Last week, the Cranston press inside the Mancos Times Building, thought to be one of three left in the country, began to turn again for the first time in about 40 years.
The old press came to life again under the skillful hand of Matt Neff, who directs the University Pennsylvania's The Common Press project. The project brought together historical presses for students and artists to use for custom graphic design. He came out with his colleagues and hopes to print on the press before he leaves in a few days.
Dick Patrick, the last owner of the paper to operate the press, turned off the lights in 1971 and left things in working order for the next owner, who never touched it. The paper was bought by The Cortez Journal, which produced it on a different press.
"The ink here was still wet," said Neff. He said this was good news for the rubber rollers. Fortunately, the overall conditions within the building were good for preservation, he said.
The ultimate goal of the restoration efforts is for the press and the building to be used for custom graphic design and for artists come and use the space. But it was unknown if the press would run again until Neff and his colleagues worked on it.
"If we couldn't use it, we would have to have different goals for the project," said Betsy Harrison, who is a member of The Mancos Common Press group, which has been spearheading the project locally and helped fund Neff's trip.
The building itself is also well-preserved and since preliminary work started in January the dividing wall between the office and the press room has been removed and the drop ceiling torn out to reveal the tin underneath. The whole space was cleaned, loose archives boxed up and the linotype machines taken to Durango and put in storage. The room is now clean and much more airy.
New electricity lines were also put in recently and now power the press. The press had been steam-powered, but it was later retrofitted, Neff said.
Professor Frank Matero identified the rare press when he happened by the Times building last year. The professor is from the University of Pennsylvania's Historic Preservation Program in the School of Design and has been coming to the area to work at Mesa Verde every summer for many years.
Later, he approached the Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Mancos Arts Council and Richard Ballantine, an owner of the The Mancos Times, about the potential of the building and the press. The Mancos Times was recently the first building to be placed on the town's historic register and the The Mancos Common Press is working under the umbrella group Mancos Valley Resources to seek grant money for the project.
The project is particularly exciting for the former owner, Patrick, now 86, and his daughter Pam Coppinger, who visited the shop on Friday. Patrick said he hopes to be involved in the project as it continues through the summer.
Coppinger recalled the Times building as a dark place filled with dust from the coal fired heater. When the press cranked out 550 editions once a week all the windows along the block shook as the press turned, she said.
Patrick bought the press in 1963 and moved out from California to take over operations. He later bought the Silver Peaks Cafe and ran both for awhile before selling the paper.
"In those 10 years, I had some of the best times and met some of the finest people, I also had some of the worst times and met some of the doggonest people," said Patrick.
The Mancos Common Press is holding an open house Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The free tours will start from the Mancos Community Center and Neff will be available to answer questions.