ARCADIA, Okla. (KFOR) – On a still evening in early January when most homeowners would be hurrying to take down whatever lights are still left from Christmas, Jim Ross and his wife Shellee Graham have no such plans.
“No. We’re not taking down lights,” chuckles Ross.
“We’re not doing it,” echoes Shellee.
In fact, they’re waiting for that golden hour of sunset to pass, and for their neon garden to grow and take over the whole backyard.
Jim continues, “The best time to be out here is starting now. The darker it gets the brighter the neon glows.”
These types of lights illuminate both of their own personal histories,
“These signs harken back to the glory years of the Mother Road,” says Ross.
They grew up to watch out for them as authors and artists along Route 66.
“Doing 2-lane vacations,” he continues.
Graham adds, “I’ve always been drawn to the older signs.”
They look extra hard now but also made sure some survivors from the American roadside of the 1920’s through the 1950’s were extra close.
Their aim, they state, “To get them back up shining brightly like little beacons in the night instead of just being a tin can laying in a junk pile somewhere.”
Some pieces of their collection are rescues: an old motel sign from Pontiac, Illinois, a neon sign from the Rabbit Ear Cafe in Clayton, New Mexico, or a bullet nose style hotel sign from Tama, Iowa.
“Tama is on the old Lincoln Highway,” adds Ross.
Both Jim and Shellee insist their preference would be to keep lit signs in their original locations so some of their pieces are replicas.
Their Jim’s Modern Cabin sign is a throwback homage to John’s Modern Cabins along Route 66.
“Just outside of St. Louis,” says Shellee
As sunlight fades into the western sky we all require a man made light to show us the way to rest, or to eat, or drink.
“They’re sexy.” says Graham. “They’re sexy signs. They’re exciting.”
Jim and Shellee have always been drawn to that noble gas called neon, glowing in bent glass tubes to form letters from our commercial past, and to a unique garden where they still glow bright as ever.
“Every night,” Jim assures us.
“Every night,” Shellee echoes.
Jim Ross is the author of several books on the history and location of Route 66.
To learn more, visit his website.
Shellee Graham is an artist and author in her own right.