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MR. SMITH MEETS THE PRESIDENT

Aug. 29, 1955
Aug. 29, 1955

Table of Contents
Aug. 29, 1955

Events & Discoveries
Spectacle
Preview
  • By William F. Talbert

    So says the U.S. team captain in analyzing the players and their chances in the Davis Cup Challenge Round. But he concedes that both sides have problems, and that it will be a tense struggle

Match Race
The Wonderful World Of Sport
Davis Cup Preview
Conversation Piece
Sport In Art
Anniversary
Mr. Smith Meets The President
Acknowledgments
Walking Horses
Yesterday
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

MR. SMITH MEETS THE PRESIDENT

Wherein the author, a self-styled average man, receives an invitation to break bread—and munch brook trout—with a fellow fisherman by the name of Dwight Eisenhower and experiences all the delights and emotions of such an occasion

About noon on Friday, June 24 I was driving alone across Maine, bound for Errol, N.H. Near Errol, at the Pack Management Center on the Dartmouth College Land Grant, I was slated—or destined—to join the most astonishing trout-fishing expedition of my life. I hadn't realized quite how astonishing the trip really was till I stopped for a rest in the town of Strong, Me.

This is an article from the Aug. 29, 1955 issue Original Layout

There, while sipping a gas-station Coke, I saw a sign stating that Strong is the world's center for the manufacture of toothpicks. I began to think about toothpicks and people who used them. My grandfather had a gold toothpick. My mother, who didn't use toothpicks, said grandfather's wasn't sanitary. I wondered if Abraham Lincoln used toothpicks? Or Billy Graham? Or Ben Hogan? Or Oliver Wendell Holmes?

Then all of a sudden I wondered if President Eisenhower used them, and brought up with a severe start. Within 24 hours, if no mishap befell me, I would be in a position to know. Because at the Pack Management Center, above the fork of the Swift and Dead Diamond rivers, at noon tomorrow I was going to eat lunch with Mr. Eisenhower.

I had been invited by Dartmouth's President John Sloan Dickey to join his annual fishing party. As hosts to Mr. Eisenhower, the party was to catch the trout which Sidney Hayward, secretary of the college, would broil. Then, together with the President of the United States and others, we would all sit down and eat them. Afterward, if Ike wanted a toothpick, he would get one to his liking if I had to whittle it myself out of dry cedar.

To the average man, eating trout, cornbread and beanhole beans at a small, deep-woods, camp table with the President is of the stuff of dreams. In this respect at least I am an average man. My name is Smith and it is on behalf of the average man that I hope to describe the sensations, before and during, of a close-up meeting with America's leading citizen—and of the 20 seconds or so I found myself, by accident, alone with him.

"He'll be coming through Sunday or Monday," the gas-station attendant said.

"I know," I said. "On his way to Skowhegan. As a matter of fact, I'm eating lunch with him tomorrow."

"What?"

I repeated myself verbatim and the gas-station man, with the acrimony of total disbelief, said, "Nuts!"

I drove on, fully realizing that the guy could be right. I might be dreaming. The average man often did. There was a possibility that I would arrive on the riverbank in the forest of the Dartmouth Grant and find the place deserted. On the other hand, my wallet was upholstered with credential papers from Robert Scott Monahan, Dartmouth College forester and head of the college staff in charge of arrangements for the Presidential party. And now that news of the trip had been released I was at liberty to talk about it.

Where I live, on a remote Maine lake, there are few people to talk to about anything. There I was, with no telephone, the biggest story of my life, and no one to tell it to! So I had hunted up all my woodsman friends within a half-day's travel. I had told them where I was going to eat lunch on Saturday, June 25 and with whom. Many of them gave me messages, with instructions in government policy, to deliver verbally to the President. Judging by the nature of some of these messages, my friends were of the same mind as the gas-station man in Strong. A few, I think, half-believed me....

As I drove on toward the Rangeley section of Maine, getting closer to Errol, N.H., the adventure began to look real. My excitement mounted, causing me to visualize intimate little scenes. The President wasn't scheduled to do any fishing while a guest of our party but in one of my scenes he did. He was having poor luck, so I waded over to him and gave him a special fly I had—a Nine-Three, invented and tied by Dr. Sanborn of Maine. With my fly Ike hooked a two-pounder on his first cast. I skillfully netted the fish for him, while a myriad of cameras flashed. I sent one of the pictures to my son Jim in Bishop, Calif. and Jim showed it to my grandson Jeff, saying, "Look, Jeffie! That's Grampy, with the President of our country!"

This thrilling fancy had taken me clear out to California. I returned abruptly to western Maine, Route 4, but was soon at large again. Since I had no notable war experience and knew less than nothing about politics and world affairs I felt obliged to restrict my conversations with the President, even imaginary ones, to domestic items. I did so, telling him that my home was a log cabin in northern Maine.

"That's good," he said. "That's American. I wish mine was."

A PRESIDENTIAL WISTFULNESS

In this brief dream I detected a wistfulness in the President's voice. So I asked him to come to my cabin for a long weekend and bring Mrs. Eisenhower. He accepted my invitation with a touching and almost predatory eagerness and called to Bernard Shanley, his appointment man.

"Bernard," he said, "get Mamie on the phone and fix the schedule so we can get up to Ed Smith's cabin over the Fourth."

The thing was getting out of hand. What would I say when I actually met Mr. Eisenhower? What would he say? What would you say? The thing to do, I told myself sternly, is to act and talk naturally.

This bit of self-admonition brought me back to reality with a timely snap. I was driving too far over on the left-hand side of the road and I had lost track of where I was. The route number was now 16. I had passed through the town of Rangeley without knowing it and was only a few miles from Errol.

At the base of a hill I noticed a car parked on a side road. Beside it stood a man, his wife and several young children. It looked like motor failure, so I drew up, smiled benevolently and said, "Trouble?"

"What's the trouble with having a picnic?" the man said.

"Nothing," I said. "I just thought something was wrong. Your car hood is up."

"I like it that way," said the man.

By a simple statement of where I was bound and why I could have reduced the man to a quivering jelly. But he had Quebec license plates, and what with my close association with the White House, I thought it wise to do nothing which might jeopardize our country's cordial relations with the Dominion of Canada. I arrived at Errol in midafternoon.

Everywhere in the tiny, wood-burning hamlet you could immediately feel the suspense and see it in the eyes of the people. A telephone crew was working on the wires. Several new poles had been planted. A man told me I could buy my New Hampshire fishing license in a restaurant by a certain gas station.

"How old are you?" the young man who was filling out my fishing license asked me.

"Fifty-four," I said. "What time is he coming through tomorrow?"

"About 11:20. What color's your hair?"

"Brown, turning gray. Kind of exciting, isn't it?"

"You ain't kidding. What's your height?"

"Five eleven. I was born in Plantsville, Conn."

"I got a brother there," said a man at the counter, adding: "Where do you plan to fish?"

"On the Dartmouth Grant—the Dead Diamond River."

"You can't get in there, not till after he goes. They won't let you through the gate without you got a signed permit from Bob Monahan."

"Well," I said, "I've got one."

I paid for my license. As I went out I could feel the men in the restaurant staring at my back. I didn't turn to see their expressions but I knew no one had ever stared at me like that before.

Seven miles back over Route 16 I turned left on the narrow, gravel, woods road leading into the Dartmouth Grant. At the Gate Camp, on the west bank of the Diamond River, a heavy steel cable with red flags hanging on it barred my passage. Mrs. Grace Turner, the dark-eyed, attractive lady who commands the Gate Camp, came out, took my permit and read it carefully.

"I guess you're all right," she said.

"I hope so," I said.

She went back into the camp, pulled a lever and the cable dropped to the gravel. I drove over it and turned sharp right to cross the bridge over the Diamond River.

The narrow forest road, mostly single lane, had been freshly graveled. In places where the sides were washed out, peeled spruce guard logs had been laid. Some Dartmouth boys were cutting brush. The foreman of the student crew was a blue-eyed, crew-cut blond called Sanders of the River. He and his staff had been at it since 5 in the morning, and they looked tired, fly-bitten, sunburned and starry-eyed happy. You could feel their esprit de corps at a distance of a hundred yards. It was contagious.

"How far to the Management Camp?" I asked Sanders of the River.

"You're almost there."

"This is really something, isn't it?" I said. "Do you suppose he'll actually come?"

"I hope so!" said Sanders of the River.

"Same here," I said.

Five minutes later I had reached my destination and was shaking hands with Bob Monahan, a slim, smiling, redheaded man who loves his work, which is forestry. I think he even loved the weeks of anxiety, responsibility and meticulous planning requisite to the President's imminent visit. He had flown the area with the Secret Service in a military DC-3, conferred endlessly and was now concerned with the problem of ice for cooling the luncheon salad and preserving the steaks, foresightedly on hand in case the trout weren't biting.

Bob showed me into the Management Camp. It is a frame building with brown clapboard siding. The main room is about 24' by 26', with a stone fireplace at the left, two small bedrooms on the same side and a lavatory with a shower. Bob told me I was to share one of the bedrooms with Sidney Hayward, who was off fishing.

"President Dickey and Ted Weeks have the other," he said.

Ted Weeks is Edward Weeks, editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

We walked through the main room into the kitchen. Bob introduced me to Behmie Turcis, official cook for Mr. Dickey's fishing party. Behmie was dressed in a white apron and trousers, and his pale blue eyes were afire with anticipation. He took loaves of fresh bread from the oven of his wood stove and they smelled wonderful.

Beyond the kitchen, at the end of the building, was Bob Monahan's woods office. There were a desk, two beds, a shuffle of maps and papers, a telephone and two men. One of the men held the receiver of the telephone to his ear.

"He's been like that for three days," Bob said. "They're trying to put through a direct line to the White House. These guys won't even let me into my own office."

In a clearing near the river Bob showed me the big tent where the press, the Secret Service, state police and game wardens were to eat. Near the tent Ross McKenney, Maine guide and woodcraft advisor to the Dartmouth Outing Club, was splitting birch to feed a fire in a pit where the bean-hole beans were to be buried for cooking. Walter Prager, the college's famous ski coach, was lending a hand. John Rand, director of the Dartmouth Outing Club and secretary of the luncheon committee, drove up in a station wagon loaded with gear and accouterments. John said he had butterflies in his stomach as big as young mice. I sympathized with him.

"Anything you want in Errol?" Bob Monahan asked Ross McKenney.

Ross, his face wet with bone labor in the heat, looked up from his fire and said: "Ice."

Bob asked me if I wanted to start fishing. I said I was too excited. So we went in his car toward Errol to get ice. In the five miles of wilderness road back to the bridge and Gate Camp we must have stopped 30 times. If there was a rock in the road much bigger than a ball bearing, we picked it up and chucked it into the brush. We cut overhanging branches. We sometimes stopped to trace the telephone cable lying in the grass by the roadside. We halted on a blind curve to study an ominous, dead birch tree. It was rooted on a cliff to our left. It was 50 feet high. It might weigh half a ton, and was leaning toward the road.

"That's no good at all," Bob said.

We met Sanders of the River and his student crew, which included Lincoln Yu, Tom Nichols, Franklin Gould and Mamoru Mitsui. Bob told the boys what a whale of a good job they were doing. Then he spoke to Sanders of the River about the menacing dead birch.

"We'll get it," Sanders of the River said.

"It won't be easy, boys. But we'll all feel better if that birch isn't there—tomorrow noon."

"It won't be there," Sanders of the River said.

In Errol in an icehouse we got six sawdust-covered cakes of ice and delivered them to Ross McKenney. By now it was almost dark. As we were lighting the oil lamps Sanders of the River appeared, his face shining like a jewel.

"We got the big birch!" he said.

Presently, Sid Hayward and the other fishermen came in off the Swift Diamond. Tom Dent, Dartmouth soccer and lacrosse coach, was one of them. Sam Brungot, the fire patrolman, and Slim Olsen were guides. They were wet, tired and happy. They had a good catch. Old Sam Brungot, who is Norwegian and the grandfather of 17 children, showed me a big trout he'd caught. By grace of President Eisenhower, that trout and old Sam were destined for fame. But Sam was famous already.

President Dickey and Edward Weeks showed up soon after 8 o'clock. Behmie Turcis, the cook, looking relieved, put his grill on the wood stove and arranged pork chops on it.

Everyone was thinking about one thing, one man, and no one was talking about it, or him, till after supper when Sid Hayward gave us a tense briefing on how we should be relaxed and informal when the great moment came.

"This is a fishing trip," Sid said. "We wear our fishing clothes and behave like fishermen. John Dickey will sit at the head of the table. He will take care of the President. Ed Smith, being from Maine, will take care of Senator Fred Payne. Ted Weeks is assigned to..."

Sid went down through the list. After he was through, Tom Dent, who was born in Scotland and has a marvelous Scotch burr at his command, said, "I will now give a demonstration in fly tying."

I turned in while Tom was tying peacock herl on a Royal Coachman. I heard him explaining how the Reverend Cannon Greenwell of England had invented the Greenwell's Glory fly. Tom's burr was working fine. I finally fell asleep, in my ears diminishing decibels concerning Hewitt's glass-tank experiments to determine a trout's cone of visibility.

The President was due to arrive at the camp at 11:45 a.m. We all went fishing, after agreeing to return by 11. I fished with Joe Dodge, who is an old friend, but my heart wasn't in fishing for once. I caught one trout. It was five and a half inches long. I returned it to the waters of the Dead Diamond and said to Joe, "Let's get back to the camp."

We got back ahead of time. So did almost everyone else. John Dickey's fishing party was completed by the arrival of President Emeritus Ernest Hopkins and Laurence Whittemore, of the Brown Company.

We were getting nervous. Sid Hay-ward started his charcoal fire for broiling the trout. We kept looking down the road. Paul Dougherty, the game warden, turned on the radio in his car. He was in touch with the President's party.

"They're in Errol right now!" Paul reported.

Suddenly someone sighted the famous golden eagle, who perennially roosts on a tall dead pine on Diamond Peak, within full view of the Management Center. John Dickey lifted his binoculars. A golden eagle for the President! It was a momentous, symbolic stroke of luck! The eagle soared wondrously in the mile-high thermals—and casually disappeared. We all groaned. In the eagle's place came a dense rain cloud. It started to sprinkle and we moved to carry stuff in out of the wet. It stopped sprinkling.

"They're at the Gate Camp!" someone reported.

We all looked down the road. Some Secret Service men appeared silently. They were young, suntanned, well-dressed, well mannered and extremely capable looking. I thought I could see extra bits of leather attached to their belts, and I knew this leather would lead to a holster and a gun.

We looked down the road all the time and suddenly someone said, "Here they come!"

First there was a string of black cars full of game wardens and state police, and then another big black car, and after that—with other cars bringing up the rear—came the President. His car stopped right beside us. He got out and shook hands with President Dickey, and President Dickey began introducing him. I shook hands with him. He looked absolutely fine, younger than in all the pictures I'd seen of him. He was dressed in a tan suit, hat, green tie and white shirt with French cuffs.

John Dickey was helping him into a white mess jacket with the Dartmouth emblem in green. The President was having trouble getting his French cuffs through the sleeves of the mess jacket.

"My arms are too long," the President said.

"That's good for your golf swing," I said.

He laughed and said, "That's right—good for the swing."

The press photographers were creating lightning with their flashbulbs. I never saw guys work so hard and so fast. The President had been introduced to old Sam Brungot, the forest fire patrolman. Sam had on a new red hat and a new red tie, bright against his forest green shirt. The President and Sam were laughing and talking. I couldn't hear what they said. Ike reached out, got hold of Sam's red tie and started to straighten it. A press photographer, with his picture dead-center in his finder, got accidentally bumped in the elbow. He looked sick.

I stood back on the edge of the group, and suddenly it was as if half the faces I'd seen in magazine and newspaper photos had come to life. The faces had bodies attached to them, and arms and legs and voices. Sherman Adams, Styles Bridges, James Hagerty, Robert Cutler, Sinclair Weeks, General Snyder, Norris Cotton. And the President of the United States.

The President moved about quickly. You got the impression of vitality, and you remembered dozens of swift scenes: his meeting Sanders of the River and the student crew, his gracious-ness. A serious moment with President Dickey and President Emeritus Hopkins. They must have been talking about education. I don't know.

The President came over to the fire, where Sid Hayward was broiling the trout. He cast an expert eye over the scene.

"Let me cook one," he said. "I know how to cook trout. Have you got a good-sized one? And some aluminum foil?"

Sam Brungot and his big trout appeared like a miracle. The President looked with approval on both. But nobody could find any aluminum foil till someone pointed to the trash can.

"We had sliced onions wrapped in this—but it's clean," someone said.

"Fine—give me some cornmeal, salt and pepper."

We helped the President spread out the aluminum foil. He wrapped up Sam's big trout and placed it over the coals. Tom Dent, his Scotch burr working beautifully, was shuttling back and forth through this scene. He and the President had reached a nickname basis practically from the start and were having uproarious fun.

"Ike," Tom said, "I want to hire you for a cook on my fishing trips."

"I'll do that, Tom—just as soon as I get through with the job I'm on now."

Joe Dodge and Behmie Turcis came to the kitchen door, near the charcoal fire, and called, "Come and get it!"

HE KNOWS HOW TO COOK

In the main room of the Management Center building we sat down at two tables, nine or 10 men at each, after serving ourselves at the buffet table up front across the kitchen door. Broiled trout, beanhole beans, Behmie Turcis' cornbread, a salad and pie. I sat at the foot of Mr. Eisenhower's table, with Senator Payne on my right. John Dickey sat at the head of the table, the President at his left. I was too excited to eat much but the President did well. I saw him stand up and go to the buffet for seconds. He picked up a small, broiled trout with his fingers. Then he reached out and put his hand on Behmie Turcis' shoulder, and Behmie's eyes shone like a couple of blowtorches. The trout the President had cooked came in presently and we all had a bit of it. He knows how to cook one, all right.

All the while you thought of the magnitude of this man's responsibility. He had just returned from San Francisco. His mind must be weighted with a thousand problems, any one of which would stagger a regiment. But now, for a moment, he was enjoying himself, and I was thrilled and moved to be even a small part of it. I felt exactly as Behmie Turcis felt, as Sanders of the River felt. I guess everyone there felt that way.

After lunch I went out on the front porch and stood there awhile. Then I turned to my left off the front porch and started to walk down the length of the building. I saw someone coming toward me. It was the President. We met midway of the building and we both stopped and smiled. This meeting was pure accident.

"Mr. Eisenhower, I've been looking for a chance to tell you I'm probably the first man here to have voted for you."

His look was curious, serious. "How's that?"

"My wife and I voted absentee, weeks before Election Day in '52—in the town clerk's office in Mount Chase, Maine."

"That's good—interesting."

"I have some messages for you—instructions from my Maine woods friends."

"What are they?"

"Well—Al Foster wants more trout in Lost Pond, and Sawdust Hall wants a drastic reduction in the liquor tax."

It was wonderful to hear him laugh and see the thin wrinkles in his sunburned forehead and his eyes full of delight as he answered, "Thai would be a good platform to run on!"

"Sure," I said, "but maybe a little oversimplified."

People began to converge and the President was in the midst of them and a little while later the cars began to form for departure. Mr. Eisenhower got into the big black one with the transparent top. He put on his tan suit jacket, then took it off again and replaced the white mess jacket with the green Dartmouth emblem. We were grouped around his car, shaking hands, telling him to have a good time fishing in Maine, and to get all the rest he could, and to come back again, and good luck to him wherever he went. Then Tom Dent showed up with some trout flies he'd tied and he and Mr. Eisenhower were having a regular reunion.

Tom gave him a fly and the President said, "Haven't you more of those?"

"Certainly. Here, take them all."

"Tom, if these flies don't catch fish, I'll come back and get you!"

A Secret Service man gave an arm signal. The cars started to move. They turned downriver on the woods road, and the last one disappeared. We stood around looking at each other. It was quiet. It was as if a benevolent cyclone had just passed. Sam Brungot carefully took off his new red hat and put the old, faded one back on his head. President John Sloan Dickey said, "Well, let's go fishing."

Some of us did.

PHOTOWAITING FOR IKE at cabin are (from left) Tom Dent, Dartmouth soccer and lacrosse coach; John Sloan Dickey, college president; Author Edmund Ware Smith; Ernest Hopkins, Dartmouth president emeritus; Edward Weeks and Laurence Whittemore.PHOTOBEHMIE TURCIS, the camp cook, is introduced to President by Sherman Adams.PHOTOLAURENCE WHITTEMORE, chairman of the Brown Co. (paper) talks to Ike.PHOTOSAM BRUNGOT, fire patrolman, caught a big trout which Ike cooked personally.PHOTOSANDERS OF THE RIVER, heading student road crew, chats with President.TWO PHOTOS

SPORTSMAN SMITH...AND SPORTSMAN EISENHOWER

Writer Smith, who spends a long summer each year with his wife at the log-cabin camp he built himself on remote Shin Pond, Me. (accessible only by air), is a sensitive reporter on the wilderness scene. A lifelong angler, canoer and camper, he is remembered by SI readers for his Woodsmoke from Old Cabins (SI, Oct. 11, 1954) and An Ode to Spring Fever (SI, April 11, 1955).

Secure from heat and hurricanes in his Maine retreat, Ed Smith is finishing up the season writing and fishing and, no doubt, reminiscing on the exciting day when he was the Smith of all Smiths who talked with Ike.

Angler Eisenhower crossed the border into Maine after lunching with Dartmouth President John Sloan Dickey's fishing party and proceeded to Parmachenee Lake. Here Ike fly-fished on the Magalloway River but with only fair luck (he minimized a 10-inch brook trout by calling it "just a Rhode Island"). Later he caught two land-locked salmon before leaving New England.

At present Ike is in Colorado where he has been skillfully serving up dry flies to rainbow trout in the vicinity of Fraser. A veteran angler, he likes to float a fly on sparkling water, and knows what to do when a fish strikes.