With the beginning of the new year, my thoughts turn to one specific task: Rounding up archive books for my weekly Yesteryears column.

I started collecting the ‘00 years in November — I learned the hard way a few years ago that some books are missing from our shelves and I may need to borrow a volume or two from the Hood River County Library, which has a second collection and is conveniently located across the street from the News’ office.

Um, no, the library archives are not available for checkout, even to me. When I discovered 1917 was missing from our shelves, I was thrilled to find it at the library — and grateful that Executive Director Rachael Fox let me touch it. I did the whole of that year in two days, sitting at one of the computer stations there at the library.

We do what we must. Also, that was before I made the excellent investment in a laptop.

Luck was on my side this time, however, because I found everything I was looking for in one afternoon, aside from 1920 and 1930. (I was originally looking for 1900, too, until I realized I wasn’t finding it because it didn’t exist. We turned 114 this year. Still amazing.) Fast-forward a few weeks, when, having an unexpected opening in my schedule, I delved back into the archives to look one more time.

The 1930s were hidden in plain sight, as they say — its cover bore no markings of the year inside. It wasn’t until I went shelf by shelf, opening any unknown volumes, that I found it. Buoyed by my success, I went back to look for the 1920s. Again, I went shelf by shelf. And what I noticed, near the bottom of one of the racks, was a small stack of loose pages.

Huh. So that’s what happened to the 1920s.

A few shelves later, I found another small stack of loose pages. Yep, more of the 1920s.

This posed a bit of a problem. I took the first small stack up to the front office — I needed some serious counterspace not available in my cubical — and then went back for the second stack. I noticed crumpled pages and more than a few barely holding themselves together. They were mostly out of order.

They were so delicate that I felt bad touching them for fear they’d disintegrate under my fingertips.

I got them into reasonable order — no help for the pages that are missing — and then went into the warehouse in search for a piece of cardboard large enough to form a temporary cover. I found just the thing on top of a pallet of phone books, way too big to reasonably work in the long term — it won’t fit on the archive shelf — but one that’s fine until I can find a more lasting solution.

In all my years of compiling Yesteryears, I have never, EVER come across a book in such terrible condition as 1920 (although you could argue it’s not a book, what with that stack of loose pages and all), although I have seen quite a few books in less than stellar shape. There are people in the past who apparently thought it was perfectly okay to cut out a story or ad from the middle of a page in one of our bound copies. There are books missing entire sections, or have pages that have been folded, torn or otherwise mishandled. It mystifies me why some books are in better shape than others: Why was 1910 so well preserved when 1940 was not? Why is the cover of 1970 ripped? Why is 1950 still technically “bound,” even if it’s sitting loose inside its cover? And why are 1960s pages so much more yellowed than the others?

I don’t know, but it’s rather distressing. I’m doing what I can to hold them together.

A brief history

Yesteryears looks back at Hood River County history — but what’s the history of Yesteryears?

As far as I can tell, sometime in the 1930s, a column, titled “Yesteryears — From Our Files,” started appearing in the Hood River News. (Or I should say, they were definitely a thing by 1940, but I can find nothing in the 1930 archive book, so I’m assuming they started after 1930 and before 1940. I know, scientific!)

They were not long columns, which makes sense; there wasn’t that much history piled up yet. “Forty years ago” was as ancient as it got. Its earliest incarnation didn’t bother much with dates and labeled each item by how many years had gone by since it happened. Over here in the future (that’s so weird to think about), I find it too much math: The date on the archive book minus the years on the column equals … who knows, really, because I don’t have the patience to figure it out.

Editor Kirby Neumann-Rea says that Yesteryears responsibilities used to fall to the sportswriter. Items were recycled from decade to decade, and all that was “fresh” would be from the most current archive book from the decade past. People would notice, of course, that they’d already read a particular event on a particular date. I mean, I did. I was once a reader, too.

Anyway, it was former News Reporter Esther Smith who decided that the whole Yesteryears system needed an overhaul. She started from scratch, pulling books and flipping through their contents. In those days, we had a full page devoted to Yesteryears, so there was enough room for two or three events per decade, plus a couple of photos and a verbatim each week.

Esther’s main goal was to have someone touch the books — to be able to see what condition they were in as well as revamp how Yesteryears was presented. She went from event summaries that had been saved over the years to transcribing lines as they were written.

I took over Yesteryears a couple of years into my News career, when Esther went from reporter to circulation manager. Her advice: Keep it fun. And that’s what I try to do.

Recently, Reporter Emily Fitzgerald has started helping me compile the weekly listing. I have forbidden her to even touch 1990, however — that’s the year I graduated from Hood River Valley High School. I have dibs!

Because I have a high school reunion coming up this year. And I want photos to share.

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