September 2022 — We were headed home at the end of our fantastic summer RV travels and making our way south through Colorado on US-285, when Mark suddenly glanced over his shoulder as we approached a highway interchange and said, “Wow, that’s a really cool looking main street town over there!”
I couldn’t see what he was talking about from the passenger seat, but before I knew it, he’d looped around and parked the rig on a side street, and we were walking under a canopy of trees in a neighborhood of pretty homes on our way to the town’s quaint main drag!
We didn’t even know what the name of this town was, but we could tell it had an artsy flair when we passed a giant mural of a western tanager sitting at a birdbath on the wall of a house!
Suddenly Buddy stopped in his tracks and stared up at us. We looked down and saw he was standing next to a tiny, wee, mini house with a little red heart on the door!
Buddy hadn’t noticed that detail but was very interested when Mark pointed it out.
As we walked along we came across several other mini houses. They were tucked into all kinds of out of the way places. We had no idea what these were or why they were there, but we were delighted when we spotted them here and there.
When we got to the main drag, which was actually 4th Street, I could see why this street had caught Mark’s attention from the highway. It seemed to sparkle in the sun!
At the Village Pub we noticed two park benches made from truck tailgates. What a clever idea!
The Dodge Power Wagon tailgate bench had a sticker on it that said, “No bar too far!” The other bench was made from a Chevy pickup tailgate.
We poked our heads in at the 4th Street Diner in hopes of finding some banana nut muffins and a cup of tea. Although the gal behind the counter appeared to be the only person working in this busy shop, she carefully studied all 12 muffins that were on display to tell us which kind each one was while explaining that for some reason they hadn’t been labeled that morning.
Talk about an unhurried pace!
She sat us at the table she usually reserves for the county sheriff and state police because, well, they weren’t there at the moment and we were, and all the other tables were full!
She also said Buddy could definitely join us because, as she told us, in Colorado it is illegal for a shop or restaurant to ask if a dog is a service animal. She could tell by his impeccable manners that he was, of course. Wink wink.
Feeling like honored guests, we savored each bite of our muffins and marveled that we’d accidentally bumped into such an inviting town.
Across the street, the Historic Ute Theater had an unusual suggestion on the marquee. This town definitely had a sense of humor!
Even with so many historic buildings in town, the townspeople here weren’t living in the past. The Cozy Castle CInema was showing movie that had recently been released — “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris!”
Nearby, a small park celebrated the town’s history with informative plaques and photos that explained a bit about its origins.
The town is called “Saguache,” pronounced “Sah-Watch,” and although people once thought the word came from a Ute term for Blue Water, the translation seems to have been refined as “Water at the blue earth.”
The surrounding San Luis Valley was claimed by the Spanish in the 1500s, and centuries later Chief Ouray, the namesake of Ouray, Colorado, enjoyed camping here with his wife. In 1848, a treaty transferred ownership of the land from Mexico to the US, and today a few residents can trace their roots back to ancestors who lived here during those earlier times.
The park has a large photo of a parade on 4th street on Pioneer Day in 1913. I recognized the peaked roof and columns of the bank and got a shot of how it looks today over 100 years later.
We heard hammers and saws and construction noises down the street and then noticed that the Saguache Hotel was being renovated. How fun it would be to stay in that historic hotel once the renovation is finished!
At the end of the street we found the county courthouse. Even more appealing than the stately building were the many apple trees that had dropped perfectly ripe and unblemished apples all over the ground. They were tiny, just an inch or so in diameter, but they were soooo tasty!
Heading into the local grocery store, we saw a box of tiny local pears from a neighbor’s yard that were offered in exchange for a donation. They were delicious too!
We walked out the backside of the grocery store down a hallway and found ourselves emerging through the front door of Bread and Botanicals.
But it was when we peered in the windows of the Saguache Crescent that we struck gold in this town.
It appeared to be some kind of machine shop or a place that sold antique machinery. We weren’t sure if it was open, but Mark tried the door, and it was. So in we went!
Our jaws dropped as we took in the wildly cluttered surroundings. I had no idea what I was looking at, but Mark immediately recognized that we were staring at an antique printing operation of some kind.
A man came out from the back and introduced himself as Dean Coombs. “These are Linotype typesetting machines,” he said, gesturing to the machine behind him labeled “His” and the one to his side labeled “Hers.”
He went on to explain that his grandfather had purchased the Linotype typesetter marked “Hers” in 1915, and it had been used in the production of the weekly Saguache Crescent newspaper ever since.
After his grandfather died in 1935, Dean’s parents took over the business, purchasing the Linotype typesetter marked “His” in 1937. For the next forty years his mom and dad sat at those two machines every day, turning out the weekly newspaper.
When his dad died in 1978, Dean took over the business.
Dean’s mother continued to work at the “Hers” machine every day, and to this day he relies on both Linotype machines to publish the newspaper each week. They are the only Linotype machines that have been in continual use since they were purchased new all those years ago!
I was overwhelmed by the antiquity of the machines and the decades upon decades of use they had seen.
The way they work is an operator types a line of text at the keyboard (and it’s NOT a QWERTY keyboard!).
Then the individual letters fall down a chute and get lined up to form a line of text. An ingot of molten lead then imprints the line of text, forming a “slug.” Once the slugs are cool, they are arranged to form a column of text, and the columns then form a page of the newspaper.
No one knows how to repair these machines anymore, except for Dean. So, if something jams or fails or breaks, he has to figure out the problem and do the repair himself.
There’s also nowhere to get parts. Dean was so concerned about being able to find spare parts that when an identical 1937 vintage Linotype machine came up for sale in a distant state, he quickly purchased it to be a spare parts hanger queen. It cost him as much to ship the machine as it did to buy it!
The magic of turning all those lead slugs containing individual lines of text into a page of a newspaper happens in the back room. Dean has a huge table with clamps on it so he can align the text and keep it all in place. Of course, each line of text reads backwards from right to left. But he has become very adept at reading backwards!
There are two machines used for printing and folding the newspaper pages. One machine makes the inked impressions on pages of newsprint and a second machine folds the pages.
In the olden days, the newspaper was multiple pages long but nowadays it is all on one sheet of newsprint.
I found a website that has some archived editions of the paper (listed in the reference section below), and the stories on those pages are wonderful. Back in 1902 it was routine to report the goings-on of all the residents: who was headed out of town, when, where to and why, and who was coming to town to visit, whom they were visiting, when and why! The degree of faith, trust and comradery jumps off the page.
Dean’s mother was determined that their newspaper would print only good news because she knew everyone was getting plenty of bad and sad news from other sources already.
Local events spring to life on the pages of the Saguache Crescent, and the intimacy of small town life and the nostalgia of a bygone era are palpable.
We stayed and chatted with Dean for nearly two hours. It was fascinating to hear his family history, the history of the newspaper and the history of the Linotype machines. He is the only person in America, and perhaps the world, who still publishes a paper using these antique Linotype machines, yet in their heyday, every newspaper, from major big city daily papers to small town weeklies, relied on Linotypes to get the job done.
What incredibly good fortune that Mark tried the door of the shop and poked his head in! Dean assumed that we’d learned about the paper in one of the major media stories that has been published in the last few years and, like so many others, had come to Saguache specifically to visit the Crescent. But it had just been lucky happenstance that we stopped in this special town and then wandered into his shop.
What we loved most is that usually antique machinery like this can only be seen in a museum and it’s usually in some state of disrepair. A museum curator can describe the antique equipment with passion and affection but their knowledge isn’t first hand. THere’s a tangible distance between “back then” (which neither you nor the museum docent has ever experienced) and “here right now” in our modern times.
In contrast, walking into the Saguache Crescent building was an immersion in the past fully embraced by the present. Rather than staring at a machine that was last run 50 years ago, the machines in front of us were about to go to work in another day or two typesetting this week’s edition of the newspaper! What looks on the surface like a quaint novelty is actually part of a serious media enterprise and has been more than a full-time job for Dean his whole life!
He works seven days a week and constantly feels the pressure of each deadline involved in getting the newspaper printed and delivered on time. All the news stories are brought to him by people in the area, and nearly 400 area residents have paid subscriptions.
Dean has no kids and no plans for the newspaper in the future. But he also has no plans to stop working any time soon! The knowledge and skill necessary to keep the machines running is immense, and no one has stepped up to the plate to learn. The shop is loaded with his family’s memorabilia and awards as well, and it is impossible to imagine anyone else at the helm of this unique family enterprise.
We left the shop with our heads spinning. What a special place, both the town and the newspaper.
Of course, visiting Saguache and checking out the Crescent is a “must do” for all travelers. Just go! But if Colorado isn’t on your horizon, we highly recommend you watch the CBS produced video in the reference section below. It captures the spirit of the Saguache Crescent very well — and you can see and hear the machines in action!
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More info about Saguache, Colorado, and the Saguache Crescent Newspaper:
- History of Saguache, Colorado
- CBS Sunday Morning Video about the Saguache Crescent Newspaper (2014)
- Archive Editions of the Saguache Cresent Newspaper
- Smithsonian Magazine article about the Saguache Crescent (April 2022)
- Location of Saguache, Colorado
- RV Parks and campgrounds near Saguache, Colorado
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Small town life, small town pride, small town hospitality – there’s nothing else quite like it in all of America. I’m thinking that “happenstance” should be Roads Less Traveled’s Word of the Year. Love the (truly) tiny houses and the photos of the main street taken more than a century apart. And the story of the Linotype machines and Dean’s family’s history with them was a delightful read. Just a charming post all the way around, Emily!
Thank you, Mary, I’m so glad you enjoyed this story. It was a magical day, and so unexpected. I’d figured we were in for a long drive without any sightseeing that day, and then suddenly we were living from one exciting moment to the next with fun discoveries all around. It still boggles my mind that Dean has kept the paper and the shop as they were when his parents and grandparents ran the show. Back in the earliest years that he took it over, I had a part-time job typing stories for our college newspaper into a computerized typesetting machine…we would have considered the Linotypes very ancient even back then!
Fabulous “discovery”, Emily, Mark and Buddy. Always satisfying to follow you down a side-street, around a corner to an unexpected delight…in small town America. Such devotion to maintaining a history, a tradition….a family heritage. Hope the RLT article and the national publicity will attract a young audience to preserve and continue this unique enterprise.
One of the things that intrigued me most is that Dean isn’t doing this to make a statement or to have a “special angle” to make his business thrive. As he openly admits, he simply doesn’t like change! Also, there is no one around who has the tenacity or devotion to publish the paper the way it always has been. He had help from a girlfriend for a while, but meeting all the newspaper’s deadlines and keeping the Linotypes humming is no small task and has to be rooted in love. He charges 35 cents an issue or $17 a year for a subscription, and he feels a deep obligation to his community and readers to provide them their news in the way they’ve always received it. Just incredible!
What an awesome cool place! Must go one day.
It is really special, Annie. Definitely add it to your itinerary next time you are in Colorado!!
Wonderful photos of this beautiful town. Especially love the ones of the linotype machine. One of the Twilight Zone’s episodes featured one of these machines. They were an amazing array of mechanics. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0734614/
Gosh, Bob, I had no idea there was a movie with a Linotype machine in it! I looked up your link and it’s quite a plot summary: “A man sells his soul to the Devil to save his failing newspaper and gets more than he bargained for.” Fortunately, Dean’s newspaper is still thriving, so he doesn’t have to contemplate such a move!! You’d love the town. Lots of photo ops everywhere!!
I was so excited to see that you featured one of my favorite towns, Saguache! In the 1960’s we would stop to have lunch at the Saguache hotel. I remember the salad was fruit cocktail with whipped cream. What could be finer???
In 2021 I talked Wally into driving down the main drag, then into having a cobbler at the bakery. It was delicious. I went out and about exploring and was excited to see that the state of Colorado was giving the hotel a grant so they could rehab. I didn’t know about the little houses. I will have to take a look at those next year!
Thanks for featuring this little town. Surprising what you can find when you look…
How cool that you know this town and that you’ve explored it too! What great memories you have — that fruit salad sounds like it was a very special treat! I’m intrigued that the hotel was able to get a grant for rehabilitation — it’s wonderful when historic buildings like that can be brought back to life but it can be costly. Definitely stop by next year as you pass through and check out the Saguache Crescent while you’re there. Say hi to Dean for us. He may not remember us but he’ll probably remember Buddy!!
Emily, this one is unique! It’s true Saguache, CO has more to offer than Wilson, KS (Czech capital of Kansas) but there is a similarity. Both small towns, both with a unique story but Wilson has an Opera House which is being rebuilt. It’s the serendipity of finding these places and recognizing you’re at an unusual place that makes them special. I loved the little houses – kind of an upscale version of the “fairy houses” of New England. The main (4TH) street has several other attractions in addition to the newspaper office. Saguache is now on my bucket list! Stewart
PS: Wilson, KS can be Googled or found at: https://roadtrippers.com/magazine/worlds-largest-czech-egg-wilson/
OR our chance find can be seen at: https://vtteardroptravelers.wordpress.com/2022/08/21/part-ii-of-our-2022-road-trip-adventure/
PPS: “Fairy Houses in the woods” can also be googled.
We haven’t been to Wilson, Stewart, but it sounds like a neat town with a unique Bohemian history. What a great place to put on the list for a Kansas trip someday! Thanks for the two links about it. You sure had a wonderful trip there! As for the Fairy Houses, I’m not sure if that’s what these little dwellings were or if they were something else, but they sure were cute!!