Talk about a fire sale. The early morning fire that gutted The Signal's production building at Railroad Avenue and 6th Street on Saturday, January 4, 1969, spelled the end — not for The Signal, but for the newspaper down the road that reported on it.
Signal owners Scott and Ruth Newhall found a willing helper in an otherwise rival, O.R. "Opie" Tucker, owner of the weekly Record-Press on Spruce Street next to the American Theater. It turned out that Tucker, who purchased the 2-year-old Record-Press six months earlier, was done. The Signal had been around since 1919, and it was just too difficult for an upstart to compete. Plus, Tucker's health was failing. So, Tucker sold the Newhalls his newspaper — lock, stock and production equipment.
The Newhalls were leasing the burned building from the Trueblood family, who used to own The Signal. Back in 1960, longtime Signal editor Fred Trueblood Sr. died; in May 1963, his sons sold the paper to Ray W. Brooks, who turned around and sold it to the Newhalls later that same year.
In April 1964, Bobbie Trueblood, wife of Fred Trueblood Jr., went to work for the Newhalls as The Signal's Society editor. She held the position until April 1968 when one of Scott Newhall's editorial tirades set her off.
It was a week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the local congressman, Republican Edwin Reinecke, was missing in action. Nobody could reach their Washington representative at this time of uncertainty and angst. So, Scott demanded his recall.
The thing is, Ed Reinecke was a close friend of Bobbie. Known by her nickname, "Mrs. Republican," Bobbie was the SCV's major GOP organizer. So, she gave Scott what-for, and in two shakes of a Democrat's tail, she and her beau were helping out with Opie Tucker's rival broadsheet. Fred Jr. was managing editor, Bobbie handled the Society beat — and Ed Reinecke had a recurring column.
Postscript: Fred Jr.'s brother Gus Trueblood rebuilt the building that burned, and Scott Newhall's Signal would use it again — but not until several years later. In between, it housed Bob and Judi Martin's auto parts store. The Martins were big in local Republican circles.
We thank Scott's son Tony and Bobbie's son Fred III for providing certain aspects of this story.
Morning Fire Destroys Newhall Signal Building
Record-Press | Wednesday, January 8, 1969.
Arson was ruled out late Monday in the disastrous fire which struck the Newhall Signal in the early hours of Saturday morning. Arson investigators of both the Sheriff's Department and the County Fire Department arrived at the same conclusion, that the fire more than likely started in or around the newspaper's dark room and was due to faulty wiring.
First report of the fire was turned in by Deputy Sheriffs at 1:39 a.m. Saturday morning. Fire equipment reached the plant in the next few minutes and found the Railroad Ave. wing of the building belching fire from one end to the other. Firemen speculate the blaze may have had about a 20-minute head start.
The fire was stubborn and required over a half hour to bring under control. Dense clouds of smoke further complicated efforts to bring the blaze under control, and several firemen became ill.
The production end of the newspaper was completely destroyed. Justiwriters, headliners, camera equipment and supplies were wiped out and the building was gutted. [A Justiwriter was a machine used by newspapers in the 1960s. It put copy into column format. — Ed.]
The front or Sixth Street portion of the building was saved but suffered smoke and water damage.
The fire department estimated the damage at $50,000 for loss of the building and contents.
The Signal will continue production, its publisher announced. It has received offers of assistance from several newspapers including the Record Press, and owners of the building said the plant would be rebuilt as soon as possible.
Other fires during the week included a rash of brush and grass fires. Three of them occurred in San Francisquito Canyon near Camp 17, and two juveniles were charged with starting them.
Friday a grass fire between Peachland School and Apple Street in Happy Valley was quickly suppressed. Its cause was unknown.
Record-Press | Wednesday, January 8, 1969.
Sale of the assets of the Record-Press to the Newhall Signal was announced today by O.R. Tucker, publisher. The sale becomes effective immediately. The sale price was not disclosed.
According to Tucker, the fire which hit Signal plant and offices last Saturday and the resultant need for production facilities and space by the Signal precipitated discussions which led to the sale. Tucker also indicated that lack of capital for expansion needs at the Record-Press was a factor in his decision to sell.
Tucker purchased the Record-Press last July from Pat Onorato and Darien Deither. Established in September of 1966 as a tabloid, Tucker changed the format to a standard size upon purchase. The paper has grown steadily since, this issue representing 300 percent growth during the six months period. It was the rapid growth and lack of capital that entered into the decision to sell.
In making the announcement to his employees late Tuesday, Tucker said that all discussions, working out the details of the agreement, and all documents pertaining thereto, were finalized within a twenty-four-hour period.
In discussing the sale, Tucker, who has had many years of publishing experience, said that the establishment of a second newspaper in this stage of development was an extremely difficult, if not impossible financial challenge. While he said that the Record-Press could have survived indefinitely, his decision to sell was made after searching in vain for needed capital for expansion and improvement of the product.
He also disclosed his secret admiration for The Signal for having the fortitude to speak out on matters of public interest in the face of strong public reaction, admitting, however, that he had disagreement with some positions taken in the past. His own philosophy encompasses the need for newspaper to be fearless in presenting the facts, objective and without discrimination.
In addition, he said, "for this reason, he believes that The Signal will continue to gain the support of the community and will be a good watchdog for the people." At the same time, he urged support of The Signal. "Disagree, if you will," he said, "but help it grow and grow with it. As a newspaper grows, so grows the community it serves."
Unstated but known by close associates to be a contributing factor in his decision to sell are reasons of health. During recent months, he has confided with friends that he may be faced with major surgery in the not-too-distant future, the nature of which was not disclosed.
Tucker and his wife will continue to live in the area at present. Terms of the sale provide for his services with The Signal in an advisory capacity in reestablishing production facilities along with other matters.
Record-Press | Wednesday, January 8, 1969.
As can be noted elsewhere in our news columns, this issue of the Record-Press will be the last one. It isn't easy to say, for it always pains us to read of a newspaper that has come to the end of the road and cease to be, much less be a party to the demise.
Circumstances, as well as the turn of events, however, dictate that this step is in the best interests of all concerned. We sincerely believe this to be true, being one of the determining factors in arriving at our final decision.
When we came into this valley last July, we did so with the knowledge that our finances were limited with respect to the ultimate needs that would be required to do the job that should be done. Admittedly, we were overly optimistic as to what could be done with limited available resources. We found capital hard to come by and, thus, our expansion needs could not be met as we had hoped.
The untimely and unfortunate fire that hit the Newhall Signal last Saturday precipitated discussions that led to the decision to sell the Record-Press facilities to the Signal. The Signal was badly in need of production equipment which was available at the Record-Press. Hence, it was only natural that we mutually discuss the realities that both parties knew existed and would continue for years to come.
We both recognized that the economic factor clearly indicated the need for only one newspaper in the area. Too, we also knew that for a newspaper to properly serve an area, it must be financially sound. Neither could become that sound until one or the other succumbed to economics.
We also feel that a newspaper that has no enemies has no friends. Any newspaper that is worth its salt will create enemies if it does the job that it is supposed to do. It is a necessary ingredient if the public interest is served. What better watchdog can a community have than a newspaper with eyes and ears with fortitude to keep the general public informed?
Since coming into the community, we have observed first-hand the needs of this area. We would have liked to have been a part in helping the community meet those needs, but we suffered growing pains without the means to see it through.
In selling the Record-Press plant and equipment to The Signal, we feel that a better and stronger newspaper will result and thereby serve the best interests of the valley overall. True, you will not always agree with everything that is printed therein, but, you must agree that the community's best interest will be served if everyone is kept on their toes.
As goes a newspaper, so goes a community. Hence, support your own community newspaper and help it to grow. In so doing, you and your community will grow with it.
Finally, a special word of thanks to all the nice people who have given us help, advice and otherwise assisted in making our stay in this valley a pleasant one. And to our valuable and loyal employees, overworked and underpaid, we regret the fact that this move became necessary. You are the best, and we sincerely hope that we have the opportunity to work with you again. Adios.