Eddy's Used Cars! Gas Mart! Quik Trip! Sofatown!

The jumbled neon din of roadside America blinks from the edges of U.S. 24 as it rolls east from Kansas City into this old Missouri town. This is part of America, the roadside glitz, a familiar fixture on the outskirts of hundreds of fair-sized cities anywhere in the country.

But there is another American voice in Independence, recorded in a flat, distinctive twang of a voice: crisp, direct, unmistakably old-fashioned.

"I was sworn in one night, and the next morning, I had to get right on to the job at hand. I was plenty scared, but, of course, I didn't let anybody see it, and I knew that I wouldn't be called on to do anything that I wasn't capable of doing . . . ."

Just a few days are left in this centennial year of the birth of Harry S Truman, 33rd president of the United States. He died 12 years ago, at the age of 88. He is buried in the inner garden of the Truman Library and Museum here. His wife, Bess Wallace Truman, who died two years ago at age 97, lies beside him.

History's retina seems to freeze Truman in memory as the little man in the big job, Stetson firmly on his head, cane in hand, ready to trim 1948 Republican presidential candidate Tom Dewey down to size, or just take a stroll.

Truman's presence in this city of 111,000 quietly lives on, barely a block from roadside America. More than 200,000 people a year visit the library, including an average 300 or so historians and scholars who mine the rich lode of papers in the archives.

"His may be the best documented presidency of the century," said Dr. Benedict Zobrist, the library director.

"There are 1,600 handwritten letters by Truman, 600 to Bess alone. Some of these are now getting published and we are really excited by them. This is filling in the pieces."

The museum's memorabilia sketch the dimensions of thrifty, practical America. Here, for example, looking as if it were just wheeled in from its parking spot in the visitors' lot, is the two-door Chrysler Royal coupe that Truman bought in 1940 and drove until he became president in 1945.

The accompanying museum placard primly notes that his sister, Mary Jane Truman, drove the car for 10 years after that.

The centennial has attracted more interest than usual in the man who approved the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan to end World War II, sent U.S. troops to defend South Korea, and dismissed one of the most powerful proconsuls in U.S. history, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, for insubordination.

The American and European scholars, including three or four Soviets a year, were augmented for the first time by the arrival of a handful of Chinese historians, who came to Independence to delve into the papers of the president accused of "losing China" to the communists.

The Chinese were interested in "the diplomatic area surrounding that whole traumatic period," said Zobrist. "They stayed a matter of weeks, but they really didn't discuss their findings. The inscrutable Orient. They're not giving away any points to anyone."

But the presence of the president seems strongest a few blocks away, at 219 North Delaware Street.

From the time they were married in 1919, the Trumans lived here in the Wallace family residence, a white clapboard house dating from the Civil War, with the generous windows of the Victorian age and a pillared front porch straight out of Mark Twain.

This was the Summer White House, and the Trumans retired here after he left Washington in 1953. The president had no pension and no Secret Service protection. It didn't seem to matter much to him. His ways were unvaried.

He liked early mornings, brisk walks, five daily newspapers, answering correspondence, and an after-dinner read in his cozy library, with his wife sitting across from him.

In the summertime, the Trumans sat on the screened porch in the back of the house, with its quiet view of the yard and the neighbors' yards beyond. He liked his piano, and the music room, where the chandelier remains as it was when first hung there in the 1880s as a gaslight fixture.

"I always came back to Independence every chance I got because the people in Independence, the people in Missouri had been responsible for sending me to Washington," Truman told Merle Miller, whose oral biography of the president, "Plain Speaking," was a best-seller a decade ago. "And that's why when I ended up at the White House, after I had finished the job, I came back here. This is where I belong."

After Mrs. Truman's death, the U.S. Park Service arrived and now runs small, guided tours through the house. On a peg beneath the front stairway hang Truman's hat, coat and walking stick, as though he might appear at any moment, ready for a brisk walk.