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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

It must be a sign...our favorite travel game

Catie Clark
Posted 4/10/24

Some people collect seashells or coins. Others collect art or Hummel figurines. In my household, we collect signs. To be accurate, we drive around and take photographs of signs. The long-suffering …

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It must be a sign...our favorite travel game


Some people collect seashells or coins. Others collect art or Hummel figurines. In my household, we collect signs. To be accurate, we drive around and take photographs of signs. The long-suffering spouse and I have been promising each other that one of these years we will build a website—or maybe publish a book—of all the photos we’ve collected over the decades of signs we’ve found. We have been saying this since before we ever got married. I’m sure that as soon as we find some free time, this will certainly happen. Until then, let me just describe to you some of the highlights of our collection.
Our most recent signs have been local. To start, I wonder about a sign we photographed last winter on Highway 169 between Tower and Virginia. It was posted this winter too. “Free store with wrap,” the homemade sign states. This always generates a flurry of comments as we pass it. What sort of store are they giving away with that wrap? The long-suffering spouse and I have agreed that it’s probably a scam and that the “free store” in question is probably a dry-cleaning business on the hook for millions of dollars of environmental clean-up for dumping chlorine trifluoride out the backdoor.
Three local signs became part of what sold us on moving to the Ely area. First, we almost had an accident the first time we passed that well-known business in Babbitt, the Just Bite Me bait shop. It should be at least a misdemeanor for someone to laugh that hard while driving.
The second sign was the upside down Kwazy Wabbit sign in Ely. We concluded that any town with a bar that brazenly silly had to be a great place to live. Last, when we drove into Ely for the very first time, the “Start a Movement” sign on the side of the Crapola business headquarters almost lived up to its name. After all, the last potty stop had been somewhere west of Bemidji. I confess I had to pull over and roll down the windows to air out all the hilarity and other bodily miasmas in the car.
The long-suffering spouse and I don’t go looking for signs. We just like to go for long drives and explore backroads. It was on one of those drive that I saw my all-time favorite sign. It read: “Pigs For Rent.” I’m not making this up.
Of course, context is everything. The sign was in the window of a pipeline services business in central Texas. In the oil patch, as one would say in those parts, a pig is a gizmo used to clean the insides of a pipeline. If you know about “pigging,” it makes perfect sense that a firm servicing pipelines would rent pigs.
Texas is a great state for good signs. Anyone looking to start their own sign collection would do well off to start in Lake Jackson, south of Houston. Most of the streets in this small town end in “way.” We spent an entire afternoon collecting signs there in 2009, with acquisitions of Any Way, No Way, Some Way, His Way, This Way, and, of course, That Way.
Some of the signs in our collection are there because they don’t make sense. One example is a sign with just a question mark on it, spotted on a frontage road along Interstate 80 in central Iowa. There’s nothing there. It’s just a stretch of road next to a corn field, at least five miles from the nearest town with no house, barn, business, or abandoned rest area. It’s a mystery why it’s there, which probably explains it.
Another nonsensical sign is on the edge of the southbound rest area on Interstate 95 in Kennebunk, Maine. It’s planted in the grass next to the dumpsters. All it says is “LOAM.” That’s it. LOAM. It’s never made sense to me. Maine is not Iowa, after all. There’s nothing loamy about the place. Maine has only three soil types: peat, glacial till, and beach sand. Maybe it’s an advertisement for Max Helmberger’s game of the same name.
I will wrap up with my favorite sign we collected in Idaho. Driving down the backroads south of Idaho Falls, where the sagebrush desert competes with the potato fields, this sign lives at a T-intersection with a gorgeous backdrop of the Blackfoot Range rising behind it. It has an arrow pointing into the local canyon, and says simply “Rattlesnake Transfer, closed Sundays.”
That part of Idaho is rather conservative and quite God-fearing. It must be a relief to the religiously minded among us that you can’t transfer any rattlesnakes on Sundays in Wolverine, Idaho.