Walking into the Ada County Highway District’s sign shop can feel like wandering into a museum. Upon entry, people are greeted with, and often taken off guard by, the taxidermy lined walls. Mixed in with lifelike bears, moose, hogs, and deer are old street signs. In fact, street signs, both old and new, are found all over the workshop: hanging on the walls, resting against worktables, or stacked and organized ready to be installed throughout Ada County.
Aside from the occasional member of the sign crew popping in to grab equipment, the sign shop is a relatively quiet and low traffic space during standard business hours. Most of the people who work out of the space spend a good part of their day in the field, but on almost any given day, an ACHD icon can be found working away.
That icon is Ron Sperl, ACHD’s sign maker. He can be found sitting at his workstation, a table which is properly labeled with an etching that reads “Ron’s Table”, producing street name signs.
Sperl is a fixture at the highway district. Everyone knows Ron: whether it’s for his charming personality, his famous blueberry muffins or his funny and unforgettable stories; he leaves an impression on those who meet him.
“Ron is the most honest man I think that I have ever met,” said ACHD’s Safety and Training Program Coordinator Dean Cooper. “This man is an icon at the District and probably the best friend that I have that works here.”
“Ron is the most kindhearted, friendly person you will ever meet. He would do anything for anyone and smile while doing it,” said Wendi Tillman, Traffic Management Center Specialist. “He is truly one of the hardest working, and definitely the most dedicated employee ACHD has ever had.”
He began his career at ACHD in 1972, just a year after the agency was created.
“I was hired on once I turned 18,” Sperl said. “I was on the paint crew, and at that time there were only three people on the paint crew.”
Sperl has nearly 50 years of ACHD knowledge and experience. He’s worked under every director, he’s seen every ACHD Commission be elected, and he’s watched both the Highway District and Treasure Valley grow firsthand.
“This is the best the highway district has ever been. I can say that without a doubt. If anyone wants to question that, they can come talk to me,” he laughed. “I’ve been here since the start.”
When Sperl first started at ACHD, everything was done by hand; crews used sledgehammers and a big bar to drill holes in the concrete so they could install signs, they painted crosswalks with an old lawn mower frame with two paint guns attached, and sign makers had to place and cut out each individual letter on street signs. Now, there are jack hammers and drills that quickly break through concrete, trucks that paint crosswalks on roads in minutes, and computers that cut out entire street names for signs instantly.
“We have advanced so much it’s unbelievable! It’s night and day,” Sperl said. “I’ve been very receptive of changes. I didn’t grow up with computers, so a lot of this is still new to me, but it’s the way we are now and it’s so much better.”
Sperl started making signs when the District’s only sign maker left the agency in 1976. He’s been doing the job ever since.
Over the years, the method of sign making has changed. When Sperl first started making signs, the process began with a blank piece of aluminum. He would take letters made from sheeting and place them on the blank, secured with a piece of tape and put in an oven that was heated to 220 degrees to bake and set the letters into place. He also used to make signs through silk screening.
“Now, you can make five or six signs in the length of time that it took you to make one in the old days,” Sperl said. “We didn’t buy any signs back then either. We made everything.”
ACHD maintains about 340,000 signs in the county. Street name signs and the occasional specialty sign are the only type of sign currently made in house. Stop signs, yield signs, speed limit signs, etc. are all ordered.
“It was a long process, and it was all done by hand,” he said. “Now we’ve got a computer over there where you can punch in what you need, and it will automatically cut it out. All you have to do is roll it onto your blank and you have your sign.”
Ron Sperl has been a dedicated ACHD employee and servant to this community for nearly 50 years. He has put in more than 100,000 hours of work at the District. His dedication to his craft and to his coworkers in unmatched and Ada County is lucky to have him.
“It’s a joy. I wish I could work another 30 years doing this. Well, in another year I’ll have my 50 years in, so I guess it will be time for me to get a new lawn chair, go to C.J. Strike and go fishing,” he laughed. “Who knows, maybe they’ll let me come in part time and just make street name signs. I’d be happy doing that too.”