A Quick Opinion: And you think Winters has changed, think Vacaville

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A Winters Express opinion column

By Charley Wallace
Publisher Emeritus

There are new houses being built in Winters in numbers we haven’t seen since the 1970s. Even after we have built on every acre inside our city limits, we will still be a small city.

Just think what has happened to Vacaville, Davis or Dixon in our lifetimes. I love to tell the story about crossing Highway 80 when I was in high school. You would come to the highway, look left and head for the median strip, which was gravel. Then you would look right and cross the freeway, trying not to spin your tires. No overpasses back in the 1960s. Same thing happened if you wanted to cross the freeway from the south trying to get onto UC Davis, look left, find the gravel, look right and go for it. Remember, Railroad Avenue was Highway 505 with all the trucks and cars passing through town and by our office. Those were the days.

Vacaville had about 25,000 people when they started to build on “Hamburger Hill.” The Nut Tree was the only thing on the freeway and you could ride the narrow gauge railroad out to the Vacaville Airport, or enjoy homemade ice cream on their rocking horses.

My dad, Newt, stopped printing the Express in Winters in 1972. The Express was then printed at the Woodland Daily Democrat until 1984. After the publisher, Ken Leake, died, the new management team didn’t seem to care if they printed the Express or not. Ken Leake was a third generation publisher at the Democrat, but after he died in 1981, his wife sold the paper to a chain. My father and Ken were friends and about the same age, but “Kenny” died at 64.

When I was looking for a new printer, I called Richard Rico and stopped by his downtown Vacaville office. He agreed to print the paper on Wednesdays at noon and I gave notice to the Democrat. I think everyone was happy that I was moving to the three-times-a-week Reporter, including the pressmen at the Democrat who printed our paper after theirs and then they could go home.

Each week I would drop off a new edition of the Express in Richard’s office and chat about what was going on in our lives. He would flip through the Express and take a mental note of how many ads were in the paper and charge me accordingly. At the time, his son Barry was a writer at the paper and I figured that he would take over at some point. Barry had other plans and went on to lead his own life, away from the newspaper. Richard eventually sold the paper to the same chain that bought the Democrat.

My father told me that when he was looking to buy the Express in 1947, he sought advise from the Reporter’s publisher, Johnny Rico, Richard’s father. The older Rico thought that my father could make a go of it and Winters was getting ready to grow. Winters had 1,350 people in 1947. My father borrowed the money from a relative, bought the building and Express and moved his family from Long Beach to Winters.

I was the publisher of the Express from 1983 until I retired in 2017. When my brother says something about me working for my father, I remind him that Pop worked for me longer than I worked for him. Pop sold the Express to the McNaughtons and me in 1994. The Express has been printed by McNaughton Newspapers since then. First in Davis and now at the Daily Republic in Fairfield.

So where is this rambling column going? Richard Rico has called it a day. He started writing his column when he was 29, he is 87 now and his last column appeared in Sunday’s Reporter. 

“After more than 58 years and 3,050 columns of accidental prose and occasional profundity, the day I anguished over is here. This is my last column,” he wrote.

Vacaville won’t be the same without his column, but all good things come to an end. I’m sure it was a hard decision after a lifetime of writing to just stop cold turkey. I’ll have to ask him how it feels to be free from a weekly obligation the next time I see him.

I didn’t start writing this column until I was 33, I’m only 71, so I have a few more columns to write before I catch up with Richard and call it a day.

Have a good week.

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