A friend and reader tipped me to the book “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip,” by Matthew Algeo (Chicago Review Press, 2009). I really appreciate that.
I enjoyed this book more than any other I’ve read in quite a while. I found it … charming, a word which has a very small and rarely-used place in my own vocabulary.
After graciously turning over the controls of government to his successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Truman and his wife Bess left Secret Service behind and went on a road trip in his new 1953 Chrysler New Yorker, with Harry at the wheel virtually the entire time. Visiting friends in DC, doing the tourist thing in New York City where their only child Margaret lived, and eventually back to their home in Independence, Missouri, the Trumans were in touch with ordinary Americans the whole time. There are some who argue that they were the last “ordinary American” first family to occupy the White House.
Truman has always been a hero of mine. He was the man who had the courage to pull the trigger on the atomic bombs that ended World War II, probably preventing a seven-digit count of casualties on either side had the war continued. Describing himself as an ordinary citizen and ordinary tourist during the trip, he found out otherwise. People were shocked to see this luminary and his wife out and about, not surrounded by bodyguards. When some local police chiefs learned he was in town alone with his wife, they scrambled their cops to provide protection: no one was going to assassinate an American President, past or present, on their watch.
Author Matthew Algeo provides context. Not only the political background of Truman and his times, but little life details. How roadside motels rose in America, for example. The economy of the time. People were frustrated that gasoline had gone up to 27 cents a gallon, and Truman – who kept scrupulous track of his mileage – was delighted to learn that his big black Chrysler got 17 miles to the gallon on the roads of the time. (And, by the way, I didn’t know that the movement toward paved roads in our country went all the way back to the popularity of bicycling in the 1880s.)
Truman left the job with no pension at all, and turned down many sinecures and endorsement offers that came from the private sector. Algeo compares that adroitly and meaningfully with some of his successors, most notably the Clintons.
Now, this is a firearms blog, and I should note that I’m unaware of anything Truman ever did that violated the rights of American gun owners. Some have later said that they think he would have been anti-gun if asked, but that is utterly meaningless since he apparently never did. See here.
History shows that Truman knew his way around guns. He carried an Army-issue 1917 model .45 revolver while overseas in World War I, and also a 1911 .45 auto, the last I’m told being on display at the Truman Museum today,f and he reportedly owned at least one good concealed carry handgun: a Smith & Wesson .38 Chief Special presented to him by a grateful law enforcement leaders’ organization when he was President. Did he bring it along on his road trip? The book is silent on that, but given that Truman was above all a pragmatic realist, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he did.
(E.P. wants to know why the book wasn’t called Harry & Bess’ Excellent Adventure)
We need more like him in government. The ongoing tomato fight in both the states and in the Beltway are, in a word, revolting.
I read a biography of President Truman when I was 17. It was written by his daughter. He may have been the last great president we had. I have always agreed with the 1975 song by Chicago, America needs you Harry Truman (on Apple Music). Very timely lyrics for then, and today. Interestingly, my young mother met him at a county fair when he was a judge. She asked him what the “S” middle initial was for. He told her “SH*T”!
Even though i am in the UK there are a few American Presidents whom i admire Harry Truman being among them.
E.P. has a good point!
Truman was a good guy for a Democrat. He may have had the toughest job in the White House since Lincoln. He unexpectedly became President when Roosevelt died, and Roosevelt never told him about The Manhattan Project. I find that to be despicable.
I’m glad you pointed out that the two atomic bombs saved millions of lives ON BOTH SIDES. Most people don’t realize that Japan would have been devastated if they tried to defend themselves to the death. Many wanted to. I have seen newsreels of Japanese high school girls being trained to fight the American military with sticks. Those bombs actually saved Japan.
People think nuclear weapons are destructive. Maybe so, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki are better off after being bombed and rebuilt. People think losing a war is terrible, and it is. But, Japan is a better country today, after losing the biggest war in history, than it was when it was beating China, Korea and The Philippines. So, we have learned that atomic bombs are not as destructive on cities as Democrat mayors are. Compare Hiroshima in 1945, with Detroit in 1945. Now, compare them today.
Thanks for the heads up. I will buy the book soon.
Present residents of the WH make Harry look like a Genius.
On a related note, I’ve seen a photograph of the CCW issued to Eleanor Roosevelt by Dutchess County in NY. You can see it here:
There’s a picture of her shooting her revolver here:
After FDR’s death, she travelled the country alone. She was very unpopular in some places for all her work for the Civil Rights movement.
My grandfather was a Brigadier General in the Pacific during WWII and had very little respect for Eleanor Roosevelt. As a commanding officer of several Quartermaster’s Corps bases across the Pacific, part of his job was ensuring transportation of returning troops and particularly the injured, of all branches, in coordination with his counterpart in the US Navy. He was incensed to find out that (he used a bad name for her) had gone on a “welcome home” tour of one of the returning ships bearing troops that had suffered the worst the war had to offer and had denied the troops leave until one and all had been psychiatrically evaluated.
Because many of them had brought home souvenirs of their combat experiences, to wit: Body parts of defeated enemies, hanging by strings from their bunks.
Just for fun, I can’t help mentioning another Harry Truman. That would be Harry R. Truman, who died in 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington state. Interestingly, both Harry S. Truman and Harry R. Truman served in WWI.
When he was President, Truman walked about the streets of the District of Columbia with one (1) Secret Service guard “while about his daily affairs.”
Quite a bit different than the elaborate armored motorcades with air cover and continuous ground support that are the norm now.
Truman’s decisions of letting the Soviet Union get the nuclear bomb and not letting Gen. MacArthur finish his march to Peking establish that he was one of the very worse presidents of all time.
I do give him credit for dropping the two A bombs.
There’s a famous-in Pittsburgh-story about Truman. While touring the Allegheny County Courthouse (has landmark status), he saw the sign for Prophonotary and famously asked: “What the Hell is a Prophonotary?” After decades away from PA, I had to look it up and it’s the office of the Chief Clerk of the Court (of Common Pleas).
I didn’t know that about bike paths/roads. There was a PA Governor named Pinchot who made it to office with the promise to get the farmers out of the mud, but I don’t know when he was in office.
I’m not sure how you define “ordinary American”. So I’ll let that comment pass, tho I can think of a couple of post Truman occupants who might qualify. But yes, we do need more office holders like Truman.
My family and I took a road trip to the Truman Library before the pandemic. It was an interesting experience. I do remember his .45 revolver on display from his military service.
“E.P. wants to know why the book wasn’t called Harry & Bess’ Excellent Adventure.”
The E.P. has a good point. That title would have been more consistent with the movie that is being referenced.
However, as a practical matter, the author wants to sell his book. Using “Harry & Bess” would not help in this goal since people would not know which “Harry” and which “Bess” was being referenced. The author did not want to use just any “Tom, Dick or Harry”! 🙂
By placing the President’s full name directly in the title (along with his picture), people will know (instantly) which “Harry” is being referenced. That would be expected to increase sales of this book.
So, you can say it was done for marketing reasons.
My late wife, Judith (Degener) Longley was a (cord board) telephone operator for NY Telephone Company at the end of the Truman administration and being very tall (5’11”) she was assigned to the Long Distance board because she could reach the top rows of jacks easily. She had the “honor” of completing a call from then Governor Thomas E Dewey (a Republican) to Truman on the occasion of his stunning defeat in the New Hampshire (Democrat) primary in March of 1952 and four years after Truman’s upset victory over Dewey in 1948.
Being a teenager, working an after school job to help support a sickly father, she fell prey to temptation and listened in to the call and many years later (we married in 1970) recounted some parts of the conversation to me and others. She told us that Dewey was very solicitous and Truman grateful and the call was very polite from beginning to end. One thing she re-iterated was when Dewey asked Truman what he intended to do after and Truman said that he expected to travel around with Bess and see some of our great nation, and when Dewey asked if Truman would feel safe, Truman told him that he expected that he would have his “little Chief” with him.
The overwhelming opinion amongst our social circle was that this was a reference to Bess’ bulldog tendencies or something like that, but considering this information, and Dewey’s participation in various police organizations, it may have been an insider reference to that .38.
People say that the hogleg Colt .45 and the Winchester 1873 lever-gun were the guns that “Won the West”. It is more likely, however, that the most commonly carried firearm, in the late 19th Century (East or West, North or South), was some version of the “British Bull-Dog” revolver.
These revolvers were fairly inexpensive. Actual Webley-made versions were more costly, but they were still less expensive than Colt, Smith & Wesson or Reminton Revolvers of similar power. The Belgium-made versions were cheap in both price and, often, quality. Forehand & Wadsworth made an American-manufactured version that was inexpensive and just about as good quality as a true English Webley.
These Bull-Dog revolvers were made in a range of calibers. In America, you could typically get them in small (.32 S&W), midsize (.38 S&W) or large (.44 Webley) caliber.
Stubnose revolvers have been popular for self-defense and concealed-carry for about 150 years now. The modern Charter Arms .44 Special Bulldog is an inheritor of the old Webley .44 Bulldog. Stubnose .38 Special revolvers, like the Smith & Wesson “Chiefs Special”, are the inheritors of the old midsize bulldogs in .38 S&W.
So, in a sense, Truman did have his “Bull Dog” with him. Only it was probably of the revolver type rather than the canine version!
One extra note. It is said that Harry Truman hated dogs. Supposedly, he arrived at the White House “dog-less” and (later) gave away a live puppy that a supporter sent to him (at least he did not drown it!). See this link:
I don’t know! It seems to me that a man who is a member of the Democrat Party and hates dogs has some serious character flaws!
In any event, the speculation that he carried a live canine along on his road trip seems unlikely. Much more likely is a modern bulldog revolver (a S&W Chiefs Special) in his pocket. Hopefully, such a “Bull-Dog” will only Bark on command and if needed. 🙂
FASCINATING! Here I am reading a gun blog, and I get to listen in on a private phone conversation between an American President and a governor that happened in 1952. Thanks for sharing.
This is off-topic but I wanted to draw attention to this story:
This story is tainted by the usual media bias, spin and incompetence. For example, note the line about “unidentified area resident confronted him with his own rifle”. Everyone knows (or should be able to look up) the name of the resident. His name is Stephen Willeford. The effort to minimize the role of an armed citizen, in stopping this mass murder incident, is so transparent!
Note another point. All of the gun control laws. All of the “background checks” failed to prevent this incident. The real message ought to be about the failure of firearms prohibition policies and laws. They failed in Sutherland Springs and they will continue to fail.
And what is the result? Do we abandon firearms-prohibition as bad policy and an abject failure? Nooooo! Instead, the “Air Force” (read this as the American Taxpayer) ends up paying more than $230 million for the failure!
It is so amazing how the American Left always manages to get the American Taxpayer to pay for their own destruction. One hears stories about some totalitarian regime charging a condemned political prisoner for the bullet that will be used to shoot him in the back of the head. Or the condemned prisoner who is forced to dig his own grave before being put in front of the firing squad. However, those are mere isolated cases compared to the ways in which the American Left forces the American Taxpayer to pay for the failures of their bad ideas. To finance the destruction of our own country!
Will the day ever come when the American Taxpayer wakes up and puts an end to his victimization at the hands of the American Left? The Democrat Party operates by creating classes of victims (based upon race, gender, class, age, sexual orientation, etc.) and then setting them against one another in a “Divide and Conquer” strategy. The real “Victims” in America, however, are the American Taxpayers. When will we ever get relief from the evil policies of the American Left? It has been more than a century and no relief is in view. We are still marching, like lemmings, toward the cliffs of our own destruction!
Comments are closed.