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On the campaign trail, Fred Thompson is quick to tell the story of his humble beginnings.
In his announcement speech in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sept. 7, 2007, he said this:
"My story is an American story one that's happened many times across this great nation of ours, where a kid of modest means from a little town without a whole lot of resources or even a whole lot of ambition when he was a kid, had the opportunity to do some great things…
"I've seen it from a lot of different standpoints. I've seen it from the factory floor when I was working the graveyard shift and we'd have lunch there on the change of the shifts and I'd be ankle-deep in water at the Murray Ohio bicycle plant where I was running a machine that was so loud I couldn't hear myself yell if I wanted to. And I've had the opportunity to dine with foreign leaders in foreign capitals around the world and just about everything in between."
Confirming an often-repeated story from nearly 50 years ago is not easy and the Thompson campaign couldn't provide any independent verification of the details. His spokesman, Jeff Sadosky, said the campaign office people "don't know anything beyond the stories I've heard him tell."
It's tough to imagine these circumstances for a former U.S. Senator, high-paid lobbyist and Hollywood actor. But his blue-collar claims hold up pretty well to scrutiny.
To check the story, we called more than a dozen folks in Thompson's hometown of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., who either knew him or worked with him during his brief stint at the Murray manufacturing plant in 1960.
Most of those we talked to can't actually remember seeing Thompson work on the assembly line. But they recall knowing that he worked as a temporary employee for one summer — as many local boys did — before leaving for Florence State College (now University of North Alabama) in the fall.
These employees would typically work the third shift (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.) that none of the full-timers wanted, said Bobby Alford, who started at the factory the year it opened and worked for 37 years. Former workers also agree that many sections of the massive factory were extremely loud. But they said they never worked in ankle-deep water.
"I don't know why he said that," said Doyce Shaddix, who worked at Murray for 43 years and said the roof did sometimes leak in the rain. "It wasn't like it happened all the time."
We couldn't verify the ankle-deep water conditions, and you'd never know from his speech that Thompson's view of life from the factory floor lasted just one summer before college. But the point of his story is accurate and so we find this claim Mostly True.
Transcript, Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News, Oct. 15, 2007.
Research help from Kathy Niedergeses, Lawrence County Archives, Lawrenceburg, Tenn., Oct. 5, 2007.
Interviews with Jeff Sadosky, spokesman for Thompson campaign.
Interviews with Thompson friends Jan Clifton and Tom Crews.
Interviews with former Murray Ohio workers Cromer Smotherman, Bobby Alford, Ronnie Allen, Ronnie Perry, Carl Alexander, Nelda Morrow, Davey Jolly and Doyce Shaddix.
Biography, Fred D. Thompson papers,1993-2002 University of Tennessee Special Collections Library.
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