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Tracking history

Aloha author's book provides visual history of area's railroads


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Aloha author D.C. Jesse Burkhardt, seen crouching along the tracks behind Southwest Broadway Street, has always held the mystique of railroads and trains close to his heart. Growing up in the sleepy town of Jackson, Mich., D.C. “Jesse” Burkhardt found trains mysterious and alluring since he was a young boy.

“I would hear them at night as a kid,” the Aloha resident says. “I was curious where they were going. It became a path to adventure.”

As the boy transformed into a teenager inspired by Jack Kerouac’s adventures in “On the Road,” that path, literally, started to take him places.

“When I was 16, I started jumping on train ladders and riding into town,” the 61-year-old recalls. “When I got older, I went farther. It kept expanding until I covered the whole continent.”

Now considerably more settled in Aloha, Burkhardt — who goes by “Doug” — is a news reporter and assistant editor of the Hillsboro Tribune, a Pamplin Media Group newspaper. These days, he channels his passion for the rails in the physically safer realms of writing and photography.

His latest publication, “Railroads of Hillsboro,” released on Sept. 1 as part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, traces the still-evolving history of trains and railroads through the Tualatin Valley’s farmlands, forests and developing suburbs. Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - 'Railroads of Hillsboro,' published by Arcadia, is the latest of Aloha author D.C. Jesse Burkhardt's books on trains, railroads and his adventures with both.

Burkhardt will sign copies of the book on Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Jacobsen’s Books and More, 211 East Main St., in Hillsboro.

“Railroads of Hillsboro” is Burkhardt’s third book for Arcadia, following “Railroads of the Columbia Gorge” (2004) and “The Ann Arbor Railroad” (2005). His newest work features 185 photos tracing the role of the rails on the Westside from 1871, when steam engines first brought freight and passenger trains to Hillsboro, to the considerably quieter electric cars of today’s popular MAX light rail.

The author crafted detailed captions for the photos he acquired through local archives or shot himself. He focused on Hillsboro based on its role as a junction point with branches headed west to Tillamook, south to the Willamette Valley and east to Portland.

“For me, it’s a way to pay tribute to where I work and live,” Burkhardt says. “People appreciate that. As people pass away, a lot of those stories are gone. I just like to get some of that out there that people can access. None of us realize how fast things change.”

The area, including Aloha and Beaverton to the west, owes much of its development to the railroads’ ability to transport timber, wheat and other agricultural-dominated freight as well as tourists traveling between Portland and coastal getaways.

“They were tapping into the agriculture, particularly wheat, and lumber and timber coming out between here and Tillamook,” Burkhardt observes. “And people were taking trains to the coast before cars and (easily traveled) roads. In a way, a lot of that still goes on with logs and farm commodities. Lumber is still a big thing, but not as big as it was.”

Burkhardt, who documented his freight-car jumping days in “Travelogue From an Unruly Youth,” which Rolling Dreams Press published in 2007, says he spent about eight months researching and assembling photos for “Railroads of Hillsboro.” He tracked down vintage pictures with help from organizations such as the Washington County Museum in Rock Creek, Friends of Historic Forest Grove and various private collections.

“It’s a good mix,” he says. “One guy who’s dad worked with Southern Pacific who I contacted, his dad had taken photos and was able to access those. I found a good variety.”

In addition to the changes in train styles and their riders’ attire through the ages, Burkhardt marvels at the philosophical evolution that brought trains from celebrated community icons to bearers of currently controversial contents including coal, oil and chemicals.

“The first train into Hillsboro was a community event,” he says. “It was huge news. There were fireworks. It’s fun to tap into that, how important the railroad used to be. Now, it’s considered a nuisance, and people want it moved out of their area.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Aloha author Doug Jesse Burkhardt flips through his newly released Arcadia book, 'Railroads of Hillsboro,' at the train-themed Beaverton Sub Station on Southwest Broadway Street.

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