Painstaking restoration brings Fallon neon to life

Fallon’s Lariat Motel is no more, but thanks to area businesses, as well as the Nevada Commission on Tourism and the City of Fallon, its historic neon sign is brightly lit again.

The sign was installed last week at the Churchill Arts Council where the restored landmark will be lighted on special occasions.

“It is from the heyday of 1950s road sign architecture,” says Kirk Robertson, program director at the council, which oversaw the placard’s rebirth. “It’s an iconic sign, a piece of Fallon history as well as a piece of Americana.”

In 2005, the motel’s owners, Ray and Dee Dee Ferguson, donated it to the council when the lodging was torn down to make way for commercial development. Mills Farm & Industrial in Fallon donated its services and crane to remove it, and Don Sefton, owner of Systems Consultants, a Fallon custom programming firm, let the council store the 22-by-16 foot item in his hangar at the airport while the council raised money for its restoration. Dream Builders Construction installed the restored sign.

The tourism commission and city of Fallon provided the funding and the Reno office of YESCO, a nationwide, nearly century-old maker of electric signs, refurbished the sign, including adding a $5,000 in-kind donation when the funds didn’t entirely cover the cost of the project.

Using old photos and postcards provided by the council, YESCO went about restoring the sign to its original colors and luster, says Mark Stevens, account executive with the company. Brent Logan, a mural painter, spent 40 hours repainting by hand the scene — cowboy on horse, lariat in hand, against a backdrop of mountains and sky — behind the neon. Then the company brought the neon tubing up to today’s codes and pumped them full of new neon and argon to match the original colors.

The lariat is designed to flash and the part that produced that — the flasher — was original to the decades-old piece, says Stevens. Flashers today are electrical, he says, but YESCO wanted to restore it using a rebuilt mechanical device identical to the original in order to reproduce the animation.

“It took a lot of man hours and phones calls to get the parts,” says Stevens.

YESCO once made neon signs just like the one for the Lariat Motel, including a 1950s-era neon sign the company restored for the Austin schoolhouse a year ago. But Stevens says the company was never able to determine who originally made the motel sign.

“We looked and looked, but the sign was so beat up and worn out,” says Stevens, they couldn’t find a nameplate or any indication of the maker.

The Reno office restores about one neon sign a year, says Stevens, mostly in rural Nevada where they are more valued and considered part of the location’s appeal.

The last big restoration job YESCO had was about five years ago, when the company rebuilt about half a dozen signs, including part of the third iteration of the Reno arch, for Will Durham, a collector. YESCO still makes neon signs, including Bodine’s casino sign in Carson City, but the work is quick and done mostly by machine now.

“It’s pretty much technology driven,” he says. “Sign builders, like Brent Logan, were the real craftsman.”


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