“Brought to You By” is our series about all the stuff that’s become part of the culture and of the economy. Where did they come from and who thought of them?
Everyone recognizes Smokey Bear, the lovable National Parks mascot who warns visitors about the dangers of forest fires. But where do those friendly anthropomorphic bear cutouts come from?
Today, we talk to the company that makes a lot of the signs that show up at the entrances to National Parks and Forests. About 25-thousand signs and markers last year, actually, all from their Parlin, Colorado-based workshop, including of course those iconic Smokey Bear cutouts.
Taylor Hefftner of Wood Product Signs and Rocky Mountain Aluminum told the story:
"In 1986, my mom, Deborah, was working for the Park Service. She became pregnant with me, decided to try to make signs out of the garage. It worked out really good and has grown to what it is today.
Smokey the Bear signs are one of the favorites. We get phone calls a lot. People calling “I want to buy a Smokey.” And there’s actually some rules in place because it’s a government item.
I start with a raw piece of aluminum and that goes to a water jet table. And the water jet cuts the exact shape out of what the Smokey will look like. The edges get painted and sanded and cleaned. And then into a box and shipped out to wherever it’s going to live.
Whenever we make a mistake here, we have employees that just love to take home mistake Smokeys to put in their room. It’s borderline a fight on who gets it. We give a hard time to everybody because they make the mistakes on purpose so they get to take something home.
What I enjoy about it probably the most is just being here in the country. We can only see about one or two neighbors from our shop. I grew up here on the property so I enjoyed riding my bike around the yard.
My mom, she certainly wouldn’t talk about it. And even if you asked her directly, you wouldn’t get anything out of her. But it’s pretty neat to see what she’s done. Starting from herself in the garage, getting to put signs all over the U.S. And we’re not trying to be a mega-company. We’re not trying to take over the entire market. There’s other companies that we want to see continue and do well. We want to have our part in it, put some great signs going to some great places."
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