Tucked away in the archives of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, I’m told, are the editions of a short-run newspaper that for two years chronicled the life and times of a small Midwest riverfront community.

When I started in journalism, one of my first assignments was being the founding editor of that startup weekly paper. It covered a collection of four rural towns tucked away in the corner of the county and was loosely defined by a common school district. The area’s long-running paper had folded a year or two earlier after about 100 years in operation. Where others would see this as a red flag, a publisher from a neighboring county saw it as promising ground.

At the time, I was barely scraping by freelancing for a large city daily and holding a part-time minimum wage retail job to pay the bills. The economy was crummy, and it was all I could find after graduating from college. Red flag or not, it was a full-time job in the field.

When I started, the location was a secret. My new boss hired me on the spot, telling me little more than my job would be a close enough drive, but if I wanted to move, I could probably find a cheap place. I had a pretty good apartment and didn’t think it would be wise to pack up for $5.15 an hour. Gas was around $1 per gallon, so I opted for the 45-minute daily commute.

The first order of business was finding an office. Luckily none of this fell on me. The publisher had his eye on a vacant storefront in the small downtown of a port town. Problem was the property just uphill, the one that now housed a bait shop, had been a filling station for decades. The underground storage tank apparently had a pin-sized leak, so years of dripping petroleum had allegedly seeped into the storefront land, and the publisher was worried that buying the space would open him up to liability if his property seeping onto others. I was more worried about inhaling fumes, flash fires and other health risks. I can’t remember what the company’s health insurance policy included.

So the storefront idea was scrapped, and after some frantic searching we were introduced to our new office. It was in part of an old lumber yard on the edge of town. The wood business was closed, but the office area had been converted into a tool store run by the landlords. The yard was rented out as storage, and we had a single dingy room attached to the store, with which we shared a restroom.

There was a crater-riddled gravel parking lot. We had a rough plywood counter that came with the place and dozens of cubbies set into the walls. We joked that the cubbies — bins, actually — once held bolts for the lumber yard. So our office was dubbed the “bolt bin,” a play on the newspaper’s name — The Bulletin.

Check back later for more Bolt Bin Chronicles.

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