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Rebuilding History One Bolt At A Time

 

By Charles Trentelman

summicron12000@yahoo.com

 

There was indignation in Union Station’s repair shop Saturday morning over a letter to the editor in that day’s Standard-Examiner saying, essentially, that history was stupid.

 

The shop is full of people working their buns off to restore history, to bring it alive again. And some teacher’s aide writes a letter to the editor (in Saturday’s paper — click!) saying that students don’t know about Ogden’s history, don’t care and we need to work for the future?

 

Gad.

 

I found the letter puzzling on several levels. The letter’s author says she is working with students, presumably to teach them.

She notices that there is something lacking in those students’ knowledge of their city’s past. Rather than correct that lack — TEACH them — she derides the newspaper for mentioning that subject, thus blaming the paper for pointing out those students’ lack of knowledge and confusing them, or puzzling them.

Anyone else see a problem?

 

Richard Carroll stands by the newly built tender for D&RGW Engine 223

 

Instead of sticking her head in the proverbial sand of ignorance, she should bring those students to Union Station’s repair shop on Saturday morning, where those students might learn something.

 

Mike Burdett, a member of the Golden Spike Chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, was waving a copy of the letter around, amazed that anyone could be so stupid. If that teacher is right, he seemed to be saying, what was the point of what the people in the shop are doing?

 

They’ve been working at it for a long time. As I walked up to the shop Saturday morning I saw several of the guys working on an old freight car parked behind Union Station, a rusty red thing with “Be Specific, Ship Union Pacific” painted on its side.

 

The UP hasn’t used that pitch in decades. Maurice Greeson, who was directing the efforts, said that car was the first place the members of the chapter worked, way back in the mid-90s, and pointed out the lights and electrical panel they had installed.

 

The Chapter has been working since about 1995 to restore the D & RGW Locomotive 223.  Richard Carroll, one of the founding members of the chapter, said the car and engine both used to be parked over behind the old candy building that used to be south of Union Station. Since the freight car was parked near an electrical pole, it was a simple matter for the guys to run a line down.

 

These are clever people that way — retired railroaders, mostly, but also with other skills. Maynard Morris used to be a nuclear engineer, for example, and all the other volunteers have varying degrees of mechanical or technical skills.

 

The Chapter wants, eventually, to get No. 223 running. The engine itself sits outside looking pretty far gone to me but, I am told, it is salvageable. When you consider that the museum has cars in its collection that started out as rusted frames and piles of old parts and now look showroom new, their optimism is understandable. 

 

All it takes is time and money.

 

The Chapter’s work has been slow but steady. It’s most visible successes are the tender and cab to # 223.  Years ago Morris went over the old tender, which was too far gone for salvage, with a ruler and caliper, taking thousands of precise measurements. He came up with a complete set of construction blueprints. 

 

The nearly-finished tender now sits in the shop, glorious. The wooden cab for the engine has been reconstructed and sits next to it.

Maynard Morris shows the train shop to a couple of guys who just dropped by

 

Carroll said the repair shop is a lot better workplace than the old freight car. Back when Union Station was run by Ogden City he and then-manager Bob Geier made a pitch to the city council for funds to get the shop up and running.

 

“I actually prepared a presentation to the city council  — my minute of fame — and they looked at me like ‘Who is this guy?’ but then Jesse Garcia — remember him, he was on the council? — stood up and he really supported me. He convinced the council we really needed to do this, so they gave us the money.”

 

That was about 1998. Since then the shop has been fully equipped with heavy machinery — lathes and mills and other stuff — courtesy of military surplus policies at Hill Air Force Base and a lot of scrounging by the guys. 

 

Donated funds also buy a lot, and if you have any funds to donate, feel free to do so. You can go to this web site:

 

 

and give freely.

 

Steve Smith, left, and Jon Alvey

The level of expertise of these people is amazing on many levels. They’ve built that entire tender out of whole cloth, just about — donated steel was bent and molded and riveted by hand. In many cases the volunteers have had to make the tools they needed to make the parts they needed. It is as authentic as they can make it.

 

These people live and breathe trains. As I stood I watch two of them — a young guy named Jon Alvey, and an older volunteer named Steve Smith — try to one-up each other on their knowledge of Utah’s railroad past.

 

I tried to take notes, but was quickly left in the dust:

 

Steve: “What’s the O, R and U?”

 

Jon didn’t know. It’s the company that ran Union Station, separate from the Union Pacific and other companies whose trains were served by it, Steve said. 

 

“What’s the Cottonwood Transportation Company?” Steve asked.

 

“In Salt Lake City, serving the old silver mines,” Jon said, up one of the Cottonwood Canyons. 

 

“Where’s the Utah Eastern?” Steve asked. “What Survey Railroad came through Daniels Canyon?” 

 

And so on. Jon held his own pretty well, too. 

 

I think the answers to that last question was “Denver and Northwestern Pacific, later known as Denver Salt Lake,” but my notes were very hurried.

 

Right or wrong, the point is, these guys know  history, and know why it has to be preserved and are working to do so. 

 

They are a huge resource for anyone who wants to use them, too — On Saturday a couple of guys nobody knew wandered by, said “what’s up here?” and quickly got a tour.

 

Instead of writing letter to the editor advertising her own ignorance, the author of that letter ought to do the same. The volunteers are there every Saturday at 9 a.m., rain or shine, working away.

 

Drop in, look interested, they’ll take you in and, if you aren’t careful, put you to work. 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://theunionstation.org/rebuilding-history-one-bolt-at-a-time/