OGDEN -- The names Wattis, Eccles, Scowcroft and Dee are on major public buildings in Ogden and around Utah because, in 1900, Ogden businessmen with those names founded something called the Utah Construction Company.
The company, boosted by their personal fortunes, had clout.
Utah Construction Company built Hoover Dam, San Francisco's BART system, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) underground facility near Colorado Springs, the Al-Can Highway, railroads over half the west and stuff all over the world.
When UCC was sold to General Electric in 1976, the deal was the largest merger of its day in terms of money. While UCC's owners did well running a giant construction company, selling it to GE is how they got really rich.
Utah Construction Company, later called Utah Construction and Mining Company, then Utah International, no longer exists as such, but Weber State University's Special Collections library offers students, researchers and others a unique look at the company, because it now houses all the company's records.
GE sold UCC's mining interests to an Australian firm, Broken Hill Properties (BHP), in 1984.
BHP inherited the old UCC files, stored in warehouses. In 1999 it donated 400 boxes of those files to Weber State University's Special Collections library.
Sarah Langsdon, curator of the Special Collections library, has used those files, pictures and other records to put up an extensive history of the company on the collection's web site (http://dc.weber.edu).
But a company as big as UCC generates a lot of records, and Langsdon knew that 400 boxes weren't all.
"About six months ago, we were contacted by the Australian company (BHP) who said they were consolidating their storage facilities and said, 'We have about 1,000 boxes of UCC files. Are you interested?'"
The storage facilities were in San Francisco and Houston, so "I went out and looked and I said, 'Yes we are.' "
There were actually 1,136 boxes, filling two semitrailers. Langsdon said it took her and 30 volunteers a full day to unload them all and get them stored. Many files had to be transferred to new boxes, because the old ones were so deteriorated.
"From what I've been able to summarize from my colleagues in the field, this is the largest manuscript collection in the state," Langsdon said.
What's in the boxes?
Legal records, corporate minutes, studies, ledgers, internal communications, anything the company felt worth putting into a box between 1900 and 1984 and shoving into a warehouse.
Langsdon pulled out one box with some ledgers dated 1906. The ledger books themselves are falling apart, the pages loose, the paper tattered and torn.
But there, at the bottom of a Jan. 30 contract to issue additional stock that will be bought by the officers of the company, is the florid signature of David Eccles. That contract was part of a stock deal in which the directors of the company put up $300,000 in their own money (almost $9 million today) to guarantee the company could build a 700-mile Western Pacific Railroad line to California.
There is page after page of hand-written minutes of board meetings attended by Eccles, Thomas Dee (for whom McKay-Dee Hospital is named) and others. The minutes are handwritten because the typewriter was still something of a novelty in 1906 and computer data entry unheard of.
"BHP, I think they felt it was their historical obligation to keep all these records, and I'm glad they did," Langsdon said. "We had the other records, and they felt this was the place they should go."
The collection fills in numerous gaps in the 400 boxes already donated. Those have been cataloged, and many can even be viewed online, at the special collections web site.
However, many of those records were microfilmed copies. In the 1970s and 1980s, microfilming was a popular way to record files and save storage space, but Langsdon said a lot of the films have become unreadable over the years.
Now that she's got the paper originals, she can fill in the blanks.
Langsdon must now begin the massive task of cataloging the whole collection, so it can be accessed by the public.
The only thing missing is the company's personnel files, which Langsdon didn't want because of potential legal and liability issues.
Victims of asbestos poisoning on some of the construction projects UCC handled are involved in lawsuits, she said. She didn't want Weber State University entangled in any of that, and she said BHP makes those files available anyway.