By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN The signs hanging on Jason Wegner’s home workshop in Winsted, are just carrying on a family tradition that was started years ago by his Uncle Rick Hess of Watertown.
As a young boy, Wegner remembers visiting his uncle when Hess was a bachelor living in Montrose.
Wegner said his place was like a museum.
“I remember he had old Coke signs, mismatched, everything just hung there. I thought it was cool looking,” Wegner said. “I could just walk around for hours and still not see all of the stuff. I guess that’s when the idea kind of caught on.”
When Hess moved from his home in Montrose, he sold many of the signs he had collected through the years, but not all of them.
Now, knowing Wegner’s love for the antique signs, Hess has a way to keep the treasures in the family and has been giving them to his nephew since Wegner bought his home in Winsted two years ago.
“He (Hess) would come over and say, ‘I forgot I even had this one,’” Wegner said. “About once a month he would come with another sign or something else cool that he found and would say, ‘I haven’t looked at this in 10 years so you might as well have it.’”
All of the signs displayed on Wegner’s shop were given to him by his uncle, except for the co-op sign which came from Don Artmann, who owns Big Don’s Carthedral in Lester Prairie.
“When Donnie bought the old co-op, there were two signs that were wrapped in a box in the corner of a shed that had never been opened,” Wegner said.
“We were organizing one of the store sheds and I asked what he was going to do with the signs and he said, ‘you might as well take one.’”
Wegner did, and he chose it as one of the signs to hang on the front of his workshop.
Following his uncle’s tradition, Wegner hung other signs on the front of his home workshop this fall, as well. As Wegner points out, there is room for more.
“And I still have three more sides (to the shop), but don’t tell my wife that,” Wegner added.
Each of the signs has a history, which Wegner recalls as he talks about his collection.
The first one received from his uncle is the Ford sign, which was found when a barn was torn down. The sign was covering a hole in one of the walls. Wegner believes it’s his oldest.
A thermometer advertising Great Heart Coal, which reads, “Less than a bushel of ashes to the ton,” is his favorite.
The thermometer had been found in his aunt, Barb Zimmerman’s Winsted home when she first bought it.
Zimmerman gave the thermometer to her brother (Hess), and Hess has now given it to Wegner.
The largest sign hanging on the shop reads, “Sterner & Zimmerman Co.,” which was thrown away when the business later became Winsted’s John Deere dealership.
The Hires Root Beer sign, which once hung in Howard Lake’s drug store, is one of the few Hess had to work for, winning it in a poker game.
Other signs in Wegner’s collection include a Citizen’s State Bank Winsted, a life-size Elvis, Laverne and the Starlights (a band that used to play at the Blue Note), and a Harley Davidson “1” sign.
Wegner doesn’t mind rust on the sign, as long as it’s possible to read it.
He is most interested in old metal signs with advertisements on them.
“I am not expecting anyone to, but if somebody has an old sign in their garage that they want to get rid of, I would be more than happy to put it up on my shed,” Wegner said.
The one Wegner really would like to have, but said he would never ask the owner for, is the one that hangs along McLeod County Road 1 and reads, ”Highway 261 Auto Parts and Auto Sales.”
“That is a really cool one,” he added.
Wegner is the son of Duane and Patty Wegner of Winsted.
He is a Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted 1998 graduate and is married to Kristin (Riehm) a 2003 Holy Trinity graduate. They have a son, Levi, who is 14 months old.