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Kirby: Touring downtown Salt Lake City in the Wienermobile

Published April 16, 2013 1:50 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

On Friday, we took the famous Oscar Mayer Wienermobile up to the state Capitol and tried to park it in the legislative garage. Didn't work.

For one thing, it wouldn't fit. Clearance to the Capitol's parking garage is just over 7 feet — 4 feet shorter than the Wienermobile is tall.

It didn't help that I had called Gov. Gary Herbert's office and formally requested an audience. The governor's assistant told us that the governor wasn't even in the state. We went anyway.

Two UHP troopers met us at the garage entrance and politely told us there was no Wienermobile parking at the state Capitol. We would have to leave.

Trooper #1 • "You can't park that thing in a fire lane."

Me • "This is an official temporary press vehicle and … "

Trooper #2 • "Let's Taser him. Nobody will care."

We left the Capitol and went to LDS Church headquarters. The reception was a little better, although there was still a noticeable lack of Wienermobile parking. That didn't stop people from preventing us from leaving.

Tourists and LDS visitors who had come to see the Salt Lake Temple were instantly drawn to the sight. Cameras focused on the temple immediately swung around to capture the famous hotdog on wheels going past.

The rest of the tour around downtown went considerably better. People notice when you drive by in a giant hotdog. Cars honked. Kids waved. People walking dogs — including several dachshunds — stopped us to get pictures of their dogs with the Wienermobile.

Speaking of getting stopped, people aren't shy about standing in front of the Wienermobile in order to stop it so they can take pictures. They rightly figure that an enormous symbol of an American food staple won't run over them.

Near the Capitol, a woman blocked a driveway until we agreed to stop so that her entire family could pose with the rolling 27-foot hotdog. They left with free Wiener Whistles.

None of this behavior came as a surprise to professional Wienermobile drivers Ben Urkov (road name: Beefelicious Ben) and Jackie Calder (Pepper Jackie Cheese). The two "hotdoggers" — a reference to college graduates hired to drive one of the six Wienermobiles for a year — have seen everything.

Pepper Jackie and Beefe­licious invited me along on the private downtown cruise. Inside, the Wienermobile is just as theme-driven as the exterior. The dashboard is shaped like a hotdog, the bun roof is removable, and the carpet resembles splattered condiments.

Urkov and Calder said that while the attention the Wienermobile draws is invariably positive, it took some getting used to at first. The two have driven the hot dog around the country since being hired in June.

They've never gotten a traffic ticket in the thousands of miles they've logged, but they have been stopped by the police who ask to have their picture taken with the Wienermobile.

Passing by a group of schoolkids leaving the Pioneer Memorial Museum, Ben hit the Wienermobile horn, a recording of the famous commercial jingle — "Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener." Many of the kids started singing along. It took me back.

The Wienermobile has graced American highways since it was invented in 1936. Hot Wheels issued two versions of it. The Wiener Whistle — which used to be included free in packages of hotdogs — came along the year before I was born.

I had a Wiener Whistle as a kid. Several of them in fact. All of them ended up on the American highway, where my father tossed them when he couldn't stand me playing them anymore in the back seat.

That's OK. Life is just one giant round. I came away from Friday's Downtown Wiener Tour with enough plastic Wiener Whistles for my grandkids. They can only play them in their grandmother's car, though.

Robert Kirby can be reached at facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley or rkirby@sltrib.com. —

Wienermobile

11 feet tall, 27 feet long, 8 feet wide

14,050 pounds

V-8, 6.0 liter 300 VORTEC engine

Removable Bunroof

Official Wiener Jingle horn

First one was designed in 1936

Fewer than 450 college graduates have held the prestigious "hotdogger" job since 1988.

Source: Wienermobile