Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Nathan Thomas (Tom) Veatch

Oral History Interview with
Nathan Thomas (Tom) Veatch

Former member of the commission of engineers that planned and supervised construction of the Jackson County, Missouri road system when Harry S. Truman was presiding judge of the county court; personal friend of Mr. Truman since 1927; and member of the national firm of Black & Veatch, Consulting Engineers, of Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas City, Missouri
November 9 and November 21, 1961
by James R. Fuchs

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


NOTICE
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened August, 1962
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]



Oral History Interview with
Nathan Thomas (Tom) Veatch

Kansas City, Missouri
November 9, 1961
by James R. Fuchs

 

[1]

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

 

[2]

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

 

[3]

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?

 

[4]

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 --

 

[5]

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

 

[6]

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

 

[7]

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

 

[8]

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 enter into it in any way. From that standpoint it

 

[9]

was very, very satisfactory because we were working, we were afraid, under conditions that might bring embarrassing conditions every once in a while, but they didn't develop.

FUCHS: Were these things always brought out in open court, or was sometimes a little pressure put on you behind the scene and then you went to Mr. Truman?

VEATCH: I don't think any of them were ever brought out in open court. I think they all put pressure on us and also on Judge Truman and the other judges. One thing we did, throughout the program we would have frequent conferences with the three judges. Judge Truman was the leading spirit in the thing, and I think much better informed and more active in the whole project, but we would frequently have conferences with the whole group (generally at a luncheon or something like that) so that the whole court was kept advised as to what was going on. Throughout the project, I think undoubtedly due to Judge Truman's efforts, there was no unfortunate publicity, which was a wholesome thing

 

[10]

from the public standpoint.

FUCHS: I believe Judge Vrooman and Judge Barr were the other two judges at the time. Did they seem to agree with Mr. Truman and get along with him well, especially in regard to the road project?

VEATCH: I think he had their support. There were several other judges during the period of the program, which lasted several years. What were their names?

FUCHS: Bash was one.

VEATCH: Bash was one, Tom Bash, and then there were one or two others that worked with Mr. Truman.

FUCHS: Yes, there was Purcell.

VEATCH: Purcell -- that's the man I was thinking of.

FUCHS: One question comes out of that. Mr. Truman was elected as presiding judge in 1926, and he served a four year term, of course -- 1927, '28, '29, and '30. Well, in 1926 Barr and Vrooman were elected with him. Then in 1928, Vrooman did not run again. Was there

 

[11]

any particular reason you can recall for his not running again?

VEATCH: I couldn't tell you. I don't know. I have a feeling it was -- I'd better be careful here too -- when you first asked me that it seemed to me it was ill health, but I'm not sure. There was some reason, ill health or he had gotten mixed up or something. I don't remember what. It seemed to me it was either ill health or some family troubles or something. I wouldn't like to be quoted on that at all because I don't remember. The facts could undoubtedly be brought out by someone. Judge Truman himself could straighten that out, I know.

FUCHS: Probably, sir. Well, the more important question that I was leading up to was, why, when Bash became the candidate the paper said that he was "noncommittal" about the road program? I wondered if, perhaps, that was indicative that he wasn't in complete agreement with it. It would seem to me it was a popular thing and it would have been favorable to his candidacy to

 

[12]

come out for it. I'm quoting the Kansas City Star in saying that he was noncommittal about it.

VEATCH: Well, I am reaching back quickly in my memory. It's my recollection that Tom Bash came from a different faction of the Democratic party than Judge Truman and his other associates. I think that's probably why he was noncommittal. He was cooperative after he was elected. I'm not sure, but I think he came from a little different group than the Pendergast group.

FUCHS: I see. He was perhaps a Shannon "Rabbit?"

VEATCH: I think he was a Shannon Rabbit. That's my recollection but I'm not sure. Harry Truman would be the best judge of that right now.

FUCHS: I believe -- you can correct me -- when these bids were accepted or opened it was in a session of court? Is that not correct? And one of your gentlemen was present?

VEATCH: Always. We were always represented, or one of our

 

[13]

force was there. I think either Col. Stayton or myself were at all of the lettings. Perhaps not all, but most of them and we'd have blanks prepared to tabulate the bids. The bids would be opened by the court and read. We would tabulate them and then we would adjourn to our office and analyze them; and generally at the following meeting of the court we would go and make our recommendations, and the court would then award accordingly.

FUCHS: That gave you good opportunity to observe Mr. Truman in court in his administrative capacity. Did you get an impression of him there? Did you have one as to his handling of the court, his demeanor?

VEATCH: My impression of him always was that he was a most efficient presiding judge of the court, and that he handled things in a businesslike way. The meetings were always handled that way. I think he had an unusual ability to get things all straightened out before they got into a formal meeting, which is smart and which every good administrator does when he can. Oh, he handled things in a very businesslike and

 

[14]

straightforward way.

FUCHS: Do you have a recollection of any particular incidents that happened, humorous or serious or otherwise in the court there?

VEATCH: Well, I don't know. Most of those court meetings were pretty -- generally speaking -- pretty serious. Of course, Mr. Truman had a good sense of humor, but the meetings were very businesslike and I can't recall any levity or any jokes. There probably were, but I don't remember them. When I was there I was thinking more of having the bids come under the estimates than anything else.

FUCHS: There wasn't any occasion where someone objected to the way the proceedings were being handled or...?

VEATCH: I don't recall such. We were, of course, working against our estimates which we'd made. The overall answer when we got through was, that there was some money left that could be used for some other work over and above what the definite program called for. This,

 

[15]

I think, was a credit to everybody concerned with the project. As is not often the case. The funds are sometimes depleted before the physical work is done.

FUCHS: Did the court come out and inspect some of these projects, to your knowledge, while they were...?

VEATCH: We tried, as far as we could to get them to do so. I'm pretty sure Judge Truman saw them all; and we would frequently take the court out on an inspection trip and walk with them over the construction work, and show them what was going on and kept them as well informed as we knew how. Now, it may be that on their own they made trips that we didn't know about, but we had these formal trips. Col. Stayton and I would take part in the field checks; the plans would be prepared and then we'd go out and walk the road that was under study, studying the water courses and whether a new bridge was needed or whether the old one could be used and how much right-of-way we ought to have here and there. Then after the job was done,

 

[16]

we always made a detailed final inspection -- walking the highway and seeing whether everything had been done according to plans and specifications. The work covered, as I recall it, something like three or four years -- I think about four years for the two programs, the original one and the second one.

FUCHS: Was this entirely a program of going over and improving the roads that were existent, either as poor roads or almost trails? Or were some new roads constructed? I don't know whether that would be called a new elevation or what would you call it?

VEATCH: Well, that was generally referred to as change of line or alinement. The majority of the roads were existing roads. We widened them, made the grades easier, cut hills down, filled valleys, put new bridges in, and new culverts when needed. But generally speaking we were after a grid. We started out with a plan that we would try to have everybody within a mile or two of a good road. They used to spend an enormous amount of money on oiling these roads every year, and we told them in our preliminary report (and it was later proven

 

[17]

to be true) that the carrying cost of the bonds on the roads would be made up by the saving in oiling of roads. We couldn't cover every road in the county, but we tried to have every farm in the county within reasonable distance of a paved road; so that with the secondary road treatment of oiling roads and macadam that the county would be completely out of mud, and the farmers could, with a very short drive on a secondary road, reach a concrete road. When the program was carried out, the county roads were pretty well a grid.

The numbering system we developed is still in existence. We took Linwood Boulevard as an east and west axis and Paseo as a north and south axis. We numbered the roads according to distances from their axes. For instance, 6N would be six miles north of Linwood Boulevard and 6E would be six miles east of Paseo. I think that system is still in force out in the county. They refer to 6N or 8E or 3E yet, and I'm sure that it is still in use.

FUCHS: It's a good system, if people knew what it meant.

 

[18]

VEATCH: It was fully explained at the time. When it was first put in we had a big illuminated and colored sign put out on US #40, on the east side of the county, which showed where all those roads were located. Well, that's gone now. It's not there anymore.

FUCHS: I understand that Mr. Truman had a sort of special interest in a road designated as Blue Parkway. Do you have a recollection of that and just what did that...

VEATCH: Well, he was very much interested in Blue River Road and Blue Ridge Boulevard. Are you familiar with the county system?

FUCHS: Somewhat, sir.

VEATCH: Well, what's known as the Blue Ridge Cutoff was one of his favorite projects. Originally the Blue Ridge Road was just what its name indicated. It followed a ridge and the ridge, of course, wound around and was quite a long stretch of road. He wanted something that would get people north and south

 

[19]

quicker so the Blue Ridge Cutoff was one of the projects that generally utilized existing roads. The Blue River Road was an entirely new road. It was laid out and built entirely independent of any other road. It's still in existence and is quite a scenic road, and he was very much interested in it. It's pretty hard to say that he was interested in one more than in another, but that was one of his babies and particularly the Blue Ridge Cutoff, as I recall it and there was others, too.

I don't know -- I think the road system made people a little more conscious of the county. Jackson County is really a beautiful county. It has a lot of beautiful country in it. Its hills and the wooded areas are very beautiful all through the year, particularly in the fall; and it did a lot to bring people closer to what they have at home because a lot of them didn't know anything about it.

FUCHS: Was Blue Ridge Cutoff partly existing then, or entirely but in need of improvement?

VEATCH: Certain stretches of it. I'm not sure, but as

 

[20]

I recall it, it was built on an existing road of a sort, but it was not a through, easily passable road, as those constructed in the new road system.

FUCHS: Did you run into any particular difficulty with any contractors as far as fulfillment of their contract, specified time or any other...?

VEATCH: Yes, we had troubles of that sort. I can't recall the contracts now or the names without reference to the records. We naturally had some of those troubles. The thing wasn't entirely all rosy because for one thing we had right-of-way troubles. The main trouble we had, and the main help that Mr. Truman gave us was pacifying farmers who didn't want to give a little right-of-way or wanted the road to be this way or that way. I don't believe we paid anything for right-of-way unless we were on a new route and not an existing road. I may be wrong, but generally speaking we never paid anything for right-of-way.

FUCHS: Most of the rights-of-way were donated by the owners?

 

[21]

VEATCH: Donated by the owners. We did do this, we would build a good fence. If he had a good fence and it had to be torn down to give us more right-of-way, the county would rebuild the fence, put it back in shape so his farm wouldn't be harmed. But in actual outlay of money, I believe I can say we didn't pay anything, but I'm not sure. Maybe once or twice when there was some real damage, there may have been something paid, but generally speaking there weren't any rights-of-way paid for.

FUCHS: I believe one of the roads, it slips me which one it would be, went through a portion of Mr. Truman's mother's farm and he would take nothing for the right-of-way. Do you recall?

VEATCH: Oh, yes. I know the detail of that very intimately. Well, he took a very broadminded view of it. That farm meant quite a little to him. His mother was living then. As I recall it that was -- first I think he gave right-of-way for number 71, U.S. Highway, then he gave right-of-way for an extension of the Blue Ridge Boulevard on south.

 

[22]

FUCHS: Was that publicized at the time? Was that used as sort of an inducement to get other people to donate rights-of-way rather than ask remuneration for them?

VEATCH: It must have been. I can't recall any specific instance but it was pretty well known. It was known by everyone connected with the projects and, as I recall it, there was newspaper publicity on it, but I'm not sure. In connection with this, I think the file of the Kansas City Star and Times, which undoubtedly you will investigate, must disclose a great deal of these things I've been telling you.

FUCHS: I've used some of them but mostly the Independence Examiner so far.

VEATCH: Well, that was probably the best source because Col. Southern was very much interested, an enthusiast, and quite a backer of the road program and of Judge Truman, of course. He was a very close friend of Col. Stayton, and I've have many visits with him,

 

[23]

very pleasant ones. He was a real Christian gentleman, that man was.

FUCHS: Well now, if all the people were donating their right-of-way, would there have been any chance that Mr. Truman could have been reimbursed (I mean without shenanigans of course) for his right-of-way because it was a bigger contribution than most people were having to give?

VEATCH: Well, as I recall it, it really damaged his farm because either 71 or the other road divided the farm; cut it in two as I remember.

FUCHS: Was the Grandview Road on the program?

VEATCH: The Grandview Road was one of our projects. It was one of the roads involved.

It is a bad thing to isolate part of a farm. This generally didn't happen where rights-of-way were for widening only.

FUCHS: It generally amounted to taking a little bit more off a person's property in front by widening, but

 

[24]

this was a case where you went through the land and did possible damage. I see. It's been said that the road system here, constructed at that time, was second only, or third perhaps, to the ones in Westchester County and Cook County. Do you have a comment on that?

VEATCH: Well, I remember that statement having been made often, and I know Judge Truman thought so; he knew intimately the different systems. I thought so too, myself, after I saw the others. The statement was "that it was second." I think Judge Truman used to say "second, perhaps, only to Westchester County." I believe those were the words he used.

FUCHS: Yes, I have seen both versions.

VEATCH: Whether he actually gave it credit as being better, I don't know -- I don't remember -- but it was compared to Westchester County frequently.

FUCHS: Do you recall any specific instance in which some of the close friends of Mr. Pendergast thought they were getting a raw deal and tried to exercise

 

[25]

a little influence to get a contract or to get to sell their products, such as concrete?

VEATCH: There were several instances where the contractor appealed to Mr. Pendergast. I know in several cases he called Judge Truman.

FUCHS: He called Judge Truman?

VEATCH: He called Judge Truman and Truman would explain the thing. At least, if there was any pressure put on, it never was allowed to get down to Stayton and me. We never personally had any pressure put on us by Truman through the whole job. Contractors sometimes would intimate to us that they did have political power, it happening generally at time of final settlements. There were cases, for instance, involving the classification of rock where they would claim more solid rock than we had allowed, or items involving quantities on which they would claim we were wrong. But we never had any trouble at all being backed up through the whole job.

 

[26]

FUCHS: Well, generally speaking (this is sort of out of my field) you would have on a specific project a general contractor, who would then subcontract or who would purchase at least, materials from other companies. Is that correct?

VEATCH: Oh yes, sure. A contractor nearly always has subs, and he buys his materials from different companies; and sometimes a general contractor will sub a certain part of the work. For instance, the grading would be let out to some other contractor. That was done in some cases. Generally, the contractors did their own work. At least practically all of them did their own paving, that is, putting the paving down. On some of the roads we would award contracts for bridges and grading prior to the contract for the slab. That was done on account of time, and wanting the embankments to be settled, and the bridging all in. It seemed wiser to -- we had a number of such contracts where the contract was for simply the grading and bridging. Sometimes we awarded contracts for bridges only

 

[27]

and then a separate one on grading. We tried to do what fitted the time schedule and the conditions best and that which would get the best results.

FUCHS: Do you know if Mr. Pendergast had a direct interest in any contracting companies? And if so, did any of these contracting companies have any of the contracts?

VEATCH: Well, I couldn't say whether he had any interest in them or not. There were several of the contractors that were what we always referred to as "machine contractors," part of the political machine, but an amazing number of the contracts on this road program were from people from all over the country. Kansas, and I remember one contractor was from Rapid City, South Dakota, and there were contractors from all over the country. They came in here for the first time we had ever known of it, they came in and they weren't bothered; they weren't pestered with political troubles. Which was the outstanding thing, I think, of the whole

 

[28]

darn job from the standpoint of management.

FUCHS: Well, Mr. Pendergast did have the Ready Mixed Concrete Company at that time, or an interest in it?

VEATCH: Well, the only part of the road system that was put in where ready mix concrete was used was the south ends of Holmes Street and Troost Avenue, which were part of the county program. We had a stipulation in the specifications limiting the time the concrete could be hauled, on account of its quality being affected if too long. All roads were built, with the exception of those two short stretches, with road mixers, the material being hauled from a batching plant and mixed right at the site of the slab.

FUCHS: In most cases, the concrete, to your knowledge, was not sold by a company owned by or in which Mr. Pendergast had an interest?

VEATCH: That's right. I really couldn't tell you whether he had an interest in any of these contractors

 

[29]

or not, because I really don't know. There were certain contractors on the work that had been doing work in the county and city for a long time, and they were undoubtedly pretty close to the political machine, but that didn't enter into our picture, at least in any way we could see.

FUCHS: In other words, if they wanted to bid low and delivered good materials...

VEATCH: We didn't discriminate against them. Didn't want to. Wouldn't have if anybody had asked us to; if they had a straightforward bid they'd get it regardless of where they were from.

FUCHS: Well, I am interested in this. There is a gentleman, I don't know who he is, named Gene Powell who wrote a book called Tom's Boy Harry.* In that he makes the statement in regard to this road construction: "Tom's contracting and concrete firms had reaped a lush harvest." I just wondered what your comment would be about this?

*[Jefferson City, Missouri: Hawthorn Publishing Co., 1948, p.60]

 

[30]

VEATCH: That refers to things other than the road program, doesn't it? They didn't reap any big harvest on the road program, I'll tell you that. We got our money's worth and that's why the roads have stood up.

FUCHS: Certainly. I just wanted your comment on that because these books aren't always written objectively.

VEATCH: Well, I'll tell you. I always think -- I wouldn't want this to be used -- I wouldn't want to on Harry's account, if no other, but he told me one time, after he was elected President, that Col. Stayton and I had put him in the White House because he had a pretty close election on the Senate. He was elected. Everybody here, I think, gave him credit for a fine honorable job on the road program and that I think did put him in the Senate. His point with me was, undoubtedly, that if he hadn't been in the Senate, he wouldn't have been President. I don't mean to...I'm telling you that more to let you know how he felt about

 

[31]

the job, and so forth. Our relationship was, from the standpoint of client and engineer, almost ideal. He backed us up from start to finish on what we thought should be an engineering job.

FUCHS: That's very good. In the second bond campaign which carried forward the road program, do you think Mr. Truman, if he had failed to be re-elected -- that the program would have been jeopardized or do you think that it would have gone forward?

VEATCH: Do you mean his second term as presiding judge?

FUCHS: Yes, in 1930 he was elected.

VEATCH: Oh, I think it would have been injured greatly. I don't feel there's any question about that. He was a leader in it. He knew what should go in, what he wanted in, and for anyone else to take over and to give us the help he gave would have been very difficult indeed. The whole reason it was a good program was the absolute clean-cut

 

[32]

arrangement between the client and the engineers who were doing the job. The client backed the engineers up on their recommendations. I'm not saying we were perfect. I don't mean that, although we did do a pretty good job I think, but the situation that always brings about a good job is the confidence between the people who are planning it and the man who is putting up the money and that situation existed. It almost had to be a successful project. Have I covered it you think?

FUCHS: No, there's a few things I'd like to go into. Do you recall any remarks or any controversy when Mr. Truman was running for his second term as presiding judge, and did anyone attempt to defame his program or his integrity? Did they bring up anything at that time about the road program?

VEATCH: Oh, I think both times he was elected he was accused of being a party of the political machine. They stayed pretty well off of him on this road

 

[33]

business. As I recall it, I don't believe he had a great deal of opposition in his second term. I don't -- do you remember the votes? My recollection is that he went through pretty easily without much opposition, but it's been so long ago I don't remember. I know he had opposition from the standpoint of one party against the other and the fact that he was identified with Pendergast. There's no question about that.

FUCHS: Now, in July 1928, letters in the correspondence which you loaned us, indicate that you were in California, I believe, on business or vacation and Mr. Stayton wrote you that everything was going smoothly, or to that effect, except a Mr. Harrison was still condemning everyone roundly, him and you and the program. Do you recall who this Mr. Harrison was and why he was against the situation then?

VEATCH: It seems to me there was a Harrison Construction Co. -- one of the contractors -- Harry could straighten us out on that perhaps, or the records would. At

 

[34]

the moment I can't recall.

FUCHS: Now that you mention it, maybe I did see a Harrison Construction Co. mentioned.

VEATCH: I think there was a Harrison Construction Co. and he didn't like some of our decisions. That's my recollection, but I'm almost positive it was a Harrison Construction Co. and he didn't like the way we did something.

FUCHS: That's very possible. It's hard to remember those things.

VEATCH: That's my recollection and the records should be able to straighten that out.

FUCHS: In a subsequent letter Mr. Stayton put a footnote on, I believe it was Mr. Stayton writing, and said that Mr. Harrison was "still keeping it up."

VEATCH: Well, I'm pretty sure he was one of the contractors.

 

[35]

FUCHS: Another letter refers to the fact that there was some possibility that the county court was losing control of the road program under a state law which, as I interpreted it, had just been passed or an amendment to the state law [Actually, the letter referred to an amendment to the "state constitution."] in which such programs in the county had to be under a board of highway commissioners. Do you recall anything in regard to that?

VEATCH: No, I don't. I undoubtedly must have known of it at the time, but at the moment I don't recall a detail at all.

FUCHS: Did you have any part in the campaign in 1930 when he was running for judge? Of course, I realize you're of the opposite political faith but was there any way you entered into that campaign, or do you have any other recollections of the campaign?

VEATCH: Well, I don't remember ever taking any part in the campaign. I may have helped financially

 

[36]

on it but only to a modest degree. We try to be absolutely independent and engineers only. I don't remember taking any part in that at all. I know I did then what I would do now -- give a world of credit to Harry Truman, because I was always very proud of the way he handled it, and the way he backed us up.

FUCHS: Well, the board was considered, of course you know this better than I, a bi-partisan board.

VEATCH: Well, he actually lived up to that, and I grew to be very fond of him and I think it was mutual. I think we had a very mutual respect that made it possible to work as we did. I think we had mutual respect for each other.

FUCHS: You of course were the Republican member and Col. Stayton was the Democratic member, but you would have supported Mr. Truman in most cases?

VEATCH: I would have done it if he was right. In other words Stayton and I purposely tried to play no

 

[37]

politics. Stayton was rigidly honest, and he was a very, very satisfactory partner. We weren't partners as such, but we were associates and acted as partners. The arrangement at the time was that he and I headed the thing up, and forces from the Black and Veatch group did the detail work. The forces were taken from our group and put on the county payroll. We had no acrimonious trouble through the whole job. Oh, there were questions on detail where we would differ, but we always resolved those differences. There were cases where, I think, he and I differed from what Judge Truman maybe thought, but when all three of us were involved we always got together so that there wasn't any open or inward trouble of any sort. Anybody who is a free thinker will differ from somebody else once in a while if he's worth a damn. Isn't that right?

FUCHS: That's very true. Did you have a separate office?

VEATCH: Yes, we had a separate office.

 

[38]

FUCHS: Where was that?

VEATCH: It was in the Interstate Building. Wait a minute, was it the Interstate or Mutual? I believe it was the Interstate Building at the corner of 13th and Locust -- the courthouse wasn't there then. He later built the courthouse; had charge of it as the county judge.

FUCHS: How much of a staff did you have involved?

VEATCH: Oh, at times there we had a staff of 100 or more. We had both office and field men. Another thing that we did that assured good roads -- we had very careful inspection of materials, and we had a regular system of taking concrete samples to know that we were getting the strength of concrete that was needed. We had careful checks of the material, the stone, the cement, etc. We had services of a testing laboratory all through the job. We had a detailed check on all materials that went in, as well as checking in the field to know

 

[39]

that we got the right thickness and so forth.

FUCHS: Col. Stayton and you, of course, were carrying on your other businesses, and you just went into that office on occasion, or when you were needed?

VEATCH: Well, a big share of my time went into it. Not all of it. I was on a project in California at the time that correspondence [see page 35 above.] took place.

FUCHS: Were you placed on a fee basis or a salary basis?

VEATCH: We had a fixed salary, each month.

FUCHS: Each month. The county court arrived at that figure?

VEATCH: We had an agreement as to how much it was. I don't know if it's pertinent, but it was a thousand dollars a month. Actually, compared with our general run of business and the time we put in, my compensation was quite a little less than it would have been on a normal job, but there was a feeling of local pride and local zest to it.

 

[40]

Stayton and I took a lot of pride in the job, and we put in a lot of time that normally we might not have.

FUCHS: That was a thousand dollars for each of you?

VEATCH: Yes, each.

FUCHS: Do you have any recollection of Mr. Truman's senatorial campaign?

VEATCH: Yes, of course, a good deal of credit went to him and was claimed by his partisans (and by him) for successful handling of the road program. I think it had a lot to do with his being elected. Because it was the first time that, really, here in Jackson County they'd had a really clean-cut construction project that was built for the money that was estimated and some quality gotten. It was an outstanding job and he was entitled to credit for it. Quite frankly, and in confidence, it took some real guts on his part to go against the powers that were putting pressure on him all

 

[41]

the time.

FUCHS: Did you have any part in the building of the courthouse?

VEATCH: No.

FUCHS: You didn't come into that at all in '33?

VEATCH: No. We did nothing with that.

FUCHS: Back in those days, when the ten-year plan was being proposed for Kansas City, they had a civic improvement committee of which, I think, Mr. Truman was a member and you also were on the executive committee. Do you recall that?

VEATCH: Yes, I do.

FUCHS: Did you come into contact with Mr. Truman at that time? Do you remember?

VEATCH: Yes, numerous times. As a matter of fact, I think the committee I was chairman of, laid out the system of trafficways here in town -- one of the

 

[42]

original plans, and many of those original plans found their way on down into the plans today. I remember that distinctly.

FUCHS: Do you recall any instances when you were in Mr. Truman's company in connection with this civic improvement committee? Anything that happened? It's probably difficult to do so.

VEATCH: Oh, no. I don't remember any particular thing. He always contributed something when he was in the meetings, but I don't remember anything special. Maybe I should but I don't. Pretty hard to sit here and remember back that far. I mean as to detail. You go down through time with an overall general impression and it's pretty hard to remember all details. Some of them, if they are recalled to you, you would remember, but to think of them is another thing.

FUCHS: Back there when they were attempting to clean up the town, they organized a movement called

 

[43]

the National Youth Movement and a lot of responsible citizens were enlisted in that. Were you involved in that?

VEATCH: No, but I've always tried to help on good government things in town. Not as a participant in any way, but I've always backed them and I hope I always will.

FUCHS: Do you have any reminiscences of that National Youth Movement? Anything that might add to the history of that period? Did you attend any specific meetings?

VEATCH: I wasn't in that National Youth thing in any way. I, of course, knew about it. Oh, I remember things like their finding a Pendergast check that a contractor had given Pendergast for $2,000, and things like that; and that they had a reproduction made of the check and put it on a big van and went up and down the streets downtown. I remember that. But -- I've never been active from the standpoint of

 

[44]

a politician. I never have. I've been accused of it once or twice here in town but the accusations were wrong. I've always tried to support good government, and I hope I always will.

 

[45]

Second Oral History Interview with Nathan T. Veatch at his office in Kansas City, Missouri, November 21, 1961. By J. R. Fuchs, Harry S. Truman Library.

FUCHS: Is there anything that you had brought to your attention in going through your files, since the previous interview, that we might have touched on, that you want to add to?

VEATCH: Oh no, other than the file indicates by newspaper clippings and by letters that there was a rather wholesome acceptance of Judge Truman's plan of having the road program entirely nonpolitical and handled by a bi-partisan engineering board. That seemed to, I'm refreshing my mind from the files, have quite a little to do with the passage of the bonds. I think I may have already made such a statement, but it seemed to be proven by the files.

FUCHS: Did you happen to come across that correspondence where Col. Stayton mentioned a Mr. Harrison giving you some difficulty?

 

[46]

VEATCH: Harrison as I remember it was a candidate for...?

FUCHS: I don't know.

VEATCH: Are you wanting to know who he is?

FUCHS: I was wondering who he was and why he was condemning you gentlemen?

VEATCH: Wasn't he the opposing candidate to...? Well, we'll look in there. Shut that thing off for a minute. [At this point Mr. Veatch and I inspected the file (now in the Truman Library Collection) and Veatch decided that Mr. Harrison was probably one of the contractors who had objected to the way something was being handled. --J.R. Fuchs]

FUCHS: We'll go ahead then. One thing I was wondering about was how did Col. Stayton go about getting the job as consulting engineer? I believe he brought you in on it because you two had worked together before, as you stated.

VEATCH: We had worked together on the sewers here. The Blue River sewer and the Gooseneck sewer under the

 

[47]

city administration. We were brought in there by Mayor Beach, who conceived the idea of the bi-partisan arrangement and it was the outcome of that. That had been considered a successful operation under a rather difficult political situation in town. I think that's where Judge Truman got his idea. At least I assume he did. He was very close to Stayton, and Stayton to him. Closer than I at the time. How it came about I don't know. He came to me and that's all I know.

FUCHS: There wasn't any competition for the awarding of the contracts?

VEATCH: No, no, the engineers usually aren't selected that way. It's just about the same way you'd select a doctor. You select them for their training and experience and adaptability to the job and availability. They put it up to us. I can't recall the exact details of how it first came about. I think there was a meeting set up by Col. Stayton for Judge Truman, himself, and myself. I couldn't tell you

 

[48]

where it was, or what, but my recollection is that's what happened.

FUCHS: There was a Fred Boxley, who is dead now I believe, who was county counselor, and then Mr. Truman also appointed Rufus Burrus from Independence as assistant county counselor. Did you have any contact with those gentlemen?

VEATCH: Oh yes, a lot. Fred Boxley was an excellent attorney and very well thought of, too. I think he had the respect of the legal profession. I don't know why Rufus Burrus was appointed, but I always thought he did a pretty good job; the two of them together. They kept us clean-cut and straight so far as procedures went. That is, phrasing of contracts and things of that kind. We had wholehearted cooperation all the way around.

FUCHS: They were your principal legal consultants then, on this job, rather than your own counsels?

VEATCH: Yes, that's right. Of course we had our own

 

[49]

attorneys, but nothing came up in the way of any controversy through the job where we needed attorneys. I mean as such. We depended entirely on the county legal advice.

FUCHS: Now, Leo Koehler was the county highway engineer?

VEATCH: He was county highway engineer. He was elected as such and this program was, in a way, taken out of his hands. They must have just told him it would be, I guess. He acquiesced and came along and caused us no trouble. Many of the roads had originally been built under him and -- there was a lack of confidence perhaps, in the way he might handle the work. That was one of the reasons why Judge Truman wanted to get it out of that department and on an entirely independent basis. I think legally they had to have his acquiescence and perhaps approval on some procedures. That's my recollection. He cooperated from that standpoint. It was in a sense, I always figured, a forced situation of some sort but he did anyway.

 

[50]

FUCHS: He worked amicably with you and with Mr. Truman. His relations seemed to be good, to your knowledge?

VEATCH: Yes, that's right.

FUCHS: Now this Mr. Spann who was an engineer, I believe, brought from St. Joseph?

VEATCH: Yes, I recommended him. He had been district engineer for the highway department. He had a long background of highway construction.

FUCHS: That was for the State.

VEATCH: Yes, then he left them and went to St. Joe as city engineer and we got him from St. Joe. He's still here. (By the way, I think it would be well for you to have a conference with him.) He was chief engineer for Stayton and myself. Mr. Ferry, office engineer for Black and Veatch, was his assistant. Ferry had charge of the office. We, Black and Veatch, furnished most of the personnel, but we hired some new men for this particular job.

FUCHS: He was chief engineer of the project?

 

[51]

VEATCH: He was chief engineer for Stayton and myself. We set up a separate office and he was the chief in charge under our direction -- was on the job all the time (did an excellent job, by the way), and he is head of the Tuttle-Ayers Woodward Engineering Company here in Kansas City now.

FUCHS: Did he subsequently serve as county highway engineer?

VEATCH: No, he never did.

FUCHS: What was Mr. Ferry's capacity and his title?

VEATCH: Ferry was the office engineer.

FUCHS: Mr. Spann was more in the field, then?

VEATCH: Well, both, he supervised the office and the field, too, but Ferry had charge of preparing plans; he was the office engineer and he would be in the field some, quite a little as a matter of fact. We always field-checked these plans before we let them out for contract, and he was always along on this

 

[52]

field check. That means walking the road, seeing that the culverts are where they should be, and whether we had the borrow pits in the right place, and things like that.

FUCHS: That covers most of the questions I had about the road program.

I do want to ask you a few things about which you may have some knowledge or no knowledge, but I would like to at least put on record that you do or don't. One thing is that -- I understand that around '33 or '34 the county had to lay off quite a few employees; and I wondered if you recalled that as so, and if so, was that considered as a reflection on Mr. Truman's budgeting ability in any way? Do you recall that situation?

VEATCH: Not a thing like that. Our road program was completed, no let's see...

FUCHS: It may well have been that by '33 or '34, the road program was completed.

 

[53]

VEATCH: The second bond issue was in '31, wasn't it?

FUCHS: Yes, sir.

VEATCH: I don't know, I don't remember anything or any question of budgeting at all. I don't remember a thing.

FUCHS: That was something, I think, that had nothing to do with the road program. I think it was a matter of county funds and warrants outstanding.

VEATCH: Have you seen any publicity, I don't remember it at all?

FUCHS: No, I haven't seen any. Now, there was a Truman and Barr Insurance Company, which I have seen advertisements of, but there seems to be very little known about it. Do you remember or recall Mr. Truman being involved with an insurance company with Barr, and I assume it was the other judge, Robert Barr. It was known as the Truman and Barr Insurance Company.

 

[54]

VEATCH: I have never heard of it. It actually existed, did it?

FUCHS: In the 'twenties, yes, I've seen advertisements in the Independence papers.

VEATCH: I should think I would have through Stayton. but I never did.

FUCHS: In the interim, between his service as judge of the eastern district and, then, his service starting in 1927 as presiding judge, which would have been in 1925 or 1926, he was said to have worked for the Kansas City Auto Club. Do you recall him doing anything in that capacity? Of course, that was before your official connection with him.

VEATCH: I don't think I ever met Harry Truman until I was called in on this road thing. I don't think I had ever met him. I had heard of him in the election as a Captain Truman, with a good war record,

 

[55]

and he was considered quite a popular man and a good man on the Democratic ticket. I remember that, but I don't think I ever met him or knew anything about him until the road program started. I can't recall ever knowing him at all.

FUCHS: Were you acquainted with the association known as the National Old Trails Road Association?

VEATCH: Yes, I found out about that from Judge Truman in our contact later. I discovered that he had been quite active in it and he had traveled a lot of roads. I found out after we became acquainted that he really was quite a road authority. He had worked for this organization, for roads out in this area, and I think he pretty well covered the entire country. Yes, I recall his telling me about that, and I think what I know about it, or knew then, I got from him. I suppose there was some newspaper publicity once in a while, too, I must have read.

FUCHS: He was president of it at one time.

 

[56]

VEATCH: He was active in it and he was really a scholar, a "road scholar" -- not a "Rhodes scholar," but a "road scholar" -- he really knew roads and knew the basic principles of where they ought to go, and he had really made himself a layman-expert on it.

FUCHS: I have read in the Kansas City Star that shortly after he became presiding judge he took part, of course, in the appointment of a new county park board and the paper said that one H. H. Halvorson was his "personal appointee." Do you know who that was or anything about him?

VEATCH: Yes, he's still living, and he might be one from whom you could get some information. Halvorson was basically a real estate man, and I think he (Halvorson) had a lot to do with acquiring what right-of-way we had. I think he was hired on some special basis to acquire right-of-way and I had forgotten his connection as to the county park board; but Halvorson was a real estate man, and I think he was hired by the court to sort of "majordomo" the right-of-way

 

[57]

acquisitions.

FUCHS: Oh, he actually worked on the road program, as well as being on the county park board?

VEATCH: Yes.

FUCHS: You don't know how Mr. Truman happened to become acquainted with him and put him up as his personal choice for the chairmanship, I believe, of the board?

VEATCH: I don't know how their acquaintance started. I don't have any idea why Truman recommended him. He is still living and I saw him not long ago here in town. He did a very good job, too; he did what I thought was a good job.

FUCHS: Did you see Mr. Truman when he was senator -- very often?

VEATCH: Yes, every time I went to Washington, I would try to see him. I am very fond of him and always have been, and we frequently would have lunch

 

[58]

together there. I remember one time we had lunch together in the Willard Hotel and right a table or two away was Dewey, who later ran for President. That was the only time I ever saw Dewey, a little bitty fellow.

FUCHS: Did Mr. Truman make any remarks on that occasion?

VEATCH: Yes, he did, we discussed the man and, as I recall, Harry's remarks were not so terribly complimentary. Harry was senator at that time and I don't think he had the faintest idea of ever running for President. He certainly never divulged it to me. Well, I don't think he did at any time. I don't believe he did until it actually happened. I think he was counting on being senator for a long time...the impression I always had.

FUCHS: Do you have any other recollections of such instances like that when you visited him?

VEATCH: I don't think there were any parallel ones. I visited him then, and I had quite a number of visits

 

[59]

after he became President. One thing I will always remember about him was that he said he wasn't going to let Stalin beat him at a poker game. He had me to lunch in the Blair House. It was either lunch or dinner, I have forgotten which, soon after he became President.

FUCHS: Was that prior to his going to Potsdam in July-August 1945?

VEATCH: That was almost at the start of his becoming President.

FUCHS: That would probably have been around May or June of 1945, or early July.

In the biographical sketch on you in Leaders of Our Town*, there is mentioned that you had given some time to studies on national policies in relation to trends towards socialism in the government of our country. I was wondering if you had any comments on that, and if you ever discussed that with Mr. Truman?

*[Dick Fowler. Leaders in Our Town (Kansas City, Missouri, (c. 1950), p. 446]

 

[60]

VEATCH: Our discussions were always perfectly frank and friendly. He called me a "damned Republican," but it was done in a friendly way, and I think we had a mutual respect for each other. We often discussed the trend of things. I always felt we were going too far left and too quick, and I did everything I could to oppose it and he knew that. I think basically -- I don't know -- basically, I think he thought the same way, but he couldn't always act it out, but I think basically he is conservative. I think many people won't agree with me on that, but I think basically at heart Harry Truman is a conservative. He adored his mother and if there ever was a rebel and a conservative, she was one. I think some of it must have rubbed off on him. I don't know what he would say to my saying that, but I have always thought basically that he was a darn sight more conservative than some of his statements would make people think. At least I always thought so. I always believed in him and was sometimes shocked at some of the things that came out publicly.

 

[61]

I realize that politics is a funny game, a terrible game, I'd be scared to death if I was in it.

FUCHS: Has to be a lot of give and take. Were you acquainted with his mother?

VEATCH: I have met her. Harry took me out to their home one time -- we were out looking some roads over -- and I went in the home and met her at one time, just once. She was quite a character, really, she was a real person. There was one thing I have always wanted to ask him and haven't, is how he reconciled what he says politically about the segregation thing and how he would justify that with his mother. That's another political thing.

FUCHS: Do you recall any particular thing that happened on the occasion when you saw his mother, any particular remarks that she made?

VEATCH: No I don't, I think we were there only a short time. I think he simply took me in -- I think I had expressed a desire to see her. I had heard so much

 

[62]

about her, and knew how he felt about her; and I think I had expressed a desire and he took me in and introduced me.

FUCHS: Was his sister there then? Mary Jane?

VEATCH: I can't remember. Probably was, but I can't remember.

FUCHS: This was in Grandview?

VEATCH: Grandview, of course, on the farm.

FUCHS: In the correspondence of the President, there is a letter from you to him in February, 1941 -- that was when he was senator, of course -- in which you said you had read his speech regarding the defense contracts and that you would like to talk to him about it some time. Did you ever get together. Of course subsequently he became the head of the committee that investigated such contracts; did you talk to him about that? Do you recall anything about that occasion?

VEATCH: Yes, I did. I met him and had quite a visit with

 

[63]

him one time at some place where his committee was meeting. It was either here or I ran across him in some other town. He introduced me to the committee, and we had a visit. What I was trying to do was give him some information, as I call it, as to what I thought might better the situation and cut out a lot of the shenanigans. To give an absolute statement as to what we talked about, would be unsafe now because I don't remember the details. I only remember the general pattern. I thought that there should have been something done to tighten up and I agreed with the spirit of what he was trying to do. What I was trying to do, I am sure, was to help him. Details of what I told him or what I meant to tell him, I couldn't tell you now.

FUCHS: You were already constructing camps at that time?

VEATCH: We were handling a number of projects, and one thing I never did was to ask him for a political favor. Even when he became President, I never did.

 

[64]

I don't believe one should. It's done a lot. Friends don't do it for you anyhow. I expect he did do some favors for us, but I never asked him for it. I am sure he would if he could. I think he feels that way about me. If he could do me a favor, I just feel sure he would and vice versa. I would for him.

FUCHS: Did you run into trouble with some of your subcontractors, or in what way did you have brought to your attention the fact that there was certain boondoggling and shenanigans?

VEATCH: It was the carelessness with which a lot of the stuff was handled; and the fact that it was on a cost-plus basis where lack of good management didn't penalize the contractor any, and where the costs ran up to unbelievable figures. That was the main thing that I wanted to fight against. Those cost-plus contracts, while they may be necessary under certain pressure and where time is very short, they are to be avoided, I think, wherever they can.

 

[65]

I think that is what his committee -- I believe -- I have forgotten what their findings were, but I think that is in substance what it determined. They're bad things to have. When a man doesn't have his own pocketbook involved in whatever he spends and gets back, he becomes careless. It's just human nature that he won't do as good a job, as when, if he doesn't do a good job of management it costs him money. It's just human nature.

FUCHS: Around 1943 you and Mr. Truman had some correspondence about a bill by Senator Kilgore and then a House counterpart bill, the Patman Bill, which apparently -- I'm not familiar with the provisions of those bills -- related to engineers in some respect, and you wanted to discuss this with Mr. Truman, if possible. Do you recall anything on that?

VEATCH: I remember those names, but I don't remember what the bills were. The correspondence didn't indicate, did it?

 

[66]

FUCHS: No it didn't, and I didn't have time to do any research on it to try to dig out the bills. I doubt if they became law and I would have to get the bills from Washington.

VEATCH: I remember those names very well, but I can't remember what they were.

FUCHS: I thought they might have had something to do with education, perhaps a subsidy or something of that nature for education, in which engineers would have been involved. I gather that you objected to them, and Mr. Truman said that he had certain thoughts about them but he thought they would be tied up in committee anyhow.

VEATCH: Well, I'm sorry, I don't remember what those were; I could look it up or maybe I could have my secretary made a search in my own files -- have you got all my files with the President's?

FUCHS: Well, we have letters which you wrote to Mr. Truman after he was senator and in the White House,

 

[67]

and copies of his answer, but of course correspondence often doesn't go into detail and usually he would say, "I'll talk to you about this when I see you." That's part of the reason for our oral history program, that there is so much done over the telephone and in personal conference and never documented. That's why we want to record this.

VEATCH: Well, obviously you can have my file, I have always kept that. I rather prize it as a personal thing, but I'd be glad to let you have it. Possibly some of these things we are discussing today I can take time and dig out. I'll go through it and then maybe it will come back to me. Then I can give you a memo or talk to you about it.

FUCHS: Yes, well, what we would like eventually, if you have no other desires for the disposition of your papers, is to have you deposit them in the Library; and of course they will be preserved for history. We are interested mainly in that they are preserved.

 

[68]

VEATCH: I have thought maybe -- this is kind of selfish -- my grandchildren and great grandchildren might some day be interested to know that I had been able to know such a man on such intimate terms. But, I think they might be of more value out there, and I'd be glad to do that and let you have them.

FUCHS: I know the Director of the Library, of course, is very interested, and I am too, in acquiring these papers -- that is part of a big program we have now and, of course, it is a corollary of our oral history program.

VEATCH: I think that is maybe where they ought to be. I'll see what I've got here in my personal file. I've got a file under his name, I know, and I'll be glad to dig that up, and we can, maybe at some later date, go over it together.

FUCHS: That will be very good. In another letter in 1944, you wrote that the country needed to get back to the Constitution and stop encroaching on the states, and you said that you felt Mr. Truman

 

[69]

basically believed that, too. And he said that he would like to discuss it with you some time. Did you ever have a conversation along that line?

VEATCH: We had a lot of conversations about where we were going. The New Deal business always worried me a lot, and I thought we were going too much to Federal things -- Federal spending -- and the states and cities all over the country were running to the Government for money just to avoid local taxes. On things that I thought (and I think he really thought, too) should be done locally. This business of relieving local people of burdens rightfully theirs and running to Uncle Sam, if not stopped, I think can only end in ruin. That was my attitude, and he knows how I think as we have discussed it often. I have no real good reason to think he doesn't think the same thing. He hasn't ever come out very strong against -- he has never, as I know of, condemned the New Deal openly -- but I can't help but believe that he is just as conservative as I am.

 

[70]

FUCHS: I believe he appointed you a member of the President's Water Pollution Control Advisory Board. Do you recall anything in connection with that, any conversations, any anecdotes in regard to the work on that board?

VEATCH: Yes, I recall when the call came through from his office, asking me if I would accept. It was a surprise to me. I know he told me later how it happened. Somebody mentioned my name and he said, "Well, there's the fellow I want." I had a question, believing as I did about things, whether I ought to take it; but I decided to take it, and did take it, and served as long as he was President.

There was in this board some conflict between extreme liberalism -- and what was conservative. The liberals wanted the Government to take over control of things that really were state business. The question of stream pollution was the big subject then, particularly the wording of the anti-stream pollution legislation before the Congress. I think the operation of the present stream pollution bill is probably

 

[71]

all right. The Federal Government isn't stepping in unless there is a Federal question involved, as to whether it is inter-state or intra-state. I question whether the financing of these improvements is sound, that is, the putting of Federal money into projects that are not Federal. I refer to grants or Federal give-away of which there is so much. It is a very worthy thing to try to clean up the streams. My only conflict on the board -- and I argued about it quite a little -- was that they were going a little too fast, a little too far in trying to say that everybody has got to install complete treatment plants.

I don't know whether you know about sewage disposal or not. There are two distinct parts; the first being known as primary treatment, where the solids are settled out and disposed of by several methods, the effluent being discharged into streams or waterways. The second part is known as the secondary treatment, where the effluent from the primary treatment is subjected to further treatment. This extra

 

[72]

treatment in many cases isn't needed. For instance, the improvements here in Kansas City will not have secondary treatment because the dilution in the river is such that it isn't needed.

I asked the board what it would do with the sewage at New Orleans because, practically speaking, there is nothing below that but 150 miles of river with great dilution possibilities. The answer of some of the board was that they would put in complete treatment. This is an example of the extreme that many of the Government people take. That seemed very unreasonable to me. I remember that discussion, yes. I don't know if this is what you want to know or not.

FUCHS: Yes, that's good.

VEATCH: It was a very interesting experience and I enjoyed it. I don't know whether it did any good or not.

FUCHS: You were advisory to whom, principally?

 

[73]

VEATCH: To the Surgeon-General -- on the enforcing of stream pollution regulation.

FUCHS: Was the basic concept of Government regulation then, pretty much along the same lines as it is now? Did you agree with it except where it went to the extremes such as you mentioned?

VEATCH: About, yes. I thought this, that there should be regulation of stream pollution. I didn't think that the Federal Government ought to pay the bill. My feeling was that the communities that create the nuisance ought to pay for it.

FUCHS: Certainly.

VEATCH: That was my position rather than having an overall umbrella of Federal grants-in-aid that I never believed in at all. Things that are a Federal responsibility should be paid for with Federal money, but to shell out money to communities that should shoulder their own obligations, I do not believe in. If Kansas City causes pollution in the Missouri River,

 

[74]

I do not see why anybody but Kansas City should help pay for it.

FUCHS: Is it a matching program now?

VEATCH: No, it is not matching. The grant depends somewhat upon the size of the city and the number of plants involved. The amount is 30 percent of the cost of the project with a maximum of $250,000 for each project. The maximum limit for any one project has been increased in the last Congress to $600,000 per project. It is a big shell out of money. Kansas City is planning to get some of it.

FUCHS: Do you think it is right that the Missouri River, more or less is considered an inter-state, thus a Federal, "deal" so that they can apply leverage to the states or to the cities to do something about it? Do you think that's right?

VEATCH: My feeling is that the Government should confine its activities to carrying on research and

 

[75]

investigations as to guide people as to what should be done, that is whether or not a stream needs some corrective measures, etc. But I do not see any reason why there should be Federal contribution of money.

FUCHS: Well, who do you think should be able to apply leverage if leverage is needed, or do you think the cities should just realize that they need to do something about this?

VEATCH: I think it ought to be possible for the state or the Federal Government where necessary to make regulations and have people live up to them. I think that ought to be possible. I think there should be regulations as that is the basis of Government. I do not believe that every city and every community should go to Uncle Sam for money. I just don't believe it is sound. I'm unalterably opposed to it.

FUCHS: You, I believe, are a member of the club which

 

[76]

Mr. Truman belongs to in the Kansas City Club, the 822?

VEATCH: Yes.

FUCHS: Do you see Mr. Truman there very often?

VEATCH: Well, I am ashamed to say that I don't get down there very much; but I often see him there and have lunch with him and see him playing poker.

FUCHS: You didn't engage in poker games?

VEATCH: I never played poker with him. I think mainly because I am scared: I'm not a poker player, that's the reason. I would otherwise, but I don't play poker -- don't play cards much of any kind -- and he is really a "poker fiend." I have always admired him. He really likes cards and he is good too. He's good at it.

FUCHS: You think he is good at poker?

VEATCH: Oh, yes, I think he plays an awful good game

 

[77]

of poker.

FUCHS: Do you recall anything that occurred in the 822 Club that would be of interest?

VEATCH: No, nothing other than cordiality -- do you mean between him and myself?

FUCHS: Yes, or others, that might add something to the knowledge of his character, personality.

VEATCH: Of course, there is always banter, sometimes political banter when there is a political discussion. The club is composed of people of all faiths, I mean so far as politics go, and banter never bothers him, you know. I don't remember any special thing that would be worthy of note -- may have been but I don't recall. He is a thoroughly likeable and meetable person and fits in with a friendly crowd very well. You couldn't know a more charming person personally, I believe. At least it seems to me that way -- I feel that way about him.

 

[78]

FUCHS: Did you ever have any contact with him and Mr. Pendergast in conjunction...?

VEATCH: Yes, I met Mr. Pendergast just once -- Stayton took me down to meet Pendergast. We went down -- they were putting some pressure on somewhere -- Harry thought we ought to go down and call on him. I had never met the man. We went down and he was cordial and assured us that he was backing up Harry Truman. He told us that he had promised him he would leave him alone and he intended to do that. We thought that it would be well if he knew what we were trying to do and what we intended to do. The outcome of the thing was that he assured us that he was going to give us his backing. I know I went and the only time I ever saw the man, other than at a distance, was at that meeting. We went down to a place on Main Street, used to be his headquarters, Democratic Club -- I think they called it. I remember people waiting outside to get in to see him. We had an appointment and got right in. I

 

[79]

remember that distinctly. The only time I ever saw him. That was after we had gotten started on the work. Harry Truman, nor anyone else ever asked us for any pre-promises on anything.

FUCHS: Do you recall, not necessarily in connection with the road program, any statements that Mr. Truman ever made about Mr. Pendergast, any conversation you had about Mr. Pendergast?

VEATCH: I don't recall anything. Oh, he undoubtedly must have talked about him when things came up, and I know Col. Stayton and I were always scared that Harry Truman might not be able to deliver his promise to us. That always had scared us, but we had enough confidence in him to take the risk he was taking along with us. We were always afraid of that, and it was always a kind of a touch and go, but we never were bothered. Oh, they tried to put a little pressure on here and there, but we would pass it off in the best way we knew how. We never had to do a thing that wasn't right through

 

[80]

that whole job and it is one of the miracles that I have been through in my life. There were plenty of evidences of where it was being done elsewhere. I think the complete credit for that ought to go to Truman. He is the one that is entitled to it.

FUCHS: What do you think of the present road system in Jackson County?

VEATCH: It needs something done to it. Pretty soon we will find ourselves faced with a terrible traffic problem, and it is already costing an awful lot of money in accidents, delays etc. We should try to keep up with the procession. Aside from the State's doing, the County is not doing anything of real consequence. That is my judgement. We made a report you know, Burns and McDonnell and ourselves made a report some two or three years ago and outlined what should be done -- quite a sizeable program -- quite a number of million dollars. We're getting in the same situation that existed

 

[81]

when the first road program started. You've read the report. We found the roads were inadequate and they hadn't been properly built. The maintenance on them was enough to pay the way for a new, hard, good road of a permanent type -- permanent as such things are. We are getting back in that same fix, but the explosion of population and the expansion of built up areas is such that we have some real bad traffic conditions pretty well over the county. At the time of our last study the accident rate in quite a number of places was quite indicative of what should be done to relieve the situation.

FUCHS: Then would you say that relatively speaking, the road system as finished around 1933 or 1934, was then more adequate for the county?

VEATCH: Oh, I think, without any question. And of course, the sad part about the thing is the longer we wait the more it will cost. The system we put in was, I think, as good as possibly could be done

 

[82]

at that time. It is obsolete now -- in width, and in curvature and many things that the modern road would call for that the old system doesn't have. That's no discredit to the system that Truman built, it is just the nature of things.

FUCHS: This question I have is rather from personal curiosity; but you are probably familiar with Brush Creek which is paved, and I assume it was paved by Pendergast's concrete company. Do you know how that came about? Is it true, also, that the concrete is six feet thick as they sometimes say?

VEATCH: No, no, that isn't true. Well, Ready Mixed simply sold it to the city. McElroy was city manager and Matt Murray was public works director. The only connection I had with that, was I stood with Matt Murray one time on the Wornall Street bridge and suggested to him he put that little trough in the middle so that there would always be a flow, when there is any flow at all, to carry

 

[83]

the sewage away. You notice, there is a little depression in the center. It was to keep some flow going, otherwise the sewage, etc., would be spread out and deposited right on the pavement instead of being carried away. The paving of Brush Creek was conceived, more to sell concrete than anything else. As a matter of fact, it has turned out to be a pretty good thing. At the time it was put in nobody had any idea that Johnson County, Kansas would build up as much as it has. A drainage area that's just natural ground -- trees, grass, etc. -- has a certain amount of run-off. You build houses on it and build streets, alleyways, driveways, and sidewalks, which are all impervious, the water runs off immediately from such areas. The run-off down the stream becomes much greater under such conditions. That paving in the lower part of Brush Creek has enabled the water to get away a little quicker than it would if there was just an ordinary creek bed. The paving wasn't done, I am sure, for that reason -- but indirectly I think it

 

[84]

is a benefit. So, maybe it wasn't so bad. Do I make myself plain?

FUCHS: Yes, certainly. Matt Murray, now, I am not too familiar with his career. Do you...?

VEATCH: Matt Murray was a combination of a very efficient, capable man and one who played the political game to the hilt. He was with the state highway department and he had done an excellent job as, I think, head of the planning division. I think that was it. The city hired him here on a recommendation of Theodore Gary who was one of our leading citizens, who was the chairman of the first big program of roads which did a lot for the State. He recommended Matt Murray as a good man to be Director of Public Works and Matt had a lot of ability. He had a lot of engineering ability and a lot of management ability. The only thing about Matt that you could at all criticize was his complete submergence to political pressure. That was the game and he played it -- played it pretty smartly, too.

 

[85]

Unfortunately he got in trouble with the income tax people.

FUCHS: I see. What happened to him than?

VEATCH: Well, he served a term in the pen.

FUCHS: Did he fail to report all of his...

VEATCH: Yes, some income that they proved on him was not returned as such. He stated that money came to him as gifts. Well, he may have honestly thought that, but they weren't, they were undoubtedly given as bribes.

FUCHS: It is probably documented in newspapers.

VEATCH: Yes.

FUCHS: Did you have any other social contacts, other than the 822 Club, over the years, with Mr. Truman?

VEATCH: Oh, no, other than he was kind enough to ask me to the White House a number of times and the Blair House and I had a number of meals with him

 

[86]

both in the Blair House and the White House. He and Mrs. Truman had both been to our home. He has played on our piano. No, that is all. He is two-faced or he has the same respect for me as I have for him, and I don't think he is two-faced. We have always been very friendly on a personal basis.

FUCHS: Do you recall any incidents that happened in the White House or the Blair House visits, any remarks he made? Anything that stands out in your memory?

VEATCH: I told you what he said about Stalin?

FUCHS: Yes.

VEATCH: Oh, I remember distinctly looking at all the gifts that came to him from all over the world. He showed me those. Oh, I don't know. We were generally talking just as friends. Nothing, that I can recall that would add anything it seems to me, to what we are trying to do now.

 

[87]

FUCHS: Well, I think that's about all the questions I have.

VEATCH: Does that fix you up in pretty good shape?

FUCHS: Yes, sir, thank you very much.

VEATCH: Well, you are certainly welcome and if I can help -- or I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll have my secretary accumulate the file. I'll go through it and maybe I could send it to you.

FUCHS: Certainly, or I could come over and pick it up.

VEATCH: If that would call for another conference, we could have it.

FUCHS: Certainly.

VEATCH: I'll be glad to do that.

FUCHS: All right, sir, thank you.

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


List of Subjects Discussed

    Barr, Robert W., 10
    Bash, Thomas B., 10, 11, 12
    Beach, Albert I., 47
    Black and Veatch, engineers, 37
    Blue Ridge Boulevard, 18, 21
    Blue Ridge Cutoff, 18, 19
    Blue River Road, 18, 19
    Boxley, Fred, 48
    Brush Creek, paving of, 82-83
    Burns and McDonnell, engineers, 80
    Burrus, Rufus, 48

    Civic Improvement Committee (Kansas City, MO.), 41, 42

    Dewey, Thomas E., 58

    822 Club, 76, 77

    Ferry, A. V., 50-52

    Garry, Theodore, 84
    Grandview Road, 23

    Halvorson, Halvor H., 56, 57
    Harrison Construction Co., 33, 34
    Harrison, Mr. (contractor), 33, 34

    Interstate Building, Kansas City, Mo., 38

    Jackson County (Mo.),19, 40
    Jackson County (Mo.) Court:

      compensation for E. M. Stayton and N. T. Veatch fixed by the, 40
      conferences with N. T. Veatch and E. M. Stayton concerning road construction, 9
      contracts for road building, awards by the, 12-13
      meetings of the, 13-14
      members of the, 10-11
    Jackson County (Mo.) Park Board, 57
    Jackson County (Mo.) road construction program (1928-33):
      Bash, Judge Thomas, views concerning the, 12
      bipartisan approach to, 45
      Black and Veatch, role of firm in connection with, 37
      board of consulting engineers, bipartisanship nature of, 36-37, 45
      bond issue for the, $6 million (1928), 3-4
      bond issue for the, $3.5million (1931), 4, 31
      construction of Blue Ridge Cutoff and Blue River Road, 18-19
      construction contracts let during sessions of Jackson County Court, 12-13
      contractors attempts to use political influence, 8, 24-25
      contracts for the, awarding of, 4
      corruption, absence of in connection with the, 4, 6, 78-79
      County Highway Engineer's, role in connection with the, 47-48
      description of, 16-17
      Ferry, A. V., assistant to the chief engineer for the, 50-51
      Grandview Road project, 23
      and Harrison Construction Co., 33-34, 45-46
      inspections of construction progress by County Court and consulting engineers
      (E. M. Stayton and N. T. Veatch), 15-16
      1927 report by E. M. Stayton and N. T. Veatch recom-mending, 2
      1931 report by E. M. Stayton and N. T. Veatch concerning, 4
      offices for separate from those of County Highway Department, 3
      Pendergast, T. J., as supporter of, 78, 79
      Ready Mixed Concrete Co., purchase of concrete from the, 28
      relations between County Highway Engineer and consulting engineers, 50-51
      right of way through Truman family farm, 21-22
      rights of way for acquired by Halvor H. Halvorson, 56-57
      rights of way for, difficulties in obtaining, 20-21
      services of Fred Boxley and Rufus Burrus as legal consultants for the, 48
      Southern, Col. William M. Jr., as supporter of the, 22-23
      Spann, William, chief engineer for the, 50
      Stayton, E. M., appointment of as consulting engineer in connection with the, 46-47
      subcontractors, use of in connection with, 26
      success of due to good working relationship between H. S. Truman and engineers, 31-32
      survey of county road system, 2
      testing of materials used in road construction, 38-39
      Truman, H. S., effect defeat in the 1930 election would have had on the, 31-32
      work started on, 5
    Jackson County (Mo.) road system:
      compared to other county highway systems, 24
      condition of before 1928, 5
      layout described, 15-17
      numbering system, 17
      Veatch, N. T., opinion of contemporary (1961) road system, 80-81
    Jackson Democratic Club, Kansas City, Mo., 78

    Kansas City Club, 76
    Kilgore, Harley, 65
    Koehler, Leo, 49-50

    McElroy, Henry F., 82
    Murray, Matthew, 82, 84-85

    National Old Trails Association, 55
    National Youth Movement, 43
    New Deal, 69

    Patman, Wright, 65
    Pendergast, Thomas J. (Tom):

      contractors, declines requests of to influence awarding of road contracts, 25
      interest of in companies supplying concrete for Jackson County roads, 27-29
      National Youth Movement finds check from contractor to, 43
      as political boss of Jackson County, 4
      and the Ready Mixed Concrete Company, 28
      Veatch, N. T., meets, 78
    Poker, Harry S. Truman's skill at, 76
    Powell, Gene, 29
    President's Water Pollution Control Advisory Board, N. T. Veatch appointed to the, 70
    Purcell, Eugene I., 10

    Ready Mixed Concrete Company, 28, 82
    Road Construction program, Jackson County (Mo.) See Jackson County (Mo.) road construction program (1928-33)
    Road system, Jackson County (Mo.) See Jackson County (Mo.) road system

    Sewage disposal, 71
    Southern, Col. William M., Jr., 22, 23
    Spann, William, 50
    Special Committee of the Senate to Investigate the National Defense Program, 62-63
    Stalin, Josef, 59
    Stayton, Edward M.:

      becomes consulting engineer to the Jackson County Highway Department, 1-2, 46-47
      as Democratic member of bipartisan advisory board, Jackson County Highway Department, 36
      inspects Jackson County roadbuilding projects, 15-16
      introduces N. T. Veatch to Judge Harry S. Truman, 1-2
      introduces N. T. Veatch to T. J. Pendergast, 78
      political influence in connection with highway con-struction program, concerned about use of, 6
      as representative of consulting engineers at awarding of highway contracts, 12-13
      Southern, Col. William, Jr., as friend of, 22
      Truman, Harry S., close association with, 47
      and Veatch, N. T., make a survey of Jackson County road system, 2
      and Veatch, N. T., supported by H. S. Truman in awarding of highway contracts, 5
    Stream pollution, 70-73

    Ten-Year Plan (Kansas City, Mo.), 41
    Tom's Boy Harry, author Gene Powell quoted, 29
    Truman Committee, 62-63
    Truman, Harry S.:

      administrative skill as presiding judge, estimate of his, 13-14
      candidate for reelection as presiding judge in 1930, 32-33
      as a conservative, 60, 69
      corruption in connection with Jackson County highway construction program, responsible for lack of, 79-.80
      credits N. T. Veatch and E. M. Stayton with helping him to become President, 30
      defeat in 1930 would have jeopardized county road--building program, 31-32
      donates rights of way for U.S. Highway 71 and Blue Ridge Boulevard, 21, 22
      inspects county road construction projects, 15
      interest in Blue River Road, Blue Ridge Boulevard and Blue Ridge Cutoff, 18-19
      introduced to N. T. Veatch by Edward M. Stayton, 1-2
      as leader in Jackson County road construction program, 9
      member of the Civic Improvement Committee of Kansas City, Mo. 41, 42
      National Old Trails Association, interest in the, 55
      personality of, 77
      poker, skill at, 76
      President, had no ambition to become, 58
      regard for his mother, 60
      relations with Jackson County Highway Engineer (Leo Koehler), 49-50
      rights-of-way for county roads, helps in obtaining, 20
      roads, interest in the subject of, 2, 56
      roads and road systems, knowledge of, 7
      runs county roadbuilding program in businesslike manner, 4
      segregation, views on, 61
      sense of humor, 14
      social relations with N. T. Veatch, 85-86
      Southern, William M., Jr., supported by, 22
      Speech (Feb. 10, 1941) regarding defense contracts, 62-63
      Stayton, E. M. and N. T. Veatch, first conference on road improvements with, 2
      tells highway engineers that T. J. Pendergast will not interfere in awarding of road contracts, 6
      Veatch, N. T., visits with while President, 59
      Veatch, N. T., visits with while Senator, 58, 63
    Truman, Mrs. Harry S., 86
    Truman, Martha E. (Mrs. John A.), 21, 60-61
    Truman, Mary Jane, 62

    U. S. Highway #71, 21

    Veatch, Nathan Thomas (N. T.):

      Civic Improvement Committee of Kansas City, Mo., member of the, 41-42
      consulting engineer to Jackson County Highway De-partment, appointed, 46, 47
      Federal government participation in stream pollution regulation, views on, 70-75
      inspects Jackson County roadbuilding projects, 15
      Kilgore-Patman Bill, 65
      New Deal, opinion of the, 69
      Pendergast, T. J., introduced to by Edward M. Stayton, 78
      personal papers, disposition of, 67-68
      politics, never active in, 43-44
      President's Water Pollution Control Advisory Board, appointed to the, 70
      roadbuilding contracts, present at awarding of, 12-13
      role in the electoral campaign of 1930, 35-36
      social relations with Harry S. Truman, 85-86
      socialism in the Federal government, opposes, 59-60
      and Stayton, E. M.'s, concern over possibility of corruption in connection with roadbuilding program, 6
      stream pollution, views on regulation of, 70-75
      Truman Committee, advises Senator concerning operations of the, 62-65
      Truman, Harry S., favorable preconception of, 8
      Truman, Harry S., his respect for, 36
      Truman, Harry S., introduced to by Edward M. Stayton, 1
      Truman, Harry S., visits with as President, 59
      Truman, Harry S., visits with as Senator, 57-58
      views regarding responsibility of the Federal government for stream pollution regulation, 70-71
    Vrooman, Howard J., 10-11

    World War II government contracts, views on, 64

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]