Not Every Treasure is a Treasure

The “plow” before we ripped the wood off

Every collector collects junk, and a museum is no exception. Their back rooms and storage closets are full of the stuff.

And sometimes, you gotta toss something.

Let’s be clear: No museum gets rid of stuff willy nilly. Every object has its place in history. If we are given something to keep, we keep it. That’s the rule (although there’s no rule that we have to take everything, either.)

And Union Station is no exception. Historical stuff is all valuable, but that value has to relate to our mission, which relates to Ogden’s history, and Ogden’s railroads or guns or business. It all ties together.

Unless it doesn’t.

Which brings us to the old railroad car we just got rid of.

The thing was here when I started a year and a half ago, fire damaged and moldering. You saw it off to the south end of the station’s railroad yard, outside the fence.

As best we could find out, the car was built probably 100 years ago, possibly as a tender for a steam locomotive. During World War II it was converted into a rotary snow plow for use at the Mina, Nevada, US Navy base.

Taking wood off the plow

That base gave it to the Tooele Army Depot, where it was also used as a snow plow until retired and donated to the Tooele Valley Railroad Museum. That museum deemed it surplus and, in 1993, sold it to the Heber Valley Railroad, which used it as a power car on passenger trains.

At some point — nobody in Ogden remembers when — the Heber folks decided they didn’t want it and gave it to the Utah Railroad Museum, which is us at Union Station.

What we got was an orphan of a car, a wooden hulk, painted yellow, with no motor, no plow, no nothing, having little relevance to Ogden’s history, Utah’s history, or anything else. We stored it outside out rail yard, which meant it didn’t even have the minimal security that offers.

There are some folks who think we should have restored it. The problem is, Union Station has numerous other cars that also need restoration, cars that have direct relevance to Utah and Ogden history. Those have to have priority.

Given that, plus our financial abilities, we came to the conclusion that this car was never going to rise to the top of the list. And even if we did restore it, what would it be … an snow plow? An engine? A tender?

It was sitting on rails in sight of the St. Anne’s Shelter’s clients, easy temptation for anyone who needed a place to sleep and couldn’t pass the “are you sober?” test at the shelter. People sleeping in it was a problem, and at least one time someone set a fire inside it to keep warm.

Inside it, on the wooden floor. Yeah.

Getting ready to load what’s left

Sadly, the Ogden Fire Department was very prompt and saved the thing from destruction.

Last September I and some other volunteers decided to remove the wood from the thing. That would cut down on the fire danger and make it less inviting as a transient shelter. That still left the car’s steel frame sitting, looking pretty ugly.

Some of us were all for calling the recycling center and selling it for scrap, but others said the car’s trucks — the wheel assemblies — might have value to another museum. So we contacted several, and hoped.

Goldfield Nevada bit. The town, with a population of 300, has a nifty little historical society (click!) composed of folks who seem to like to collect old railroad cars.

I need to go to Goldfield. The town was founded in 1902 around several gold mines in the area and near Tonapah, 23 miles to the north. It boomed from nothing to more than 20,000 in six years.

By the early 1920s the population was on the downslide. The mines were playing out, costs to mine the gold were high, folks were leaking away. Fires in 1923 and 1924 destroyed huge chunks of the town and that was that.

Winching the car onto the flatbed

There’s only about 300 left. The Google Maps view of the town (click)  shows a lot of vacant lots and a few buildings.

One of its members, John Eckman,  got hold of me last July and started working to take the car down. The deal was, he could have it free, but he had to come get it. He spent several months trying to arrange a volunteer with a truck who could come haul the thing down. The process is hard — volunteers never have enough time, there’s permits and costs — and he finally gave up and just hired someone.

On our end, Ogden City was most cooperative, offering a crane or forklift, whatever was needed, to help load. Richard Brookins, Ogden’s fleet manager, said he’d even go rent something if the city didn’t have the right equipment, anything to help get rid of that car.

Two guys from Goldfield, Ron Young and Bob Patterson, finally made it to Ogden Oct. 15. They spent the afternoon getting the car ready to ship.

Loaded and ready to go.

Oct. 16, bright and early, Mark Westervelt, Capurro Trucking out of Reno, hit town with a special low-boy flatbed truck that has rails on it. It was the work of a couple hours to winch the old car onto the flatbed. Two guys from Ogden brought a forklift to help, the work went smoothly, nobody got hurt.

The car is there now, and long may it rest. Union Station’s yard is free of an eyesore, which makes it possible for us to concentrate on things that deserve our attention more.

Union Station is very grateful to Richard Brookins, Ogden’s fleet manager, for his help and support. Keeping Union Station’s campus clean and free of garbage, and less inviting to transients and vandals, is an ongoing process but critical to the success of the station as a center for Ogden.