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.

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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)

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“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.

Mechanafe – Boise, Idaho

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WHERE THE WORLD MEETS TO EAT

  • 100% Waiterless Restaurant
  • It’s Electrical
  • It’s Fascinating
  • It’s Sanitary
  • It’s Beautiful
  • It’s Mechanical
  • It’s Novelty
  • It’s Progress
  • It’s The Show Place of Idaho

These words appeared on the back of a 1941 postcard advertising Boise, Idaho’s only mechanical cafe cleverly dubbed the Mechanafe. For more than a decade, the Mechanafe provided Idaho’s capitol city with 100% waiterless, buffet-style food.

The original Mechanafe was opened by Charles G. Hall in 1929 at 916 North Main Street, right next to the Idanha Hotel. The restaurant would relocate after a few years and eventual settle just down the street in downtown Boise at 211 North 8th Street.

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Postcard showing the 1930s interior of the Mechanafe.

The concept was fairly similar to the Merry-Go-Round Cafes that would open at almost the exact same time. Patrons would sit at their tables and two conveyor belts,  one for food and one for dishes would pass directly next to the customer. The concept is slightly similar to automats, except with the conveyor belt system, the customer never had to get up for anything.

Cost of the food was cheap. Originally, it only cost 25 cents per meal, a bargain even for that time. The price was kept low in order to lure customers into the restaurant during the Great Depression. The price would go up a dime throughout the 30s, but the locals still came.

A variety of meats, salads and desserts were available. The restaurant cleverly put the most expensive food near the end of the belt rotation.The thought was customers would grab the food available to them first and not fill on the nicer things. Glass panels on all sides of the conveyor kept food clean and could be easily pushed in when the customer found something they wanted to eat.

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Postcard of the Mechanafe. If you look next to the patrons you can see the glass-paneled conveyor belt system.

In order to maintain cleanliness, the belt was cleaned with bleach every Sunday evening and the glass panel shined and polished.

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A typhoid outbreak in the 1930s caused a bit of a panic and kitchen members were ordered to be tested for typhoid and for syphilis in order to not spread the disease very slowly around the restaurant.

Charles Hall sold the restaurant in 1934. The new owners kept the restaurant humming along. Nearly 250,000 customers were served in 1940. The future looked bright. Enter World War II. War time rationing raised the price of food and the restaurant was not permitted to raise the price of meals. The Mechanafe was doomed. Within six months the restaurant would be closed forever and forgotten almost as quickly.

The Mechanafe is somewhat forgotten. Save for a couple of postcards and a matchbook that I have collected over the years, information and ephemera from the waiterless restaurant are scarce. I found a couple of articles that were a big help to me on this post but not much else remains.

The original building that housed the mechanical cafe was razed years ago. The last location has housed a series of restaurants and is still standing with no evidence that the future of food service was once housed inside.

Cactus Pete’s and the Creation of a New Town

Cardboard America, Cardboard Motels

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Peter “Cactus Pete” Piersanti was born in 1917 in Superior, Wyoming. The youngest of six kids to Italian parents. The family moved to Ogden, Utah. Growing up poor during the depression, Peter had always dreamed of being rich.

In 1941, Peter purchased a local bar and grill with a card room in the back. Shortly after that, Piersanti set up a pinball machine distribution company with some rather dubious connections.

During World War II, Piersanti enlisted in the U.S. Army and served overseas. Shortly after his return, he resumed his businesses. This would not last long. Piersanti and 16 others were charged with criminal conspiracy in relation to the enforcement of Ogden’s regulation again pinball games.

In March 1944, the mayor of Ogden resigned very suddenly. This raised numerous red flags. After investigation, the group of gamblers, saloon owners and generally shady characters was alleged to have bribed Bramwell to look the other way on gambling regulations.

The case was stalled by lawyers until December of 1946. Judge Charles G. Cowley ultimately decided that was insufficient evidence to charge any of the defendants with conspiracy and the case was dismissed.That was it for Piersanti in Utah.

In 1947, Idaho passed a law allowing slot machines in the eastern and rural parts of the state. Can you guess where he moved next?

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Life Magazine – August 20, 1951

As soon as the law passed, several “businessmen,” gamblers and people of ill-repute settled in a remote area of Idaho near the Wyoming and Montana borders later called Island Park. The unincorporated town was established as a resort and lodge town with slot machines and an ability to circumvent the liquor laws at the time that prohibited the sale of liquor outside of city limits.

Piersanti was thriving in this environment. He made enough money to become one of the original lodge owners of Island Park Lodge.

While at Island Park, Piersanti met another gambling entrepreneur named Don French. The two would become fast friends and business partners.

 

Then it all crashed down. On December 3, 1953, the Idaho state legislature outlawed gambling of all kinds. The ban would begin on January 1, 1954. That was it for Piersanti in Island Park and the start of a minor empire.

Don French had already moved to a remote area on the Nevada-Idaho border and opened the Horse Shu Club with 50 slot-machines and a soon to be opened 30-unit motel.

Piersanti and several ideas saw French’s success and tried to join in. Several applications for Nevada gaming licenses were filed in June of 1954 and denied. Nevada’s tax commissioners established a policy of opposition against granting general gambling licenses to the northeastern Nevada region.

The commission was afraid that granting licenses near the Idaho border, where gambling is illegal, would result in a “bad situation” with a neighboring state. Also, it was believed that such an isolated area could not be properly policed.

Undeterred, Piersanti decided to start small and applied a few weeks later with a plan to only operate slot machines. The commission approved.

In 1956, a small cinderblock building with the name “Cactus Pete’s” opened. There was a gas station, a few slot machines, six rooms and hot-water mineral baths. For a time, there was no electricity or phone service in and Piersanti himself tended bar. Business boomed.

 

Reno Gazette-Journal – April 8, 1959

The location was the key to the entire early operation. These businesses lured Idahoans, especially citizens of the Twin Falls area, only 47 miles away, across the border to spend their gambling money. The only issue was the town did not have a name.

The settlement was first recognized in May of 1958 as the unincorporated town of “Horse Shu.” The population was listed as 65. Cactus Pete hated the named. He felt like the named placed more emphasis on the Horse Shu Club than his now thriving business.

Due to the protest, Elko County commissioners urged French and Piersanti to come up with a town name that they both liked. The two were now in heavy competition and couldn’t agree on anything, let alone a town name. The commissioners were frustrated and renamed the town “Unincorporated Town No. 1” as punishment. For the remainder of 1958 the “town” was in flux. Some called it Horse Shu. Others called it Cactus Pete’s, Nevada. The telephone company referred to it as Idavada.  After nearly a year of squabbling the two settle on the name of Jackpot.

Town name or not, Piersanti had big plans. He partnered with A.L. “Bud” Gurley and Dale Wildman to develop a new motel and runway, for easier access to the remote town. Twin Falls contractor Ray Neilsen, whose son Craig would later build Ameristar Casinos, constructed the complex.

The 15-room Desert Lodge Motel motel opened in 1958 to great success.

Idaho State Journal – May 25, 1960

For the next decade or so, business boomed. Piersanti and Gurley bought out Wildman, and eventually took over management of the faltering Horseshu. Gurley died in 1967, and Piersanti became a partner with Neilsen, George Detweiler of Twin Falls and Al Hurley, Pete’s bookkeeper.

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Postcard showing Cactus Pete’s interior from the early 1960s.

In 1969 they built a two-story, 50-room motel that still stands to this day.

Piersanti sold his interest in Cactus Pete’s in 1971. Things would change a lot of next 30 years. Here’s a brief timeline courtesy of the UNLV Center for Gaming Research:

1971: Ray Neilsen died and his wife Gwen took control of his shares. Neilsen’s son, Craig, assumed a leading role in the day-to-day operation of Cactus Pete’s.

1984: Neilsen became president of Cactus Pete’s, Inc.

1987: Craig Neilsen assumed sole ownership of the corporation.

1991: Cactus Petes completed a $22 million hotel and casino expansion and the property became one of the largest gaming facilities in northeast Nevada. Construction work included enlarging the casino, adding a hotel tower, restaurants and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

1993: Ameristar Casinos, Inc. was founded as the parent company of Cactus Petes and Ameristar Casino Vicksburg. Stock began trading on the NASDAQ National Market on November 9.

Cactus Pete’s is still going and is still a nice, out of town trip for Southern Idahoans.

After a brief stay in Las Vegas, Piersanti bought the Senator Club in Carson City, Nevada and renamed it Cactus Jack’s Senator Club. He ran the Senator Club until 1989, then retired to Lake Tahoe.

Peter Piersanti died in 1994, the way he had always wanted, as a rich man.

Brunswick Cafe – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

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The Brunswick Cafe and Tepee Room with its now very much non-PC mascot named “skookum-um-chuck” was located at 411 Sherman St. in downtown Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Advertisements encouraged people to look for the “SIGN OF THE INDIAN.”

According to the back of the postcard above:

THE BRUNSWICK CAFE & TEPEE ROOM, located right downtown in Idaho’s foremost tourist mecca, Coeur d’Alene. It has a unique front featuring skookum-um-chuck, the smiling Indian. Fine food is hot-served. The cozy interior also makes it the place where everybody goes for “just a cup of coffee,” full course dinner, sizzling steak or their famous specialty – the “awful-awful.”

Bill Webster opened the Brunswick Cafe in January, 1954 but he had bigger ambitions than just running a restaurant. Webster served as a Democrat in the Idaho House from 1956-1961. In 1965 he was elected to the Senate where he served two terms before dropping out.In 1968, he was elected again and served until 1970.

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In 1971, he became the superintendent of the Idaho State Liquor Dispensary. Too busy to deal with his new appointment and pressure of running the now dated restaurant, Webster sold his location Tom Robb to further expand his Iron Horse Restaurant.

The “Awful-Awful” is an incredibly large and messy hamburger and is still being served at the Iron Horse.

Deals of the Day: October 6, 1966

Coupon Corner, Uncategorized

These ads ran in the Idaho State Journal (Pocatello, Idaho) on October 6, 1966.  I had fun putting this together. I was taken aback by how many small supermarkets existed in a town of about 40,000.

If you like Boston Butt, large colored chickens, electric chord organs or toothpaste twins then this is the week for you.

There’s a Founder’s Day Sale going on at ID (The Idaho Store). There are two locations to serve you: 701 E. Center and 851 North Main.

It’s the Big Annual Tablerite Beef Round-up AND the Del Monte Round-Up at the IGA Foodliner. 2740 Poleline Road and 905 South Fifth.

Montgomery Ward in Wonderful Westwood Village, 1800 Garrett Way is having a Ward Week Sale on Men’s sport shirts, panty girdle lifts, velour shirts with 2-way collar, and panty girdle lifts.

Thriftway has a sale on Boston Butt Pork Roast – 43¢ per lb. Harold’s Thriftway and College Thriftway: we are home owned.

Pocatello’s biggest case good sale continues at Shoppers, 325 Yellowstone Avenue. Save like you’ve never saved before.

Del Monte Food, “The Biggest L’il Store in Town” has a GROUND BEEF SPECIAL!!

Newberrys, also in the Westwood Village has their 55th Anniversary Sale going on right now.

Super Values at Super Save Drugs! Get the jump on Christmas! Twister is on sale for $3.98. Thing Maker on sale $9.98. Shop now!

Sprouse-Reitz Variety Stores has 20% off everything in the store every Friday & Saturday (including Halloween Goodies).

Woolworth’s is having their 87th Anniversary Sale. Electric Chord Organ is on sale for $29.95. Calendar towels for 98¢…they’re pure linen.

Frazier’s at Washington and Cedar has “C” Grade Hens on sale for 33¢

What a wonderful week to gather baskets of bargains. HARVEST TIME SAVINGS at SAFEWAY.

Welcome Hunters! Okay Food Centers is having a Big Buck Contest.

 

Skaggs Drug Center at 134 N. Main Street is having a Dollar Days sale.

 

Grand Central Drug has 148 McKesson Health & Beauty Aids including Rubbing Alcohol, Milk of Magnesia, Aspirin Twins and Toothpase Twins.

Albertson’s on E. Center Street has German Chocolate Cake (my favorite) on sale.

Lee Ward’s Super Market at Poplar and Jefferson has Chunk Bologna, Rippin’ Good Cookies and assorted tools on sale.

Come celebrate Wyz-Way Food Town’s Grand Opening at 1435 North Main. You can win an RCA Victor Color TV.