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Where Town Street Signs Are Made

Workers literally stick the green backgrounds and white letters onto the aluminum signs by hand.

Behind the Highway Department Garage on Purdy Hill Road is a small building that once housed the Monroe dog shelter. In fact, Ken Wildman, a highway maintainer, says the smell of old urine is strong on hot summer days. A green sign with white lettering on the door says "SIGN DEPT". Street signs and traffic control signs posting things like road closures and detours are all handcrafted inside.

Up until five years ago, every street sign in Monroe was made in that building, but a vital piece of equipment needed for signs' reflective coating had become obsolete. As a result, certain signs, including stop and speed limits, must be bought from an outside vendor, according to Wildman.

David "Rocky" Davin, a Highway Department crew leader, said it was only about a month ago that the dated machine, which once took up nearly the entire back room, was taken away. It applied the heat needed to bond reflective material to the signs.

Ken Tortora, a Highway Department maintainer, is in charge of the Sign Department.

Creating a Street Sign

On Wednesday morning, Wildman demonstrated how street signs are made — and no computers were involved in the process.

Blocks are taken from a shelf for different letters and Wildman cuts a sheet of an adhesive with a pair of scissors. He places it on the block and runs it through a table-top machine that punches the letter into the paper.

The letter is then pealed off of the paper and affixed to the green backing.

Green backing is taken from a roll and bonded to the aluminum sign by hand.

Letters and backing are done on both sides of the aluminum in a process that can take up to a half hour to an hour to complete.

Stealing Signs

Wildman said somewhere between 135 to 140 signs were stolen in Monroe last year, costing the town time and money to replace.

Whenever the post is damaged and digging is involved, Wildman said state approval is needed before a shovel can go into the ground, which can make replacing a sign take up to four days or more.

Davin noted how serious the theft of a street sign can be when an ambulance driver tries to find an address for a serious medical call.

When a stop sign is stolen and any delay can cause an accident, temporary signs are posted until the new sign is installed, according to Wildman.

Why steal a sign?

Some steal signs for the names. Wildman said Lovers Lane was stolen three times. Davin believes most of the thefts are to sell the aluminum as scrap metal.

Alex February 22, 2013 at 01:49 PM
135 to 140 signs stolen last year alone??? Wow, that's insane.
Carl Kolchak February 22, 2013 at 01:54 PM
Just waiting for someone to bash Nick Kapoor on this topic.
Crown Royal February 22, 2013 at 07:11 PM
This is very fascinating. Thanks for the story Bill!
townie February 25, 2013 at 01:17 PM
I like the way you try to make a die cutter sound like an archaic device instead of a tool teachers and crafters use every day.
Joel Leneker February 27, 2013 at 08:02 PM
Ken, when you get time make Huntingtown Road a "Guskies Pond" Sign so when the beaver return in the spring they know they are home! LOL

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