Best Marketed Signs On The Back Roads of America

I’m fascinated, if not obsessed with the stuff that litters the backroads of America. Dotted with the small business endeavors of the “every” man or woman hoping to realize the American dream, I found an amazing array of visible roadside tactics intended to attract customers and differentiate. From banners to balloons to barns as billboards to mobile and fixed signs to waving greeters, clowns and healthy and bouncy cheerleaders, perhaps none struck me more than the ubiquitous portable flashing arrow sign complete with changeable letters.

You know the kind.

They are everywhere. I imagined the clever, persistent and super-effective salesman who traveled these same roads prior to my arrival touting the cost-effectiveness of such a staple in American’s small business landscape. And I imagined once he closed the deal, delivered and collected his cash and commission, the salesman blew town as fast as he arrived. For so many small businesses seem to be stuck, clueless or otherwise lost for finding the all too necessary replacement letters.


Buy some more letters for goodness sake? What are you selling and does anybody care? Not sure if Jimmy got elected,
if so I wonder if he’ll do anything about sign clutter?


Now this would confuse a motorist! Seems the sign is in good condition (all three of them) but the owner just has nothing to say nor sell. Ahhhh. But across the street. Look carefully. Another relic from a long lost error. A sign WITH letters. You gotta love those arrows!


Could somebody tell me what exactly is happening here?


Another effort to make a permanent sign from a temporary… nice stang, though…

For world riding or cross country motorcyclists and motorists the task becomes a case of a game of fill in the blank or “guess what we’re trying to tell you”. Except there’s no prize. The only prize imaginable would be for the owner of the sign — a new customers. But without the ability to spell clearly the intended message, our small businesses on the back-roads of America simply are missing out on customers, while the communities in which they reside are left with ugly relics of signs who’ve had better times.

Signs of the times, I guess.


Now some enterprising farmer needed a bit more height in his flashing arrow portable sign. So he built it’s own platform.


Now what’s going on here? No letters? Where’s the sales guy? Somebody ought to either populate that sign with a message or take it to the dump!


This one is a low-rider, in need of a paint job and I wonder if those lights still work. And who’s chip?


Perhaps the same vintage as Yarnell’s above, but with a tad less sun exposure. Seems Jason has something to say, but just get get the letters right. And I guess many in the area have Boas – are they constrictors or simply wavy, flowy, feathery fashion accessories long lost from the era of the vamp?

Some upstanding communities do their best to prevent such garbage from destroying the visual beauty of a back road. I found this in the zoning laws of Camden, Maine:

(1) Billboards, animated signs, flashing signs, roof signs, rotating signs, signs containing any visible moving parts and portable signs are prohibited in all zones. Engraved cornerstones and stone-engraved building or structure names are exempt from this prohibition.

(2) Menu and sandwich board signs, easels, and other sidewalk signs and signs not affixed to a structure or sign post are prohibited.

(3) Ladder signs affixed by the use of hooks and chains are prohibited, except that such signs no larger than 3 inches by 18 inches may be used to indicate whether a business is open or closed or its vacancy status.

Camden defines portable sign in this manner:

SIGN, PORTABLE: A sign that is not permanently attached to the ground or other permanent structure, or a sign designed to be transported, including, but not limited to, signs designed to be transported by means of wheels or trailers, balloons used as signs, and signs attached to or painted on vehicles parked and visible from the public right-of-way, unless said vehicle is used in the normal day-to-day operations of the business.

Now I’ve never been to Camden, Maine so I can’t speak to the type of community nor its history. But it’s clear there is an effort to establish boundaries of good taste. You can read the entire code here and while I believe in simple code laws and less goverment regulation, Camden doesn’t thwart the the marketing advantage available to businesses to promote itself through signage – it just has an issue with portable signs.



A wheel-less version of hte classic flashing arrow, this guy has the letters, but what is he selling? And why?
Now I hadn’t seen a hill in miles when I spotted this beauty. Was I riding through a community that still used 6-digit phone numbers? Or could this be another case of a sign owner/marketer who just doesn’t know where to buy replacement or additional letters? With so many absent letters, I’m thinking a huge opportunity for the right sales guy!

Another in the series of clear message. But I wonder why they opted for the black-arrow version of this classic road side sign?
Now you gotta admit, Jon gets it.

Looks like they’ve got all their letters, but seems a pretty generic statement. And thank god the number “4” is in RED as it really makes the message stronger. A low budget version of the portable sign, this one only with reflectors and no wheels on its rusty frame.

When just one won’t do! I get the applicance pricing. But what’s going on with the engine repair? And is the fill dirt/rock business going downhill? And wait, in the background, we’ve got more. Zelta Choice Cuts and even a changeable sign at Bulldog’s. This is a great roadside. You’ve got everthing!


Hey. Now I would have to guess the zoning commission in Camden would have to let this slide. The enterprising hair salon turned a portable into a permanent – complete with power! Bravo! Bravo! But what’s the “A”? All that effort just to quit before the end game? Good god!


Riding the backroads certainly affords me the time to slow down, smell the flowers or look for a sign – something – to show me the truth. This poor guy not only is missing the letters from his alphabet soup, he can’t seem to get the darn thing straight. And he’s lost the lens for his arrow. If that thing lights up at night, it’s gonna blind ya!


Steppin’ Outside the Time Zone!

Oh – And I’ve got more. But I’ll spare you the flashing portable arrow signs until another day. Look forward to some other classics in future posts!

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