On the Roadside Sign Again

I’ve been slightly obsessed with portable roadside signage since I first encountered a stretch of white boxes with flashing red arrows along Route 28 in upstate New York. I’d certainly seen that form of advertising before, but didn’t realize how ubiquitous it was throughout rural America (or admittedly, what little I know of rural America).

I fantasized about owning a portable sign of my very own, and made mental lists of what it would say. In the end, the beauty of the sign was in its flexibility. I could advertise a pancake breakfast one week and a yard sale the next. Maybe I’d post words of wisdom, or raise philosophical questions. I could keep it in the yard as an art installation of sorts, or hitch it to my car and drag it to the end of the driveway to alert the fire department. It seemed like an investment that would pay for itself.

I was surprised that portable signs actually weren’t that expensive. I could get a nice setup for under $500, or for about $1300 on wheels. Poking around online to find distributors was easy-breezy; there was no shortage of reader board vendors. The font selection was a bit sparse, but several sources had fancy faux dimensional options (though I’m a traditionalist and would stick to the simple “Block”). A design tip on signwire.com cautions, ”Always, always check your spelling.” Words to live by.

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10 thoughts on “On the Roadside Sign Again

  1. Joe

    I hope these sign’s owners continue to ignore the warning to “always check your spelling.” I enjoy the hilarious errors, strange spacing, and creative use of mismatched letterforms (e.g. the upside-down “B” in “Rounds Band,” which notches nicely into the diagonal of the “A.”) I also enjoy the beautifully rhythmic lighting in the “Bingo” sign, caused (presumably) by the mismatched letter sets and irregular installation into the tracks), or the teetering letters in “bookcases” which seem to contradict the idea of a sturdy, upright case.
    Fun post. Cheers.

  2. Ad absurdum per aspera

    Not to forget one of the all-time pastoral classics:
    Until seeing this article (at salon.com first) I’d forgotten about these signs, a staple of my rural and tank-town youth in the Deep South. Sin, salvation, and C-stores were all advertised in this way. The ones with a row of flashing colored lights across the top were especially attention getting (not to mention devastating to  night vision). The more prosperous churches would put up fixed signboards built into an  architectural folly instead of the ditch-straddling portable variety hown here.

  3. Ginnger

    There’s an episcopal church on my way to work that always put pithy yet thought provoking phrases on a sign much like the ones you show. Dunno if they got a new pastor or they lost their pithy yet thought provoking phrase book, but suddenly the sign just lists times for services. Going to work is just a little duller.