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Sign Painter’s New Sign for Old Maine Railroad Station Needs a Home

By on October 18, 2022 0

WESTBROOK, Maine — Traditional sign painter Jay Peterson, 68, can read the writing on the wall.

It’s no surprise since Peterson printed the words “Bangor and Aroostook Railroad, Almost Isle” himself on a two-foot square wooden sign, using a gleaming layer of 23-karat gold.

But Peterson doesn’t know what to do with his creation.

The railway line went bankrupt 20 years ago, the station has long since disappeared and the train enthusiast who commissioned the replica died before he could pay. Now Peterson hopes to find someone who will buy the sign and display it in honor of the old depot, which was 300 miles north of his Westbrook workshop.

“He was 85 and a real collector,” Peterson said of the man who commissioned the sign. “He also had real, actually old northern railroad signs.”

Peterson declined to name the man, to protect his family’s privacy. Peterson also stressed that he wasn’t angry with the late collector’s widow, who isn’t interested in taking the sign or paying for the crafty 10-hour job.

“She said even talking about it made her sad,” Peterson said.

The collector had commissioned other replica signs from Peterson in the past and had commissioned the painter to create the Près Isle station sign in July. He had sent a historic photo of the original old station sign for Peterson to copy.

But the man died the same month and never saw the finished work.

Peterson is an old school sign painter. He does not use computers and instead creates his work freehand. It also does not use vinyl or printed graphics. Peterson’s only tools are paint, brushes and gold leaf.

“Gold is all a process,” Peterson said.

He begins by tracing the letters in a high quality sticky varnish.

“I write it like I’m using paint,” Peterson said. “When it’s sticky and almost dry, I put the gold on it.”

The gold comes in the form of thin sheets of onion skin, glued to a special type of paper. After applying the paper to the sticky letters, gold side down, he burnishes the surface of the paper with velvet.

Then, when Peterson removes the paper, the gold adheres to the letters. Then he gently wipes off the loosened gold with a makeup brush.

Shiny metal, unlike paint, never fades and remains reflective and shiny long after the surrounding paint has faded.

“They used to do the same thing on old fire trucks,” Peterson said, “and I did a bunch of them too.”

The Bangor and Aroostook Railroad was originally incorporated in 1891. At its height, the line’s tracks snaked through the entire northern half of the state, from Bangor to Searsport to Millinocket to Almost Isle and on to Fort Kent.

About half of B&A’s business was carrying potatoes, but it also carried passengers until 1961 and brought coal to the old Loring Air Base in Limestone.

The railway began to shrink after World War II. It was sold in 1995 and declared bankrupt in 2003, after which it was taken over by a Canadian company.

But the B&A lives on in the railroad museums of Oakfield and Fort Fairfield, and in the imaginations of collectors and train enthusiasts like Peterson’s client.

“The sign is in a kind of phantom zone,” Peterson said. “At first I thought I would hang on to it.”

But on Sunday, Paterson remembered his business taxes were due soon and put the listing up for sale on social media for $450 or best offer.

“I would just like to see it go to someone who’s into the northern Maine stuff,” Peterson said.

You can contact Jay Peterson by email at [email protected].