OGDEN, Utah — Union Station's hard core of railroad fans and volunteers is trying desperately to save the Moon Glow, but despite everyone's best efforts, the priceless piece of railroad history seems condemned to rust away.
"I have actually lost sleep worrying about that car," said Lee Witten, chief archivist at the Union Station railroad museum. "It's like watching someone slowly die. That's how I feel about that little cuss."
Moon Glow, a luxury dome car, is the last surviving piece of what was supposed to be the future of passenger rail travel. General Motors wanted to show the public what the future held after four years of wartime hardships.
The public hoped for a lot. Moving sidewalks, personal helicopters and other pipe dreams were discussed, but GM's "Train of Tomorrow" was real.
The train included all modern improvements, such as radio telephones, air conditioning and modern-design furnishings in its sleeping and dining rooms.
The biggest change was the domes on the cars. Each car on the train had a viewing dome on the top, so passengers could look up, out and even forward. Amtrak's long-range trains now all include a viewing lounge car, but in 1947 this was a radical step.
The train toured the nation in 1947, including a stop in Ogden, but for passenger rail service, that was about as far as the future went.
America had seen Germany's Autobahn highways and built the Interstate highway system. Wartime's large-capacity bombers became large-capacity airliners. Cars provided more convenient commutes to the city, and a three-day trip from New York to San Francisco could be done in less than a day by air.
Rail travel shifted to the sidelines, and the Train of Tomorrow went with it.
Only the Moon Glow was saved from the scrap heap, but beyond that, it can't seem to catch a break. Despite efforts to restore it, then protect it and finally just store it safely, the car now sits on a siding in Business Depot Ogden, naked to the elements, vandalized, stripped.
Unless someone comes up with a lot of money "it's just simply going to deteriorate," said Union Station Foundation Director Roberta Beverly.
Beverly guesses it would cost $3 million to restore the car, but nobody really knows for sure.
Union Station is owned by the city of Ogden, but the Union Station Foundation runs it and struggles month to month just to pay its utility bills.
That doesn't deter Witten. Union Station is a railroad museum and this car is history.
"It is one of the last remnants of an effort to revive rail traffic after the war," he said. "It does represent an era in transportation rail history, and it does have connections with Ogden.
"There's just some things that can and should be preserved," he said. "We restore old cars and buildings, and this is just as valuable."
Moon Glow's history is one of gradual deterioration, however.
After Train of Tomorrow's two national tours, the Union Pacific Railroad purchased it and put it into regular service between Los Angeles and Chicago, then in the northwest.
In the early 1960s, as rail passenger trains were cut back, the four innovative cars were taken out of service. Three were scrapped, but Moon Glow was sold to a scrap yard owner in Pocatello, Idaho, who wanted to use it as an office.
Instead, it just sat until 1980 when members of the National Railway Historical Society, Promontory Chapter, traveled to Pocatello to check out an old dome car one of their members had seen and recognized.
They talked to the junk yard owner about getting the car donated or sold to Union Station in Ogden. In 1984 he finally agreed, and in 1987 the car was moved to Ogden.
Witten said the car was moved to a warehouse at Hill Air Force Base where, with $50,000, initial restoration work began. Workers took the windows out of the car, removed some of the fixtures, sprayed it with a protective paint to stop rust, "and then the money ran out."
The Air Force said they had to move the car, "so we brought it out and had it put in the Business Depot Ogden. At that time there was a building that had a track in it, and we put it in there."
The building was torn down to build the Hershey Candy Company building. No other buildings were available, so Moon Glow was covered in plastic wrap.
"That deteriorated with the weather, and it's just never been recovered," Witten said.
Since then, bits of the car have disappeared.
Fluted stainless steel siding on the car was removed when it was painted. Witten said the siding was stored inside the BDO building with the car, but when the building was torn down, the siding disappeared.
Many of the windows were broken. Those that remain have been taken out and stored at Union Station. Some of the furnishings were saved and are now displayed in the museum.
The car itself?
Metal thieves have stripped it. Witten said Union Station plans to move it from Business Depot Ogden to Union Station, where it can at least be better guarded.
It looks like a wreck, but he keeps trying. When Union Pacific's steam engine, the 844, visited Ogden in November, Witten gave the engineer a formal proposal asking the Union Pacific to consider helping restore it.
"Of course, they're in business to make money," he said, but the 844 steam engine doesn't make money either. The railroad keeps it running for publicity and goodwill.
Moon Glow could do the same thing, Witten said.
"I'd think it would be good public relations for them."
Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net