Dean Coombs, a 70-year-old living in the rural Colorado town of Saguache, wasn't able to work remotely during the pandemic.
Every day, for the last two decades, Coombs has woken up with the sun and gone into a small, cluttered office on Saguache’s main street. He sits among thousands of metal parts as one of the country’s last linotype newspaper publishers.
“Oh yeah, my grandmother, I think she bled ink,” Coombs joked. “Out of my great grandfather’s five sons, four were printers. And my great-grandfather’s brother, my grandfather’s father-in-law, and so it’s pretty ingrained.”
In 1917, Coombs' family purchased the Saguache Crescent, a newspaper that has been around since the 1870s. It serves the sprawling, yet intimate rural county of Saguache, Colorado.
Coombs started working at the paper when he was 12 years old. He has not slept outside of Suguache in more than 30 years. His last vacation was in 1990.
His family was even working at the Crescent’s main office working on the day his father died.
“The day my dad died, and he walked out the door and died, we put out a newspaper,” he recalled. “And people said, 'I think there’s something wrong with them. We just continued on. That was the day we had to put the paper out.”
There have been mechanical problems. After all, a machine built in the early 20th Century does not operate flawlessly. There have been frustrations, like when the linotype’s gears started leaking a few years ago and Coombs could not operate the machine for five days. Instead, he relied on the shop’s older linotype machine which is rarely used.
With each hiccup, however, Coombs finds a way to overcome every one of them for the sake of his 500 subscribers who rely on the paper each week to get their information about town events, opinions, and news.
“You know, I just have a commitment to doing the job at hand. I wouldn’t say that I’m a spartan or anything, but I keep at it, just like what you have to do with about anything,” he said.
People tend to think of rural America as hard-working, salt of the earth, nose to the grindstone. Look at someone like Coombs and no one would say otherwise.
“It’s what I do and that’s just about all I can tell you,” he said. “I get up in the morning, I go to work and this is what I do.”