There have been outlaws and railroads, oil booms and church picnics. Wars have come and gone. So have dreams.

And for 100 years, the Vernal Express has faithfully documented the small-town comings and goings in the Uintah Basin. It's become as much a part of the area as oil and dinosaurs.For most of those 100 years, the weekly newspaper has remained in the hands of one family, making the Express one among increasingly rare businesses: the family-owned weekly newspaper.

"There are very few family newspapers left," said Jack Wallis, publisher of the 4,100 circulation Express. "The old-time newspapers are dying like flies. We're being priced out of the market by shopping guides and direct mail."

Of course, it's the same story all over America. But in rural America, the weeklies represent a way of life. And it's no different in Vernal.

The Express first fired up its printing presses when Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch were still making news in neighboring Browns Park. There were Indian troubles, world wars and such.

But more often, the Express has covered the day-to-day concerns of eastern Utah, things like plans to build a railroad (that never did come), and the paving of US-40 linking Vernal to Salt Lake City.

"That was big news in those days," Wallis said. "It used to be the mail would travel through Price and back up through the Price-Myton road. It would take days to get a letter from Salt Lake to Vernal."

The Vernal Express was actually started in 1891 as the Uintah Papoose, which was sold a year later and renamed the Vernal Express. The Wallis family bought the paper in 1917, and it has passed down from generation to generation ever since.

Jack Wallis is the publisher today. His son Steve is editor and will likely take over all operations some day. Janet Wallis is in advertising and writes for the paper. It's been in the family now for four generations.

And the paper still deals with the same stories: the city and the county and state fighting with each other. The issues? Roads, economic development, human services, water.

The real problem, though, is how to keep a family newspaper afloat in tough economic times so future generations can take over the presses.

Wallis predicts there will be progressively fewer rural newspapers in Utah, even though desktop publishing has actually made it easier to put out a product. It's the printing cost and the fierce competition for limited advertising dollars that pose the real threat.

"I don't know if my grandkids will be publishing the Express or not," said Wallis, a winner of the Publishers Award by the Utah Press Association.

"We do take it for granted that it's been here and always will be. We don't take the responsibility as fully as we should. But it is still a business and we must eat to survive."

But Wallis admits the Vernal Express is more than a newspaper, and he believes the old guard must cultivate an appreciation for the past in a new generation. "It is a part of the past, just as it reflects the present."

The Vernal Express is currently printing excerpts from the original pages of the Uintah Papoose.