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Enjoyment of the whispering winds, the zephyrs, the airstreams of the Sierra Nevada and Great Basin areas of the United States in a recreational vehicle.

Third Generation Nevadan

Don Costar family memories and stories – Tramp Editor

The fact that you and I communicated so quickly, and you transmitted to me a copy of a written article at the speed of light, so to speak, made me realize the breadth of communication technology I have seen in my 84 years.

My Grandfather, Joe Camp, left Springfield Illinois near the end of the 19th century, loaded a printing press, collection of lead type fonts, paper, ink, wife, and three small girls into a covered wagon and hauled them to Nevada to set up business as a "tramp editor." He subsequently published five separate newspapers in Nevada mining towns, as documented at UNR in their special collections department. He would publish until the ore veins played out and he had to move to another mining camp. Hence the title "tramp editor."

I know his newspapers did not have the sophistication of most organization's newsletters of today, but I do know from my Mother's stories, that they sold for three cents apiece, but sometimes traded for a can of fresh drinking water, or a piece of venison. (which was more plentiful than news in Nevada)

My Mom told me Grandpa would load up his "ticker", ride his horse down into the valley from Jarbidge, Unionville, or wherever, climb a telegraph pole, and tap into the flow of news and messages between Sacramento and places East. She remembered he would sometimes be so angry because the wind blew away his paper notes. It was difficult hanging on to the pole and take notes, and hold the ticker all at the same time.

Then he would have to climb back up again and start all over until it got too dark to see. It took sometimes two or three days to get enough news to fill his weekly paper, so he worked really hard to sell from 50 to 100 papers a week. He would only print the minimum number, and sometimes wait until he had another five or six sales before he would run off some more copies. She said he sometimes had to work at night in the mill, or the mine, to supplement his income to buy paper or ink, or lead for type, from Sacramento.

There's a lot more little side stories associated with the paper, and Grandpa's life. I just thought you might get a kick out of the comparison with today's news business.

Part 2

Mormon Cricket Flight in Lovelock Valley that Stopped the Presses

When my Grandpa, Joe Camp, would hook on to the Western Union telegraph wires to listen to teletype message flowing between Sacramento or San Francisco and parts East, he would sometimes have to do it under pretty difficult conditions, especially in the winter during bad weather. His “news office” was him climbing up on an “Atlas” or “Hercules” powder box, placed on the seat of his wagon so he could reach the wires on the cross arms to make his hookup. Then he would huddle in the wagon against the wind, to listen to the Western Union “traffic.” His desk and seat were a couple more powder boxes, one of the most versatile things found in any mining camp.

My Grandma (Margaret Camp) told me that in order to record Morse Code messages, he would have to take notes as he listened with an earphone, and write down words as they formed so afterwards he could differentiate the news items, and make sense of the message content for his newspaper. Sometimes he would just hook up his “ticker” instead of using the earphone. At that time, around the end of WWI, his paper was named the Rochester Packard -- Miner; Joseph Thomas Camp, Editor and Publisher.

This meant he would even write down parts of what we would today call “email spam” before he recognized it, in order to separate the “news item” material from personal messages. People sent telegrams over the same wire the news agencies used, so all messages would be sent in sequence as they were created from the various sources.

She said sometimes his day would be wasted because the wires would have no news items at all, only personal stuff that was useless to him. Or, more probably, all news items had been sent before he got there, or after he left.

I think of Grandpa, in his 50's, in the winter, standing on a powder box to do his hook up, then perched on the seat or in back of his wagon, his pockets stuffed with paper and pencils, and I realize it must have been very difficult, and exhausting, for him. Since it would take a couple hours at least to hitch up the horses and make the 10 or 12 mile trip down to the valley floor from Rochester, then set up his listening post, he could lose five hours daylight just going and coming. That would only leave him only a couple or three hours in the winter to unhitch and hobble the horses, get his listening work done, catch the horses again and hitch them up, so he could come home hopefully before dark. Grandma said the horses pretty much new the road home to their feed and water anyway, and he would occasionally get in after dark, hungry, freezing and bone tired. Even though they only had a little miner's cabin, she would manage to gather and cut enough firewood to keep it warm and get Joe and her three daughters fed and put to bed.

Grandma said there were times when he would be so angry when he got home, because during the day maybe a gust of wind would blow his notes away and he would have to chase them down to grab what he could find and get back up on the wagon to make more notes hoping the news feed wasn't over for the day. Considering the severe winter winds and storms in the Lovelock valley, I imagine Grandpa would nearly freeze, sitting on that powder box, trying to listen to Morse Code and scribble notes.

Anyway, to get to the part about the Mormon Crickets, she said one day he came home early, and livid with anger. He said there was news on the wire that he was unable to copy because of “some damned craziness” on the wire.

It seems sometimes, in the spring, that Mormon crickets emerge from the ground and migrate across the valley to lay eggs in a new home. Mostly they walk, or crawl, in huge, nearly solid, masses. The reason they crawl is because the time they have to feed their ravenous appetites is very short – a few days. They tend to eat everything in sight that grows on the ground. But occasionally they do fly. Like Lemmings, when one starts to fly, the entire hoard of millions of crickets all fly at once.

So Grandpa was up on his perch listening to Morse Code messages, when the message became all garbled and unintelligible. It seems the crickets picked that particular time, somewhere in the Lovelock Valley, to fly. In doing so they crashed into the Western Union telegraph wires, in large numbers -- steadily. She said the noise of the crickets crashing into the wires traveled along the wires like hitting two rocks together underwater, with a “tick, tick, tick” drowning out the telegraph signals that Grandpa normally would hear in Morse Code.

She said that Grandpa came in after he put the horses away, sat down in a chair and said “Maggie, I guess God doesn't want me to hear what's on that wire today.” It was several days before he found out about the Mormon cricket cloud that flew across the valley. That's when he knew what had caused the noisy interference. Grandma said that sometimes, when there were not enough news items to print, or when Grandpa needed a filler for an edition, he would write an editorial the right length to fill the space. This time he had a great time writing the filler story of the Mormon crickets that, as he put it, “interfered with the transcontinental news, and stopped the presses.”

I loved those old stories from my grandmother, and wished many times I had asked for more, or at least taken notes. Fortunately, my memory is still working enough to remember some of them.

Don Costar
Reno, Nevada
April 16, 2008


Yes, I did embellish it a bit, but I felt just listing factual things is not interesting. The "core of the lore" is as accurate as I can remember though.

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