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West Valley City Journal

Clinging to the rural life in West Valley City

Oct 04, 2022 12:59PM ● By Darrell Kirby

By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]

Step onto their three acres in the 3800 block of 6400 West and you step into what life was like before West Valley City was a city. 

Billie Burke, his son Bob, and their families have lived on that plot of land in the Hunter area for more than 70 years. 

On a Saturday afternoon in September, Billie, who’s 92, and 72-year-old Bob sat in Dad’s modest decades-old brick home on the north side of the property and recalled the life they’ve lived in what was once a rural area with homes few and far between and where farms dotted the landscape.

The back half of the Burke acreage is pasture, and the front half facing 6400 West is fronted by three homes — one is Billie’s, the middle one and newest (finished in 1980) is occupied by Bob and his wife, and the third is the first one built on the property about a century ago.

Between the pasture and the houses is what you might call a small farm where a variety of fruits and vegetables are still grown to this day. Bob Burke, who is retired, spends a lot of his time toiling in the giant garden/mini farm.

Along with corn, cucumbers, cantaloupes, peaches, and beans, the main crop is tomatoes — lots of tomatoes. Bob put in more than 600 plants this year, but a bug of some kind killed off about two-thirds of them. If that sounds like a lot, Bob said he used to plant as many as 3,000. He and his wife can and store some of the produce and sell the rest of it. “We have more than we can eat,” he said. 

“I can remember as a kid there were only seven, eight houses on this street,” the younger Burke said. “There were no subdivisions. No matter which way you looked, it was all hay fields.”

“During the pheasant season, guys hunted the hay fields back here,” he continued.

“As a kid, I was excited that they were putting a subdivision in (Copper Hill Heights) because there’d be other kids to play with,” Bob said.

“When we moved on this street (6400 West) we didn’t have water all the way up,” Billie (Cyprus High School, Class of ’47) recalled. They got their water at the time from a well on the property. “Later they ran water the rest of the way up,” Bob said.

In some ways, their stretch of 6400 West today is a lot like it was in the 1950s. There are no sidewalks. Irrigation ditches still run along the road’s dirt shoulders. “Uncle George talked about walking up the street and they walked on the ditch bank because there was mud out in the street,” Billie said.

Just down the road, the recently built Newton Farms subdivision is on ground once owned by Billie’s mother and Bob’s grandmother, a Newton, who farmed the land.

No doubt the area has changed, say the Burkes. Whether it’s for the better is debatable, but father and son and their families are thankful for the memories of growing up there.

“As a kid growing up, I enjoyed living out here,” Bob said. But today, more people, more cars, and other trappings of modern life have made for a stark contrast between then and now. “As you get older, the noise — I don’t want to hear it.”

“The good old days,” Billie Burke concluded.