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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Billboard/Poster/Sign (any or all) (12/02/10)

TITLE: Roadside Reading
By Joy Bach
12/05/10


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My mother and I used our feet for transportation Ö through choking dust storms and freezing blizzards. When Grandpa Macquire tried courting mother, he bribed her with a bicycle for me. He lost her Ö I kept the bike. But mother never graduated to owning an automobile.

So when my sister and her husband offered to take me on vacation with them Ö from Kansas to Wyoming Ö I could hardly wait. The floor space between the back seat and the front seat was filled with boxes, making a level area for me and my two nieces. Since the car had no air conditioning and it was July, we left at night Ö the three of us sleeping soundly in our traveling bedroom.

During the day, the billboards and signs gave us plenty of letters and numbers with which to play games. The alphabet game consisted of finding each letter of the alphabet Ö starting with A Ö on the signs we passed. The first one to letter Z was the winner. Unless you were passing by a zoo, a Z was hard to find.

But my very favorite discovery was the Burma-Shave signs. They were everywhere Ö and such fun to read. A little bit of trivia. The first recorded signs were put up in 1927. By 1930 the company had 19 different sets of phrases. In 1938, safety messages were added Ö such as:

Donít take a curve
At 60 per
We hate to lose
A customer
Burma-Shave

Hardly a driver
Is now alive
Who passed
On hills
At 75
Burma-Shave

Past
Schoolhouses
Take it slow
Let the little
Shavers grow
Burma-Shave

If you dislike
Big traffic fines
Slow down
Till you
Can read these signs
Burma-Shave

Itís best for
One who hits
The bottle
To let another
Use the throttle
Burma-Shave

Some slogans added a little humor:

Donít stick
Your elbow
Out so far
It might go home
In another car
Burma-Shave

Donít lose
Your head
To gain a minute
You need your head
Your brains are in it
Burma-Shave

If you
Donít know
Whose signs
These are
You canít have
Driven very far
And then they left off their product name.

The company decided to try a special promotional message:

Free offer! Free offer!
Rip a fender off your car
Mail it in
For a half-pound jar
Burma-Shave

They received a large number of fenders Ö and made good on their promise.

Iím sure the trio in the back of the car made the ones in the front seats miserable. We memorized the slogans and repeated them Ö again and again. Even though 60 years have passed, I can still remember the anticipation of waiting for the next sign to appear.


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This article has been read 402 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Connie Dixon12/09/10
This is really interesting. I never heard of Burma-Shave. A fun read!
Patricia Protzman12/09/10
Good piece. I almost wrote about this same topic. Brings back memories. When I was a child I remember traveling down South and reading lots of Burma Shave signs.
Theresa Santy 12/10/10
I love personal essays infused with history. This was great, and those signs are precious. (Oh, what I wouldn't give to replace all of today's billboards with those Burma Shave ones).

Very entertaining.
Noel Mitaxa 12/12/10
Loved the wit in those signs, and the warm feel of the whole entry.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 12/13/10
What a delightful trip both then and now!
Lollie Hofer 12/15/10
I'm not for sure I understood the Grandpa-courting-the-mc's-mother part (I can be rather dense sometimes), even so sure enjoyed the rest of the story. Great nostalgia of another era...thanks for the wonderful walk down memory lane.