Drought, trains, and a chicken dinner: FDR’s 1936 campaign stop in Fremont

It was billed as a presidential tour of the drought-stricken areas of the Midwest, but President Franklin Roosevelt was in full campaign mode when his train stopped in Fremont on September 2, 1936.

By David L. Bristow, Editor


It was billed as a presidential tour of the drought-stricken areas of the Midwest, but President Franklin Roosevelt was in full campaign mode when his train stopped in Fremont on September 2, 1936.

Digitized by History Nebraska, this newsreel has no sound, but the three-minute clip has plenty to see. It gives a lot of attention to the other newsreel cameras and radio microphones—the national media presence seems as much a part of the story as the presidential visit.

At the 2:45 mark we see how the wheelchair-bound Roosevelt stood while holding the arm of a man at his side. The public never saw his wheelchair. At 2:54 we see the president chatting with Nebraska governor Robert LeRoy Cochran, who was riding the presidential train to a drought conference in Des Moines. We even get a brief glimpse of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt at 3:13.

The ongoing drought was on everyone’s mind. FDR had just come from the Nebraska Panhandle, where he talked with farmers in Sidney and North Platte. And not shown here but aboard the train was Waterloo, Nebraska, farmer Gus Sumnick, “who entertained Roosevelt with a chicken dinner at his farm during the 1932 campaign.” Sumnick told reporters he hoped to discuss farm issues with the president.

“I ought to know something about farming,” Sumnick said. “I’ve been a farmer 45 years, from hired man up.” Farmers were going to need more federal help, he said, if they were going to put in another crop. He ended up talking with Roosevelt for about half an hour. Governor Cochran, meanwhile, talked to the president about the need for major flood control projects in the Republican River valley. The valley had flooded disastrously a year earlier.

That November, Nebraskans gave FDR more than 57 percent of the vote (41 percent voted for Republican nominee Alf Landon). It was the second—and last—time Roosevelt carried Nebraska in his four presidential campaigns.


Video still: Nebraska governor “Roy” Cochrane with Roosevelt.



“Cochran Flies to Columbus,” Omaha World-Herald, Sept. 2, 1936, p. 1.

“Gus Sumnick on the Presidential Train,” Lincoln State Journal, Sept. 4, 1936, 11.

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