In its heyday, the Dell Hotel - named for Dell Anderson, its first owner - was the liveliest place in town.

It was the scene of wedding receptions and birthday parties. Livestock men gathered in its dining room to talk lamb and wool prices over their bacon and eggs.Townspeople dropped in to catch up on the local news and traveling salesmen stopped over on their trips through southern Utah. It was famous for its apple pies and chicken dumpling soup. And its lounge was a haven for the lonely.

But 70 years later the passenger trains are gone, the traveling salesmen drive by, and the hotel is being restored to operation - this time as a privately owned hostel for some 64 Snow College students.

The process is under way now: new thermal windows, a new face and a new name - S'No Chateau.

The interior will feature new heating, plumbing and lighting systems. The basement will have a laundry room and a game room. The first floor will have an apartment for the resident manager, a lounge, a common kitchen, a bathroom and six rooms, each housing two students.

The second floor has 13 student rooms, a common kitchen and bathroom, as does the third floor. There is new carpeting throughout, new furnishings and new appliances. Nearly the only reminder of the building's past will be the huge fireplace on the ground floor.

How did this metamorphosis come about? Chuck Wheat, who has spent his life in Santa Cruz, Calif., in real estate, construction and property management, happened to be helping the John Warnick family - his son-in-law, daughter and children - move from Lehi to a home they'd bought in Manti.

"I'm supposedly retired," Wheat says, "but in my golden years. I'm still not adverse to a challenge. And when a friend said, `Why, don't you take a look at that old hotel just below Main Street in Ephraim,' I looked and liked what I saw."

"And I did my homework," he adds. That meant talking with Snow College people and learning that there's an acute housing shortage in the area for students, discussing local real-estate values with appraisers and agents, meeting with city officials on zoning and licensing matters, getting figures on labor and material costs.

The next step was negotiating the price with Evelyn McNeil, who had purchased the old hotel in 1974.

"Everything looked right," Wheat says. He returned to Santa Cruz and discussed the possibilities with some associates, "a couple of small-time venture capitalists like me who still like a challenge."

They joined in organizing S'No Chateau Partnership, closed the deal with McNeil, employed Rick Christensen Construction, Manti, as general contractor and were on their way. The occupancy date is Jan. 3, 1991, and on that date they expect to have 64 Snow College students in new quarters, far more adequate than the rented rooms most of them are living in now.

"Sure, we expect the venture to be profitable," Wheat says, "but we also think we'll be making a contribution to the area." And he admits that for him, there's a special angle.

As the managing partner, he's committed to an on-site review of the S'No Chateau operation every six weeks. That means that he and his wife will have several good reasons for visiting with family and friends in Ephraim and Manti several times each year.

"We're getting that at-home feeling here," he said.