The Fort Dodge Messenger: March 26, 1904
Newspaper Men From Fort Dodge
S.R. Train, whose Pen Always Responded to the Dictates of His Conscience
Equally with Benjamin F. Gue, L.R. Train, who became editor and owner of the Fort Dodge Times about 1870, has done much in the veteran class of the “newspaper men from Fort Dodge” (to) build up and develop the town and the country around the town. Mr. Train established the first daily paper in Fort Dodge and carried it on for several years before the other weeklies became dailies.
On a little farm in old Moriah, N.Y., seventy years ago, a son was born in an old fashioned Presbyterian home. The father read the daily lesson from the “good old book,” and the mother folded her baby’s hands as she taught: “Now I lay me down to sleep” to one whose life for twenty-five years was linked with the life of Fort Dodge and Webster County. Three sons were born to that home with its simple life, three sons who answered Lincoln’s call for brave men to defend the union. From the father, who was a millwright, the boy learned to delight in creating things with the hands which led to a desire to create with the mind, and shaped his life work. Not until after his marriage had the opportunity come to him to learn the printer’s trade and he at once engaged in business for himself, leaving the editorial desk at Prairie du Chien, Wis., however to enter the army.
In 1870, L.R. Train was working as a printer in the office of the Fort Dodge Times, J.C. Ervin, a school teacher at Webster City, had bought the Times which had been started two years before. B.F. Gue was editor of the Northwest, the only other paper in Fort Dodge at that time. The Northwest was not run to suit the fancy of a faction of the republican party headed by W.H. Meservey, A.M. Dawley and Chas. Pomeroy, all three now deceased. These men desired the establishment of another republican paper, and believing the time was ripe for a new venture, Mr. Ervin put Mr. Train in as editor of the Times, that he might be free to start a new paper, which he did, calling it the Fort Dodge Republican. Mr. Ervin found himself somewhat embarassed (sic) by the management of his democratic and his republican paper, particularly as there was but a narrow hall between the two rooms that served as offices for the concerns, and began negotiations for the sale of the Time to Mr. Train.
There was a mortgage upon the Times for material, amounting to $1,300 (that amount in 1870 would be about $22,136 today) which was to be assumed by the purchaser, and a transfer of eighty acres of land. In addition to this, Mr. Ervin wanted five hundred dollars ($8,514), to be paid in material from the Times’ outfit.
It was in the fall of the year when farmers were bringing in their produce on subscription. One day a farmer was introduced to Mr. Train as he was on his way to his office. The farmer expressed great surprise when told that this man was the editor of the Times. “Why,” said he, “I just delivered a load of squash for the Times. I told the man particularly that I wanted the squash to go to the editor of the Times” That afternoon, as the type clicked in the stick as he worked upon the composition for the Times, the word “squash” festooned itself around on the pages of the copy and resounded with the drop of the type into the stick. The squash had not gone into the right cellar. It was a small thing, but a principle was involved, and a principle was a great thing. When Mr. Ervin came to urge the closing up of the bargain he was told that if he would make it two hundred ($3,406) instead of five hundred it was a bargain. So the legal transfer was made, leaving the editor of the Republican to the enjoyment of editing his one newspaper and eating his three hundred dollar ($5,108) squash.
This basing of action upon principle was one of hte strong characteristics of the editor of the Times. It is needless to add that the observance of the principle did not always result financially to his benefit. The financial result was of small consequence, the triumph of a principle being the consideration.
Under Mr. Train’s management the Times became very popular and his editorials were widely copied. He mixed with all classes of people, studied their methods of thought and characteristics, and prepared his political articles with the view of reaching the most stolid and thoughtless. Organizing a line of thought in consecutive order, he wrote a column to elucidate a single thought standing at the head of the list. Then he would call in one of the slow thinkers to ascertain if his plan was successful, making the slow thinker the multiple of every political problem. The success of this plan was to him a pleasant revelation. Wealthy farmers and other laboring men came in and with marked enthusiasm expressed their pleasure, stating that it was difficult for them to understand the ordinary editorial discussion of political questions which he had made simple and plain.
Among the first settlers of Webster county were a great many men who held patents for their lands signed by Abraham Lincoln, known as the River Lands, the same having been granted to a corporation known as the River Land company. Mr. Train was the first to take up the cause of the settlers and urge the righting of the mistake which had resulted in great wrong to the settlers. His persistent demand that justice be done the settlers brought other friends to their cause and finally resulted in the awarding of indemnity by congress.
What an editor does is only a small part of his service to the public. The things he does not do are often of great moment, many times of more far reaching concern than the things recorded. These things are vital. In judging of a man’s life work, of his value as a citizen and of his influence for good upon a community, it is necessary, if possible, to learn somewhat of the things he has refrained from doing. This is especially true of one at the head of a newspaper, although it may necessarily partake of the semblance of a surmise from a process of reasoning upon the part of the public inasmuch as matters of that kind leave no blazed trail for the pursuer of facts to follow.
An incident may serve to illustrate in a small way what often happens in alrger ways in newspaper experience. One of the leading attorneys of Fort Dodge came into the office one day with an air of importance and immediately engaged in earnest conversation. A young man (J.P. Dolliver) had just come to town, he said, who was making quite a stir, and something had to be done to head him off. He had made a speech and would probably be called upon to make others. The attorney t hen outlined what he thought would make a crushing article and cause the young man to take a back seat or go farther west. “Call him Dolly,” said the lawyer, “nothing kills a young man so quickly as ridicule.” When the attorney had gone Mr. Train took up his pen to write the article outlined. One of his characteristic impulses was to do as nearly as possible what his friends wanted him to if he could consistently do so. But as he took up his pen two questions challenged his attention: (1) Has this young man ever done anything to injure you? (2) Has he not as good a right to live in this community as any other person? The article did not appear, and the advising attorney’s face plainly indicated his disappointment long afterward.
Mr. Train conceived the idea of starting a daily paper in Fort Dodge, and made a tour of cities to study conditions. Upon his return he decided to make the venture. Everybody said a daily paper could not live in Fort Dodge, but everybody, as the word goes, subscribed for it, and the Fort Dodge Daily Times was a financial success from the beginning. The daily was issued for four years, and then the two other weekly papers published in Fort Dodge each started daily editions and the day after the following election the daily edition of the Times was suspended. With a clear field there was incentive to publish a daily, but the editor saw nothing worth fighting for.
In every public work, in private enterprise of public utility, his pen and work were promptly and freely enlisted, and he published large extra editions of his paper for the development and upbuilding of the interior towns and villages of Webster county. The cramped up position of the old court house as compared with that of other cities was of universal knowledge and the desirability of more room was of universal consent. A full block with the court house in the center, even though half a mile away, appealed to the aesthetic sense, and there was considerable discussion on that line at different times. Mr. Train opposed the removal of the court house location from the standpoint of the value of property and the non-transferable character of the lot deed, and his last newspaper work was in the closing discussion which resulted in the erection of the splendid structure upon the old site.
For twenty-five years Mr. Train stood at the helm of the Fort Dodge Times. During that time twelve other papers struggled for existence in Fort Dodge: some were absorbed into other publications, some died, and at the time he sold the Times in 1895, because of loss of sight, but three out of the twelve were in existence. The number of papers could safely be multiplied by three to obtain an estimate of the number of men connected with the twelve papers during the newspaper activity of Mr. Train. If may be of interest to read over the names of the twelve papers: (1) The Iowa Northwest; (2) The Republican; (3) The Messenger; (4) Mineral City Enterprise; (5) Webster County Gazette; (6) Webster County Union; (7) The Topic; (8) Mr. Hutton’s paper; (9) One started in the Doud building; (10) A Populist paper, the name forgotten; (11) The Chronicle; (12) The Post.
Up to the time of his enlistment in the army Mr. Train used neither tea nor coffee, tobacco nor liquor of any kind. While in the service he acquired the tobacco habit – both chewing and smoking, but after some years he discarded the use of tobacco. How such a man could, upon principle, oppose the prohibition movement in Iowa can perhaps be better understood now, with the mulct law in force, than during the fierce battle which waged at the time of the enactment of the prohibitory legislation which changed the vote of the state from seventy thousand republican majority to the election of a democratic governor.
The strongest dominating force in Mr. Train’s character thruout his life has been patriotism. As editor of the Times, opposition to the republican party was consistently worked out in his editorial productions. In 1888 his deep sense of patriotism led him to the belief that he had erred in his judgment as to a choice of parties for political affiliation and he unhesitatingly announced his belief to the public, working as faithfully from that time for the upbuilding of the republican party as his earnest nature dictated, carrying with him a large percentage of the Times’ readers.
He was a prominent member of the Grand Army of the Republic, both local and state. Among his cherished papers are commissions from six department commanders, and he served as aide-de-camp to Commander-in-Chief Alger. He was the oldest member of Ashlar Lodge No. 111 A.F. & A.M., and to those familiar with the work of this order the dignity of this position is understood. He was always fearless in the advocacy of such measures as engaged his attention and quick to further any measure he believed would advance the interests of Fort Dodge and Webster county.
During a large part of Mr. Train’s connection with the Times he was most ably assisted by his daughter, Edith Train, and any estimate of his work and efforts for the building up of the newspapers in Fort Dodge, and this always includes the building up of a town, for a good newspaper means a good town, would be lacking, if mention is not made of this able and excellent woman. For years, as her father’s eyesight began to fail, she was the mainstay of the office. She knew it all, was an excellent typesetter and could take the place of any man on the force and do his work from the editor to the “devil.” In Fort Dodge she made a place for herself and was always regarded as one of the ablest women of the city. She was elected to a place on the school board and filled her duties with energy and enthusiasm, giving entire satisfaction, except to a few women teachers who followed the old tradition and preferred to be “ruled by men.”
Miss Train was very active in the Equality Club, and also a very tower of strength in the G.A.R. Women’s Relief Corps. In ’95, the Trains went to the Pacific coast and are now living in Portland, Oregon. Since going out there Miss Edith Train has studied law and is practicing in the courts of that state. Mr. Train and his daughters too (took) up a homestead in Cowlitz county, Washington and the readers of the Messenger of two years ago, will remember the interesting account of their awful experience in the great fire of that date which Miss Train sent to the Messenger. Miss Rose Train is an artist and lives at home. Miss Matie is a teacher in the Portland public schools.
Tags: 1904, Dawley, Ervin, Gue, Meservey, Pomeroy, Train