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Mechanical Signs

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The photos on this page were moved here from my Signs section to accompany an article which I've written for the Society for Commercial Archeology's Journal magazine.

This page and the upcoming article provide information about still-existing signs with motorized panels more formally known as mechanical signs. These signs caught the attention of motorists and pedestrians with physical movement rather than animated neon. These signs are incredibly rare and special. Only a handful of them are still operating.

Bel Shore Motel
Lordsburg, NM
2008: 2012:

2017:
The Bel Shore Motel has been closed for many years but these signs remain. The paint on the pole sign panels have faded enough to reveal that the panels were used by Farmers & Merchants Bank originally. However, the letters on this side of the sign look more like "BUNK" than "BANK". For more examples of the light-studded balls on top of the Bel Shore Motel pole sign, see this page.

The Bel Shore Motel's bellhop sign was repainted sometime between 2008 and 2012. However, it appears that his face details were never painted on one side. [map]

These bellhop signs were developed in the late 1940s and patented in 1951 by the National Animated Sign Co. of Hot Springs, AR. These signs were about seven feet tall and featured a waving arm. A light was installed behind the waving arm's hand to indicate when a motel had vacancies or whether a business was open. The company produced many variations of these signs including doormen, chefs, gas station attendants, cowboys, Indians, black butlers, waitresses, and clowns. The only other bellhop signs like this one in Lordsburg are in public or private sign collections. There was a bellhop sign installed in 1947 on top of the Park Motel sign in Sparks, NV. That motel and sign are long gone. Terry's Turf Club in Cincinnati, OH has eight of these waving signs. They all have the National Animated Sign Co. tag on the side.

Filling Station
Savanna, IL

Takhoma Burger
[in storage]
Wichita, KS
Isaack Restaurant
Junction, TX
Philip Morris Bellhop [gone]
Fennimore, WI
The Filling Station convenience store has what appears to be another sign from the National Animated Sign Co. It has been painted as two different fisherman on each side. I don't know what the original paint job looked like. There is still a bulb in the man's hand but I doubt the arm moves up and down anymore. [map]

Takhoma Burger opened in 1951. This sign may have been installed then. This sign must have been produced by the National Animated Sign Co. I have seen photos of an identical waitress sign produced by them. However, there is no longer the sign company's tag on the side of the Takhoma sign. Like the company's other waving signs, the waitress' arm moved up and down. The restaurant relocated but this sign remained in place for many years. In 2010, the sign was removed and put in storage by the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County. For more, see these websites: 1 and 2. [photo thanks Glenda Campbell]

The Isaack Restaurant sign also appears to be one of the National Animated Sign Co. bellhop variations. The restaurant opened in 1950. The pole sign and the waving chef were installed a few years later. The chef's arm and the light behind his hand haven't operated since the mid-1960s. These photos are from 2011. The signs were repainted in 2012. For more, see this website. There was another one of these chef signs in Roswell, NM. [map]

This Philip Morris Bellhop statue was strapped to sign pole in front of the Three B's (Beer Bait & Bargains) store when this photo was taken in 2007. By 2011, the bellhop was gone. These statues were mass-produced but are very rare now. I don't know of any on public display. The statue's motorized arm moved up and down originally. I don't know when these statues were built. Philip Morris was using bellhops for cigarette advertising and signs before the 1930s. My guess is that these signs were built in the 1950s or 1960s.

Kalbach Oil
Menlo, IA

2006:

2008:
The Kalbach Oil sign was built by the Nebraska Neon Sign Company of Lincoln, NE in 1936. The 12 1/2 foot tall "Menlo Man" represents a service station attendant. He is outlined with neon and his mechanical arm moves up and down as if he is saluting. The sign acted as beacon for airplane pilots. When the sign was restored in 2008, the original tin panels were replaced with aluminum replicas. The neon was also replaced at that time. However, the neon hadn't operated since the late 1940s. The diamond shaped sign was also replaced with the round White Rose sign. The sign which hangs from the man's arm was also added. The Kalbach Oil station, originally a White Rose station, was built in 1934. In 1951, Cities Service took over the station and wanted the sign removed. It stayed but the wiring inside was removed to prevent the Menlo Man from waving. Later, the station sold Mobil gas. The Kalbachs operated a sign shop here after the station closed. However, the shop has closed now. The sign is still turned on for the Christmas holiday season and some other times randomly throughout the year. For more, see this video. [top row, middle photo thanks Glenda Campbell] [map]

Vegas Vic & the Pioneer Club
Las Vegas, NV
The Pioneer Club opened in 1942 and closed in 1995. The building now houses a souvenir shop. It was best known for this Vegas Vic cowboy sign. In the late 1940s, prior to Vegas Vic, The Pioneer Club had a neon scaffold sign on the roof across the street that included a cowboy's head. The cowboy had an animated neon thumb and neon text that said "Here It Is! The Famous Pioneer Club". That sign was demolished at some point.

The Vegas Vic sign was designed by Patrick Denner from Salt Lake City. It was installed in 1951 at a cost of $25,000. At the time, it was one of the most expensive signs in Las Vegas. The sign is 40 feet tall. Vegas Vic had a waving arm and a moving cigarette which blew smoke rings. His other arm moved slightly at the elbow. He also had a voicebox enabling him to say "Howdy Pardner" every 15 minutes. Vic hasn't spoken since 2006 and his arms which bent at the elbows stopped moving in 1991. However, his neon cigarette still moves up and down and his eyes still flash on and off as if he's winking. Until the 1960s, his shirt was white with yellow checkered stripes. Later during an early restoration in the 70's, his shirt was painted solid yellow. When the sign was restored in 1998 his shirt was painted a red and yellow checkered pattern. In the mid-1990s, Vic's cowboy hat was shortened by a few feet in order to squeeze the sign under the Fremont Street Experience canopy. Two signs were modeled after this one in West Wendover, NV and Laughlin, NV (see below). For more, see these websites: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Wendover Will
West Wendover, NV
Wendover Will was built in 1952, one year after Vegas Vic (see above). With permission from the Pioneer Club in Las Vegas, this nearly identical sign was built for the Stateline Hotel and Casino. Will was named after the hotel and casino's President's grandfather. Despite numerous articles about the sign stating that the sign is 63 feet tall, the cowboy sign itself is only 46 feet tall. This still makes it six feet taller than Vegas Vic. The inflated height measurement probably included the text panels and base which were installed beneath the sign originally. The sign is recognized in the Guinness Book of World's Records as the world's largest mechanical cowboy sign. Originally, both of the cowboy's arms moved up and down. In 2002, when the Stateline expanded and had a new sign built, this cowboy sign was put in storage. The sign was donated to the City in 2004. In 2005, the sign was restored by YESCO for $200,000. The text panels which read "This is the Place" on one side and "Where the West Begins" on the other were removed. The sign was installed on a new, fifteen foot tall base in the median at the western edge of town as a welcome sign. The cowboy's eye still winks and his cigarette moves up and down. However, his arms do not move. When YESCO was installing the sign at the new location, it was discovered that the counterweights inside the sign kept hitting the sign panels, causing the whole sign to shimmy. The decision was made to do away with the arm movement. The cowboy's neon winking eye and moving cigarette still function. For more, see this website. [map]

Laughlin Lou
Laughlin, NV
The River Rick, aka Laughlin Lou, sign was built in 1981 by YESCO and installed at the Pioneer Hotel & Gambling Hall. It is a copy of the Vegas Vic sign (see above). The sign was restored in 2014. Both of his arms move up and down. His eye winks and his cigarette moves through animated neon. For more, see these websites: 1 and 2.

Chief Pontiac
Cincinnati, OH
Chief Diner
Durango, CO
The Chief Pontiac sign is installed in front of MotorTime Auto Sales. The sign was built in 1954 for Jake Sweeney's Pontiac dealership. The business was later known as Cherokee Motors. MotorTime has been here since 1981. The Indian sign was originally outlined with neon and the arm waved. Although several articles state that the sign is 50 feet tall, it is shorter than that. The Indian is about 15 or 20 feet tall. The sign has been repainted a few times. While it has been said that these signs were produced by General Motors for other Pontiac dealerships, there is no evidence of that. For more, see this website. [map]

The Chief Diner opened in 1945 as the Pioneer Diner. It was renamed the Chief Diner in 1947. This sign was most likely installed in the early 1950s. The neon Indian was about 20 feet tall. His arm waved and his eyes flashed. In the mid or late 1950s, the restaurant was renamed the Chief Restaurant and a new sign panel was added below the Indian sign. With the addition to the sign, it was about 50 feet tall. The name on the building was also changed as well. After the restaurant closed in the early 1980s, the sign was purchased by Jackson Clark for $300. I don't know what happened with the totem pole sign which was also removed from the restaurant. For a few years, the Indian sign was displayed in front of his father's Pepsi plant. It still had the Chief Restaurant text panels at that point. While it was there, the Indian held a Pepsi can sign. Later, Clark spent $4,000 to refurbish the sign and move it to his business, the Toh-Atin Gallery. Due to the City's sign height restrictions, the sign panels were removed at that point. The neon was also removed. [map]

The connection between these Indians signs in Cincinnati and Durango remains a mystery. Both signs are about the same size and featured neon and waving arms. They are not identical. The Durango Indian has smaller feet and his legs are not as bowed. The Cincinnati Indian's raised hand is also larger. However, the droopy arrow and other similarities just can't be a coincidence. It's not known which sign was built first since it can't be determined what year the Durango sign went up.

Westcraft Flooring
Denver, CO
Skookum
Wenatchee, WA
Penny Dog Food
Birmingham, AL
Westcraft Flooring opened in 1954 and this Indian sign was installed shortly after that. The sign was custom made and features the Indian that was once used as the Mohawk Carpet mascot. The Indian's arms originally moved rapidly up and down, with the drumsticks beating on the drum. His drumsticks originally had red balls on the ends. The sign stopped working many years ago. [map]

The Skookum sign is about 30 feet tall. The Indian Brave mascot advertised for the Skookum Packers' Association, a local organization of apple growers and distributors. In 1921, a sign featuring the Indian was installed on steel scaffolding on the roof of the Wenatchee Hotel. There was also a "Skookum" text panel below the sign. It is believed that the sign was motorized originally. There is documentation from the 1920s of complaints from hotel guests about the squeaking noise that Indian's moving eyes made. If this is the original sign, then it would make it the oldest mechanical sign in existence.

When the hotel closed in the 1940s, the Indian sign was moved to the roof of the Skookum warehouse. By 1999, Skookum was long gone and the building was adapted for an Office Depot. During the remodeling, the politically incorrect Indian sign was removed and put in storage. After much public outcry to bring the sign back, the 30 foot tall sign was restored and reinstalled in 2000. The sign's two panels are displayed in a triangulated manner with the tips of the feathers touching. The Indian's eyes move back and forth in rapid succession. One of the eyes on each side winked through the use of a panel which moved up and down. By the mid-2000s, the winking panel stopped working and it has not been repaired. For more, see these websites: 1, 2, and 3. [map]

The Penny Dog Food sign was installed next to the 1st Avenue North viaduct around 1953. The sign is about 25 feet long and 15 feet tall. When functioning, the dog's tail wagged, her tongue lapped at the food in her bowl, and her eyes moved back and forth. In 1997, the sign's motors were turned off when it was feared the wiring could start an electrical fire. The sign never had neon but was lit with spotlights.

Penny Dog Food was the economy brand of the Gold Seal Dog Food Company. The company occupied the building beneath the sign. After Gold Seal went bankrupt in the 1980s, Birmingham Hide and Tallow Co. moved into the building. In 2005, the sign was repainted and the dog's movement was restored. The Birmingham Historical Society presented an award to Birmingham Hide and Tallow for the preservation effort. However, the sign's internal mechanisms failed soon after the restoration and the dog has been still since then. The photo above is from 2007.

In 2010, Birmingham Hide and Tallow moved to a new location and the owners debated about what to do with the Penny sign. An employee suggested it be donated to Regions Field, a new minor league baseball park being built in town. Management wholeheartedly approved and arrangements were made. Birmingham Hide and Tallow is funding the restoration and relocation of the sign which will cost about $20,000. The sign's steel panels will be replaced with aluminum replicas. The sign was removed in 2013. The scaffolding will also be removed and there will not be a replacement sign near the viaduct. The Penny sign was installed in the parking lot of Regions Field in 2013. The sign will be visible from inside and outside the ballpark. The dog's eyes, tongue and tail will be fully operational. [map]

Hillbilly Junction
Willow Springs, MO
Mule Trading Post
Rolla, MO
The Hillbilly Junction sign was originally installed at the Hillbilly Store which was located near Devils Elbow, MO. That store opened in 1943 and this eight foot tall sign was built then or shortly thereafter. It originally had neon and the arms spun. The front of the text panel below the hillbilly reads "Welcome." The back reads "Thanks, Y'All Kum Back". In 2010 when these photos were taken, the arms were stationary. Around 2014, one of the arms disappeared. The restaurant is and gift shop are closed. The sign was still there in 2016. For more, see this website. [map]

This hillbilly sign at the Mule Trading Post was built in 1981 for the second Hillbilly Store when it moved to Waynesville, MO. The sign is 28 feet tall. When the store closed in 2000, the sign was sold to an antiques dealer. The Mule Trading Post in Rolla bought the sign in 2007 and restored it for a couple thousand dollars. The sign has been doing the backstroke 24 hours a day alongside I-44 since then. I don't know if it ever had neon. For more, see this video.

The Mule Trading Post opened in 1946 as the Mule Rock Shop in in Pacific, MO. The store moved to Rolla in 1957 and the mule sign was built at that time. It was originally installed on the canopy of the Texaco station which was next door. The mule's neon ears wiggle back and forth. For more, see this video. [map]

Hawkes Plaza
Westbrook, ME
DT's Package Liquor
& Sports Bar
Cheyenne, WY
Wrangler
Cheyenne, WY
Boot Barn
Gallup, NM
The Hawkes Plaza sign was built in 1962. The 13-foot-tall radio and TV serviceman had moving arms which created the illusion that the man was walking. The man was modeled after the store's owner, Al Hawkes. The sign last operated in 1989. It became too expensive to repair and the store closed. In 2000, the sign was repainted and restored. The bulbs were replaced but local zoning laws prevents them from flashing. The motorized walking action is also prohibited. The sign was repainted again in 2016. [map]

DT's Package Liquor & Sports Bar, a liquor store and bar, was established in 1937. The bar, named after the owner D.T. Johnson, moved to its current location in the late 1940s. A new building was constructed on the site in 1955. It is believed that this pink elephant sign was installed then along with a neon pole sign. The elephant is about six feet tall and its motorized head moves up and down. The sign has been an easy keeper, requiring only a fan belt replacement every few years. The neon sign is displayed inside store's other location which opened in the 1990s. For more, see these websites: 1 and 2. [map]

This Wrangler sign is motorized with the horse's legs moving back and forth. It was built for Corral West Ranchwear which was previously located here. For more, see this website. [map]

The Boot Barn sign was also built for Corral West Ranchwear which was located here originally. The horse's legs no longer move. The chain had other signs like this but the only other one know to still exist is in Evanston, WY. [map]

Sunbeam Bread
Fort Wayne, IN
Young & Bertke Air Systems Co.
Cincinnati, OH
The Sunbeam Bread was built in 1957. The 36 foot long "Endless Bread" sign was installed on the roof of the Perfection Biscuit Company bakery which produced Sunbeam bread. There was originally an image of Little Miss Sunbeam sitting on top of the bread but it was damaged by wind and removed. The sign features a wheel with nine slices of bread which spins to create the illusion of sliced bread piling up on a plate. The company, now known as Aunt Millie's, still occupies the building and produces Sunbeam bread. In 2007, the sign was restored with new aluminum and plastic panels. Instead of using paint, the sign company used vinyl film which holds up better to sun and weather. The digital printing on the sign made it possible to give the bread texture. The bag, plate, and letters are now more three-dimensional in appearance. The sign is illuminated at night with spotlights just as it was originally. For more, see these websites: 1, 2, 3, and [map]

Young & Bertke, a metal fabricating business, was founded in 1920. The company refers to the tin man sign (left photo above) as "YouBert", an abbreviation of Young & Bertke. The sign was built in 1926 and was visible from the upper deck of the former Cincinnati Reds' baseball park, Crosley Field. The company relocated during construction of I-75 and rebuilt the sign. This sign was then destroyed in a storm. The current sign was constructed in 1985. YouBert's animated, walking legs stopped working around 2005 but were restored in 2008. The 18 1/2 foot tall sign operated continuously 24 hours, 7 days a week. It is estimated that YouBert covered over 10,000 miles per year. In 2013, the company sold the building and relocated. The mechanical sign has not operated since then. By 2014, the hanging sign had been removed but the mechanical sign remains. Young & Bertke will eventually relocate the sign. It may wind up at the American Sign Museum. Here's a short video of him in motion. For more, see these websites: 1, 2, and 3. [map]

former Helen's Children's Wear
Burnaby, BC
The Helen's Children's Wear sign was built in 1956. It features a six foot long panel with a girl that swings back and forth. After the store closed in 2006, the City purchased the sign. In 2007, it was removed and adapted. The text was changed from "Helen's" to "Heights" to reflect the Burnaby Heights shopping district where the sign is located. For more, see these websites: 1 and 2. [map]

Vista Maytag Laundry
Boise, ID
2008: 2014:
In the early 1950s, a motorized washer woman was installed on top of the Maytag Laundry sign. The five foot tall statue is made of plywood, chicken wire, and foam. The washer woman's upper torso moves up and down as if she is scrubbing laundry in a tub. Her handmade clothes are changed with the seasons. She has gone by many names over the years but is currently known as Betty. Her motor stopped working around 1990 and the laundromat closed in 2000. In 2005, the building's new owner had Betty restored and the sign panels beneath her replaced with new ones for the building's current occupant, the Cucina di Paolo restaurant. The statue's joints were replaced and a new animated feature was added. Betty's head now turns to the right in conjunction with her upper body movement. She stops working around midnight and whenever the temperature reaches 100 degrees. For more, see these websites: 1 and 2. [map]

E.H. Roberts Co.
Elyria, OH
This E.H. Roberts Co. mechanical sign features a man rocking back and forth in his chair. The "Rocking Man" sign was built in 1955. For more, see this video. [map]

More Mechanical Signs:
Van de Kamp's Bakery (Alameda, CA)

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