The Shop Truck

1973withNewRims (800x450)This blog post is dedicated to my 1973 sign shop truck that I bought when I started painting signs shortly after finishing my sign painting course from International Correspondence Schools. In 1970 I decided to leave my job as a draftsman and work at sign painting full time. My wife and I agreed to the move as long as I could make money at it.

I eventually went to Nair’s Sign Co. in Whittier, Calif. and started working for Kenny Nair as an apprentice. In 1972 he decided to leave the trade and sold the sign business to me. The company sign vehicle was a Vauxahl. At the time I was driving a 1950 2 door Chevy Business Coup. Of course neither of these vehicles were suited to a trade that included wall signs and installations and carrying around paint.

So I took my saving of $500.00 and went down to Don Steve’s Chevrolet in Whittier and ordered a new short bed sign shop truck with no chrome. I knew I would be hand lettering it and didn’t want anything to interfere. It was a big leap for me at the time. My son was two and my daughter was just born, but I knew I needed a dependable sign shop truck and I’d make enough money to pay the monthly debt. Four doors down from my shop on Whittier Blvd. was a muffler shop. The man who owned it built me a custom ladder rack that I used for many years. I invested in a truck box after that.


Over the years I changed the sign shop truck lettering as I moved to new locations and eventually put a camper shell on the bed. I had a custom ladder rack made for the shell. Later on I bought a nice fiberglass shell and had another custom rack put on. I sold the camper shell last year when I decided to restore my truck.


I tried to get rid of my sign shop truck several years ago but things didn’t work out, so I thought I’d use it for home improvement supplies and maybe some sign painting work. I haven’t hand lettered it yet but I have the artwork already finished and may use some vinyl along with the hand lettering. The kicker is, I originally planned on trading it in every five years. In 1990 when the new styles came out I wanted a new sign shop truck but the kids and Annie locked arms and said ‘don’t get rid of the truck, we have too many wonderful memories’. There you go, so I made the decision to keep it and I’m glad I did.

Hand Painted House Name Signs

hand painted house name signsThe sign is made of mdo plywood because I figured they would put it up outside, hanging from the porch or as a monument sign. I used all exterior paints. I used One Shot lettering enamel for the copy and toll painting, and I used exterior acrylic paint for the fjord pictorial scene. The background was coated out in bulletin white with a touch of ochre to give it a crème color. House name signs can also be carved or sandblasted which adds a dimensional effect to the sign. I use both redwood and High Density Urethane for dimensional signs. Precision Board HDU does not rot and can be carved, sanblasted or routed. These signs can also be gold leafed which adds a beautiful touch.

I did some research on the name ‘Solberg’ and discovered it meant ‘sun’ and ‘mountain’. I looked up examples of Norwegian toll painting and pictures of fjords in Norway, saved a couple, then picked the one I thought best represented the sun and mountain. The font I used is called ‘Freeform’, and it is in my fonts file, and it looked like it had a Norwegian feel for the sign so I used it.

So now the sign hangs in their home because they thought it looked too good to put up outside. They were very happy with the hand painted house name sign and all the personal touches and as an added compliment it now hangs in their home.

Business Window Signs

MatoskaWindowLetteringRightSide (450x800) (2)Matoska Trading Company is located in Downtown Orange just north of the Plaza. The store specializes in American Indian Art & Craft Supplies. Brent had sent me his logo and said he wanted artwork on the glass that would represent what he sold in the store. He also wanted the logo lettering in gold leaf. Brent found me thru my ad in the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review. He had read my byline ‘Senior sign painter at the Disneyland Resort for 7 years’ and wanted Disney looking signs for his business window signs.

There is the feel of an old general store to the place. The floors are old wood and the décor and counter make you feel like you’ve gone back in time.

The idea for the glass windows was to have different artwork on the panels on each side of the doors. I worked at putting together a montage of different pictures that would depict the American Indian way of life. Thank God for the internet. There is so much information and pictures to help put together a project that requires vintage photos and artwork like this. Once the two different sketches were approved, I proceeded to pen and ink the artwork so I could make the patterns for the job. The windows are 40” wide so I didn’t want the width of the artwork to exceed 30”. Brent wanted people to be able to look into the glass and see the trade goods.

Normally I make a transparency and enlarge it on my overhead, but I discovered large format printing at Kinko’s. I used a proportion wheel to get the percentage and had the prints done in reverse so I could tape them up to the outside of the glass. It worked very well.

I used digital print, vinyl, hand lettering and gold leaf on this job. It was really nice to have people come up and make comments about the work and the fact that it was being done by a sign painter.


MatoskaWindowLetteringLeftSide. (450x800) (2)

Vintage Railroad Signs and Art

Western Pacific Wall. An exterior wall sign hand lettered and aged at the Fullerton store. (763x800)I painted this Vintage Railroad Sign for Knowlwood’s Restaurant in Fullerton, located at the Santa Fe Train Station on Harbor Blvd. That was around 1985 or so. There were several Vintage Railroad  Signs inside the restaurant including a hand painted banner I did featuring a locomotive and the Knowlwood’s logo.

I have been fascinated with trains and railroads for years, and built a small train setting for my grand kids. At one time, trains were the principle mode of freight and public transportation and a lot of towns in the United States grew up around the railroad depots, especially if they were near water, which was needed for steam engine locomotives.

You can experience train rides at places like Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland, California. Up in Northern California there is the Skunk Railroad, and Roaring Camp in the Santa Cruz mountains, to name a few. There are many well known Railroad Museums throughout the Country. A good friend of mine, Bob Babcock has a small gauge railroad on his property and he runs the train on a quarter mile track at special events. An enjoyable ride that gives you the first hand experience of riding an old steam engine train.

While at Disneyland I designed and hand lettered the artwork on the locomotive tender for Engine No.1, the C.K. Holiday and also the lettering on the side of the engine. I have also lettered train signs for RWB Party Props in Orange and for clients with private collections.

Several years ago I became interested in Vintage Railroad Art. There were a lot of posters commissioned and some great logos designed for travel by train. It is possible to get these hand lettered as vintage railroad signs. I also paint dioramas and interior wall Vintage Railroad Logos and Signs.

Vintage Barn Painting

Old Barn Los Osos California. An acrylic painting I did as a student of R. Bradfor Johnson. (799x800)

This is a vintage barn painting that I did under the tutelage of R. Bradford Johnson, renowned western artist. Roger and I were good became good friends when i started in the sign business in Whittier, Calif. in 1972. I would trade signs for painting lessons and i spent several Saturdays learning how to paint with acrylics. Roger was one of the first artists I met who used this medium. I found him to be a very good teacher and we remained friends until his passing.

This is the type of vintage barn that was found on most farms from the East coast to the West. Back in the 1930’s, someone came up with the idea of advertising on the large faces of these barns and this was the job of the sign painter. Sometimes hand lettered signs were also put on the roofs of these now vintage barns.

Today the artwork is referred to as Vintage Style Barn Signs.

When I was working at Disneyland there were several locations where I either touched up or lettered these kinds of signs. They take a special technique sign painters and faux finishers call ‘aging’.  I also use this technique when lettering smaller signs on aged wood fencing for a rustic look.

Mail Pouch Tobacco Barns,  are barns with one or more sides, painted from 1890 to 1992 with a barn advertisement, for the West Virginia Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco Company. At the height of the program in the early 1960’s there were 20,000 Mail Pouch Barns spread across 22 states.(Wikepedia.)

The idea caught on and other businesses took advantage of these large areas for their advertising. The practice of hand lettered and pictorial advertising on wood structures, brick and concrete continues to this day.