January 20, 2002 11:00 pm
OLYMPIC CONNECTION: Delmer Hanson of La Grande, a Union Pacific Railroad freight conductor, will participate in the Olympic torch relay Friday in Boise. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
OLYMPIC CONNECTION: Delmer Hanson of La Grande, a Union Pacific Railroad freight conductor, will participate in the Olympic torch relay Friday in Boise. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Delmer Hanson of La Grande has traveled countless miles for Union Pacific Railroad during his 31-year career with the company.

On Friday evening Hanson will travel 352 yards on foot at the request of Union Pacific. They are 352 yards which will become a celebrated part of his lifes story.

Hanson will run as a member of the Olympic Torch Relay team. His run begins in Boise at 7:12 p.m.

Hanson is among 11,500 people in the United States selected for the relay and one of 172 Oregonians participating in the torch relay.

They are taking the Olympic flame to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, whose opening ceremonies begin Feb. 8. The torchbearers were chosen because they are sources of humanitarian inspiration. Hanson was selected because of work he has done to promote safety on the railroad.

Union Pacific, which is helping sponsor the torch run, was allowed to select three employees from the Northwest. Hanson was stunned when he received a phone call from a UP representative late last year asking if he would be a torchbearer.

It brought tears to my eyes, Hanson said.

Still, the magnitude of what Hanson had been asked to do did not sink in until minutes later.

After the phone call I realized what I had been asked to do, Hanson said.

Hanson is a freight conductor for the area from La Grande to Nampa, Idaho. He has done many things to make conditions safer for Union Pacific employees.

Hanson has improved walkway conditions around switch areas, making sure they are level. This is critical because people are walking around the switching sites at all times of the night.

We dont want someone stepping into a pothole in the middle of the night, Hanson said.

Hanson has also made railroad tunnels safer and improved sanitation on locomotives.

Union Pacific is playing a significant role in transporting the flame along the road to Salt Lake City. The company put together a specially designed passenger train, which includes a cauldron car, to transport the Olympic flame more than 3,200 miles across 11 states as part of the 65-day relay. The relay started Dec. 4 in Atlanta.

The torch arrives in Portland Tuesday and travels on to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. On Thursday the torch will be in Juneau, Alaska, before returning to the Northwest. On Friday afternoon the torch relay will pass through Baker City. It will be carried by Tim Collins of Baker City and six other runners. It is scheduled to start at 12:38 p.m. and finish at 1:12 p.m.

The torch relay will then move south toward Boise. Hanson will start his run at Fort Boise Mid High School.

He will be accompanied by a support runner who will be present to provide immediate help if anything goes wrong. Support vehicles will also be alongside.

Many family members and friends will be in Boise to cheer Hanson on. They will include his wife Susan, his mother Pat of Portland, his son Jake of La Grande and grandson Gabe.

Hanson, a 1969 graduate of La Grande High School, has been issued an Olympic torch-bearers uniform. It includes a windbreaker jacket, pants, a stocking cap and gloves.

Those who have already participated in the Olympic torch relay include world champion figure skater Michelle Kwan, former track star Carl Lewis and movie stars Goldie Hawn, Martin Sheen and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

All torch bearers run two-tenths of a mile or about four city blocks. Relay legs are being completed in an average of eight minutes according to information from the Winter Olympics Web site. Hanson and all relay runners carry torches that weigh about 3.5 pounds. Hanson is anxious to get started.

I would just as soon be running as waiting for it, he said.

Im so excited about being selected. It is a real honor to be involved in anything connected to the Olympics and to represent our community. Im pretty overwhelmed.