Once upon a time, not that long ago, Walnut Creek had two newspapers.

Lyman Stoddard started the weekly Walnut Kernel in 1931. It was a bad time to start a paper, or any business. The Depression was well underway. There already was a paper in Walnut Creek, the Courier Journal.

And while the Courier Journal claimed to be nonpartisan, it supported Republican causes and candidates.

The Walnut Kernel, on the other hand, made no bones about supporting the Democrats, although Stoddard took many a dig at the Roosevelt administration.

Stoddard, a longtime newspaperman, always wanted to be a country editor; in 1931, Walnut Creek was really country.

Money didn't seem to be Stoddard's first priority. He ran "help wanted ads" for free.

The Courier Journal ignored the Depression and always tried to put a happy face on the economy. Stoddard did not.

The Kernel made national news when Stoddard revealed in his lively column "Heard on Main Street" that he accepted a sack of manure for a new subscription.

Stoddard asked his readers for help naming his paper. A contest offered a $10 gold coin -- still legal then -- for the winner.

A local girl won the $10 for submitting the name "NEWS," but that name never worked. A week after the contest, Jack Denshaw, a San Francisco reporter and author of adventure stories, said that the paper should be named Walnut Kernel because it was published near the banks of Walnut Creek, Stoddard was a walnut grower, and the town's chief industry was walnuts.


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So the paper was named Walnut Kernel, which gained it publicity, because although there were hundreds of papers named News, Record, Press, Tribune, Chronicle or Times, there was only one Walnut Kernel in the world.

Stoddard didn't want to see himself or his family mentioned in his newspaper unless they were arrested or died. Although named Lyman, he was never called that. People called him Mike, because he had worked for Michael de Young, owner of the San Francisco Chronicle.

He bought a used press. The paper was hand-fed, with sheets of paper -- four pages to the sheet -- being inserted into the press. The sheets then were reversed and printed on the other side. One day, the press broke down.

Stoddard took his forms to Martinez, which had a morning paper. The Martinez paper was printed from rolls on an eight-column format. The Kernel had seven columns, so there was a lot of space around the sides of that first paper.

The Walnut Kernel continued throughout the Depression and prospered into the 1950s. Family children and grandchildren worked there. Mike eventually retired, but he continued to write his column. In the 1960s, however, the paper ceased publication. It could not compete with the Contra Costa Times.

Dean Lesher had purchased the Courier Journal in 1947 and changed its name.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.