Ogden has its share of great writers and I was lucky enough to use Indie Ogden as an excuse to interview one of O-town’s finest. With his Standard Examiner column, The Wasatch Rambler, Charles Trentelman influenced Ogden’s community with his words for over 17 years.
Charlie worked for the Standard Examiner for 35 years, and was asked to start writing a column in 1995. Given free reign by the Standard Examiner to fill his column with whatever he saw fit, he has covered everything from city utility rates to the Winter Olympics, discussed the value of playing with toys to the controversy of government pay raises. During his time as the Wasatch Rambler, Charles gained a pretty impressive following, and often used this status to help local charities, food banks and families in need.
Upon his retirement, one loyal reader said “Charles Trentelman’s column is like listening to a family member. I don’t always agree with him, but he always has something to say worth listening to.”
Charlie is most certainly an Ogden icon. He’s been honored multiple times as a valuable contributor to the greater Ogden community. His loyal followers still have his best columns hanging on their refrigerator. (I have this one on mine.) Plus, he’s an absolute wealth of information and a pleasure to talk to. It was truly an honor to speak at length with him about his career, his retirement, O-town’s history, and his general affection for the Ogden community.
Interview With Charles Trentelman, Ogden’s Wasatch Rambler
Cindy: So let’s start at the beginning, tell me a little about yourself.
Charlie: Well, I retired last year as a columnist for the Standard Examiner. I was in the news business for 42 years, worked at Standard for 35 and wrote my column for 17. I have a blog now called The Retired Rambler.
I’ve been married to my wife, Carla for 33 years. I’m surprised she’s put up with me for that long. She’s an assistant professor of Sociology at Weber State University. And I have two sons, my son Jeremy lives in Ogden and manages Olive and Dahlia on 25th street. My other son Ben lives in Salt Lake City, he’s a senior contributing writer for SLUG magazine. And I have four beautiful grandkids.
Cindy: What brought you to Ogden?
Charlie: I came out here to live with my parents in 1978, after working for awhile in upstate New York. That’s when I got hired at the Standard.
Cindy: What made you choose writing as a career?
Charlie: I like to tell people I got into news because I flunked calculus twice. I’m a little too on the artistic side for that kind of complex math. I’d say right brained or left brained but I can never remember which is which.
Cindy: Yeah, me neither. It must be something about right—or left brained people.
Charlie: (laughing) I guess so.
When I was going into college I switched over to journalism. It seemed like a way to experience things, find interesting stories, and there were several writers I admired at the time. It seems to have worked out for me. I’ve had a lot of fun.
And by the way, if you’re looking to get rich you probably ought to start looking elsewhere. I sometimes like to joke that You Don’t Get Rich in Journalism is cross-stitched over the editor’s desk.
Cindy: Haha, sounds about right! Tell me about writing your column, The Wasatch Rambler
Charlie: During my years working for the Standard, I got really good at writing features, and that’s when they asked me to write the column. I enjoyed it, it was a good way to find things to write about, get angry or excited about issues—event things that weren’t necessarily news but people wanted to talk about.
Cindy: You gained quite a following over the years. What do you think it was that drew in readers?
Charlie: As a journalist, you can get into a kind of “is it newsworthy” mindset. But as a columnist I discovered that people like to read about things that weren’t front page. They need a break from it. And also readers liked when I’d take a stand on something, even if they didn’t agree.
Also one of the things I tried to do as a columnist was not take an either liberal or conservative view. I wrote from an angle that could appeal to all sides. Over the years I did this and gained following on both sides. So, even when I’d write columns with a liberal sort of slant to them, people who had a very conservative view would agree.
Cindy: It must have worked!
Charlie: I really think it was so successful because tried to keep it local, stuck to issues that people in Ogden and surrounding areas cared about. One of the best parts of writing my column was being able to rally for worthy causes.
Cindy: Can you give me an example of a time your writing did that? Rallied the community to help out, I mean.
Charlie: The best example of rallying the community was when a young kid from Ogden had his leg blown off in Afghanistan when he stepped on a mine. I asked his mom, who is a friend of mine, if there was anything my readers could do to help, any group that she felt was helping her kid that could benefit from some publicity in the paper.
She said a couple of agencies — Wounded Warriors and Operation Ward 57– were working directly with the wounded guys in the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington DC. I looked at them, felt that Operation Ward 57 was the most direct and simplest to write about as well as one that you could see, directly how its funds help troops, and so wrote a column asking readers to help them with cash donations either directly to me or to their web site.
To sweeten the pot I said I’d put up $200 of my own money, saying it behoved us to sacrifice since our kids were, and challenged folks to match it. The day the column ran a guy came to the office with $200. In a matter of a couple weeks I’d collected $15,000, which is the normal annual budget for that particular group.
It was incredibly flattering. Ogden is a great community, people want to get involved. A lot of times people just need to be made aware.
Cindy: Really, that’s got to be an awesome feeling as a writer. To just know something you’ve written has made a difference.
Charlie: Certainly one of the perks. I was always glad to have that kind of perch. That’s one of the things I miss the most.
Cindy: Tell me a little about what you’ve been working on, now that you’re retired.
Charlie: I’ve been working on coordinating some interviews for Weber State’s audio history of Ogden. I’m also working with the Cowboy Museum in putting together a scrapbook or display about the Pioneer Days Rodeo in the 1940s.
And I’m in the process of sorting out some old news articles about Ogden. Someone donated a bunch of newspapers from about 1930 to 1950 to Union Station. There’s some really fascinating stuff in there. I’m looking for anything of interest in Ogden and the neighborhood around Union Station.
Cindy: You’re an advocate of restoring and preserving our Union Station. Why do you think it’s important for Ogden to protect our historic buildings?
Charlie: The architecture surviving in Ogden is our history, our connection to the past. It defines what this city once was and gives the city a focal point to build around. It’s also a heck of a lot prettier than anything being built today.
You know it’s funny, the people buying all the historic houses aren’t locals. It’s the out-of-towners that come to Ogden, discover you can buy an historic mansion for a fraction of the cost you can anywhere else. They move in and then start getting involved with other renovations. Outsiders see the potential here and become advocates for Ogden.
Cindy: Tell me about some of the changes you’ve seen in Ogden over the past 20 years?
Charlie: There’s been an immense change. In ’78 when I came here, downtown Ogden was basically at the bottom of a downhill slide. Lots of abandoned buildings, the west side was pretty much skid row.
You know we came close to leveling the Egyptian Theater? If the county had not voted on the funds to buy and restore it the night before, the owner was going to have it demolished. We would have lost it to the wrecking ball.
Cindy: That’s crazy! I hate hearing that kind of thing. What do you think changed that mindset?
Charlie: Like I said, I think outsiders came in and saw the value. A few locals helped the fight to save downtown, 25th street in particular. The police did a great job with foot patrols as local businesses moved in.
One of the things brought about an instant change, was when the city opened the buildings on the west side of 25th Street. Karen’s Café and Ogden Blue came in and it changed the dynamics of the whole street. It marked a turning point for Ogden. Suddenly there were people on 25th street and a whole influx of businesses wanted to get in there too.
I also think Mayor Godfrey’s idea of emphasizing outdoor recreation in Ogden was a good one. The demographics of people who ski, bike, rock-climb, and such, those people usually have a little bit of money. Ogden is really the perfect market for those activities, and I think the success of that idea is starting to show.
Cindy: Charlie, it’s been so great talking to you. Is there anything you want to say to Ogden?
I think Ogden has a problem with low self-esteem, and it really needs to get over that. We’ve got great people in a beautiful community. We’ve got some really neat architecture and a rich history, and we ought to use those things to our advantage. Ogden’s a great place to visit and an even better place to live.
Charlie had so many great stories and was so fun to talk to, it took me hours to edit this interview! If you want to hear more from Charlie, you can keep track his continued adventures on his blog, The Retired Rambler.