In a rural Colorado valley, old-fashioned print news lives on

  • One of the Saguache Crescent's 1920s Linotype machines, which forges lines of type from hot lead.

    Jonathan Thompson
 

On any given Tuesday, if you venture past the creaky door and the piles of paper and boxes and photos, you'll find Dean Coombs marinating in the smell of hot lead, dust and the slow decay of old newsprint, tending an ancient printing press that emanates a rhythmic whir-swoosh. Coombs, with an unkempt gray beard, wire-rimmed glasses and the characteristic stoop of somebody who spends too many hours at a keyboard, is the publisher, editor, pressman and mechanic at the Saguache Crescent, which, as far as we know, is the last weekly newspaper in the nation produced using only letterpress technology.

Tuesday is press day, when Coombs prints out the happenings, legal notices and birth and death announcements of Saguache, Colo., a town of 500 or so perched on the edge of the vast San Luis Valley, where low hills shelter modest homes from brutal winter winds. Founded in 1876 to supply mountain mining camps, the town's original purpose is history, and Saguache is still struggling to find a new identity. Today, it survives on a bit of agriculture, tourism and as an artist's colony of sorts. Like many Western towns of its size and scenery, it always seems to be on the brink of either becoming something extraordinary or perishing altogether.

"We have big dreams," says Coombs. "And a million-dollar main street." With the help of various grants, the town recently redid its main drag, 4th Street, adding new sidewalks, roundabouts and even a pocket park.

The Crescent, now in its 134th year, perseveres, unsullied by the digital world: The office has no computer, no Internet. Coombs bangs out each edition on the keyboard of a 90-year-old Linotype, which forges each line of text, or slug, from molten lead. He arranges the slugs, along with ads and graphics -- engraved into wood or metal -- in the chase, a rectangular metal frame. After they're secured into the press, the chase and type are inked, and the newsprint rolls over them. The mailing labels are imprinted by a contraption made back in the 1920s. Like everything else in the office, the labeler -- little more than a small platform with a foot-long lever sticking out -- has the reassuring mechanical heft so often lacking in electronic devices.

It's basically the same technology that Coombs' grandfather, Charles Ogden, used when he bought The Crescent in 1917 (although at first, Ogden lacked a Linotype and had to set type by hand). His daughter, Marie, took over when he died in 1935; Dean stepped in as publisher in 1978, and his mother continued to edit the paper until she passed away in 2002.

The front page of The Crescent's first issue of 2013 includes a letter to the editor about how the valley's aquifers are being pumped into oblivion, a primer from town hall on sidewalk maintenance, and an announcement regarding the knitting club. Printed in flowing single columns, on a big broadsheet, the paper could easily be a century old, except, perhaps, for the item about the local yoga studio.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...