Making signs by the railroad tracks

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 3:00pm

    Painting pictures since the age of 10, Schuyler Fairfield thought he might do it for a living. But on the Wiscasset waterfront, near the 1800s building his father George Fairfield bought from Hood Ice Cream in the mid-1900s, Dana Rines had a sign shop, Schuyler Fairfield said.

    He began learning sign-making from Rines, and decided he liked it better than painting pictures. At 84, the 1949 Wiscasset Academy graduate is still making signs at Fairfield Signs of Wiscasset, next to the railroad tracks along the Sheepscot River.

    He also did billboards, like the 40-foot one in Edgecomb he did for Newagen Inn in Southport, until Maine banned them.

    Technology also brought change to Fairfield’s work; the lettering moved from hand-painted to vinyl, with the aid of a computer. “With vinyl you could do it quicker, and everybody wants it quicker,” he said March 12 in his shop at 4 Railroad Avenue.

    Fairfield is on his second computer. The first didn’t last long after it came back from being repaired in California.

    Over the decades, a series of other businesses have rented out the upper floor of the building Fairfield bought from his father.

    Heat from a fire at a nearby feed store four decades ago took out some of the picture windows upstairs. The fire probably would have claimed Fairfield’s building if the wind hadn’t changed direction, he said.

    Sparks from the blaze set a wooden stepladder in the back of Fairfield’s pickup truck on fire. A group of worm diggers used their pails to put out the flames, he said.

    The thousands of signs Fairfield has made include some very well-known ones, among them the one Haggett’s Garage had on Water Street; many local road signs still in use today; the Wiscasset municipal building sign; and the big “Welcome to Wiscasset: The Prettiest Village in Maine” sign that greets Route 1 motorists near Flood Avenue. It’s probably his favorite, he said. When he made it, he didn’t know it would be the landmark it is today. He hasn’t let that go to his head, he said.

    When Fairfield’s daughter Elizabeth Brown drives past it, she feels pride for her father’s work. Brown, of Alna, one of Schuyler and Marguerite Fairfield’s five children, stopped into the shop on March 12 to do some work in a back room. She has been helping with the business since childhood, more so now since her mother died. Marguerite Fairfield was very involved in the business, Brown said.

    A charcoal sketch Schuyler Fairfield did of his wife hangs inside near the front of the shop.

    He said he isn’t sure if he will be able to keep up with further technological advances in sign-making, but he has no immediate plans to retire. His repeat customers remain an important part of the business.

    Once in a while, when he isn’t working, he still paints pictures. ”But this sign thing keeps me quite busy, apparently, or I probably wouldn’t be doing it,” Fairfield said.