A century ago, a broken dam led to broken dreams

The following is an excerpt from Creek With No Name: How the West was Won (and Lost) in Gaston, Oregon. Copyright 2011 Ken Bilderback. All rights reserved.

Fueled by his faith in God, Lovegren had been able to create a utopian future for his fellow man that had eluded contemporaries in Gaston and Laurelwood. His bold action had bested Gaston in its secularism and Laurelwood in its search for balance with the world around it.

Lovegren had overcome secularism and the naïve hope for harmony with nature. In three short years he had foreseen the obstacles and he had overcome them. He had overcome every obstacle anyone could throw in the path of a devout, brilliant-but-uneducated child of the American miracle. He had achieved the promise God made to him back in Sweden.

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Tears of horror, tears of joy on Christmas 1941

The following is an excerpt from Walking to Forest Grove: The Life and Times of the Prettiest Town in Oregon Copyright 2014 Ken Bilderback. All Rights Reserved:

No air raid sirens sounded over Forest Grove less than six weeks later on the night of December 7, 1941, but the next morning the town awoke to the same dreadful news that rocked the rest of the country. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, leaving a horrific death toll among the American military personnel stationed there. The aftermath was chaotic and communication systems failed. Anxious families back on the mainland awaited word on the fate of their loved ones. One such household was the Burki family farm on Spring Hill Road near Gaston. Their son, Frank, was born on the farm and had grown up to play football at Forest Grove High School and then for Pacific University. In November 1941, in the middle of the football season and his freshman year of college, Frank Burki quit school to join the Navy. In less than a month he was stationed at Pearl Harbor. Days before Christmas, the Burki family got the awful news from the Navy. Their son Frank was among those killed on December 7. It had not taken long for this war to hit home in Forest Grove. Christmas was a somber one across town, particularly at the Burki home. Continue reading

My deep thoughts on immigration

My ancestors were not whipped and chained and hauled to America. They did not work the cotton fields that made the United States a world power.

My ancestors did not indenture themselves to come to North America for the “privilege” of being a navvy, to break their backs carving out the railroads that made the United States a superpower. As such, my ancestors never had to retreat from the arsons, whippings, and lynchings that sent many fleeing back home to Asia, their dreams unfulfilled after all of their work was done. Continue reading

Rosie the Riveter? Plain Jane? They put the “her” in “heroic.”

The following is an excerpt from Walking to Forest Grove, Copyright 2014 Ken Bilderback:

Just as it had in World War I, the military conducted a census of women willing to do jobs traditionally done by men, including tasks such as welding in Portland’s shipyards, or running saws in Forest Grove’s lumber mills. The government set up a welding school in Forest Grove, and the first class filled quickly.

Margaret Steinbach of Cornelius proved to be an ace student and was the first to be hired at the Swan Island shipyards in Portland. She reported that she loved her job. The city was jolted a few months later, however, when another shipyard worker from Cornelius, Jane Schneider, mother of two small children, was crushed between a crane and the ship she was working on. The first News-Times story reported that while she was in “very critical” condition at Portland’s Emanuel Hospital, she was showing some signs of improvement.

Two weeks later, she had improved enough to return home by ambulance, and eventually she was able to walk again. Her story drove home the fact that women who took physically demanding wartime jobs in the shipyards, which were working at breakneck speed to supply the Navy, were very much in harm’s way.

Jane Schneider’s story also drove home another point: Forest Grove-area women were tough as nails. About two months after being critically injured, she returned to work at the shipyard.

The night the lights went out: A Halloween Tale

The following is an excerpt from Walking to Forest Grove Copyright 2014 Ken Bilderback

In October 1941, the town buzzed in anticipation of the opening celebration for the Wilson River Highway, but the celebration had to be delayed because although rainfall in the Fall of 1941 was below normal, the dirt portion of the highway had turned to foot-deep mud. Rescheduling the opening, however, soon took a backseat to more urgent matters in preparation for possible war. On Halloween night, the Army was planning a mock air raid on Washington County to test preparedness, just in case the Japanese tried a sneak air raid over the area. More than 100 fighters, bombers, and military surveillance planes would fly over the county, prepared to drop flare “bombs” over any city in which even a single light stayed on. Batteries of anti-aircraft artillery would blast blanks into the night sky to add to the realism. Continue reading

An homage to Gordie Howe

The following is an excerpt from Wheels on the Bus: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Life in 1974, Copyright 2010, Ken Bilderback. All rights reserved.

When the other boys were actively dating in high school, I went dateless, too timid to ask out even the girls I hung out with all the time. I got all that timidity from my mother, yet she loved to tell stories about her adventures in college and in the Army. In her stories she was athletic and confident, yet the woman I knew was fragile and afraid.

She hated the Viet Nam war, yet she was more proud of her World War II service as an Army second lieutenant than she was of anything else she ever did. I was of draft age during Viet Nam and could not imagine voluntarily signing up to fight in Viet Nam, so I tried to place myself in the shoes of my mother 30 years earlier. Women were not actively sought after for the military, and she had other traits that made her service odd. She came from a well-to-do family. She had multiple college degrees. She was not a great physical specimen. No one was demanding that she go to war, yet she did anyway. I don’t think any of that entered into my decision to visit “Mac,” at least not consciously. When I got to Galveston I expected to call, make my mother happy and get a free meal. I got much more than that. Continue reading

Justice delayed is justice denied

Michael Medill will not face charges for posting warning signs at Henry Hagg Lake. Or maybe he will. It sort of all depends on the mood of bureaucrats on any given day.

On Saturday, September 6, Gaston resident Michael Medill was arrested for placing signs at Henry Hagg Lake warning about a dangerous drop-off at the Sain Creek swimming area. Continue reading

Leadership and cowardice. Only one label is appropriate in Hagg Lake fiasco.

An open letter to Bob Davis and Pat Garrett.

Dear Mr. Davis and Sheriff Garrett,

I have been a vocal critic of Washington County’s role in the drownings of four people at Scoggins Valley Park. I can’t say that either of you have done anything wrong, however, because neither of you have done anything at all. At least not publicly. You’ve left public servants to take the brunt of taxpayers’ outrage while you have remained silent. Continue reading