It was a Saturday, Halloween, and the last weekend of a presidential campaign. But not 2020, but rather 1992.
October 31, 1992, was a cold and blustery day across Wisconsin. Light snow flurries swirled through the air as many thousands stood for hours at the old train depot in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The presidential campaign that year was winding down, and even though President Bush was campaigning with David McCullough’s latest book Truman in his hand while reminding voters that he too could win the election as Harry did in 1948, the polls were all indicating the opposite. In later news accounts and books, all would discover that it was that frigid day in Wisconsin when President Bush was told of his fate by his internal pollsters. In spite of that, there were still campaign stops to be made, as Bush was traveling Wisconsin by train while working over-time at trying to making his Truman moment come true.
A Republican friend of mine at the Capitol had secured tickets for my mom and dad along with most of my immediate family, including nieces and nephews who wished to attend what turned out to be the most incredible campaign rally I have ever witnessed. We had arrived very early which allowed us to stand in the very front near the podium allowing the young ones in my family to have a moment they will never forget. I have been lucky to be up front at many of these election moments over the years, but nothing compares to the sights and sounds of President H. W. Bush arriving on the train to greet the people. Being a lover of history this was a moment that made time seem to move backward as the loud engine and sharp whistle brought a President to that little depot. I had at times wondered if my folks thought my involvement in politics was worth the time and energy which I had put into it. But that day as I watched their faces I had my answer. This had impressed them!
At about 5:00 P.M. off in the distance, the lonesome sound of the train was heard and the crowd exploded with cheers. As the big locomotive brought the long line of train cars into the depot the President and his family were waving and ready to embrace the folks who were friendly in spite of the national mood. The crowd was highly partisan, as it should be, for such an occasion. I was mesmerized by the historical and grand moment that this old-fashioned campaign rally had generated. Nothing will ever surpass that event.
While my nephew Troy and I had actually shaken hands with both President Bush and Barbara in Waukesha that summer at another rally at the rope line up front (where Bush was also talking of winning like Truman) we were not so lucky in Plover. But it did not matter as we all walked away after that wonderful afternoon to find a small restaurant to eat and un-thaw at for a while. We had all witnessed something that is left to the history books, and nostalgic memories of those who lived the 1948 campaign and saw trains used in national campaigns.