WAYNESBORO, Ga. — You start to understand Freddie Taylor’s fascination with signs almost immediately after you enter the 10,000-square-foot shed he built as a hangout for family and friends.
To the left is a replica Shoney’s Big Boy he bought from Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. in Arizona for $6,500 nearly 30 years after the restaurant broke its affiliation with the iconic hamburger chain in 1984. It’s one of only 400 in existence, he said.
In the next room is a 2-foot-tall S&H Green Stamps sign that reads “save as you spend.”
Out front, though, is what many in Burke County would probably consider the shining star of Taylor’s 600-sign collection – a 30-foot-tall Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket that motorists along Highway 25 can see for miles at night.
“It lights up bright,” Taylor, 55, said of the bucket, which he mounted on a red metal post and hooked to a solar panel to turn on every night when the sun sets. “It’s the No. 1 watched sign down this way.”
Taylor, a Waynesboro native who started his collection at age 30, added Colonel Sanders to his collection in 2013 after a Burke County woman whose husband used to work at a KFC near Columbia agreed to sell the sign for $750.
The purchase price was well below the $2,500 the woman wanted. To show his appreciation, Taylor said, he bought a 10-foot-tall Texaco sign decorating her chicken coop for $1,500. The logo goes well with an Amoco gas station sign he bought from at an auction in Wrens, Ga., four months ago.
“All of the electrical worked,” said Taylor, who owns a car dealership and convenience store with his twin brother, Eddie. “They just sat in their backyard for 25 or 30 years.”
People lined Highway 25 to take pictures as Taylor hauled the bucket to his home about 4 miles from the Burke County line and placed it in the front yard of a mobile home rental on his land. When the tenant came home, she posted a picture of the bucket on her Facebook page and the story went viral, with the Los Angeles Times and ABC’s Good Morning America running stories.
“I received phone calls from Canadian and British radio stations,” Taylor said.
After the stories aired, Taylor said, KFC held a picnic under the bucket to benefit his renters, a local church and 750 people.
Today, he said it is not uncommon for people to stop and take pictures. This month, he said, he got a letter from American Pickers inquiring about the sign, and last summer, he heard a Burke County sheriff’s deputy telling dispatch that he was near the “chicken bucket.”
“I’ve been offered $10,000 for the bucket and other signs in my collection, but I won’t sell,” he said. “They’re landmarks.”
The KFC bucket might be the beacon of his collection, but it is only a small part.
At his hangout are hundreds of signs and thousands of license plates from all 50 states and other countries that once hung inside his auto shop.
“I have always been crazy for signs for some reason,” he said. “I’ve been saving them for years.”
Outside are old IGA, NAPA and Hunt Brothers Pizza signs; one featuring the Road Runner; and highway markings for Interstate 20 in Alabama and in Wrens, Gibson and Louisville, Ga.
Inside, he has a Krispy Kreme neon sign. There’s also
an airplane fuel pump, a working phone booth and Chevy Chase Funny Farm cinema
sign, all from Savannah.
Taylor also collects discarded campaign signs, including those for Greg Coursey and Richard Roundtree, the sheriffs of Burke and Richmond counties.
“That Richard Roundtree sign will be worth a lot someday,” Taylor said. “I wanted that one.”
Taylor said his signs typically account for $500 of his power bill. He said he gets most from buying old buildings and attending car shows.
He said his most valued piece is a Taylor’s Motors sign he got from his father’s dealership, after Ed Taylor died at 69 because of heart problems in 2009.
He said his father instilled in him a strong work ethic starting at age 6 at his family-owned restaurant, Taylor’s Barbeque.
“He taught me all I know,” Taylor said. “He was my teacher and I’ll always honor him.”