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Tom Ross: Beer and typewriters

Pilot alums re-hash good old days

I went to a garden party over the weekend and almost everyone was there. Attending the Steamboat Pilot old-timers reunion Saturday afternoon was a lot like stepping through the doors of perception into a novel a work of fiction populated by characters that happen to be real people and my former colleagues. And when I use the word “characters” I mean it in every sense of the word.

Where else could you hope to reconnect with a former sportswriter turned plastic surgeon?

The members of the Steamboat Pilot and Today staff of 2006 are a great bunch of people, all of whom seem to genuinely care about one another. They’re good at what they do, they work very hard, but they’re fun to be around and morale is excellent. But it’s not the same as it was 25 years ago. Back in the day, working at the Steamboat Pilot weekly newspaper was a little like being in the cast of Animal House and Days of Our Lives, all at the same time.



We did some great work, we pulled all nighters on election night, we partied together (a little too often), and we typically worked six-and-a-half days a week, but we didn’t work very hard on at least three of those days. And there were lots and lots of in-house soap operas, which often took precedence over the news business.

We were one big semi-dysfunctional newspaper family in the 1980s, and it was a time in our lives that none of us will ever forget.



Former Steamboat Pilot newshounds traveled to the Steamboat Yacht Club lawn this weekend from as far away as both coasts. And all the chapters of the novel from the 1970s and1980s were represented. In order to get an invitation to this soiree, you had to be a member of the Typewriter Club, meaning you had to have worked at the newspaper when news stories were composed on paper instead of computer screens. In the early days, we shot all of our photographs in black and white and developed the film in the co-ed bathroom. During my first two years at the Steamboat Pilot, four reporters pushed their desks together into one big square so we could share a single telephone, and no, it didn’t have voice mail.

There was no Steamboat Today until 1989, just the big broadsheet country weekly that could trace its roots to pioneer days in Steamboat Springs.

We put the newspaper to bed every Tuesday night, stacked it in vending machines on Wednesday and listed the official publication day as Thursday. I always figured that was done to buy a day of slack in case something went wrong. But the paper always came out on time, even if we had to work 13 hours on Tuesday to make it happen.

It was fun getting reacquainted with former colleagues over the weekend and it came as no surprise that many of them no longer work at newspapers. Linda teaches part time and also provides in-home “end of life” care for terminal patients. Can you imagine a more profound job?

Kevin earned his master’s degree in social work and counsels adolescents and young adults who are transitioning from incarceration to life in society. Could there be a more important role to play?

Cindy is an accounting analyst at an important government laboratory in New Mexico and Smilin’ Jim is a sports editor in a big league market. Patrick is running a big construction company. I can’t begin to list all of the career changes.

But former Steamboat Pilot sports reporter Hayes B. Gladstone, now an assistant professor of medicine and a plastic surgeon at Stanford University has achieved the most amazing career transition of all.

The Pilot was unusual in the days when Hayes worked there in that all of the newspaper reporters were required to help physically paste up the newspaper. That would never happen at bigger newspapers, and even at most small newspapers. On Tuesday nights we used scissors and X-acto knives to trim columns of type and photographs. Next, we drank beers. Then we ran the galleys of copy, headlines and the photos through a wax machine and placed them on the newspaper page, taking great care to make certain everything was straight. Sometimes we made grievous errors.

Hayes told me, with a straight face Saturday night, that his experience at the newspaper helped him to land a medical fellowship at UCLA.

When the interviewer asked him why he thought he should be considered for the position, Hayes replied that the many hours he spent with an X-acto knife, pasting up newspapers, honed his hand/eye coordination and his ability to make fine cuts with a razor sharp surgical instrument.

I just shook my head.

To think that for all of these years, I’ve been training to become a plastic surgeon. And I didn’t even know it!


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