are proud to live down there now, but at that time they weren't.

[8]

JOHNSON: So they lived there awhile.

TRUMAN: And then they moved, I believe, to Belton and then to Grandview, and then to Hickman Mills.

JOHNSON: Did they move back to the farm there, in Grandview?

TRUMAN: No, they lived there in town, lived there by the Clements. That house belonged to the Halls I think, but it was just right next door to the Clements' place. Then they moved to Hickman Mills, on what we called the Cottingham place.

JOHNSON: This is another farm?

TRUMAN: Yes, that's a farm.

JOHNSON: By Hickman Mills?

TRUMAN: Yes, that's now built up in an addition. I went to school down there at Hickman. Then we moved up here on the Grandview Road, just south of where the Southern goes through. It was at

[9]

the top of the hill, on the east side of Grandview Road. That's one that the tornado took out. About 1927 we moved from there over to what we called the Good place, which borders the farm on the east side. We lived there about three years, and then moved to the house north of the old Truman home. I think that was 1930.

JOHNSON: Well, the house that was taken out by the tornado, I think maybe that's the one…

TRUMAN: That Gilbert was born in.

JOHNSON: Oh, he was born in there. That may be the site that we saw, because like I say, as I recall it was just a foundation, or evidence of a foundation.

TRUMAN: Well, there was a cave out in front of it. I don't know whether that's been torn out or not.

JOHNSON: When was that tornado?

TRUMAN: That's the one that went through Ruskin Heights,

[10]

in 1957. That's the one that went through and tore up Ruskin Heights.

JOHNSON: I guess I should ask you your first recollection of visiting the Truman farm, although at the time, I suppose, it was thought of as the Solomon Young farm.

TRUMAN: Well, no, I don't remember it being called that.

JOHNSON: Just called it the Truman farm?

TRUMAN: Well, just Mamma Truman's; that is all we ever called it.

JOHNSON: Mamma Truman's, okay.

TRUMAN: No, I don't remember much about being up there particularly until we started working it, more or less. Well, when we lived there on Grandview Road, that is when I really remember much about it. Of course, we had been up there some before that.

[11]

JOHNSON: What occasions would bring you to the farm when you were living elsewhere?

TRUMAN: Well, I don't really remember most of that.

JOHNSON: Like the mid-twenties?

TRUMAN: Well, we went there for Thanksgiving quite a bit. Of course, Uncle Harry was there. Margaret made the comment that he could not carve the turkey, but he sure unlearned it when he got in the White House.

JOHNSON: Did the family get together there for Christmas?

TRUMAN: No, not at Mamma Truman's. The earliest Christmases we had were down at Papa Campbell's.

JOHNSON: But the Thanksgivings were usually out at what you called Mamma Truman's place?

TRUMAN: Yes. We had Thanksgiving dinner out there quite often. See, her birthday is right close to Thanksgiving, so it was a kind of a combination deal.

[12]

JOHNSON: And you did have turkey?

TRUMAN: Several times, and Uncle Harry carved it--left-handed by the way too.

JOHNSON: Left-handed carver?

TRUMAN: Yes, he was left-handed.

JOHNSON: He was kind of ambidextrous I guess. He did some things right-handed; he wrote right-handed didn't he?

TRUMAN: Well, you know, then they wouldn't accept the fact that a man could write left-handed. That made him odd-ball if he wrote left-handed at that time. Even if he wrote right side up, it just wasn't proper until the last twenty years or so for a man to write left-handed.

JOHNSON: Just forced you to write right-handed. I suppose the teachers trained him to write right-handed, and he had to do it.

TRUMAN: Oh, yes, the only way you could write at

[13]

that time.

JOHNSON: You mentioned the hand plow at the Ag. Hall of Fame.

TRUMAN: Yes.

JOHNSON: And you can remember working it. When would that have been when you got behind that plow?

TRUMAN: I don't remember specifically, but I know I did use it. Around the age of 18 probably.

JOHNSON: Did you go to high school at Ruskin?

TRUMAN: No, I went up to about the fifth grade at Hickman Mills School on Grandview Road. Then we went to Grandview, and I finished high school at Grandview. Martha Ann finished at Ruskin, but I finished at Grandview.

Talking about working, one thing that happened--Fa [father] bought a little pair of gray mules that were tender mouthed. We were plowing corn about four inches tall, and they wouldn't walk slow enough to keep from covering

[14]

up the corn. So I tightened up the lines a little bit, and they started shooting craps. This should probably be explained. One mule would walk forward while the other backed up and vice versa. I got over towards that rock wall between us and the Feland place, and cut me a sapling about the size of my thumb and six or seven feet long. I tightened up the lines and spoke to them and they started shooting craps, so I cut them across the rear end with that stick. Then I pulled on the bits and they reared straight up. I looked around and my father was standing in that barn door. He never did say anything, but the team plowed corn from then on.

JOHNSON: You were plowing land there on your father's place?

TRUMAN: Well, on the Truman farm. We farmed the whole section.

JOHNSON: Was that 600 acres then, do you recall?

[15]

TRUMAN: Well, there were 160--40 acres across the highway, and 90 and 65 and 80. Then there was that pasture back west across the railroad. It would have made around 600.

JOHNSON: As I understand it, in the 1920s you father was helping to farm his mother's place, the Truman farm?

TRUMAN: We were farming what we called the Cottingham place. There were about three hundred acres of that. Then we moved from there up to Grandview, on Grandview Road, and then started farming that home place.

JOHNSON: When would that have been?

TRUMAN: We moved to Grandview Road probably about 1920.

JOHNSON: And that's when you started farming that 600 acres?

TRUMAN: Yes, the whole place.

[16]

JOHNSON: Well, getting back to the plow again. I guess the mules you were referring to were the ones that also pulled that plow, that hand plow?

TRUMAN: Not that pair of grays, no. The ones I used on that were Pete and Tom. They were a good team of mules. But they used to make me mad. I had to let the hired hand work them to keep them from ruining the pair of mares we had. I had to rebreak them every time we got them back.

JOHNSON: What are some of your recollections of working the Truman land there? We are trying to find out what kinds of equipment were used.

TRUMAN: One thing, while we were there, father traded for a Fordson tractor and a Model T Ford truck. Got them home--I don't know how, but he couldn't drive either one of them. He finally got rid of them. But what we used there were teams altogether, originally.

[17]

JOHNSON: No tractors at all?

TRUMAN: When we first moved up there, no. We used mules basically, and a couple of teams of horses. When we moved up there, he had eight head of mules that pulled the beam out of a wooden-beamed road plow when they were breaking up the macadam road down there by Hickman. He was road overseer, and he took it back into the county barn down there, and they said, "Oh, that's just a defective one." So they pulled it out of a second one.

JOHNSON: They must have had terrific traction power.

TRUMAN: They pulled pretty good. They'd all pull together.

JOHNSON: So he was working on the roads while his brother was County Judge wasn't he?

TRUMAN: Well, I'm not sure. Because I'm not sure just when the overlap was.

[18]

JOHNSON: These were graders that were pulled by mules to grade the country roads?

TRUMAN: Yes, and then he opened s