The Daily Sentinel copes with aftermath of devastating fire
The April 10, 1974, edition of The Daily Sentinel was one of the most unusual printed by this newspaper in its 120-year history.
The typeface on the front page of that day’s edition looked like it had come straight off an old typewriter, not the computerized typesetting machines that were routinely used at the Sentinel.
There was only one long story on the entire front page, accompanied by a single photograph. And there were more misspellings and typographical errors than normal.
But the Sentinel employees who put that paper together were operating with more than their hands tied behind their backs. They were hobbled and hog-tied. And they were in shock.
The Sentinel’s printing facility, including a new press only seven months old, had been destroyed in a conflagration that consumed much of South Seventh Street the night before.
The Sentinel offices remained, but they were so smoke-drenched that even many weeks later, they caused teary eyes and coughing among employees.
Still, the Sentinel workers published an evening edition that Wednesday, April 10, printing the paper 90 miles away in Glenwood Springs.
A frantic night
But it was not at all clear they would be able to put out an April 10 paper late on the night of April 9, when smoldering embers and a few flames still prevented access to what remained of the pressroom.
Then–publisher Ken Johnson was in Salt Lake City attending meetings April 9, so the top management of the Sentinel gathered at the home of Barclay Jameson, then the editor of the paper.
“We got together and asked, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” he recalled. “I got on the phone and called Tom Collinson,” who was the publisher of The Glenwood Post. “He said, sure, he would be glad to help.”
So the Sentinel had a place to print. Now it just had to produce news stories and somehow typeset them, place them on what were known as page flats and negatives, then deliver them to Glenwood.
With the Sentinel office temporarily out of commission, including the typesetting machines, the solution was found with IBM Selectric typewriters.
The typesetting crew “worked from a little hole-in-the-wall office we owned on Main Street,” said Johnson. “They typed the stories that first night on the Selectric, then just printed them out on conventional typewriter paper. And they pasted that paper right on the flats.”
Not only did that process give the pages an unconventional look, it made it much more difficult to correct errors, especially as staff members rushed to get the April 10 paper ready to go.
For those writing articles, that first night was a bit of a blur.
“I probably contributed at least one story to that first paper ... But I can’t remember what it was,” said Mary Louise Giblin Henderson, the Sentinel’s longtime political reporter.
She did. It was headlined, “Daily Sentinel will still be daily,” and it outlined the hastily arranged plans to print the paper every day.
Larry Brown wrote the Page 1 article for the April 10 edition. He gathered information from firefighters, police officers, Sentinel officials and others as the blaze was still burning.
“Then I went home and typed the story on an old manual typewriter I had,” he said. “They reset it on a Selectric and that’s why the font looked like it did.
“I remember I wrote a lot more and maybe even had a couple of sidebars,” he added. But the use of the Selectric font required more space than everyone had anticipated. “There wasn’t enough room on the page for everything I wrote.”
That first night, the flats were flown from Grand Junction to Rifle, then trucked the remaining distance to Glenwood Springs. But the deadline was met.
The April 10 paper was late — the last subscribers received their papers shortly after midnight on April 11 — but it was printed and delivered. By April 11, the paper was on time.
Printing on the run
For the next 45 days, The Daily Sentinel would be published in Glenwood Springs, and that presented a number of problems — some obvious and some less so.
“At that time, our circulation was about 22,000 a day and the Glenwood Post was only about 5,000,” Jameson said. Consequently, the Post’s press was much smaller than what the Sentinel needed. If the Sentinel was larger than 16 pages on a given day, as it often was on weekends, two press runs were required instead of just one.
The Post made its regular weekday press run shortly after noon each day, and the Sentinel printed on the Post press earlier in the day.
“We were putting the paper together almost like it was a morning paper because we had to print it early and get it back for afternoon delivery,” Jameson said. “We could get a late lead story — like a City Council meeting — on the front page the next day, but we couldn’t jump it to an inside page.
“The circumstances were difficult for everyone because they couldn’t follow their usual routines,” he added.
No one’s routine was disrupted more than that of members of the Sentinel’s press crew. They essentially moved to Glenwood Springs for six weeks so they could operate the Post’s printing press for the Sentinel. They rotated back home in shifts.
Teddy Jordan, who worked for the Sentinel in a variety of capacities, was a member of the press crew in 1974. While it was a hectic period, he recalls that time with fondness.
“The Glenwood press people were good to us. They were really cordial,” he said. “When we were in Glenwood we had a lot of free time, and we did a lot of touristy things, like going to Doc Holliday’s grave.”
“We ate very well, usually at the Riviera restaurant,” Jordan added. “I can’t believe how good a time we had for as bad as it was.”
The schedule required someone to drive to Glenwood each night with the flats or negatives for the next day’s papers. Sometimes that was a member of the press crew on his way back from a few days off at home, Jordan said. More often, it was Cliff Parker, then the news editor, Jameson said.
Once the papers were hot off the presses, several drivers — some of them members of the press crew — would pilot vans loaded with the Sentinel back to Grand Junction.
Racing to rebuild
Efforts to replace the destroyed press were at first expected to take a long time. There was talk of finding a small, used press to print the Sentinel until a new Cotrell Harris 1650 press — similar to the one ruined in the fire — could be ordered and built. That was projected to take at least 10 months.
But the day after the fire, happenstance helped out. Representatives of the Harris company called to say they had a 1650 press sitting on a dock on the East Coast. It was supposed to be delivered to a newspaper in Manila, in the Philippines, Jameson recalled, but because of political issues and questions about payment, it wasn’t moving. The press was available for the Sentinel.
Johnson reached an agreement with the company to purchase the press for $1.5 million. An insurance policy through Home Loan and Investment covered that, plus some of the other losses, Johnson said.
“I also had a business interruption policy, but that didn’t pay anything because we never missed a day of publication,” he said.
Even though some circulation records were destroyed in the fire, Johnson said the Sentinel lost few subscribers as a result of the blaze. However, because the story went around the night of the fire that the Sentinel was out of business and might never publish again, a number of companies stopped advertising with the paper and it took many months to get them back, he said.
Those rumors were not completely off the mark. Johnson recalled that Sentinel General Manager Chan Edmonds “told me a few years ago that even I didn’t realize how close we came to bankruptcy.”
Despite that, the paper pushed ahead with rebuilding and installing a new press. First, the blackened rolls of newsprint, the ruined press and the walls and ceiling of the old press plant had to be removed. Then a Salt Lake City company, Utah Pre-Stress, designed, built and erected pre-built concrete walls for the pressroom, placing them on the same concrete slab where the old press had been located.
The new press was brought in, and on May 24 the first printing occurred, a baseball special edition.
Forty-five days after the Sentinel appeared to be out of business, it returned to printing on its home turf.