By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Correspondent
After years in limbo, The Valley Journal is coming home, with 33 years of bound volumes of the weekly newspaper and its predecessor, the Roaring Fork Review, available for perusal at the new Carbondale Branch Library.
The move, free of fan-fair, was made possible by the Garfield County Library system and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. “We’re excited to have them here. It’s a valuable resource,” Carbondale Branch Library Manager Mollie Honan told The Sopris Sun.
The public can browse, scan, and copy (though not check out) every edition from when ink first hit the paper on April 4, 1974, to when the Post Independent’s parent company closed its doors on the Valley Journal, Christmas 2008.
Even for long time locals, the year-and-a-half run of the Roaring Fork Review is a footnote in local history, but without it, neither the Valley Journal nor the Sopris Sun would have existed.
When the owner of the Glenwood’s Sage Reminder offered Pat Noel and Rebecca Young the chance to start a newspaper in a small Colorado town, they jumped at the chance and arrived in town the same week. The pair, recently graduated from Colorado State University where they’d worked on the school newspaper, had put out form letters to publishers across the state looking for jobs. “He called on a Friday and he wanted the first issue the next Thursday,” recalls Noel. “And it just so happened that that week they had their municipal election. We didn’t really have a place to live, and we’d never really put out a newspaper ourselves.”
Carbondale had been without a newspaper since the 1930’s, when the Carbondale Avalanche shut down. “I think the editor of the Avalanche was found mysteriously murdered on the railroad tracks,” Noel reminisced; although he allowed he might have died of natural causes or even have lived a long and happy life. “Everyone knew everyone, anyway. They didn’t need a newspaper. But by the early 70’s, things were starting to happen.”
The eight-page inaugural issue — with a thank-you ad featuring Young’s photo of a bird in tall grass that would become a hallmark later on — contained little more than coverage of the election and sizable advertisements from Circle Supers (grocery store) and Roaring Fork Bank (now Alpine Bank), and was published in the latter’s basement. The two institutions had been some of the main proponents of a local paper, and were stalwart advertisers throughout its run.
Every Wednesday, Noel would compose the week’s articles on a manual Underwood typewriter. Those hard-copy articles were then handed to a typesetter who inputted them into his machine, which printed out the final version (ready for paste up) in strips about two-inches wide. Meanwhile, in the dark room, Young waded through negatives to produce photographs, which were then converted into a halftone with a copy camera. Everything was then pasted up on grid sheets with hot wax and driven to the printer in Craig. The return trip, down a narrow highway covered in wildlife, laden with newspapers, and in all manner of weather, was long and harrowing. “It took 60-plus hours of work a week. We didn’t sleep on Wednesday night,” Young recalls.
After about a year of operation, the Review was sold to an out-of-state publisher. The pair found it hard to work with the new owner, and left the paper with the dream of starting the “Sail Away Book Company” on Main Street. They found themselves unable to stay out of the journalistic game, however, and partnered with Gale Blinde and Cindy Shepherd to produce the Valley Journal. First printed on June 11, 1975, by the Glenwood Post and using a typesetter and copy camera from the recently defunct Aspen Today, the first issue featured Chris Chacos and his sons on the cover and ran 16 pages — twice what they’d been producing a year before.
Noel and Young entered into a brief newspaper war with their old paper. “We took all our advertisers with us, and most of the readership, so it wasn’t much of a war,” Noel noted, though Young admitted that Roaring Fork Bank continued to advertise in both until the Review folded and the Valley Journal bought them out.
The “Colorado Kids” — Noel, Young, Shepherd and Blinde — were in journalistic bliss. “We were too young and stupid to know it shouldn’t be done and couldn’t be done,” Young observed.
They also fell in love with the town. “It was like finding Nirvana,” Young went on. “The people were so grounded, so absolutely without pretense or bullshit. We’d sit in the living rooms of people like Eddis Fender and get to hear their story.”
The Valley Journal office in a classic wood building on Main Street was situated right on the heartbeat of the still-sleepy town, and Carbondale cowboys like Charlie Farris and Dean Smith would hang out on the pair of benches out front. “We had a goal in the back of our head that sooner or later everybody would be on the cover of the VJ,” Noel told The Sun, “And we were doin’ pretty well until there just got to be too many people.”
When Blinde and Shepherd left, JE and Peggy DeVilbiss stepped in as silent backers. Then, when Young moved away, she and the DeVilbisses sold their shares to Bil Dunaway, owner of the Aspen Times, leaving Noel as a minority owner. “He was a great publisher and a true newspaper man,” Young recalls fondly. “The Aspen Times at that point in history was really exemplary.”
Both Noel and Young had periods of burnout and moved away, but Dunaway always had a job waiting for them when they returned. Young did a stint as editor in the early 1980’s, and Noel saw it through into the 1990’s.
For years, the Valley Journal got by on the loyalty of the community and a dime or a quarter per issue. “There was a time that the floor of any car of Pat’s was awash in quarters,” friend and longtime Carbondalian Brad Hendricks interjected during Pat’s interview. But as the years went on, it became hard for a paid, independent weekly to compete with free dailies. In 1991, Dunaway sold the paper to a corporate entity, which was later bought by Swift Media Group, which also owns the Post Independent and the Aspen Times. The staff was trimmed. Noel moved to Collbran, while Young remained in the Roaring Fork Valley. John Colson later did some time as editor, and then John Stroud took over. On Christmas Eve 2008, word came down from Swift that the next day’s color-the-cover issue would be the last. The Roaring Fork Review and Valley Journal’s bound editions went into storage. Stroud moved to the Post Independent, taking the unbound copies of the Journal’s final year with him.
For a little over a month, Carbondale was without its own newspaper, although someone produced at least one two-page periodical entitled The Valley Urinal.
In February, 2009, The Sopris Sun put out it’s first issue, with Valley Journal reporter Trina Ortega as the editor and founder Rebecca Young as a board member and layout designer for the first few issues.
Colson and Stroud continue to cover Carbondale at the Post Independent and Aspen Times. Stroud also managed to get the loose copies from 2008 bound and intends to deliver them to the library soon, completing the set. The Sopris Sun also maintains a backlog of its issues, which will be bound and made available when time and funding can be found. In the mean time, you can browse the Sun’s digital archives at soprissun.com.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to dig through the bound volumes, fear not! The Sun will be making use of the library’s archives to bring you special content both in print and online. Online, co-founder Rebecca Young shares her favorite memory of the paper’s golden era. Finally, keep an eye out for a “This Week in History” section in the Sun’s print edition in coming months.