"Our thoughts are with the future"
“No need to worry,” Franklin Roosevelt told the crowd gathered at the Merlin railroad station. “I’ve been a railroad man myself and I am acquainted with the game.”
Roosevelt was the Democratic candidate for vice president, campaigning on a whistle stop tour of all 48 states and was heading south to California. He had already made stops in Portland, Salem, Eugene and Roseburg; however, Merlin hadn’t been on his itinerary.
He was scheduled to stop in Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland that afternoon, but a derailed freight train had brought his express train campaign to a halt.
He told reporters he didn’t worry at all about the delay. “Except for the fact that I am spending Sunday sitting under a water tank,” he said, “everything is rosy with me and our party.”
Although Medford officials expected Roosevelt to at least pass through town, it wasn’t until two days before his Aug. 22, 1920, visit that they learned the candidate actually planned to stop and talk at the depot for 5 or 10 minutes before continuing south to Ashland.
Roosevelt’s Southern Pacific train No. 53 was due just past 3:30 in the afternoon. A small delegation of local Democrats drove to Grants Pass to meet him, intending to ride back with him to Medford. Once they arrived, they heard about the derailment and were told that the train wouldn’t arrive in town until midnight. The delegation returned home.
Perhaps because of Roosevelt’s importance, work crews cleared the derailed freight train from the tracks sooner than expected and the delay was just over five hours.
The vice presidential nominee arrived in Medford at 9:00 that evening to meet a smaller than expected crowd of about 100 people.
He greeted them with his “million vote smile” and assured them that, because it was a Sunday, he wasn’t going to make a political speech. He spoke in an informal and conversational tone, telling them he believed every congressman or other high officer of the government should “travel extensively and visit the various sections of the United States to learn the needs of each district and the trend of mind of the people.”
He stepped down from the platform to shake hands, overcoming some hesitancy of those intimidated by the political candidate who stood 6 feet 2 inches tall and towered above nearly everyone who had come to see him.
“Mr. Roosevelt made a pleasing impression on the small assemblage,” said a Mail Tribune reporter. “He has the faculty of making everyone feel at ease in his presence.”
“We believe,” Roosevelt said, “that the people now demand consideration of questions that are vital to the heart and head. The old issues and the old slogans are dead. Our thoughts are with the future.”
He continued for a few moments with fragments of his usual stump speech.
“Today, more than ever before in our national history, the voters are using their heads. The American people are on the whole a pretty wise people and they will not be fooled or misled by lies and misstatements.”
After less than 15 minutes it was over and his train was on its way.
The election wouldn’t go the way Roosevelt had been predicting. In November, he and presidential candidate James Cox, governor of Ohio, lost to Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge by over 7 million votes. They carried only 11 of the 48 states.
Almost exactly one year later, Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted polio and would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at email@example.com.