Besides the daily attraction of local freights and passenger trains, Ken occasionally was treated to long-distance passenger trips to Southern California, where his mother had relatives. She ran a dress shop in Lancaster, and when business was good, or about every two years, the family enjoyed a trip on the Santa Fe’s Super Chief. In off years, they traveled on the less-expensive El Capitan. The combination or personal travel and local exposure hooked Ken.
In 1949 the family moved a hundred miles northeast to Portage, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee Road town on the main line with lots of activity compared to Lancaster. Friends of Burbach’s father worked for the railroad, and fostered Ken’s interests.
Burbach’s high school graduation occurred during the Korean War, and he served three years in the Army there, after which he attended Carroll College (now University) in Waukesha, Wisconsin, just west of Milwaukee. Then he taught history at the high school in New Berlin, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb that puts the accent in Berlin on the first syllable. He ended his professional career working in the Madison area for a private publishing firm, the Bureau of National Affairs with headquarters in Washington, D.C., as one of its fifteen-hundred employees.
All along, his camera was at his side. His wife, he admits, was “not a big railfan” but enjoys the occasional long-distance train trip. Together, they have ridden the Canadian across Canada, the Orient Express to Istanbul, and the Blue Train of South Africa.
Burbach’s railroad photography covers consists largely, he says, of “old stuff.” He means roundhouses, wooden bridges, “something unique.” Burbach donated some two thousand color slides to the Center, and as he suggests, their strength can be found in infrastructure as well as equipment, covering the 1960s to the 1990s.
Burbach Collection Overview
- Gift of Ken Burbach
- 2,000 color slides
- 1960s to 1990s
- Upper Midwest
- Railroads include the Milwaukee Road, Soo Line, and Chicago & North Western