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Hidden treasures at Union Station

Saw a bunch of guys in orange shirts hauling a pile of scrap lumber out of the old Laundry Building south of Union Station, so I wandered over to check it out.

 

The men in shirts, guests of the Weber County Correctional Facility, were doing community work, helping clean out the entrance to the building, really a long drive-in loading dock area on its north end.

 

 

Leon Jones, chairman of the foundation’s board, was supervising.  He hollered at me to stop when I started to walk in and check the area out. “It’s full of dust and bird droppings and maybe asbestos,” he said, and then I saw the face masks on the workers and turned around.

 

Union Station was grateful for the free labor — Foundation Director Roberta Beverly said she’s always all about free because the foundation is constantly scrambling for money to do, well, anything.

 

For example, inside the area being cleaned, way back, I saw a car. “What’s that car about?” I asked Leon.

 

Leon, who used to work for Autoliv, which makes airbags, said that car is a 1981 Mercedes diesel that was given to the company with 150,000 miles on it to test air bag technology.

 

The company put bags in it and tested them this way and that, setting them off and testing the chemical residue and so on, “and then finally one guy said, ‘OK, I’m going to do it. I’ll get in and let the air bag go off.'”

 

Presumably he lived.

 

The car was surplus at that point, so Autoliv donated it to Union Station and Roberta drove it for a number of years. “I put the third 100,000 miles on it,” she said, although she’s not sure of the current mileage, and admits to one fender-bender, which left the front bumper dangling. She quit driving it when repairs got too expensive, which is common for any Mercedes.

 

The car apparently is a classic, so Union Station is trading it to Crawford Doors in exchange for a new garage door on the entrance to the Laundry Building dock area, currently guarded by flimsy chain link gates.

 

Odd treasures are always showing up or being uncovered at Union Station, Roberta handed me a silver-looking medal that someone donated half a dozen of to the station. Any idea what this is? She said.

 

It’s a giant coin commemorating the 1969 100th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike. She had found one web site where the person writing about a coin like this one said it was pure silver, five ounces, which at current values would make it worth about $125 if melted down.  But is it really silver? Leon and I and the prisoners pondered the thing, weighed it in our hands, tapped it on the ground and listened to it ring.

 

“Pewter,” Leon announced. Several of the prisoners agreed, displaying a very interesting — and not surprising — knowledge both of jewelry and the local pawn shops where I could get it valued.

 

I took the coin over the the Gift House on 25th Street where Scotty Van Leewuen took one look, said “that’s not silver,” and showed it to the clerks, who agreed. Some sort of nickel alloy, they said.

 

Scott remembers those coins, which were made in 1969 to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Driving of the Golden Spike.  Nate Mazer, who shotgunned that effort, had them struck to put into the stocks of commemorative rifles and also gave them out to local businesspeople as souvenirs.

 

So what are they worth? Nothing for their metal, but I told Roberta she could probably auction them to rail fans for $50 each, and even offered that much myself, just because it’s so cool.

 

 

 

 

 

This blog is by Charles Trentelman, a retired columnist from the Standard-Examiner, now a volunteer at Union Station. Any opinions expressed in it are his own and not those of the Union Station Foundation or the City of Ogden. He can be reached at summicron12000@yahoo.com.

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