Sign & Digital Graphics

March '18

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20 • March 2018 • S I G N & D I G I T A L G R A P H I C S ELECTRIC SIGNAGE Inside Joey Gerhart's neon shop. Gerhart says he learned the basics of neon tube bending on the job. "That was back when they had four or five benders. They taught me how to pump the neon and eventually I learned how to bend." Gerhart says he learned the basics of neon tube bending on the job while working at Sign Builders, but a break- through came when he met Morgan Crook, who at the time was the tech- nical support engineer at Transco, and who would occasionally visit the shop. (Crook at the time also penned "The Neon Jungle" column for Sign Business magazine, the predecessor to Sign & Digital Graphics.) "My boss told me, 'This guy knows what he's talking about. If you want to learn, ask him questions.' So I asked every question I could think of that my boss could never answer." After so many ques- tions, Crook suggested he get a copy of The Neon Engineer's Handbook, by Crook and Jacob Fishman. "I had to unlearn a few things, but the book explained how to do them correctly and showed how and why the way we were doing it caused problems." The sign lighting paradigm shifted when L E D s became bright enough, abundant enough, reliable enough and cheap enough to be installed easily into channel letters and cabinet signs. It was easy enough to see the change in store for the neon trade. "When LEDs first hit, we laughed about them because they were so expensive," Gerhart remembers, "and they weren't very bright compared to neon. But then they just started getting brighter and cheaper." That's when the neon departments of sign companies started changing. Big wholesalers, as well as small Mom 'n Pops closed up shop. And the fires, the racks of glass, the patterns, the neon lights— and the tube benders—simply moved on. Gerhart was the last tube bender to work at SBI, until it too closed its neon shop in 2014 and he also moved on.

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