DeDe and I are out of country with limited Internet. Enjoy today’s “reader’s favorite” from our second book.
The Sign Phantom of Dry Creek
From the book, The Old House, by Curt Iles
It all began in the Spring of of 1974, just prior to my graduation from high school. A rainy April had kept the local streams flooded in “Dry Creek.” (The world’s most overworked cliché, “Well, how wet is it in Dry Creek?”)
One afternoon I went down to the green “Dry Creek” sign that informs the northbound traveler that they are entering our community. Over the “Dry” in Dry Creek I taped a white poster board sign saying “Wet.” It now read, “Wet Creek.” It was widely noticed and laughed at by everyone.
The Lake Charles American Press even ran a picture of the sign, in a story commenting on our wet spring. The caption read in part, “The Highway Department is looking for the ‘wag’ that placed this sign, in defiance of regulations prohibiting the defacing of public signs.” This kind of caused me to lay low on my sign authorship. But for some reason, everyone in Dry Creek knew I’d done it.
Shortly after that, I placed another sign. This sign (to appease my humor-challenged highway department friends) was tied by hay string to the signposts below the Dry Creek sign. It read:
Fun City, U.S.A.
This sign was meant as a final tribute to my soon to be former home as the prodigal left “the sticks” for bigger and better things in college. To understand this sign, you must know something about Dry Creek- both the stream and the community.
To some, the name Dry Creek conjures up a small community in southwestern Louisiana. Others think of the church camp of the same name that has been in existence there for over seventy-five years. Then, some folks think of one of our three churches or two crossroads stores
The creek called Dry Creek is a small, muddy, steep-banked stream that meanders through the southeast corner of Beauregard Parish. It is not very wide, deep, or pretty. It was first named by the Indians. One old timer related as to how he’d been told the Indians really called it “Beautiful Creek,” but the English translation got messed up and came out as “Dry Creek.” Others claim the more traditional story of its name coming from the fact that the creek dries up in places in very dry weather.
Then, there is the geographical area known as Dry Creek. To call the community of Dry Creek a “town” is a gross exaggeration. Nestled among pine uplands and hardwood creek bottoms, Dry Creek is simply an intersection of two highways. We have a post office, a church Camp, two stores, and some really good churches, but very little in the way of commerce or industry.
This still happens to me from time to time: A first time visitor will stand in the Post Office parking lot across from Foreman’s Grocery and innocently ask, “Now, where is the actual community of Dry Creek located?” It’s always fun to answer with a smile, “Friend, you’re now standing right in the middle of downtown.”Not much exciting has ever happened exciting in our community. Growing up I only remember two really big events- Once, when a crop-dusting airplane crash-landed on the highway, and the other when the post office was robbed. Therefore, to call Dry Creek, “Fun City, U.S.A.” was to make light of what most anyone would agree is a quiet and boring community.
Later during the fall of 1974, I returned home from college, and was informed that “my signs” had continued to appear. My pleas of innocence were met with knowing smiles and winks. According to local folks, these signs had continued to appear at the same location poking fun at our community with such gems as:
“Hee Haw Filmed Here,”
“Airport Next Exit,”
and “Famous for Nothing.”
Even though no one believed my repeated denials, I had a good idea who the real sign phantom was. Later that year on another visit home, I saw a new sign and both the humor and handwriting gave it away. This sign related to the predicted “swine flu” epidemic that was of grave concern in 1975. Doctors were advising many people, especially the elderly to receive vaccines. This new sign read:
“We ain’t gonna give our hogs no flu shots.”
I immediately knew my father was the sign phantom. My dad, a lifetime highway department worker and church deacon, reluctantly admitted to me that he had continued the sign tradition. In the coming months when I would be home, he would enlist my help accompanying him to help put up his signs.
I’d always know, even without seeing him, when he was preparing a sign by the sound, from the back room, of him laughing softly as the squeaking of the magic marker announced a new sign was on the way.
We’d leave out late at night to put up the signs. His signs at this time continued on their themes of small town life and country values such as:
“Shop our Modern Mall,”
“It Sure Ain’t Heaven,”
and “Toll Bridge- One Mile Ahead.”
Our longtime postmaster, Kat King, told of a stranger stopping at the post office for directions on how to avoid the toll bridge.
A female driver wanted to know how to get to the nearby mall.
The signs continued and the legend of the Sign Phantom grew. I was still the number one suspect and no manner of denying could stop folks from believing it. All of my alibis about my being away from Dry Creek were not believed. At that time, I don’t believe anyone even suspected my quiet and respectable dad.
Even though our community is small, many travelers pass through Dry Creek on their way to DeRidder or Bundick Lake. The story of the signs at the Dry Creek bridge began to spread throughout southwest Louisiana. Folks would stop in at the store to comment on the signs, and even complain about their absence, if no sign was up. (Some signs, especially those controversial, never stayed up very long. Any sign, commenting on hunting, religion, or Edwin Edwards, were quickly ripped down.) But this never bothered the Sign Phantom of Dry Creek, who never seemed to have writers’ block or run out of new ideas.
One lady from Westlake, who traveled our way weekly to her fishing camp, sent a letter addressed to the Dry Creek Chamber of Commerce. For anyone to think we had a Chamber of Commerce really tickled us. Her letter had many questions about the signs. She said that each week her entire family began leaning forward in their seats to see what the latest sign said. She listed these as her favorites:
“We Have a Fine Sense of Rumor,”
“Crossroads to Nowhere,”
and “First Annual Fire Ant Festival Next Week.”
Many times the Sign Phantom commented on current events:
“Wedding Saturday Night Baptist Church- Bo and Hope” (From the soap opera Days of our Lives),
“Herb Lives in Dry Creek” (From the famous Burger King Ad series)
“Killer Bees- Death Awaits You Here” (As the dreaded killer bees approached Texas)
and “Protected by Patriot Missiles” (During Operation Desert Storm).
Additional social comments were made on signs such as:
Gun control- “Our wives, maybe. Our guns, never!”
The lottery- “Waiting for the lottery to make us all rich.”
Hunting- “Do not shoot squirrels that wave or smile at you.”
And even professional wrestling- “Don’t tell us that wrestling is fake!”
One of my personal favorites concerned an event that took place about fifteen years ago. Up in a bay in Washington State, three whales were trapped and could not swim out due to the shallow water at the bay entrance. For several weeks, the national news media kept Americans informed as the plight of the whales. Volunteers from groups, such as Greenpeace, stayed at the bay attempting to help the whales.
That same week, a sign appeared on the Dry Creek sign:
“Help save the three gar trapped in Bundick Lake.”
Through the years people never believed it was my dad making these signs. I eventually began answering all inquiries with the plain truth, “It’s my daddy doing them, not me.” Usually they just laughed as if I was the world’s greatest liar.
All in all, the hundreds of signs that were posted at the bridge were a commentary about our world during the 70s and 80s… and Dry Creek’s (or more specifically, my dad’s) reaction to it.
Some of the signs were not understood by Dry Creek natives.
The meaning of a sign in 1990 was questioned by one older resident. “Clayton,” this man asked my dad, “What does that sign ‘We Dance with Coyotes’ mean?’”
Evidently, he hadn’t been to the movies in a while, and didn’t even know who Kevin Costner was.
As I think of the many signs over the years, I recall my all time favorite. It can best be appreciated by an outsider driving through our community:
“Don’t laugh. Your daughter may marry a Dry Creek Boy”
I bet my mother-in-law up in north Louisiana, and many other parents who’ve lost a daughter to a Dry Creek boy, can really appreciate that sign penned by the Sign Phantom of Dry Creek.
Sometimes during the early 1990’s, the Highway Department came and moved the Dry Creek sign away from the bridge and closer to the community. They placed it right across from Turner’s Grocery. That is when Daddy quit putting up his signs. He said the resident’s dogs barked too much when he went to this new location at night. However, the legend of the Sign Phantom still lives on in the community of Dry Creek, Louisiana, better known as “Fun City, USA.”
Signs of the Sign Phantom 1974-1992
Everyone’s favorite story from my previous book, The Old House, was “The Sign Phantom.” It told of my dad’s hilarious roadside signs as you entered the community of Dry Creek. The following is a list of all the signs as he remembered them. You may not understand them all.
(You would have needed to have been there on some of them.) But they are representative of his neat sense of humor:
Flag burner – you have been warned!
Peacocks At Large
Caution – Adults at Play
Register for free Ford Torino
Home of the Bionic Dog
Airport next exit
No diving from this bridge
Toll Bridge – one half mile
Shop our modern mall
The original Sign Phantom work
(circa 1974)Gateway to Doodle Fork
Going on vacation? – visit Reeves
Famous for Nothing
It sure ain’t heaven
We have a great sense of rumor
Stay at our “no-tell” motel
Danger – Skylab landing area
Welcome to Fantasy Island
Get rid of ugly fat – divorce him
One horse town with a sick horse
Equal rights for men rally Saturday
Stop in and make an enemy
Just opened – Tattoo ParlorAnnual Sideburn Pageant
Nude Bathing at Morrow Bridge
Hee Haw filmed here
Now open: Massage Parlor
The Shah will not spend Christmas in Dry Creek
Billy Carter would like Dry Creek
Crossroads to nowhere
Hunters get help – join doe shooters anonymous
Welcome Cuban refugees
Our wives: Maybe, Our guns: Never
Under quarantine: Sleeping sickness
Just happy primitive people here
Move the Olympics to Dry Creek
We ain’t gonna give our hogs no flu shots
Satellite capital of the world
Herb lives in Dry Creek (from the famous Burger King ad)
Night Hunters – look out for Rudolph
Remember what happened to Grandma
Wedding Saturday night, Baptist Church – Bo and Hope
Our sex symbol: Alan Tumey
(referring to a well known nerdy KPLC-TV reporter)
Evidently, Alan is still proud of “his sign” as he sent this to a friend several years ago.
Deep in the heart of taxes
Protected by Patriot Missiles
“Stormin’ Norman” could not control this place
On this site in 1901: Nothing Happened
Yield right-of-way to fire engines
First annual fire ant festival next weekend
Daddy’s signs at election time never stayed up long:
Ban all elections*
Shame on you, Edwin* (Edwin Edwins, our longtime governor)
Come back, Treen*
Gov. Edwards crapped out*
* Daddy loved to poke fun at politics and elections, especially anything that involved Edwin Edwards.
We dance with Coyotes
Don’t tell us wrestling is fake
J.R. would have a ball around here
Winter home of Bigfoot
Welcome Patty Hearst
Deer Hunters: Bambi – No/Bambi’s mother – Never!
Bo don’t know Dry Creek
Home of the Ugly Trucks
Killer bees, death awaits you here
River boat gambling on Whiskey Chitto
Come back Charley Mac
Do not shoot squirrels that wave or smile at you
Our deer are armed and trained to shoot back
Waiting for the lottery to make us all rich
Opening here soon – Dr. Red Duke’s medical center
Free the 3 gar trapped in Bundick Lake
Welcome to Saturday Night Dead
Boyhood home of Spuds McKenzie
1064 – The combined IQ of everyone in Dry Creek
Entering the time tunnel
Beware of Rabid squirrels
Home of “Black” Iles – tour guide dog
Since we gave up all hope – we feel lots better
Khadaffy wouldn’t last 30 minutes here
No bungee jumping off Dry Creek Bridge
Where caterpillars grow on trees – not money
Latest gossip just ahead
2 – Live Crew in concert here Saturday
Do not pet or tease our coyotes
We miss you Boss Hogg
Take a stray dog to lunch
Don’t laugh your daughter may marry a Dry Creek boy!
Enjoyed “The Sign Phantom?” Double your fun with Audio Podcast
of the story.
What’s your favorite sign and why?
Are there any signs needing explanation to a non-Southerner/Dry Creeker?