19 January 2007

When roadside America throws their mighty shields...

My side comment about South Carolina's state highway shields has gotten me started, I'm afraid.

Now you people have been warned -- it's on my profile, in fact -- that I am part of the species of homosapiens known as "road geek." (also known as "road scholar") Wikipedia has an entry, too - surprise, surprise.

One area that has always held my interest is state highway route markers. Unlike the familiar Interstate and U.S. highway shields one sees nationwide, each of the 50 states have their own unique design for its network of state highways.

Have you noticed on most road maps that state highways are almost always indicated by round bullets? That's because the round shape is the Federal "default" -- the design a state can use if it lacks the creativity to actually make something memorable with its shields. States like MISSISSIPPI, KENTUCKY, IOWA, NEW JERSEY and DELAWARE.

We start our tour with a visit to OOOOOOOOOklahoma, who in 2006 woke up and smelled the Indian tonic. They ditched the default roundie in favor of their own unique design, in anticipation of the state's Centennial in 2009. It borrows heavily from Florida's style below, but I like it -- Oklahoma has an unmistakable outline, and its residents have a high level of pride in their state. Why not, I say! (We were in Oklahoma last March, drat it! All I got were circles under my eyes.)

One foolproof design for a state's roadways is the outline of the state itself:
You can't go wrong with the state image ... and, as in the case of Louisiana and South Dakota, you can add a splash of green to make it stand out. [Alabama 63 is in honor of the road which runs through Eclectic, about a block and a half from where my son lives. Ark. 18 is a familiar sight to anyone in Jonesboro, and Georgia 21 of course traverses my domicile of Rincon].

But what about states whose boundaries aren't conducive to a good route marker design? Florida, Idaho and Minnesota use their outlines in a different form.

Other states resort to using basic shapes, or unexplicable styles for its roadways:
(left to right) VIRGINIA's route markers look like a fingernail. OREGON is .... o-kay .... NEW YORK's shield is probably the most shield-like of the 50 states. NEBRASKA uses a flowerpot design with an image of a Conestoga wagon along the bottom. The diamond is MICHIGAN and NORTH CAROLINA's best friend. CONNECTICUT and WEST VIRGINIA use a square (borrrrrRING!), HAWAII's shield looks like an old "Chocks" chewable vitamin (shouldn't their route shield be an outline of an old "Tiki" doll? Or how about a profile of Barry Williams?)

And finally, WISCONSIN. What exactly the hell is that supposed to be?

Speaking of triangles, it's one of my favorite shapes of a route shield. Besides Wisconsin (yes, their shield is a derivative of its original triangular design), two other states once used triangles to mark its roadways -- Tennessee and Mississippi.

MISSISSIPPI used the triangle until about 1975, when -- under the influence of quaaludes, no doubt -- its highway department 86'ed the design in favor of the illustrious round default.

TENNESSEE started out with a design very similar to Mississippi's, only the state abbreviation was spelled out horizontally. Around the time Mississippi dumped the triangle, Tennessee went to the middle design. And by 1987, they split their network into "primary" and "secondary" roads -- the primary roads got the design on the right, and the secondaries retained the legacy triangle.

Two states draw from their FLAGS for marking their state roads, COLORADO and ALASKA, which brings me to Talmadge Gleck's gift to the state of SOUTH CAROLINA: a highway makeover!

To the left is South Carolina's original style - a simple state outline. Why fix what ain't broke? Well, somebody at the SCDOT obviously bought the same batch of 'ludes Mississippi did, and adopted the middle design. (It's identical to Rhode Island, except for the "R.I."). All together now: BorrrrrrRING!!! Well, Mr. Gleck took matters into his own hands, and created what in his deluded mind is a beautiful shield design for S.C. roadways, incorporating that cool flag of theirs. Now how could you go wrong with THAT?

I give half-credit to the highway gods of NEW MEXICO and WYOMING. New Mexico took the generic round shield and incorporated its trademark symbol around the route number. And Wyoming took a basic square in its own pioneering direction, swapping a white background for gold and adding its state symbol, a bucking bronco.

And finally, we have the states who have proudly taken symbols, monuments, or what have you, and made truly unique designs:

(left to right) What other state could this be but WASHINGTON???

UTAH is The Beehive State - get it?

NORTH DAKOTA treasures its Native American heritage with their shields. NEW HAMPSHIRE's (now sadly gone) "Man of the mountain" is immortalized in its state markers. My favorite design of the 50 would go to KANSAS, the "Sunflower State." I think it's Seraphim's favorite, too.

PENNSYLVANIA is "The Keystone State." Its route shields, predictably, are in the outline of a keystone (and, no, the "57" is no accident -- I'll bet you're not the only one hearing Carly Simon's "Anticipation" in your head, either)

And CALIFORNIA's cut-out design is a miner's spade, for obvious 49'er reasons.

So there you are. You don't have to be a 'road geek' to appreciate the distinctive ways some of our 50 states stand out, even with pieces of metal mounted to posts.

(Credit goes here to James Lin's state highway markers page, from which I took and adapted most of the shields)

See you on the highway .... and ciao for niao!

--Talmadge "Heart made of cutout steel with high-intensity 3M reflection" Gleck

1 comment:

nettiemac said...

I LOVE the SC design with the palmetto. Love, love, love!!!