THROUGH THE YEARS
A written collaboration by
Sylvia Angel-Currier and Jason M. Angel
|“We came with nothing and built something special,” says Sylvia Angel-Currier in describing the Rolling Thunder Express. And with big dreams, hard work and the effort of family and coworkers the Express is celebrating its 25th year of operation.
Gerald (a.k.a. Jerry), and Sylvia Angel grew up in a small western valley town in New York. They met in school and married in 1967. The army called Jerry to service in 1970. Their first child, Jason, was born in 1971 while Jerry was in Vietnam. After his return home in the spring of 1972 they packed their bags and headed for Maine.
In the early years Jerry worked in local machine shops. Sylvia worked in local convenient stores. The second child, Lucas, was born in 1974 while living in Clinton. In the fall of 1976 they moved to a hunting camp in the woods of Canaan. While there, the couple started publishing a magazine (the New England Conservationist).
“From publishing we went into printing. We printed stationery for a nearby college. We joked, ‘if anyone came to us for a print job they were lost.’ We were not easy to find.” Sylvia commented. The North Country Press was also credited with titles of the Sportsman Swap, Cracker Barrel Books Grandma’s Kitchen, Christmas Past, Lost Times and Forgotten Men and more. After researching the local areas they found that Newport was without a print shop.
In 1985 the North Country Press opened its doors on (then) 12 Main Street in Newport. The print shop was your local merchant for business cards, stationery, rubber stamps, envelopes and wedding invitations. “Before long local merchants came asking us to print a paper they could advertise in,” said Sylvia. The Bangor Daily News stretched to Newport and the Waterville Sentinel covered up to Pittsfield. Between these two circles of circulation was the Sebasticook Valley.
Encouraged by local advertisers they started the Bargain Finder. The paper was 8 1/2 by14-inches with advertising on both sides; printed in one color. It was to be a monthly paper but soon demand required it to printed twice a month. “We printed the paper and delivered it to the post offices. This lasted two months when we realized that the paper needed to be a tabloid size; printed and delivered once a week,” Sylvia said.
In the early days of paste-up the technology was crude. Machines like a typewriter and photocopier were used. Other typeset copy was purchased from another printer. Buying copy from an outside source created its own issues. They would have to figure out what size and style type they wanted for each line or sentence in each ad. Then came worries of the copy returning in time for deadline. There were many late nights and early mornings of paste-up and proofreading.
The big upgrade for the time was a gloried label maker called a Kroy machine. Each word and sentence had to have every letter found on the wheel and set which took hours for a single operator. But it meant typesetting was in-house.
One day Ed Armstrong, a print shop owner from Bangor, stopped and introduced himself. Sylvia and Jerry were debating whether to buy a new photocopier or to buy a computer. Ed emphasized that they should get the computer. They bought their first Apple Macintosh computer and life got a lot easier.
Still times were tough. Jerry remained working a full-time night shift in a machine shop. Sylvia kept the business running during the days. For several years the paper was a seven days a week job for both of them. It was all an effort to keep the business open as well as support a family. “There were days when we weren’t sure if we could open the doors the next day,” said Sylvia, “I felt like there were many sacrifices that I felt bad about.” But everyone was pulling toward the shared goal of success.
It was around 1987 that Jerry gave up his job as a machinist. They sold their home in Canaan for some working capital and rented an apartment in Newport. When things seemed bleak, Jerry said, “One more rabbit came out of the hat.” for the business or the family to survive.
Lucas and Jason worked hard to help in anyway they could. Doing laundry on Saturdays, starting dinner, cleaning house, stuffing envelopes, inserting papers and sweeping floors at the shop were just a few ways they contributed in the early years. Both would continue working for the paper until they continued in their father’s footsteps of doing what you love. Luke left to start his own construction business, North Country Builders. Jason is working hard to attain a Masters degree from the University of Waterloo. Each learned what hard work could result in.
Shortly after the incorporation of the paper they received a call from another publisher. The Freedom Press had published thousands of large print books using the name North Country Press. It was decided if they bought a new sign and stationary for the business Jerry and Sylvia would surrender the name.
A contest was held to name the paper. Local postmaster, Richard Knight, won the contest with the present Rolling Thunder Express. Jerry especially liked the name because he was a huge Bob Dylan fan. Dylan had done a tour called Rolling Thunder. And the name was an appropriate tribute.
The Express was styled after the PennySaver in their hometown of New York. To add a twist, local news content was added to the paper. It was a hit with the public. The owner of the PennySaver at that time, Jack Arvedsen, was Jerry’s mentor. The year Jack was to visit the paper Jack passed away. But we knew he had faith in the Express becoming a success. “Over the years we have met many interesting people,” Sylvia added.
In the early 1990’s the Express hired a consulting firm to set up their delivery system. They have 14 drivers and 37 walking carriers that deliver the free paper every week. Over the years computer and software upgrades improved the method of producing the paper. And in 2000 the Express launched its website www.rollingthunderexpress.com. The paper grew with new technology, new computers and a new building at the present address of 134A Main Street in Newport. And the public’s love of the paper grew.
Sadly, in 1998 Jerry was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He began to pass on as much knowledge as he could to Sylvia and his son Luke. In January 2001 Jerry died. Sylvia has continued on with the paper to preserve a dream. She knows that her success is due to her dedicated employees. She considers them family.
The Rolling Thunder readers are loyal. People will call wondering why their paper was not delivered. Or “where can I pick up a copy?” “We appreciate the support of the public. We have enjoyed being people’s ‘good news paper,’” Sylvia said. “I just want to make sure people know how special my crew is right now; from the office staff to the delivery drivers and walking carriers.” she added.
Subscriptions have taken the paper nationwide. The internet has taken the Express worldwide. But it is from the support of the readers that the Express will continue to succeed far into the future. And it was all out of a simple dream of starting a paper.