Harry Truman dons a miner's hard hat during his visit to Helper.
Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. These articles are being prepared in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1891.
There may have been other years where local politics were more interesting than they were in 1948, but there were never any years where local, state and national politics were more intriguing. That's because not since that year has a county commissioner died while in office, a local man won the governorship and a standing President of the United States appeared in the county.
In April, County Commissioner William Campbell died of a heart attack at his home exactly one year after he had suffered another heart ailment. During the ensuing period he had been in good health was expected to run for re-election the next fall, after already serving partial appointed and fully elected (six years) terms in the job. At the time of his death he was the chairman of the commission.
That death set up a year for local political scrambling. While Carbon county had largely been Democratic for years, the Republicans in the county started to feel their oats as that summer as J. Bracken Lee was nominated and then made the candidate for the party in regards to upcoming election for governor.
Lee, who had also been the Republican nominee in 1944, said he was ready for the fight to defeat the man and the party that defeated his bid four years earlier, Herbert B. Maw. The determination of the candidates was decided during an early September primary.
The campaign was once again plagued by charges that Lee had run a wide open city during his time as mayor of Price (1935-47). While the charges and literature during the 1948 campaign was not as prevalent as they had been in the 1944 election, when a pamphlet which defamed Lee and the whole of Carbon county to people around the state was distributed widely, the leftovers from that earlier time seeped through.
Maw, a Democrat had a lot behind him. First the state at the time was more Democratic than it was Republican. Second, no governor of the state had been anything but Democratic since 1925. Finally, despite the derision of many in the United States of the chances of President Harry Truman getting re-elected, Truman made a number of stops in Utah during the campaign, including one in Carbon County. It was the only time in history that a standing U.S. President has ever stopped in Carbon County or even passed through it.
That visit took place on Sept. 21 as Truman rode on one of the last train trips presidents ever took to campaign for the office. Since that time air travel has largely replaced the "whistle stop" contacts candidates made in the days before jet airliners.
Truman's train stopped both in Price and Helper so two out of his five stops were in Carbon County that week. The crowd in Price was estimated to be around 5,000 to greet him, while the Helper Journal reported that 3,000 were there to say hello to the standing president.
"President Harry S. Truman...opened his campaign in Utah at approximately 12:55 p.m. at Price, the first of five stops in the state," stated the paper. "...he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowed including grown-ups and school children. The children had been excused from the classes to get a glimpse of the nation's chief executive."
The car that Truman was in was surrounded by the crowd and a number of officials got on the train at that point including Price Mayor A.D. Keller, Governor Herbert Maw, and state representative Walter Granger. Truman came to the back of the train and spoke to the crowd for a couple of minutes after Granger introduced him.
The 17 car train then left the station and arrived in Helper between 1:30 and 2 p.m., a little later than was planned.
"A rope stretched several hundred feet kept the crowd back of the tracks," reported the Helper Journal. "After the train arrived the barricade was removed and school kids and adults swarmed to the rear of the train where they were able to get a close up of President Truman."
Again the President spoke for a few minutes.
"I have never met a more receptive and interesting crowd on my cross-country trip so far than was on hand in Helper," the President reported said.
Then a group of miners and union officials offered him a miners helmet and he put it on to the delight of the crowd. The Helper Journal reported that the helmet had the words "Wear this to protect yourself from hard knocks" inside it. As the train pulled away, he continued to wear the hat and waved to the crowd and well wishers along the way as it traveled toward Salt Lake where he was scheduled to give a speech that night.