“Signs of the Times” is the name of the latest featured exhibit at the Barton County Historical Society Museum, and includes vintage signs and photos from the museum’s regular collection going back to the early days of the automobile era.
“We had a lot of these up in the rafters at the transportation barn, and they’ve been out of sight, out of mind for a while,” BCHS co-director Leslie Helsel said Wednesday. “ If you don’t look up, you don’t see them right.”
Up close, it’s easy to see how sign craft has changed over the years. Metal sign bases, some flat and some embossed, make up the majority of the signs. Some are covered in porcelain enamel, others various paint finishes. One reflective sign once marked one of Kansas’s shortest highways.
Another sign, “Vehicles with lugs and disks prohibited,” was a head-scratcher until Monte Stambaugh, a BCHS member, explained what it meant.
“You used to have tractors, and instead of rubber tires, they were steel tires,” he said. As farm equipment increased in size and became heavier, the wheels didn’t provide traction in the field, so lugs were bolted on to provide grab, much like a military tank. While it made navigating fields easier, they would tear up paved roads.
Signs from former filling stations and the old Santa Fe Railroad depot are among the treasures. Photos interspersed provide context. Many of the signs appear much larger close up compared to how they appear in the photos. And speaking of photos, one offers a glimpse of a time when it was more common for equestrians to share the road with automobile drivers. One of Great Bend’s three horse stables can be seen in the background of a former Standard Oil Co. filling station located on Kansas Ave.
The exhibit will be on display for about a month, Helsel said.