Downtown Signman

The spring of the year was a time with plenty of sign work to do. The stockbroker downtown wanted a face lift for his building. That project required scaffolding which I rented and stacked onto my truck. When I got to the job-site and onto the sidewalk in front of the building, I erected four sections of scaffolding on top of my truck. That way I could drive back and forth on the sidewalk and reach all the areas that required new paint. This project also led to the neighboring photography store sign and also a gold leaf on glass logo for the entry door of Butterfield’s.

Gold leaf sign work on glass was considered the epitome of the sign trade. With my ambition of becoming the best sign man in all of Jackson, receiving this commission brought me closer to that goal. I was fortunate to have Ken as my mentor who helped me get a grasp on this specialty.

Butterfield_Gold Leaf on Glass

Among the plethora of sign jobs accomplished in Jackson, the auto glass company soon sported a cartoon image of a man holding a windshield on an exterior wall. The tire repair place got a clever design made out of tire shapes.

Still obsessed with producing on many creative fronts, Gail introduced me to another aspect of contemporary life – occasional leisure. After the long cold winter, one beautiful spring day the sky was clear. She wanted to drive up to Eaton Rapids to have a picnic in the park next to the water.

I asked “what will we do?”

She answered, “just relax”

When we got there, the first sunshine of the year warmed us to just the right temperature. We laid on the grass bank that flanked the river. Her lovely hair glowed as she took command of this opportunity for sunshine and quiet. Still unsure of myself during this mysterious ritual, after fidgeting once we were reclined and quiet on the blanket, I had a question;

“Gail,” I asked…, “am I relaxing right?”

She turned to encourage me and revealed a secret smile, “just keep doing what you’re doing.”

By this time, I had built a new improved T-shirt stand to take to the county fairs. Gail, at first, did not understand why I was doing this with all the sign work available and Ken with plenty of work for me to do for him. But that summer, after seeing how much money we made, she understood perfectly. As the professional she was, she stepped up to help me.

Carnival 9

When the time for the Jackson County Fair arrived mid-august, I had an arrangement with Herman Gumpertz for my T-shirt stand to be on the midway. At home Gail had been chewing on a resentment for my obsession with getting ready and had withdrawn. At fair time, she stepped up to be my assistant. She provided me with outstanding service, to resume our spat after the fair was over. That impressed me.

The most admirable characteristic Gail possessed was her dedication to being professional with whatever she was involved with; her demeanor at the Department store, among her fellow thespians at the theater, and with me in my T-shirt booth as my sales persona.  I could always count on her.

Although not immersed in the horse training process as much as when I worked with Vi, when I did get to Chuck’s barn, the one-on-one lessons about the higher levels of horsemanship were intense. Perhaps the most important piece of the advanced horsemanship puzzle I received from Chuck was understanding the importance of forward impulsion. At Grant’s barn, work with the horse progressed rapidly. Winter approached. In true show business fashion, I put the cart before the horse, so to speak.

Through a circus contact, I secured a six-week contract to provide both my horse and mule acts and announce on a circus in Canada the following spring. Now I had a goal. Gail thought this was crazy because I didn’t have the stock doing anything yet. My plan was to spend the winter in Florida. I knew I had the entire winter to train and perfect two routines. 

The final sign job of the year was a twenty-four-foot wooden sign for the face of a shoe store building in Mason.  I installed this with the help of two guys while large snowflakes came down. 

Store Front

The end of December became the perfect time to resume my pattern of making the annual trek to Florida for the winter.  In the warmer climate, I would train my acts and paint signs for nearby showmen and Gail would join me briefly at one point.

Hurricane wanted to ride along with me. I heard his story again about the shrimp boat, plus his explanation about how he wanted to go see how things were going.

 When I had all my loose ends intact, I left Jackson with my rig. My Ford pulled the horse trailer with the VW bus hooked behind.  Hurricane rode shotgun. We headed for Chuck’s.

At Chuck’s the threat of snow made the last task, loading hay on the roof of the horse trailer, necessarily expedient. The rich, nutritious, Michigan variety of sustenance for the horse was better than anything available in Florida. I had the long horse trailer backed up to the giant old barn, with ‘C W Grant’ in big block letters across one gable end. Underneath the sliding door of the loft, high above, the hay was stacked inside.

            Hurricane stood in the doorway. He tossed bales down as I created neat rows on the roof. As I received the bales of hay being tossed down, my mind went into a day dream. I remembered how it all started and what brought me to this place years ago.

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