Keith Miller held the long glass tube over a flame until it softened enough to bend it into the shape of a letter.
All the while, he blew small puffs of air into the neon tube, which would later become a light in one of the thousands of signs produced annually by Young Electric Sign Co.For all of the technological changes that have advanced the sign industry during YESCO's 70-year history, some things have never changed. Craftsmen, such as Miller, still shape by hand the neon tubes that serve as lighting for signs.
Thomas Young started the company in Ogden in 1920, and it has grown to include seven fabrication plants and 14 branches in six states.
Its products have become landmarks across the country - from the bright red revolving neon sign at the entrance to the World of Coca-Cola Pavilion in Atlanta or the balloon-toting clowns that once beckoned passers-by to Dee's restaurants in Salt Lake City.
Most assuredly, the family-owned company had humble beginnings. In fact, account executive David Herrscher said the contract for the company's first sign was signed atop the hood of Young's car.
A lot has changed since then. For one, the name of the company was changed to YESCO from the Thomas Young Sign Co. in 1920 upon the introduction of the neon tube in the sign business.
While it is still family owned (its top officers are Young's grandsons), YESCO outgrew its Ogden office long ago. It employs hundreds of people who design, build and install the custom signs. Others work in sales and service.
And the company's scope has grown from the western United States to manufacturing signs for national companies including Ford Motor Co., Firestone Tire, Beech Aircraft and Mrs. Fields' Cookies.
Its client list also includes Disneyworld, Epcot, Disney, MGM Studio Tours (Florida) and dozens of Nevada casinos and hotels.
YESCO President Mike Young said his grandfather probably wouldn't recognize the company he started seven decades ago. "When my grandfather started painting signs for businesses in Ogden and Salt Lake 70 years ago, I doubt he could have imagined the size and dominance of our company today," Young said. "I doubt, too that he ever thought his company would become an integral part of Salt Lake's business community."
While YESCO has an impressive client portfolio, Herrscher said signage is a highly competitive business. When asked, Herrscher rattled off a list of competitors as if he were describing the ingredients of a recipe he often prepared.
But Herrscher said what sets YESCO apart from its competitors are its demanding standards for the design, construction, installation and service of its product.
"There's a lot of structural integrity that goes into making a sign," said Herrscher. All sign cabinets have automotive paint finishes and should last 10 years before they need to be replaced. Neon can last 30-60 years, depending on its care.
For example, service doors are designed into each of YESCO electrical signs to help service employees make repairs or replace light bulbs.
Meanwhile, its billboards are handpainted - no small task when the signs are 15 feet tall and 50 feet long. Since the signs hang 45-65 feet in the air, the artwork must be slightly distorted to help motorists read the mammoth signs.
The company also produces more modern signage such as moving message centers, which commonly report time and temperature along with a company logo. These types of signs are often found in sports arenas.
The company's most dramatic signs, however, are of the neon variety. The Rio casino in Las Vegas is 120 feet high, 80 feet wide and features 12,930 feet of neon and 5,460 light bulbs.
Other products include illuminated awnings and double-faced signs that are lighted day and night for maximum visibility.