It was the day after my high school graduation when I left eastern Kentucky and made the move north to find a job. It was during the fifties and jobs were not to be found in my small hometown, but they were plentiful “up north.”
I had two brothers who had already made the move and were living in suburban Detroit, Michigan. My parents agreed that it would be ok if I tried living away, after all I could always come home. So my new life began. I was sad and a little bit scared. I had never been away from home except for the senior class trip to Washington, DC.
My brother and his wife had four boys at that time. He had a big Buick and it carried all of us north. We traveled from Kentucky to Detroit, Michigan on route 23 North. I always wanted to see the USA and I was really enjoying the scenery. After we crossed the Ohio River at Ashland, Kentucky, the countryside began to change. We were leaving the green hills of Kentucky for the flat land of Ohio.
This was before the Interstates were built and the road was only a two lane road with traffic moving at a much slower pace than today so there was time to see and enjoy the surrounding countryside. You can only look at so many farm-houses, trees, animals and clouds before your mind begins to wander. In those days, not many giant billboards were by the road. Each little town had their own signs for eateries, laundromats and stores and that was about it.
As the Burma Shave signs started to appear, the trip got more exciting. In a series of five or six signs, each slogan was nailed on a stake, and spaced a hundred yards or more apart. These signs caught our attention and entertained grown-ups and children alike for many miles.
During the 1950s’ and 60’s my family, which by now included a husband and four children traveled many times from Michigan to Kentucky, throughout Indiana and Illinois, as well as vacation trips all across the Midwest and southern United States. When the kids began squirming, and yelling for the window seats and tattling on the others for touching them, I could usually stop the fighting by pointing out the signs.
I only have room for a few of the slogans here. Enjoy, I surely did.
“The monkey took / One look at Jim / and threw the peanuts / Back at him / He needed / Burma- Shave”
“Slow down, Pa / Sakes alive / Ma missed signs / Four /And five / Burma Shave”
“Said Farmer Brown /Who’s bald / On top / Wish I could / Rotate the crop / Burma-Shave”
The slogans were such a part of life in America that one has been placed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. “Shaving brushes/You’ll soon see’em/On a shelf/ In some museum/ Burma Shave