“I came, I saw, I left,” smiles Central Washington Press supervisor Buz Crabtree.
A little more than 28 years ago Crabtree found himself calling the Yakima Valley his new home, at the helm of the Sunnyside press operation.
This coming Friday, June 5, he will bid farewell to the local printing press because he’s retiring.
His career in Sunnyside started one Memorial Day weekend. He and the woman who would eventually become his wife, Betty, decided to spend a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives on the west side of the state.
Crabtree was working in Gig Harbor for a press operation there, while Betty lived in Portland. The duo decided to spend a holiday weekend in the Yakima Valley.
“I had heard the press in Sunnyside needed a press operator,” said Crabtree.
He decided it wouldn’t hurt to stop by the office of Central Washington Press and check out the place. Located at that time at 703 E. Edison Ave., he was surprised to find someone in the office on a weekend, a holiday weekend to boot.
That someone was the publisher of the Sunnyside Sun newspaper, Judy Edstrom. She is now the editor of the monthly newsletter put out for the employees of Eagle Newspapers, which now owns both Central Washington Press and the Daily Sun News.
“It was a Sunday,” Crabtree said.
Edstrom said she was at the press that day because when Eagle Newspapers bought the Sunnyside Sun about three years earlier, it was with plans to update the building and equipment.
Edstrom said she and the crew found “…just getting the newspaper out took all of our time. Then, the worst happened…the sole pressman incurred a serious back injury.”
Finding a press operator at the time was not easy, especially given the publication was at the time “in disarray.”
Edstrom interviewed Crabtree for the job on the spot that day, and was sold after another publisher told her he very well could be the answer to her woes.
But Crabtree didn’t realize anything was afoot, believing life as he knew it would continue upon his return home.
He couldn’t have been more wrong. It turned out he was in for a big surprise upon his return to work on Monday.
Crabtree’s boss told him, “Pack your bags…you’re moving to Sunnyside!”
Crabtree said he was dumbstruck, but did as he was told.
“That’s how hiring was done years ago,” he said.
Crabtree was thrust into the mix from the outset. He arrived on Tuesday, the busiest print day of the week at the time.
On Tuesdays back in 1987 the Sunnyside press printed the Daily Sun News, the Shopper, and the weekly Toppenish Review, Grandview Herald and Prosser Record-Bulletin newspapers.
Since then, there have been a number of changes. Central Washington Press, which was owned by longtime newspapermen Jim Flint, John Fournier and Eagle Web Press, has since been purchased by Eagle Newspapers Inc. It moved with the Daily Sun News to its current location across from the Sunnyside Safeway store in downtown Sunnyside.
There have also been a number of changes in the industry, said Crabtree. The biggest change has been via technological advances.
He said the process of physically producing the newspaper has advanced from paste-ups and film to full digitalization - direct to press plates.
“Instead of cutting masks for spot color, it is a digitalized process and we don’t have to send color photos to Seattle for color separations because they are computerized,” Crabtree said.
There have also been a few occasions when not all worked as smoothly as it should. One such occasion played out much like a Halloween story. Although it created a scare even for Crabtree, all who were present laugh about it now.
Longtime Daily Sun News employee Kim Taylor Morris, now an ad sales representative for the community newspaper, recalls hearing a lot of crashing and banging from the press room one day.
“All of a sudden we hear ‘Ahhhh!’, and we (the Daily Sun News staff) rush into the press room to see what has happened,” she recalled.
Crabtree, she said, emerged from under one of the press units and his head was covered in red.
“We thought he was mortally wounded,” Taylor Morris said, noting several staff members began asking if Crabtree needed to be rushed to the hospital.
“Even he thought he was injured,” she said.
But, Crabtree reached up into his hair, swiped his hand through it, pulled his hand away and looked at it. With a smirk on his face, he told the staff, “It’s just ink,” he laughed.
Although his career in Sunnyside began one Memorial Day weekend in 1987, Crabtree has spent all but the first 13 years of his life mired in ink.
“Ink runs in my blood,” he said.
At the age of 13, Crabtree began his career on the press in Ketchikan, Alaska.
He said his father was a typesetter and his grandfather spent his life as a book binder.
“This is what I know,” said Crabtree, who said he will miss the people he works with, who have become like family.
Edstrom, who has kept in touch with the staff at the Daily Sun News and Central Washington Press, said Crabtree was a blessing to her and the Sunnyside press operations, and he will be sorely missed by everyone in the Eagle Newspapers family.