The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

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By Mike Sunderland
Thoughts from a Grey-Haired Point of View 

What Is News

 

March 16, 2022 | View PDF

Working for a local newspaper may not be as glamorous as working for a big city daily, but it is not boring. Where else can you do a story on a carrot that looks like Abe Lincoln, a 2-headed snake, or cover a cat rescue? One of the memorable stories I covered gave me opportunities to do it like the big city boys.

In mid 1974 Northern Nevada from the Black Rock Desert on the west thru Elko County on the east was hit with high winds. For many hours from early in the day the wind blew at 70 mph with gusts exceeding 110 mph. The weather bureau called it a linear tornado.

The high wind caused havoc with transportation. I-80 was closed to traffic after a couple of semi trucks were blown off the highway. Shortly after that both the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific stopped all rail traffic through the area.

Early in the day Dorothy and I bundled up our baby daughter Joyce and went into town to a friend’s home. Our home in Thomas Canyon was getting the full force of the wind and the air in our house was filled with dust. After leaving Dorothy and Joyce, I drove to the Humboldt Sun newspaper office and grabbed a camera.

Being an eager young reporter I had to cover the storm. After parking at the Star Casino in downtown Winnemucca, I fought my way inside to get something to wash the dust from my throat. There I met Mark, a member of our Search & Rescue team, and he wanted to know what I was doing out in that weather. He thought I was nuts but accompanied me outside, and that was a good thing.

The wind was so strong that even bracing against the building I could not stand steady enough to take pictures. Mark braced me and between him and building I was able to get pics of downtown Winnemucca all but invisible in the flying sand and dust. He went with me as I drove to the lumberyard next to the Southern Pacific tracks.

I tried to get some pictures of sheets of plywood being blown out of the shed like playing cards. I got a good shot of a 500-gal. poly tank that was blown high and out of the county. Finally I gave it up as a foolish thing to be doing. Huge trees were uprooted and toppled onto roads and concrete block fences were blown apart by the extreme winds. I drove back to the Star, left Mark there and went to our friend’s place to sit out the storm.

When it was over we returned home and Dorothy went to work cleaning up the mess at home. I returned to town to take more pictures of the damage. On the east side of the railroad overpass was a small trailer that was the home of an elderly lady. The wind had toppled trees and piled debris on top of her trailer. Rescue crews worked hours with chain saws to get to her.

Another event I covered was not as dramatic but was just as memorable.

The newly elected sheriff of Humboldt County got married shortly after his election. Ordinarily this would have been reported on the society page, but circumstances dictated otherwise. We finished putting out the day’s paper and I went home for the evening to relax. After a late supper we put the kids to bed and Dorothy and I went to sleep. About 1 a.m. the phone rang. The newly married sheriff, his bride and several members of the wedding party gathered at the Moose Lodge to celebrate. During the festivities the sheriff’s official car was filled with tumbleweeds and they wanted me to come down and get a picture of it.

My reaction was to hang up and go back to bed. Dorothy thought it would be better if I went and took the picture. At the Lodge I discovered the sheriff, his bride, the newly elected mayor and a couple county commissioners were more than a little inebriated. They posed around the sheriff’s car and I took pictures. Thursday’s issue of the Humboldt Sun featured a front-page photo of the sheriff’s car filled with sagebrush and the obviously drunk public officials posed with it. Some of them were so deep in their cups they had to use the car for support or else they would have fallen over.

Next day I received phone calls from the mayor and others wanting to know what I thought I was doing putting that picture in the paper. I calmly explained that if they felt their story was so important that they could wake me out of a sound sleep early in the morning to have me cover a “news” story, the least I could do was give it the play it rightly deserved. They were properly embarrassed and chastised for their drunken behavior. They never called me at that time of night again!

Working at a small town newspaper can be a lot of work and fun! A reporter’s (and editor’s) day can be days and nights long. There were times I went to work Monday morning and went home Wednesday night. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. A local newspaper is more than just a newspaper. It is the ever-growing repository of a community’s history. It is the voice of the citizens in the area the paper serves. With over 40 years of on-the-job newspaper experience, I can honestly say that no other job I’ve had has given me as much satisfaction.

 

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