Neon Lander Landmark Finds New Wyoming Home
When Lander’s Holiday Lodge opened in 1961, the distinctive neon sign that beckoned travelers to its doors appeared on the Lander scene for the first time, the product of neon craftsmen who designed and built the sign on-site. That kind of craftsmanship is rarely practiced these days, which made its presence at the intersection near the top of Lander’s busy Main Street particularly striking to everyone who saw it.
Sixty-two years later, as Wyoming Catholic College prepared to transition the Holiday Lodge to housing for its students, the sign was no longer appropriate. Yet its extraordinary craftsmanship and historical significance were still very much on display. Lucas Preble, Vice President of Student Affairs at the College (and the point-man for the Holiday Lodge renovations), was unwilling to simply remove and trash the sign, which would relegate a meaningful piece of Lander memorabilia to obscurity. So he went in search of a new home for the historic marker—a home that would honor its tradition and artistry. And now, thanks to Gillette’s Jeff Wandler and his Frontier Relics and Auto Museum, it has one.
Wandler, whose longtime love of old cars, antique gas pumps, gas station signs, and memorabilia led to the opening of the Frontier Museum in early 2016, was elated to acquire the old sign. “It’s really hard to find this level of craftsmanship these days,” he said, noting the intricate details in the body of the sign’s bird as he and his crew were taking it down. “I’m amazed that out of all these pieces, only two are damaged—and those two can be easily repaired!”
One of the steepest challenges he faces when searching for exhibit materials, Wandler says, is that folks rarely reach out to him when these sorts of opportunities are available, choosing instead to dismantle and dispose of the signs themselves. As a result, he often finds out about historic signage after the fact. “Some of these wonderful old signs vanish before anyone knows they’re leaving,” he said. “I’m really glad this wasn’t one of those times; she’s a beauty!”
Wandler and his crew spent a day disassembling and removing the sign, which he plans to repair, restore, and eventually be featured on a location just outside the Museum’s entry doors. “I hadn’t really realized how big she was until I got up next to her,” he said, “and I don’t actually have a wall in the current facility large enough to display her inside. What a dramatic addition to the Frontier.”
Preble was equally pleased to pass the historic artifact along to someone who plans to preserve and display the sign in all its original glory. “Obviously,” he said, “the sign couldn’t remain at the Lodge as we began our renovations. But the idea of tearing it down and tossing it aside was a hard one to swallow. When a local contractor mentioned the Frontier Relic Museum to us and helped me hunt down Mr. Wandler’s contact info, I was thrilled.”
“We’re glad that the old bird survives to live another day,” continued Preble, “and we’re grateful to Jeff and his crew for helping us to preserve it. We’re already planning a road-trip for our students out to Gillette, so they can see her once she’s been installed in her final location.”