Union Station gets benched in a good way

One of the many strongly graphic images in the film “Road to Perdition” is inside the Chicago train station. The young protagonist is sitting amid row after row after row of men reading newspapers.

Cody Wright takes a well-earned break on the bench he just finished

Such scenes probably happened often during the Depression. If you were unemployed, cold and tired, a train station offered a place to sit and not be bothered.

Scene from “Road to Perdition”

What you sat on was, of course, those amazing train station benches, golden oak finished in cigarette burned shellac that wore like iron. Chicago’s main station still has a lot of them. Ogden’s Union Station grand lobby was filled with them, too.

But no more. When the passenger trains went away, the benches went too. Some were cut in half lengthwise and now line the hallway leading to Union Grill. Others were used to line the main room at the Marshal White Center.

And still more were stored in the old UP Laundry Building, where we can’t get at them because of asbestos danger.

But two were left in our lobby, subject to the trials and tribulations of time. They were pretty beat up after 90 years, pretty rough, even with pieces of wood missing.  They needed some love.

Unloading newly refinished bench

We tried the wood shop at the Clearfield Job Corps first. It turned out the benches needed specialized work that shop could not do. We contacted Ellis Planing Mill in Ogden, which referred us to Cody Wright in Willard.

Cody specializes in furniture and home restoration. He did the brick work on the lime kiln in Ogden Canyon and is the go-to guy to redo the windows, floors, doors or other finishings in that vintage Ogden house you are restoring around the Eccles Park in Ogden.

Pushing it through the door

Cody took the first bench, filled all the cracks, recut some new wood, tightened and glued and rebuilt, fitted the original (and some reproduction) brass feet, and put a new lacquer finish on that pretty nearly matches the original shellac.

Thursday it came back, and it is impossible to say how beautiful it is. The quarter sawn white oak is burnished to a lustrous buttery finish. The fit and finish is flawless. All the old cigarette burns are gone.

Just like new.

Cody said it would be impossible to make a bench like this today. Even if you could find a team of craftsmen to do the carpentry, wood carving and turning, you can’t buy 16-foot quarter sawn white oak at any price. They don’t have trees that big any more.

Second bench on its way to restoration

But we have two benches made out of it.  Hard to imagine, but when the Union Pacific built Union Station in 1924 they probably picked up the phone, called a factory and ordered dozens of these things, which the factory cranked out. They were standard railroad station furniture, built to last a lifetime.

These two lived 90 years, which is longer than most lifetimes, and are being rebuilt to last a second.

The first is done. Come on down and have a seat.

Cody Wright unloading the finished bench.