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The last linotype newspaper: Operating the Saguache Crescent

Posted at 3:48 PM, Jun 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-27 17:48:37-04

SAGUACHE, Colo. — In southern Colorado, Dean Coombs operates the last linotype newspaper, fighting with and fixing up the the century-old typesetting machine every day in order to put out his family's paper week after week and year after year.

The linotype is a hot lead typesetting machine that creates lines of type that are then stacked and properly arranged in order to form a sort of "metal stamp" which is then used to print a newspaper.

The linotype was invented in the late 1800s and quickly started seeing widespread usage among newspaper companies. The machine stayed situated as a prominent form of typesetting in the industry through the 1970s, before being supplanted by newer technology.

The Last Linotype Newspaper: A look back

Now, linotype newspapers are gone in the United States — fully extinct, except for the Saguache Crescent, a small publication in Southern Colorado that's operated by one man.

Coombs is the owner and operator of the Crescent.

"Well, there's an emotional connection," he said. "It's a family business. I don't really like change, so you can see why the Crescent has not changed."

Coombs runs the Crescent, working each day to keep his more-than-100-year-old machine operational so that he can keep publishing his weekly newspaper.

It's a daily struggle that comes with its own emotional journey.

"A 100-year-old linotype has problems. And when that problem occurs, you are dead in the water. You are done," he explained. "So, you have to go from there to not utter despair but some real concern, and then you fix it and the clouds open up and sun shines — that's a real thing."

It's been described as a grind and Coombs is inclined most people would think of it as a drudge but he doesn't think of it that way.

"It would be hard for almost anybody else because it takes so much of your time. It just doesn't leave leftovers for your hobbies and everyone has something else they want to do besides work," he said.

The Last Linotype Newspaper: Fixing the 100-year-old machine

The Crescent was purchased by Coombs' grandparents in 1917. From that point forward they worked the paper, then his parents worked the paper, and now he works the paper.

He recalls never having missed an issue in the more than 40 years he's been publishing. Even when his father passed in 1978, the family still put the paper out on time.

"The paper has to come out," he said. "It's just a requirement."

It's an essential function of Saguache, according to Bill Hazard, whose family has lived in the town of about 500 since the late 1800s.

"A small town doesn't have a lot, but it has the newspaper," he said. "There's a lot of people here that still don't have computers, still don't have internet. The only way they know something is happening or know something is going on is through the Crescent."

Coombs looks at the paper as an obligation but also it's just simply what he does.

"You've got to be doing something," he said.

According to Coombs, the old technology doesn't freak him out and he doesn't feel the need to change or upgrade; the machine still does what he needs it to do.

"The people's need for change, which is just natural [and] normal, I just don't have that really," he said. "So, I just go put out the next newspaper."

The paper is largely filled with news on events, legal publications, obituaries, opinion pieces and the like, and whatever else folks bring into his business.

"Pretty much whatever people want in the paper," he said.

He said that he relies on folks bringing him stories. His main job is the typing, printing, and upkeep portion of the Saguache Crescent.

Coombs doesn't have kids and doesn't currently have any plans to bring on additional help or train up a successor. When asked if someone will take over the Crescent once he finally retires, which he doesn't expect to happen any time soon, he said that he wouldn't recommend it.

"It's just all-consuming. Nobody really wants to do that," he said. "Well, a few people do. I don't feel like I'm all-consumed with it, but that's how I can do it."

The Last Linotype Newspaper: What comes next?

If you're looking to learn more about the Saguache Crescent, or maybe check it out for yourself, give them a call at 719-655-2620.