Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened August, 1962
November 9, 1961
by James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Well, Mr. Veatch, I guess we might as well start with the obvious question. When did you first meet Mr. Truman -- come in contact with Mr. Truman?
VEATCH: That stumps me for the moment. My first knowledge of President Truman -- my first acquaintance with him came through Col. E. M. Stayton of Independence, who was then presiding county ,judge of Jackson County, Missouri, was desirous of having a report made on the need for road improvements in Jackson County. That I believe was in 1928. But I would have to check that date.
FUCHS: I think that was a little earlier, sir. According to the records you showed me, I believe it was 1927.
VEATCH: Well, I hadn't thought of checking that and it
was back sometime, and I really don't remember. But at any rate, shortly after that a meeting was arranged through Col. Stayton, and that was the first time I had ever met Mr. Truman, presiding judge of the county court.
FUCHS: Do you recall where you met?
VEATCH: I do not. I don't remember where, but I imagine it was at lunch -- probably. He outlined then what he wanted, and arrangements were made for Col. Stayton and myself to make this survey and report to him on what we would recommend in the way of a road system in Jackson County. He was quite a road enthusiast, as you perhaps have found out, and he had traveled all over the country studying road systems in other counties. Following this first conference, Col. Stayton and I made a very thorough survey of the county. We rode all the roads and collected the information we needed. We had numerous conferences with Mr. Truman out of which came our first report on roads. Shortly following that, Judge Truman -- I don't know
whether I am correct on this -- I think shortly following the first report, he arranged for or started the machinery to have a bond election in the county. The bond election, the first of two, was for $6,000,000. The bond election was held and the bonds were voted. He then made arrangements for Col. Stayton and myself to get started on the engineering work. We were to set up an office -- a separate office from those of the county, the personnel of which, including Col. Stayton and myself, were to be on the county payroll. This office was to make detailed designs and to supervise the construction of the road system for which the bonds were voted. This program got under way and the work was let in sizable contracts. We tried to arrange so that any one contract wouldn't be too big and result in shutting out moderate size contractors. I believe for the first time, at least for a long time in the history of this area, contractors were attracted from all over the country. It had been rather a closed shop here in Kansas City and Jackson County prior to then.
FUCHS: How do you mean that?
VEATCH: Well, at that time the county was under the very definite control of Mr. Pendergast. But before these bonds were voted, Mr. Truman had gotten Mr. Pendergast's promise to let him run it as he wanted to run it. He promised the voters he would see that the money was spent honestly and he did, too. He ran it that way. It was handled in a business-like way from the start, and through the whole procedure I am sure there was no shenanigan of any sort in the awarding of contracts. This was a rather unusual thing and I give credit to Mr. Pendergast for keeping his word with Mr. Truman.
After that program had gotten pretty well along it developed that more roads were needed than had been included. A second report was requested, on which Col. Stayton and I collaborated again, and additional bonds were voted. As I recall it, it was $4,000,000. At any rate the total program was $10,000,000, as I remember it. Does that check?
FUCHS: I believe so, sir.
VEATCH: Well, that's my recollection at the moment without --
I'd like to have a chance to check that. Subsequently, piece by piece, the program was put under contract and construction. Of course, there were a number of contracts going at one time. There may have been as many as ten different contractors employed at different points in the county. Generally speaking, any one of those contracts was not much over a half million dollars. We tried to keep it that way, so as to get more contractors interested and make it a more attractive thing for them. The job was completed and, I think, to everyone's satisfaction. Everybody felt that a creditable job had been done.
Previous to that time the roads in the county, mostly oiled dirt roads, would go to pieces quickly, requiring large expenditures for maintenance. There were a lot of the concrete roads that were found not to have very much cement in them. The saving in maintenance costs made possible by the new road programs, largely paid the carrying charges on the bonds issued. Some of these roads that were built in the later twenties are still good roads. That speaks pretty well for the quality of the work. That is
at least a thumbnail sketch of my connection with Judge Truman and the road program.
FUCHS: What did you discuss at the first meeting? The possibility of interference from Mr. Pendergast or some of his -- I don't know if he had contracting companies directly? He did have, I believe, concrete companies or company? Do you know of that or was it your point then to be reassured at that first meeting that this was going to be handled as he promised? Was that mentioned at all?
VEATCH: I can't say whether it was mentioned at the first meeting. I know that that was something that Col. Stayton and I worried a good deal about because we didn't, either of us, care to be connected with something that would not be creditable; and somewhere, either at the start or somewhere down the line, Mr. Truman told us of his visit with Mr. Pendergast and his promise to leave him alone. And on the strength of that we went ahead and did all the work -- preliminary surveys which outlined the amount of money needed and
the roads to be improved and so on down the line, until the system was completed.
FUCHS: Did Mr. Truman in that first meeting impress you as having a good grasp of what he wanted done and a detailed knowledge of the problem that was before him?
VEATCH: I think I could say, to a remarkable degree. He had been a student of roads and of road systems. He had been active and enthusiastic for good roads for a long time; and he had an unusual grasp, for a civilian, of the things that were necessary to get good roads, and how they should be laid out and whether they would serve the areas that were involved. He was unusually well informed on the whole subject. He was a very cooperative and very helpful client for Col. Stayton and me and the whole relationship was very pleasant throughout.
FUCHS: Had you before that meeting acquired some sort of a preconception of Mr. Truman? Of course, you knew of him as county judge and did you find that, if you
had one, that preconception changed after you met him?
VEATCH: Yes, I did. It wasn't very definite. I had heard of his war record. It came out in his campaign for presiding judge, and he was unusually well spoken of by everyone that I came in contact with. So I entered into the thing with a preconceived favorable attitude, and a favorable impression of the man personally. I know Col. Stayton, who knew him better, felt that very strongly and he, of course, imbued me with the same feeling and we were never disappointed in it.
I'm a little lost to know just how detailed you want me to go into the different things and whether you've got some special questions.
Getting back to the general fabric of the whole program, I wouldn't want to say we didn't have worries and troubles as it went on. There were contractors who wanted to utilize their political power and would frequently create a problem, but in all of them Judge Truman backed us up in our judgement, which was strictly engineering. We did not allow any personal feelings to en