Day The Plant Burned Down
By JOHN M. DERBY
May 2, 2019
Editor’s Note: The following is from a Legacy
column by Publisher John Derby that was first published
14 years ago, on May 19, 2005. It’s been nearly 21
years since the Times newspaper headquarters and printing
plant in Winton burned down in 1998. The County Times and
all of the newspapers of Mid Valley Publications are celebrating
55 years in business this year.
We had to be reminded, but once someone mentioned the date,
the vivid memory was immediately in mind. It was Sunday,
Mother’s Day, 1998, and we were to leave the next
day for Mexico. That did not happen.
That fateful day, we had to decide on whether to retire
from the newspaper business, or to start all over. We heard
ourself calling a staff meeting right in front of the burned
out hull of what was the newspaper printing plant.
“The paper will be printed on schedule,” was
what we said, and there was a certain amount of pride that
went with the knowledge that not even a major fire could
stop the publications which had survived, so far at the
time, 33 years.
Now after 40 years, it seems like nothing at all; however,
that week we remember kneeling in front of the living room
coffee table to arrange the copy for the week’s paper.
We weren’t the only one as the rest of the staff gathered
news, sold ads, went out to the community for support, and
also thanked the many people who had helped put out the
fire and salvage what records they could.
It was time when friends literally came out of the woodwork.
Jeff Denno and his crew at Davis Computers helped restore
what records could be restored. The most important thing
was the list of subscribers — literally numbering
in the thousands, which were all on computer.
Somehow the hard disc survived, and when installed into
a new computer, printed out the valuable list of names and
addresses so the papers could be mailed.
Paul Ward set up a photo lab overnight in a building which
once had been a local drive-in. Craig Harrington who had
been Atwater’s editor years ago, came down from Barney
and programmed new computers over the weekend. He asked
nothing for the services of he and his wife.
We held a subscription drive to help rebuild and for $100
we offered a lifetime subscription of the paper. We weren’t
sure the paper would last another year, much less a lifetime;
however, seven years later those people have already gotten
their money back and then some.
We raised about $10,000 toward the rebuilding effort, but
it wasn’t the money as much as the thought which counted.
We needed to know that someone gave a darn if the paper
survived or not. It was a low point in our life, and we
werent’ sure we wanted to tackle a $300,000 rebuild
The $100 bills we received from people who didn’t
have money to spare told us what we wanted to know. They
The Turlock Journal came to our printing assistance and
fitted all of our community newspapers into their schedule.
It was a nightmare making daily trips to pick up and deliver
It took a year and three months to rebuild, thanks to Dwight
Wigley, the contractor; and County Bank, who decided we
were worth loaning money to.
We had never been late or defaulted on a loan in our business
career, but that wasn’t good enough. The banks wanted
us to show profit. It was something we couldn’t give
Even today, we have a hard time showing a profit. Our profit
is in the people we serve, and the people we employ. Our
profit is in knowing that what we have spent a lifetime
of doing has value.
To our readers. To our advertisers. To all those many people
in the communities we serve.
Thank you for allowing the papers we publish to come back
after the fire, stronger than ever.