BARBWIRE BOB – 10-13-22

A highlight of my travels occurred in September when my longtime friend, Denver attorney Mike Smith, invited me to tour the historic Englewood Train Depot.  Smith is a native of my hometown of Craig where he attained Eagle Scout status and received a law degree from Harvard.  He has practiced law in the Denver area successfully for decades.  

BY BOB SWEENEY

The purpose of the tour was to show me the historic Englewood Train Depot purchased by Tom Parson 10 years ago to save the historic building and open a letterpress museum.  It has been a work in progress for the past decade by Tom and his wife Patti.  The city of Englewood is now suing Parson to get the property back for lack of progress on the museum.  The suit was delivered September 30, wanting to repurchase the property if Parson did not agree to the terms in 30 days.  Parsons has done extensive work on the property, as a non-profit operator, spending an estimated $300,000; about $175,000 of his own money and $115,000 in grants from the State Historical Fund, as reported in the October 9, 2022 Denver Post. The Post published a feature on the museum and lawsuit.

The building is a wooden frame structure built in 1915 by the Santa Fe railroad and is the last of its kind still standing.  Naturally, the aging building is a disaster of rotten wood walls and floors. Parsons, at age 70,  has done remarkable work upstairs, amassing a prized printing collection in the building’s basement floor.  He’s also had to deal with Covid-19 and health issues.

I toured the building in August with Mike and was amazed at the work that has been done and the collection of antique printing equipment, posters, and Santa Fe railroad and Englewood history, a priceless collection of valuable and rare printing presses and type.  This is a treasured piece of Colorado history.  The lawsuit should be withdrawn immediately, and more help should be given from foundations and donors to preserve and complete this project.

Tom needs help, not legal harassment, from the city.

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My lawyer friend Mike will no doubt step forward to help save the museum.  I would hope that newspapers, railroads, donors , trusts, foundations, and concerned citizens will make this museum happen. Tom just needs some help, and we’ll all make this museum happen.  Mike is familiar with my love for the publishing and printing business, going back to both our former lives together in the N.W. Colorado community.  I attended his ceremony when he was honored as an Eagle Scout. His father was the postmaster in Craig and his mother, a revered County Clerk.

My newspaper career started in 1961, purchasing The Routt County Republican that was moved from Hayden to Craig.                                                                 

It was a letterpress newspaper with a linotype and a Chandler and Price hand-fed printing press.  The move to Craig created a name change to The Northwest Colorado Press.  This started my newspaper career in working as the advertising salesman and becoming the eventual publisher.  My wife Gerri and myself, became sole proprietors, with myself the letterpress printer, she assisting me as business manager, a role she still fulfills today.  This was our first experience in operating a business. 

What I learned the hard way, was how historic newspaper equipment worked; hand setting headlines from  the California job case full of lead and wood type.  The newspaper “slugs” came off the sole Mergenthaler linotype and headlines and ads had to be pieced together in metal forms to be placed on the bed of the ancient printing press.  Pages were printed one at a time.  It was a struggle, but I persevered with 100-hour work weeks learning how to run the ancient printing presses and how to set headlines, one character at a time in point sizes on a pica stick using a “coin” tool. (Shop talk)  

A miracle occurred in the mid-60s with the creation of “offset printing” where vertical cameras could photograph print images from typewriters. The images were filmed and  transferred to light sensitive aluminum plates with a water/ink press process of printing from a flat service, rather than raised type.  This process spelled the end for letterpress and highly skilled letterpress printers. 

I moved into this new process quickly, going into debt with the Denver A. E. Heinsoln printing supply company for a 17×22 offset sheet fed press that would allow me to print two newspaper pages at a time rapidly.  Eight-press runs to create a 16-page  newspaper that had to be hand collated and folded for delivery to Craig readers.  The printing was sharp, photos clear, and it was a vast improvement over the ancient letterpress equipment that was used in the newspaper industry for centuries.  These modern presses could replace some old  smaller presses that could be operated by a foot pedal without any electricity,  going way back to the Ben Franklin era where the Washington hand presses printed one sheet at a time with a hand crank putting pressure with the type upon the paper.  That’s the early way of printing books, and newspapers.

The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News both had rows of linotypes turning out galleys of hot lead type that would be pressed onto round cardboard mats, cast in metal and placed on the rotary letterpress printing press until the 1970s.  The Denver Post building had glass windows to watch the presses run from the street.  The Rocky Mountain News  preserved a linotype and had it in their front lobby of their new building on Colfax Ave.

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There is only one letterpress newspaper operating in Colorado today located in Saguache, by 70-year old Dean Coombs.  His mother, Marie,  started working at the newspaper when she was a little girl and ran the Mergenthaler Model 14 linotype in the front office of the historic building until she was 80.  Deane started working at the newspaper at 12 years of age and is still on the job weekly.  Their newspaper has been receiving national attention as the last newspaper in America, and perhaps the world, still being printed with lead slugs on an old hand fed sheet fed press.

The Saguache Crescent was launched in 1882 as The Saguache Advance and has been produced in the same building since 1902.  Combs took over the newspaper from his father, Ivan, who died of a heart attack in 1978.  Combs is reported to have only missed one day of work in the past decades of publishing the Saguache County legal newspaper. Legal newspapers must have a postal permit issued in the county where published by Colorado law and postal regulations.

The oldest newspaper in Colorado that was printed letterpress until 1977 is the Weekly-Register Call located in historic Central City and Black Hawk, This historic newspaper started in 1862 and is still operating.  Located in the original Masonic Lodge  building with the print shop intact with one linotype and intertype, presses and type.   Indians burned a wagon train bringing newsprint to Denver, so the newspaper had to print on wallpaper.  Portions of the Colorado Constitution were reportedly written in the newspaper’s front office. Colorado was still a territory until becoming a state in 1876. 

The Weekly Register-Call was purchased by the Sweeney family Sept. 1, 2021, and is proudly producing the historic newspaper. Recently, the newspaper winning three Colorado Press Awards in the 2021 contest, judged by the State of Michigan. Bob Sweeney, publisher, has already cleaned up one of the linotypes, and knows how to operate all of the equipment in the historic print shop that is a duplicate of what he purchased back in 1962. 

Newspaper production today is done by computers and electronically sent to modern presses that can print thousands of copies in full color in minutes, addressed, and trucked to post offices and newspaper carriers for delivery. 

The newspaper museum in Englewood needs to be saved and the building completed.  The threatened lawsuit is a wake-up call to assist Tom Parsons in completing the project while his health still lasts.  This priceless collection and building  should never be lost.  Newspapers, railroads, gold and silver mining, are the early day history of Colorado. We need to preserve what is left for future generations. 

Englewood city fathers should drop their legal actions and move forward to assist Tom in completing the arduous task.