Idaho Skunks Are Not To Be Sniffed At: The Roadside Signs of Fearless Farris’ Stinker Stations

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“Fearless” Farris Lind had an eye for adventure. Born in 1915 outside of Twin Falls, Idaho, he graduated from Twin Falls High School in 1934. Shortly thereafter he worked as an attendant at a local gas station and then became manage of a small theater. Not too long after, Lind received a “Spanish Prisoner Letter” from a jailed businessman in Mexico. The letter was smuggled from the prison and mailed to Lind – the businessman and Lind had a mutual acquaintance.

The letter asked Lind to come to Mexico. Once there, he was to bribe a guard at the jail with $500, the guard would give him claim checks to the businessman’s trunks which contained $250,000 in a false bottom. The businessman also stated that he would be forever grateful if Lind would escort the businessman’s daughter to the United States.

Lind quit his theater job immediately, borrowed on his insurance and readied himself for a Mexican adventure. When Lind arrived in Mexico City,  a U.S. Consul officer told him that it was an old trick. There was no “businessman.” There were no riches and Lind’s $500 was gone forever. Lind was one of many who had fallen for the ruse.

Despondent, after a month long trip to Mexico, Lind returned to the U.S. dirty, with no money and on a third-class mail coach.

In 1938, Lind headed to Toronto on a six-week visa. There he took a job for an advertising firm. His job, in conjunction with a Richfield Hi-Octane gasoline promotion,was to respond to the the thousands of letters as Jimmie Allen, hero of popular 15-minute radio serial “The Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen.”

The Times, 23 Jan 1938, Sun, Page 36

An advertisement for “The Air Adventures of Jimmie Allen”  from The Times – January 23, 1938

Canadian officials soon learned that the American on a short-term visa had a full-time job and he was quickly deported. Broke yet again, Lind moved to Denver. There he found a job as a road salesman for a refinery. The job was miserable, but his time in Denver wasn’t all bad. He met an art student named Virginia Johns and the two were married on November 5, 1939.

The young couple moved to Butte, Montana where Lind opened a petroleum brokerage firm. It was a flop. Lind was broke yet again. The two headed to back to Lind’s home state of Idaho. In 1941, Idaho governor Chase A. Clark was embroiled in a dispute with oil retailers. Clark insisted the prices being charged were way too high and threatened to open state-owned retailers. Lind, sensing an opportunity, spoke with Clark and told him that if he wanted to keep costs down he should make it easier for independent gas and oil companies to compete with the big boys. Lind insisted that making cheap land available to the small companies on a state lease would solve the problem. The governor agreed.

Lind got a lease on an old truck weigh station near Twin Falls. After borrowing $5 from his sister, Lind was able to haul old storage tanks to the weigh station and began dispensing gas. He called the new station Fearless Farris and he kept prices low.

Then came World War II. Lind served as a Naval flight instructor and tested new planes. After three years, Lind was discharged. He and some former Navy buddies utilized their flying skills and started a spraying service with 12 planes. The company was called Fearless Farris Pest Control Service.

 

The Post-Register, 20 Jun 1948, Sun, Page 13

The Post-Register – June 20, 1948

Business was tough. In the three year the spraying service was operating, seven of the company’s 12 planes crashed and two pilots died. Lind himself suffered two accidents. He sold his shares of the company in 1949 and devoted all of his time to his plucky little service station.

The gas station’s low prices began to take hold and Lind was able to open several new stations in the area. This didn’t come without ruffling a few feathers. Local oil retailers began to despise Lind and called him “The Stinker.” Lind loved it and almost immediately began calling his stations Fearless Farris’ Stinker Stations with a skunk wearing boxing gloves as a mascot. The skunk mascot adorned eye-catching neon signs that demanded motorists’ attention.

The Pittsburgh Press, 20 May 1956, Sun, Page 118

The Pittsburgh Press – May 20, 1956

Dozens of new locations popped up every year in Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Nevada.

The Eugene Guard, 03 Jan 1952, Thu, Page 6

The Eugene Guard – January 3, 1952

Ever the salesmen, Lind offered everything from candy and toys to lure families to trips to Hawaii and diamond rings. He was always looking for a way to draw attention to Stinker. In the late 40s/early 50s Lind would come up with an idea, almost by accident, that would make him and his business known state and nation-wide.

The Salt Lake Tribune, 10 Jun 1959, Wed, Page 26

The Salt-Lake Tribune – June 10, 1959

In 1969, Lind would tell the tell story of his great idea. He bought plywood, the only wood he could afford, to build signs for the first station. He continued,

“The plywood had to be painted on both sides to seal the sign against moisture. As long as the back of the sign was painted, I got the idea of putting humor or curiosity-catching remarks on the back side.”

The signs were a perfect idea. On old Highway 30, the precursor to Interstate 80 (now Interstate 84), there was nothing but desert sagebrush and hills for hundreds upon hundreds of miles. Lind placed roadside signs to spice up the landscape and get the word out about Stinker.

Just as the barren wasteland begins to feel as if it will stretch on into eternity, a simple yellow sign with black letter emerges on the roadside, as if reading the driver’s thoughts. The sign simply says, “Ain’t This Monotonous?”

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 20 May 1956, Sun, Page 202

The Philadelphia Inquirer – May 20, 1956

There is no other message on the sign. The driver begins to wonder what they just saw. A few minutes later another sign emerges. “This is Not Sagebrush, You’re In Idaho Clover.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer - May 20, 1956

The Philadelphia Inquirer – May 20, 1956

Then nothing. No signs again for several miles. The driver doesn’t know what the signs are about. The desert begins to feel endless. Suddenly, a bigger sign emerges: Warning: Idaho is Full of Beautiful Lonely Women.” This is the one that catches everyone’s attention.

Stinker3

There is still no indication about the meaning of the signs, but the driver begins to look for more.  Suddenly, every 15 minutes a new sign emerges, then another and then another. As the driver makes their way to Boise, the message become closer together.  One hundred signs line the drive in to town.

The messages are all different:

“Nudist Area, Keep Your Eyes on the Road – Cowboys Please Remove Spurs”
(with a nude mannequin covered in a leaf and cowboy clothing, boots and a whiskey bottle on an old plank)

Stinker1

“Sheepherders Headed for Town Have Right Of Way”

Stinker2

“Petrified Watermelons – Take One Home to Your Mother-In-Law ”
(complete with heavy, round lava rocks)

Stinker4

“Warning To Tourists –  Do Not Laugh at the Natives”
(Image courtesy of Roadside Nut)

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“Have Tea With Me – Bring Your Own Bag”

The Pittsburgh Press, 20 May 1956, Sun, Page 119

The Pittsburgh Press – May 20, 1956

“Rain Checks Cashed – Suckers Welcome – The Bank of Snake River”

The Pittsburgh Press, 20 May 1956, Sun, Page 119 2

The Pittsburgh Press – May 20, 1956

A few more of the known signs:

“This Road For Men Only – Curves and Soft Shoulders – Women Take the Detour”
“Cattle Country – Watch Out For Bum Steers”
“Idaho Skunks Are Not To Be Sniffed At”
“Fishermen: Do You Have Worms?”
“Lava is Free. Make Your Own Soap”
“Methodists – Watch Out For Mormon Crickets”
“Boise is Full of Taxpayers”
“This Area is For the Birds – It’s Fowl Territory”
“State Highway Obstacle Course”
“Sagebrush is Free, Take Some Home to Your Mother-In-Law”
“Quiet Please, Entering Ghost Town”
“For a Fast Pickup, Pass a State Patrolman”
“Don’t Just Sit There, Nag Your Husband”
“No Trespassing, This Area is For the Birds”
“No Fishing Within 100 Yards of the Road””Don’t Just Sit There, Nag Your Husband”
“If Your Wife Wants to Drive, Don’t Stand In Her Way”
“Hysterical Marker – Chief Saccatabacca Starved to Death Here”
“Do You Have a Reservation or Aren’t You an Indian?”
“If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now”
“Sitting Bull Stood Up Here”
“Why Be a Wage Slave? Find Your Wife a Job”

“Warning: The Wind Will Blow Up This Road”

The Pittsburgh Press - May 20, 1956

The Pittsburgh Press – May 20, 1956

As the signs increase you begin to see the Stinker skunk on the edge of the sign. Then the messages become a billboard advertising Stinker Cut-Rate Gas Station in Boise. The tourist then feels compelled to come to the station for gasoline or, at the very least, an explanation.

The signs became a sensation. Stinker Stations became the go-to fuel place in Boise. Word about the signs began to spread as tourists brought their stories and pictures back with them. National newspapers (many used here) gave even more attention to the signs. Lind was a hit. He expanded his empire to over 50 stores.  Business was stronger than ever but Fearless Farris was not.

Lind was diagnosed with polio in the 1950s and was bed-ridden most of the remainder of his life. He finally succumbed in 1983. The Lind family sold the business in 2002.

The roadside signs are a different story. While a few remain, many were removed when in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the highway beautification act that banned most commercial signs from rural highways. The signs were quietly removed, but their legacy lives on. Stinker Stations are still a staple of the region and they employ more than 700 people.  The skunk is still part of the advertising, a fitting tribute to the original stinker, Fearless Farris Lind.

Diamonds Restaurant and Inn – Villa Ridge, Missouri

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The Banana Stand opened in Villa Ridge, Missouri about 35 miles west of St. Louis in 1923. The small roadside stand owned and operated by Spencer and Ursula Groff was an big hit.  Every year the place expanded. In the 1930s the now restaurant was renamed The Diamonds. In 1947, The Diamonds were serve a record 1,480,000 customers. Everything was looking great. Luck would change for The Diamonds on February 28, 1948. A fire decimated the restaurant, gutting it beyond repair. But that would not be the end of the story. The Diamonds would reopen bigger and better than ever.

The St. Louis Star and Times – July 1, 1949

 

Former Banana Stand busboy Louis Eckelkamp was in charge of the restaurant at the time of fire and he vowed to make a new, bigger restaurant with everything needed for the traveling tourist.

The new Diamonds Restaurant opened on July 10, 1949 at its new location on U.S. Highway 50 and Route 66. The new fireproof building cost around $350,000 to erect. It contained a full basement, first floor seating for nearly 400 people, a coffee shop, cafeteria, curio shop, drive-in cafe, bus ticket office, travel bureau, popcorn stand and filling station. It was truly one-stop shop.

Upon opening, it was approximated that 75 buses a day stopped at The Diamonds, bringing the restaurant nearly 5,500 customers a day. The locals would also frequent the restaurant, knowing that that a pleasant atmosphere and good food could be found there.

The restaurant thrived for over 20 years at that location, but in 1971 The Diamonds had dreams of expanding. An even newer restaurant and motel would be built just slightly down the road on the more-traveled Interstate 44 and Grey Summit Interchange just off of Route 66.

The old building would become the Tri-Country Truck Stop. The restaurant building/truck stop would close in 2006. The building still stands and is said to be haunted. Supposedly, there is an apparition at the old restaurant and another presence nicknamed George. George has been “known” to get a little ghost-handsy with women. The old site is alleged to open sometime this year.

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The motel featured 162 units and a pool. The new location offered more gas services and advertised itself as the closest fuel/lodging location to Six Flags. The new location, however would suffer. The fuel crisis of 1973, along with a crippling recession slowed traffic to a crawl. The Diamonds had been successful for so long that they were able to weather it, but they would never be the same.

Sometime in the mid 1980s, business had slowed to such a crawl that the decision was made to close the place down. The third Diamonds would sit idle for a bit and ultimately be torn down. The motel is still standing and is now the Travelodge Six Flags/Grey Summit.