We spoke with John, our longest serving employee at Ortwein Sign, about his 23 years with the company. John’s been in the sign industry since 1988, and in that time he’s worked nearly every fabrication and installation job you can think of. John was hired by then owner Butch Ortwein after being encouraged to come to Ortwein Sign by his friend and now retired Ortwein Sign employee Danny.

“Back then Ortwein Sign had about 10 employees and worked out of pick-up trucks with ladder jacks and extension ladders. Our first real crane truck was a manual crane truck purchased by Butch Ortwein shortly after I started. We had to wind it up by hand.” 

When asked what signs they specialized in at the time, John said “we used to do almost exclusively neon signs at the time including raceways, individual letters, and cabinets. Of course LED signs weren’t as big back then. And Lendmark was our big client at the time, before the Teals bought the shop, so we made Lendmark signs for all across the country.”

We wanted to ask about John’s time on the road as well, and he shared some of that with us.

“I used to work with Danny and the two of us would go on the road with our set of tools and our truck. We went all over the country together, including all the way out to Colorado and all up and down the east coast.”

Historic Chattanooga Choo Choo neon sign on rooftop in Chattanooga, Tennessee

When asked about some of the coolest signs he did service and repair work on in his early days at Ortwein Sign, John mentioned “I did some work for the neon repairs for the Choo Choo Sign, and work for the Warehouse Row sign, but I transitioned to only fabricating signs pretty early. So I while I helped make the neon for the Choo Choo sign, I did that here in the shop. Danny and the other guys at Ortwein helped install the neon.”

When asked why he thinks Ortwein Sign’s thrived for 100 years, John said 

“I’d say it has to be our our ability to advance, and our ability to keep up with the competition. We went from being a shop that only handled neon to one that can handle all sorts of LED signs. For instance, when I started here LEDs were just starting to come in, but I’d never even dealt with them before working at Ortwein. We also went from ladder jacks and extension ladders to a fleet of crane trucks. So we’ve come a long way since I’ve been here, and I hope Ortwein Sign stays strong 100 years from now!”