President Truman at the 1948 National Plowing Match–at Dexter, Iowa

Plow

It was an election year. New York Governor Thomas Dewey was expected to soundly beat President Harry Truman.

Iowa was chosen to host the 1948 National Plowing Match, giving the little town of Dexter nine months to get ready for it. They decided to invite Gov. Dewey to be their main speaker.

He declined.

So, they sent a delegation to ask the president if he’d consider coming. He eventually decided to make it a “whistle stop,” among others, stopping in several towns to speak along the Rock Island train route.

The train arrived at the Dexter station about 11 a.m. September 19. The Dexter band, led by drum major Thelma Blohm, played “The Iowa Corn Song” for the president, followed by “The Missouri Waltz,” since Truman was from Missouri. President Truman, his wife Bess, daughter Margaret, and other dignitaries, including plowing match princesses, rode in a dozen convertibles followed by the Dexter band, with the Iowa Highway Patrol last.

Dexter’s streets had been scrubbed, and the main street lined with flags and banners. Even the store owners decorated their windows to welcome the president.

The parade went north on Marshall Street to the highway, west to the Drews Chocolates corner, then north a mile and a half to the Weesner farm, where the contests and conservation and other demonstrations were underway. Cars (including our gray 1939 Chevy with a city horn and a louder country horn) lined the roads and driveways. The president was met by ten acres of humanity, estimated at 750,000 to 100,000 people.

The platform awaiting the dignitaries had been built by local World War II veterans who were enrolled in the G.I. Night School at Dexter, including John Shepherd, Warren and Willis Neal, Glenn and Marion Patience, and Earnest Kopaska.

Truman’s noon speech was carried live over WHO-Radio. You can watch part of the speech on youtube: speech  Or watch it at the Dexter Museum, which has a display about that historic day, including the original back-drop tote boards in the above picture.

I was in the crowd, a four-year-old perched on Dad’s shoulders and told to look at the man on the stage. I didn’t realize until later that I’d seen my first U.S. President.

The dignitaries were treated to home cooking in the shade of a tent. We brought our own food and found a picnic spot under a tree. It was a hot day and Aunt Evelyn had brought a little tub for cousins (ages 2 to 6) to cool off in. Aunt Darlene had brought enough potato salad to share.

I wonder whether Governor Dewey wished he’d accepted Dexter’s invitation to speak to the crowd assembled that day. In spite of the blaring headline the day after the election in The Chicago Daily Tribune, “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN,” Truman won.

plowing
Old tote board at the Dexter Museum, found in someone’s shed.

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