Tales from the Trail

rob burch
Screen Grab / C-SPAN

As long as I cover politics, I will remember the name Rob Burch as a politician with nothing but moxie.

I could not blame you if you don't recognize that name.

marge schott
Tom Uhlman / AP

This is the tale of how Marge Schott fell in love with a cow.

black bear
Rich Pedroncelli / AP

We Ohioans live among bears.

So, too, do Kentuckians, but it's not such a big deal on their side of the river because they've gotten used to it.

john mccain
Howard Wilkinson / Personal Collection

Editor's note: John McCain died Saturday at the age of 81 from brain cancer. In the story that follows, originally published in May, WVXU politics reporter Howard Wilkinson recalls his many times on the campaign trail with the Arizona senator and former presidential candidate. 

carolina beach postcard
Wikimedia Commons

If you lived for a time in a place known as "Pleasure Island,'' you might think that would be a pretty good place to hang your hat.

Well, I did. And it wasn't.

reporter's notebook
Jennifer Merritt / WVXU

Think about it - what's the one indispensable tool of your job? The one tool without which you would barely be able to perform your duties?

julie and martin weckerlein
Courtesy Julie Weckerlein

I have a lot to thank you for, Julie and Martin Weckerlein.

1997 flood
Mark Lyons / AP

One thing I have learned over decades as a reporter: As horrible and destructive as natural disasters can be, there is something about them that bring people together to survive and get back on their feet.

barack obama dayton
Skip Peterson / AP

Ed. note: Howard Wilkinson launched his "Tales from the Trail" column on July 15, 2017, in an effort to take you behind the scenes of politics and hear some of the funny—and occasionally outright bizarre—situations that happen on the campaign trail. Since Wilkinson has been covering politics for more than 40 years, he has plenty of stories to tell. To mark the one-year anniversary of his column, we are republishing Wilkinson's first-ever "Tales from the Trail" here today.  

Nam Y. Huh / AP

The world—and I do mean, the world, just about all of it—knows one Jerry Springer.

In Cincinnati, we know another. 

donald trump cincinnati
Howard Wilkinson / WVXU

Donald Trump, both as candidate and president, has made a habit of blaming everything that is wrong in this country on the news media, calling them "dishonest" and "corrupt" and even the enemy of the people.

mitt romney
Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

I found out years ago how to get under the skin of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Utah.

roy rogers
Howard Wilkinson / Personal Collection

People often tell me I have been lucky because I have been in a profession that has enabled me to do a lot of things that most folks will never have the chance to do.

And they're right. I am grateful for that.

john mccain
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Creative Commons

Here's another story that ought to convince you that John McCain is not your typical politician.

george voinovich
United States Congress

I do miss George Voinovich.

The former Cleveland mayor, two-term governor and U.S. Senator died June 12, 2016 at the age of 79, just about a month before he was to be a delegate at the Republican National Convention held in his beloved hometown of Cleveland.

john glenn howard wilkinson
Howard Wilkinson / Personal Collection

I don't hesitate to tell you that of all the countless political figures I have written about since the mid-1970s, my favorite, by far, is John H. Glenn Jr.

Official Pete Rose Baseball Card Set

You would be hard pressed to find a bigger Cincinnati Reds fan than yours truly.

Don't cry to me about their present record; that's irrelevant to my love for the team I have rooted for since I was a child, through good times and bad.

george w bush inauguration
WhiteHouse.gov / Wikimedia Commons

I always enjoyed covering presidential inaugurations.

Except for the time I came within an eyelash of getting arrested at one.

ronald reagan jimmy carter
Wikimedia Commons

Editor's note: Faithful readers of Howard Wilkinson's weekly "Tales from the Trail" column will want to know that this feature will be published on Fridays beginning May 4.

Thursday, May 29, 1980, was a day of revelation to me as a young political reporter.

That was the day I learned that Ohio was, in fact, the center of the universe when it came to American presidential politics.

Howard Wilkinson
Howard Wilkinson

Most people who know me know that I quit smoking over three years ago, after puffing away like a house afire for decades.

I did it because I finally came to the point where I really wanted to. And, frankly, it wasn't that hard.

So, bully for me.

barbara bush
Wikimedia Commons

Editor's note, updated April 17, 8:03 p.m.: In light of the news that Barbara Bush has died at the age of 92, WVXU politics reporter Howard Wilkinson reflects on a time he met the former first lady. 

When you meet someone in politics who really cares about something, you take notice.

Not just the surface "caring" of political rhetoric written by a campaign speechwriter and delivered in fake sincerity, but someone who cares about certain things deeply, passionately and with every fiber of his or her being. 

Former first lady Barbara Bush is one of those rare people in politics. 

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Last June, you might have read a short story about it in the local newspaper, heard a snippet on the radio, or vaguely recognized a face that flashed on a TV screen.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Look, we can sit here all day and argue about whether Robert A. Taft II – Bob Taft, as he is known, was a good or bad governor for the state of Ohio.

That's a matter of personal judgment.

We can say, without fear of contradiction, that he was the 67th governor of the state of Ohio, serving from 1999 to 2007 as a Republican.

Another thing we can say about Bob Taft: His political party owed him an enormous debt of gratitude for agreeing to put up with the embarrassment of being former governor Jim Rhodes' running mate for lieutenant governor in 1986.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

I worked for newspapers, principally the Cincinnati Enquirer, for 38 years.

And, during that time, I was sent by those newspapers to cities all over the North America dozens of times.

But only once did my editors send me to the wrong city. It's a tale worth telling.

This tale stems from a news story which was one of the most tragic I've ever had to cover – the Air Canada disaster of June 1983.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Some people find it hard to believe, but there was a time early in my career that I was known to the public as primarily a humor columnist.

It's true. From 1977 to 1982, at the Troy Daily News, I had a column that ran in the Sunday magazine section called And Another Thing…Don't ask me how, but it became wildly popular in Troy; aside from the sport pages, it may have been the most read thing in the paper.

Beats me how it happened. But it made me a celebrity of sorts in that small town in western Ohio.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Having been something of a class clown growing up in Dayton, Ohio, terrorizing many an innocent grade school teacher at Cleveland Elementary School with my pranks and wise-acre behavior, I suppose it's not surprising that, as an adult, I would get my chance to be a genuine circus clown.

Complete with greasepaint, baggy pants, and dozens of skinny balloons stuffed into my oversized pockets to turn into balloon animals for the kiddies.

Part 2 of a two-part Tales from the Trail:

Sometimes, I don't believe it either.

I've had a career covering politics where I have gone to 16 presidential nominating conventions, Democratic and Republican.

More than any one human being should have to bear.

I shouldn't complain, though, even in jest. I've visited some great American cities, seen a few baseball games in some ball parks I might never have gotten to, and, from time to time, actually witnessed American history being made.

And told the story.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

It's a fact; I have been to 16 presidential nominating conventions, Democratic and Republican, over the course of my career covering politics.

Some would say this cruel and unusual punishment is more than any one human being deserves.

After all, the political people only go to their own party's conventions. I go to both. Often in back-to-back weeks.

People often ask me which conventions have been the worst to cover and which have been the best.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

Usually, when you look back at a long period of time working in the same place, it is the first day on the job that you remember the most.

The nervousness. The overwhelming desire to impress. The first time you have to go to someone and ask where the restroom is.

In other words, your general dorkiness.

That first day is something to remember.

But, for me, it is the second day I worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer I remember the most.

Jim Nolan / WVXU

One of the most memorable interviews I've done in my career was with a man who was not a politician, but was a spiritual adviser to many occupants of the White House over the years.

Billy Graham, the world's most famous TV evangelist, who has spread his Gospel message to billions on television and in person all over the world since starting his ministry by pitching tents in a Los Angeles parking lot in 1949, is now 99 years old and living in retirement in his mountaintop home near Asheville, North Carolina.

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