The series of wild vignettes David Engleman tells build an image of a life not unlike the photographs he takes or the cabinet full of slides in his hallway.
He says he used to drink coffee with the godfather of the Detroit mafia. And while working for a manufacturing company, he says he once saved contracts with Chrysler and General Motors to help them build army tanks. And he says he knew Pearl Baker, who’s book “Robbers Roost Recollections,” set the framework for the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Engleman has a copy of the book with a message from the author inside.
A full wall in one room of his house is loaded with old-fashioned cameras. He pulls out a brown leather box with binoculars inside. The binoculars have a camera inside them, he says, and were purchased for $3 at a yard sale.
He later discovered the binoculars’ true value — anywhere from $700 to $1,400.
“That probably was one of the best buys I ever (found),” Engleman said.
The 80-year-old man has the slight frame of one who walks one mile and seven-tenths in the morning, and another mile and a quarter in the afternoon with his dog. He leads hikes for the Payson Packers, and although he used to work for the Forest Service, Engleman said he did not ardently begin hiking until after he retired to Payson 21 years ago.
“I hiked six miles yesterday,” he said.
“I am probably the only hiker that ever went through the Zion Narrows in a pair of Sears loafers,” he said.
Engleman has the hearing and memory of a younger man, and he does not wear eyeglasses except for reading. Hiking, he says, helps keep him young, as well as his various affiliations in town.
He, along with a group of five or six others in the PAWS organization, worked to start the dog park. He is also the Citizen Awareness Committee’s secretary treasurer.
Engleman was born in Detroit, a big-city boy with a small-town soul.
He quit high school after the 11th grade, at 16, to work in a grocery store for 35 cents an hour, saving up to take flying lessons that cost $12 an hour.
He served in the Air Force, although not as a pilot, and concocted a scheme to meet a cute girl who would become his wife. While working as a radio operator, flight controller and cryptographer decoding messages, Engleman spied a cute girl and asked her to be his secretary. He and Phyllis later married, and they have four children.
He worked for a stove company after leaving the Air Force, and drank coffee with the godfather of the Detroit mafia. The mob had helped the stove company financially since the Great Depression in return for a scrap metal contract.
“He always wore an overcoat,” Engleman said of the mobster. “I know that he probably had at least two guns under his coat.”
In Detroit, Engleman also worked at a manufacturing company, which had a contract to help General Motors and Chrysler build army tanks.
Engleman said he saved the company from losing the contract by figuring out a way to apply heat to sprockets, which hardened them, without breaking the tips.
“I saved the contract,” he said. When the manager of that company retired, Engleman said he went to a party. “I put caviar in my coffee thinking it was sugar,” he said. “I don’t drink but I was drinking champagne.”
He then sold appliances for Sears Roebuck for 15 years, before moving to Utah to open a campground.
Five years later, Engleman sold the Green River, Utah campground to work for the Forest Service in Capitol Reef National Park.
“The best job I ever had was being a park ranger, because they were paying me to work in a national park where I used to visit parks and pay them.”
Engleman remembers his life’s stories with alacrity. “I have a lot of fun,” he said. “People probably think I’m full of B.S.”
When asked what his biggest challenge is, he said, “staying alive, I guess.”
“I have a real deep interest in people. I like to help people. I think I’m helping people by leading hikes,” Engleman said.
And also, undoubtedly, by telling his stories.