Quite, kind, crafty, charitable, friendly and one to turn to when looking for now mostly hidden locations of California’s rich historical past, Bill Burg is an humble gem in the community of Oroville.
Though his name by birth is William Henry Burg, he never signs his name so and prefers to be called simply, Bill. He was born in the year of 1928 in Michigan and lived there until he was 18 years old. He doesn’t speak much about his time there referring to it only as being “hot in the summer and cold in the winter” but a journal he has composed of his life’s adventures are a bit more revealing.
A a young man, Bill had many adventures that would make for a good storyline for a Steinbeck novel. He found work in whatever way he could, yet still managed to find time to have a crush on a cute country girl on occasion of end up in a movie house projection room learning the art and science of the silver scene. However, it was when he was 18 that his life took him on the big adventure.
“I joined the Air Force in 1946,” said Bill, “and that’s how I came to see the world.”
His military sojourn, which continued up until 1952, is what initially brought him to the Golden State. “It was June when I took the railroad from Boca Raton, Florida to Merced, California. A group of us traveled together, he recalled.
Bill was to serve the United Forces in the capacity of an electrician, a field in which he had worked since the year before he enlisted. One of his main duties was working with radar systems, but he learned “all about the fields of electronics from the ground up” through his schooling in the service.
“I enjoyed it all,” said Bill, of his time in the service, “I traveled all over from Okinawa to England. I got o see most of the world. And, in those days, you didn’t have jets so when you traveled you had to “island hop to get from place to place.”
Though most of his time in the military was “routine” he did relay an account of his plane losing one of its four props on the way back from England. But, after just a few hour layover a new plane was flown in to pick him and his comrades up and he was back in the sky and heading to his motherland of America.
Living in Madera, CA Bill met and later married his wife, Jean, in Fresno. They met during Fourth of July celebrations and those fireworks have yet to cease to show the love Bill has for his wife. Jean is now a local artist with the Artists of River Town.
Bill was discharged in “52 but continued to work in the same capacity as a civilian afterwards, being employed by the state of California. He was a communications technician. It was in this job that he found the city of Gold.
It was March of ’69 when Bill and Jean first came to Oroville and they have been here ever since. “I liked Oroville, the countryside. It was very different than the flat grounds of the San Joacquine valley,” he said.
Here, Bill’s job continued to provide him with opportunities to travel extensively and enabled him to continue working his chosen field of electronics. “I loved that I got paid for that,” he said with apparent happiness.
The job sent him to remote locations, including CDF dispatch centers and other mountain radio towers where Bill would service the equipment and keep it in working order.
“That was how I got to really know the state so well. I came across many historic sites in my travels. It was a field I wanted to be in forever, because of the traveling opportunities, new electronic equipment, and being able to stay on top of the field of electronics in general.” He said.
In the early 70’s, Bill and his wife joined the Butte County Historical Society after taking classes with local historian Jim Lenhoff, who taught the local history from the Gold Rush days up to the modern times.
“That’s what sparked my interest in the local history. I just have a general interest in the history of say Indiana. What I find especially interesting is history relating to mining, airports, and railroads,” Bill said.
After he retired in the 90’s, Bill became more active in the local historical society and has served as a docent (trained volunteer) in many capacities ever since.
He currently serves as a subject matter expert in historic locations – where they are, and how to find them. He also works on cataloging various artifacts that are donated to the society and is always willing to help out with special events and research requests. And, when something electronic needs looking into, he is the go-to-guy.
When asked what he has learned in his life that is important, Bill said, “Patience. Don’t be in a hurry or be rushed to do things. Don’t get frustrated about something you can’t change.”
Regarding the future, “I can’t predict it. Things will continue until something happens. I don’t know what that will be, but I hope it is something good,” Bill said.