The largest collection of Delta Air Lines memorabilia this side of the company's headquarters in Atlanta is not found inside a museum or proudly displayed at an airport.
Instead, it resides in the basement of veteran Delta flight steward Perry de Vlugt's traditional bungalow home in Salt Lake City.
If you have flown Delta in the past few years, there is a good chance you might have seen de Vlugt.
Though the safety video fliers watch before taking off changed about a year ago, the steward demonstrated how to put a yellow life vest on and off in a presentation seen by thousands for about five years. At the end of the video, his front teeth actually sparkled.
That video, of course, is part of de Vlugt's amazing collection that takes up about 1,000 square feet of basement space. The special screen where it can be watched is guarded by a cutout of former Delta and Western Air Lines CEO Jerry Grinstein. A red Delta Help Desk phone stands nearby.
This isn't just a collection of a few hundred random pieces. It includes thousands of items including playing cards, posters, models of Delta planes, mannequins dressed in old uniforms, working leather seats taken from first class of a defunct airplane, parts of overhead luggage bins and even four signs of the famous Delta "widget" logo that were once part of the Delta Center, now Energy Solutions Arena.
It is well organized and lovingly maintained, with not a speck of dust to be seen.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the collection is what de Vlugt has done with the downstairs bathroom. He has turned it into a larger version of a typical airplane lavatory complete with logo soap, stainless steel towel dispensers, and pretty much everything you would see in a jet airliner bathroom.
History of the Delta Air Lines “Widget” Logo
- It is intended to reflect the company’s roots in the Mississippi River Delta Region in Monroe, La.
- The Greek letter “Delta” influenced the shape of the company’s symbol.
- The inside of the triangle looks like the wings and tail of a plane flying overhead.
- The triangle points to the sky where the company’s planes fly and represents the pinnacle of professional achievement.
- The white “V” is the swept wing of a jet.
- The flat base is the solid foundation of Delta Air Lines.
- The red is for the flame of leadership that drives it upward.
Source: Delta Air Lines
De Vlugt has worked for Delta for 29 years, six on the ground working in reservations and the past 23 flying. He came to Salt Lake when Delta merged with Western Air Lines, but his roots in the industry date back to his childhood.
"I started collecting as a kid," he said. "I had relatives who worked for KLM. Whenever we visited, they had decks of cards, post cards and airplane models. I had a passion for these things. So I started collecting airline memorabilia."
His focus shifted to Delta and its brand when he began working for the company. Collecting became a personal and professional hobby. De Vlugt thinks his collection is second only to the Delta Heritage Museum in Atlanta.
The collection isn't open to the public, though de Vlugt loves showing it off to friends, collectors and airline executives.
"I do tours," he said. "Most of the people who come are co-workers or other employees ... I like to share it with people. It's a unique collection. I feel that as big as our company is in Utah, it's kind of a unique addition to our business to incorporate the history of the company."
That is especially true this year because Delta, which originally began as the nation's first domestic crop dusting company in the southern United States, will soon celebrate its 85th anniversary as a passenger carrier.
De Vlugt works hard to expand his collection. He is always on the lookout for new promotional items that Delta issues and scans eBay on almost a daily basis in search of something new. He also attends the annual Airliners International trade show once a year where airline collectable enthusiasts gather.
"Now I'm very particular," he said. "I've pretty much seen everything there is to see."
There is little hint of the Delta collection on the main floor of de Vlugt's home. He does use two beverage carts in his kitchen for recycling and there are some galley carrier modules next to the fridge.
The magic comes when you walk down the basement stairs.
One wall is filled with models of the different Delta planes, a collection that shows the evolution of the company's iconic symbol known as the widget.
The detail is amazing and includes items such as "Just Plane Cookies," Delta beluga caviar once used in first class flights across the ocean, mini bottles, an oxygen bottle and mask, megaphone, pins, security cards, coffee mugs, Styrofoam cups with logos, luggage, carriers for international cargo documents, a runway light, torches used to direct planes into jetways, pencils, Thermoses, an old designated smoking sign and kids games.
There is even a can of spray paint containing a special Delta Air Lines color of blue.
Add to that dozens of iconic promotional posters including one each from the Salt Lake and Atlanta Olympic Games and another of the Statue of Liberty in the foreground with the World Trade Center twin towers in the back, and this could be a world class museum.
Contact Tom Wharton at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @tribtomwharton.