F.M. Light & Sons courtesy
F.M. Light & Sons pays an annual fee for each of its 100 signs and repaints them every year.
Steamboat Springs Bored on the drive from Kremmling to Steamboat Springs? Try counting signs. F.M. Light & Sons signs, to be exact.
If you don’t get distracted, you’ll tally 32 of the black and gold billboards before the turnoff to Walden, with six more on this side of the Continental Divide.
In all, there are 99 such signs strewn about the highways of Northwest Colorado — as many as the bottles of beer in a song also used to wile away the hours — and one more at the rodeo grounds for an even 100. They’re all part of an marketing blitzkrieg dreamed up in 1928 by Clarence Light, son of store founder Frank, who opened the men’s clothier in Steamboat in 1905.
“People definitely know us for them,” says store co-owner Del Lockhart, whose children Sarah, James, Suzanna, Jonathan and Dawson as well as nephew, Brandon, mark the retailer’s fifth generation of workers. “And they do as good a job for us today as they did in Clarence’s day — both for us and the town. A lot of people stop in just because they saw (the signs) and then stick around.”
Touting everything from Stetsons and Levi overalls to $4.98 cowboy hats, the signs have become synonymous with Steamboat.
“Both F.M. Light and its signs are iconic symbols that have become a fabric of our community,” says Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s Michelle Krasilinec. “People ask about them all the time.”
Originally, there were 300 of them, back in the days when F.M. Light also took its store on the road, visiting ranches in paneled trucks with shelves, hangers and merchandise. Half were removed as a result of Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act, and today 100 remain, each one registered with the state of Colorado. The store pays an annual fee for each one, gives private property owners hosting them an annual gift certificate and repaints them every year.
“We tried a few modern signs, but it just didn’t feel right,” Lockhart says, adding that the store’s logbook has countless entries singing their praise.
While some view them as eyesores — in the 1970s someone nicknamed The Ax Man routinely hacked gashes in them — residents and visitors view them as a warm welcome mat for the Yampa Valley — and better than Red Bull for prying open eyelids on the long drive home.