110th Summer Convention, June 23, 1989, Sheraton Centre Park Hotel Arlington
Harlan Bridwell first experienced the fatal attraction of the newspaper business at the age of nine, in a communist colony in Louisiana.
Harlan's father was plant superintendent of the colony's newspaper and print shop and Harlan was put to work there doing odd jobs and learning the art of bandsetting type.
The Bridwell family lived in the experimental colony for a little less than a year in the 1920s, long enough for Harlan to feel the flow of ink in his veins, and for the family to learn the socialist philosophy did not coincide with the principles of free thought and personal responsibility they cherished.
Later in his adolescent years, Harlan worked on his uncle's newspaper, the Dumas (Ark.) Clarion.
In 1938, Harlan started his own newspaper at Forestburg, Texas, population 75. The Forestburger (named by a local woman after Harlan asked residents to suggest a name), chronicled the births and deaths, business and social activities of the area.
The press and three cases of used type used to produce the paper were bought on credit for $30. The first issue of The Forestburger contained $3.17 worth of advertising.
The 10x14 inch newsprint had to be handfolded before it could be printed on the 7x10 inch foot pedal press, and printed one page at a time. It was then folded back the other way to print the other two pages.
Harlan, 20-year-son of L.H. and Elizabeth Bridwell, did all the work getting out the newspaper, from handsetting the type, which later had to be replaced in the typecases one letter at a time, to selling the ads.
Virtually all the advertising came from merchants in Bowie, Gainesville, Muenster and Saint Jo. Harlan was without a car much of the time and hitchhiked rides from obliging neighbors to area towns. When he hitched a ride on the milk truck going to Muenster, he always helped unload the cans so he wouldn't feel like he was bumming the ride.
Bridwell enlisted in the army in 1940. During the years of World War II, the Forestburger was published by his sister, Dorothy, and, for a time by his brother, Dario. After Dario left for army duty in 1942, Dorothy, with help from her parents, assumed the responsibility of the paper until Harlan's release from military duty at the end of the war.
Shortly after his return, Harlan, who had by this time acquired a wife and baby, bought an 11x17 platen press and enlarged the size of the newspaper page. Later, he started publishing the paper weekly rather than every two weeks. He moved his family into the back of the shop for wife Rosemary's convenience in alternating care of infant son, Keith, with her new job as typesetter.
Next, Harlan introduced a new front page feature he called Shootin' Blind, a column he has continued to write in newspapers he has published over the years.
The Forestburger ceased publication in 1952, when Bridwell moved to Bellevue, in Clay County, to establish the Bellevue News.
Bridwell's six years in Bellevue were active and fruitful ones. He was elected mayor in 1954 and was serving his second term when he resigned in 1957 after purchasing the Bridgeport Index. He served two terms as Master of Bellevue's Masonic Lodge.
When Bridwell, now the father of four children and feeling the need to seek wider fields that might prove more profitable, decided to buy the Index, Bridgeport was getting ready to enter a period of long-awaited prosperity.
The severe drought of the 1950s had depleted the area resources. Wells in a newly discovered gas field had been capped, awaiting Federal Power Commission approval for Natural Gas Pipeline Company to construct a pipeline from Bridgeport to Fritch in West Texas.
In March 1956, Mayor George Harwood led a delegation of Bridgeport businessmen to Washington to appear before the FPC, stating the importance of opening the gas field to Bridgeport's economy. On December 4, 1956, the commission granted approval. Boom times were ahead for Bridgeport.
At the Index, however, the Depression still reigned and four-page papers were the norm. Advertising, at 30 cents a column inch, was regarded by most merchants as a luxury benefiting nobody but the owner of the newspaper. Bridwell's campaign to enlighten the business community on the advantages of advertising was to be a long and arduous one.
Over the years, the tab size paper gained support in the community, and Shootin' Blind had maintained a high readership rating.
In 1960, Bridwell converted from hot-type to the offset method of printing, the first newspaper owner in a wide area of North Texas to do so.
These were exciting times for Bridgeport, when drilling crews poured into the Minute Coffee Shop at all hours of the night, primed for coffee and a hot meal, garnished with plenty of exuberant horseplay. Money flowed along with the gas and oil in what was believed to be a never ending abundance.
The Index published several Progress editions (one a hefty 96 pages) during these prosperous years, with most features, pictures and ads focused on oil related businesses and the rock crushing industry, a large contributor to the Bridgeport area's economy. Downtown retail businesses got their share of publicity, as did the hospital, schools, churches, etc.
As spokesman for his newspaper, Harlan has always met issues head-on, speaking the truth as he saw it even when he knew his position was at odds with popular opinion. His outspoken editorials gained him the reputation of "the fighting editor," a political conservative, and some other labels that, he says, wouldn't do to print.
As recently as last year, one of hid detractors told him, "You've been holding this town back for the last 20 years."
"That's not right, "Harlan replied. "It's been 30 years."
The Bridwell humor that Harlan will probably be most remembered for has more than once had untoward repercussions. In a Shootin' Blind column 15 to 20 years ago, he described a giant jackrabbit he claimed to have seen leaping over oak trees two stories tall. The animal had rampaged through the country and had been guilty of slaughtering 15 calves belonging to a farmer near Paradise, among other outrages. The incidents were described in terms so blatantly unbelievable, Harlan was stunned to find that many people took the story for the truth. Even the Index employee who set the type for the story and was in on the joke from the start, grew quite nervous and upset that such a creature was abroad.
All of the Bridwell's children-Keith, Doug, Stan and Melanie-have worked on weekly newspapers and both
Keith and Doug are former Index editors. Keith, the oldest son, is editor and publisher of the Frisco Enterprise where Stan works in the printing department.
In addition to the three newspapers he now publishes the Index, the Chico Texan and the Wise County Shopper. Harlan has owned the Tioga Herald, the Iowa Park Rocket, the Frisco Enterprise, the Celina Record, the Ryan (Okla.) Leader, the Bellevue News and the Forestburger.
Harlan is a past president of the North and East Texas Press Association; a former director and first vice president of the West Texas Chamber of Commerce; and has served two terms as president of the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce. He is chairman of the Bridgeport Public Library Trust Fund Committee, which is currently involved in building a new library in Bridgeport.
William K. "Bill" Todd's 54-year career in journalism can literally be described as a nationwide venture that has spanned from the farmlands of Illinois to the logging camps of Oregon, from the snow drifts of Michigan to the tropics of South Texas.
Bill Todd began his journalistic career in 1935 when he joined the Rockford (Ill.) Register Republic as a cub reporter. He remained in Rockford only one year however before moving to Chicago in 1936 to work for the Chicago Herald Examiner. During this time, he also attended Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. (1935-36), and Loyola University in Chicago (1936-37).
Bill's career shifted from reporting to circulation in 1937 when he moved to the timberlands of Oregon to become circulation distribution manager of the Portland News Telegram. To his credit, circulation figures were noticeably increased simply by assuring that evening editions were off the press and on the final train heading into the logging camps.
While circulation seemed to become his niche in life, Oregon didn't. His desire to return to the Midwest took Bill back to Illinois where he became circulation manager of the Wheaton Daily Journal in 1938, and then co-circulation manager of the Gary (Ind.) Post Tribune in 1939. It was while he was in Gary that Bill claimed Dorothy Marion Davies as his bride. Their marriage produced a family of six children, two of whom are currently involved in the family newspaper and printing businesses in Texas.
The outbreak of World War II sidelined Bill's newspaper career when his National Guard unit was activated in 1941. Bill became a member of the U.S. Army and advanced to the rank of major while serving in the Pacific Theater.
In 1947, Todd returned to civilian life and rejoined the Rockford (Ill.) Consolidated Newspapers as circulation promotion manager. During his tenure there, he advanced to circulation manager, business manager and associate publisher under his publisher-father, E. Kenneth Todd. In 1952, the Todds purchased Rockford Consolidated Newspapers from the McCormick family of Chicago and retained ownership of The Rockford Morning Star and the Rockford Register Republic until 1967 when both papers were sold to the Gannett Corp.
Bill remained with the Rockford papers under Gannett ownership, serving as president and publisher until 1971 when he "retired" and began planning his Texas newspaper venture. In April 1972, Bill moved his family to Austin and established Todd Publications, Inc. Within one year, he purchased The Cuero Daily Record, The Smithville Times, The Schulenburg Sticker and The Round Rock Leader. In addition, he established two central printing plants, one in Cuero and the other in Smithville. Currently, Bill serves as president of Todd Publications, Inc., which includes The Round Rock Leader and Todd Web Press in Smithville.
In addition to his newspaper interests, Bill has been active in Texas politics and has served an elected term as chairman of the Travis County Republican Party. Through the years, Todd served on numerous committees of the American Newspaper Publishers Association, Inland Daily Press Association, the Texas Press Association, the Central States Circulation Manager's Association and the International Circulation Manager's Association.