Raced At 80 Per
Had Ben Hur
Thanks to Our Iowa Magazine and the efforts of Kris Ebel and the Ireton Booster Club, this slogan now appears on signs north of Ireton.
In April 2010, Our Iowa announced a program to bring back one set of the nostalgic "Burma Shave" signs in each of Iowa's 99 counties. Over the last two years, signs were erected in most counties but Sioux County was without a set of signs. Several Sioux County towns expressed interest but were unable to complete the project due to location requirements (may not be placed along a federally funded highway) or other restrictions.
In June 2012, Ireton Booster Club Board member Kris Ebel heard about the program and thought "Why Not Ireton?" She quickly contacted Our Iowa about the requirements, enlisted the support of her fellow Booster Club members and submitted an application in early July. Our Iowa reviewed the application and in early September, the signs were mailed to Kris. Due to the dry weather and "hard earth", the Booster Club had difficulties erecting the signs but they completed the task on September 24. You may see them as you come into Ireton from the north -- the signs are on the west side of Eagle Avenue (K-30) about 1/2 way between Iowa Highway 10 and Ireton.
Hardly a driver…is now alive…who passed…on hills…at 75
That roadside Burma-Shave jingle is vividly remembered by one of the editors of Our Iowa magazine. “It added a bit of fun to each drive as everyone in the car read the sequence of signs aloud,” he says. “I always wished someone would bring those signs back.”
After some thought, the staff of the magazine decided, “Who better to do that than us?”
The rhyming roadside Burma-Shave signs were the idea of Allen Odell in 1925. He asked his father, the owner of the Burma Vita Company, to loan him $200 to promote the company’s brushless shaving cream using roadside signs. Although hesitant about this “new fangled advertising idea”, Clinton Odell was reluctant to discourage his son and finally agreed to the loan and the idea. The rest is history.
Allan Odell wrote the original jingles and personally erected the first set of signs in southern Minnesota along U.S. 65 near Albert Lea.
The signs quickly caught the attention of drivers—and buyers. The idea not only worked, it became an American institution.
Each set of rhyming lines was broken into short snippets and placed on sequential signs that could be read up to 50 mph. The last line always said “Burma-Shave” in its flourished logo. The lighthearted jingles added a smile and a lift to driving trips. A typical rhyme:
To kiss a mug…that’s like a cactus…takes more nerve…than it does practice.
Odell kept a flashlight, pencil and pad next to his bed to write down ideas for jingles, many of which came to him in the middle of the night.
Ireton Continues the Burma Shave “Family Affair”
Ireton’s application for Sioux County’s set of “Burma Shave” signs continues the family tradition established by the Odells. Kris Ebel first learned of Our Iowa's Burma Shave program from her parents, Pat and Bob Engel of Paullina. Pat and Bob are subscribers to Our Iowa and fondly remember the Burma Shave signs from earlier years. Pat worked with Paullina’s mayor, Marlo Ebel (Kris’ father-in-law) to apply for the set of signs for O’Brien County. They were awarded signs now located just south of Paullina.
When Ireton Booster Club members decided to apply for the signs, they thought that the perfect location would be land just north of Ireton owned by Olive (Kluter) Scott and farmed by her husband, Mike. The land has been in Olive’s family since 1871 when it was first homesteaded by her great-grandparents, Mathilda (Twillman) and Henry Kluter. Mike and Olive agreed to placement of the signs on their land. Mattie and Henry Kluter recruited many immigrants to the Ireton area and were strong promoters of the town after its founding in 1882. Many of their descendants still live in the Ireton area, continue to "boost" the town and are happy to see the new signs on Kluter land.
A Roadside Hit for 40 Years
From the 1920's to the 1960's, Burma Shave signs dotted the American countryside. At one time there were 7,000 sets of signs in 45 states. They are remembered as “a slice of Americana”. Although the earliest signs related to the Burma Shave product, the company soon introduced safety-related slogans like:
A guy who drives…his car wide open…is not thinkin’…he’s just hopin’.
Everyone in the car read them aloud—so often that many people can still recite their favorite jingle today.
As highways improved and interstates crisscrossed the country, the signs unfortunately become more of a blur than a buzz. Beyond 60 mph they proved hard to read, which eventually led to the demise of both the signs and the company.
But it didn’t dim the memory of either in the minds of Our Iowa’s subscribers. When the restoration of the historic signs was announced, many readers not only sent in their favorite rhyme, but even pleaded, “Please put that single set of signs for our county near our town!”
Each county’s set of signs is unique and their exact location is noted in Our Iowa magazine.
Ireton’s selection was based on a number of factors. First and key was the proposed location of the signs— along a route where there is a lot of traffic but where traffic slows down as drivers approach the town. Also judged was the community’s commitment to maintaining the site—trimming grass and weeds regularly, keeping the signs standing straight, etc.
To assure the latter, the Our Iowa staff has selected a “secret subscriber” in each county to regularly check on each community’s set of signs and report on how they’re being maintained.
Our Iowa's "Bring Back Burma Shave" program has been a great success. You can look forward to spotting a chuckle like this one along the roadside all across Iowa: Ben met Anna…made a hit..neglected beard…Ben-Anna split