Travel Retro is pleased to announce that the Blue Swallow Motel (815 E. Route 66 Blvd, Tucumcari , NM) is the winner in our January 2012 Poll, “Who has the most iconic neon sign?” There were a lot of great nominations — retro hotels, vintage lodges, and highway cottages — that received votes. But, Blue Swallow Motel prevailed with 40% of the total vote! We reached out to owners Kevin & Nancy to learn more about their retro neon sign.
TravelRetro- When was the iconic Blue Swallow sign erected?
Blue Swallow – “The Blue Swallow Motel was built in 1939, and incorporated neon from the beginning, with a beautiful neon sign announcing the “Blue Swallow Court” and a flying blue swallow. The current, much larger sign replaced the original in the late 50’s, because the new owner Lillian Redman, wanted a sign the stood out more along the busy stretch of Route 66 in Tucumcari. She also wanted to incorporate the latest in accommodations, modernizing the Blue Swallow, at least in name, from a “Court” to a “MOTEL.” With those words in huge pink letters, they are impossible to miss! At night, there is so much neon, that the whole place glows, making a wonderful atmosphere for relaxing outside on a beautiful New Mexico evening. Each garage featured also a swooping blue swallow above it, and there were originally eleven of these.”
TravelRetro – You said there were eleven swallows over the garages? How many are remaining?
Blue Swallow – “Currently, there are nine, one above each existing garage.”
TravelRetro – So just how much neon does the Blue Swallow have?
Blue Swallow – “There is more than 200 feet of neon tubing around the parapet of the room blocks. There is more neon that illuminates painted murals on the side and back of the building, too. Neon tubing also lights up the lobby and residence roof overhangs, completely encircling the building with a halo of light. Hanging on the front East and West corners are neon arrows, in blue and white. There was only one arrow there when we arrived, and old photos showed at least two there, and as many as four at one time. I had a new one made so we are at least balanced with one on each corner.”
TravelRetro- I know from personal experience that neon can be a real challenge to maintain. What has your experience been like?
Blue Swallow – “Since we don’t have a sign company in Tucumcari that works on neon, I have done all the work myself. I have been fortunate to have learned a lot about how to maintain things with the help of neon experts such as Robert Randazzo of Albuquerque. The neon has required quite a bit of maintenance to keep it all operating. Each swallow is lighted by its own 5,000 volt transformer and I think there are about 12 transformers in that sign! Since purchasing the motel in June last year, I replaced two swallows that weren’t working, also installing a new transformer for another. I had two new swallows made to replace others that had an odd shape, not at all like a swallow, or any other kind of bird for that matter. I’ve had to replace three transformers in the sign in order to keep it looking good. I’ve replaced a few letters there as well with either new ones or some that were here as older spares.”
TravelRetro – I see that this has been a learning experience for you. What was your biggest discovery thus far?
Blue Swallow – “Originally, the large swallow on the top of the sign blinked on and off. When I was inside replacing a transformer, I discovered the original flashing unit for the swallow. I hooked it up to see if it worked; and, for about two hours it did! We got so much positive feedback on the effect that I purchased a replacement electronic flasher from a company in Amarillo who makes sign control devices. The swallow has been flashing every night for five months now, with no trouble. Also, one of the things that really makes a difference in how the neon looks is black-out paint that is present and in good condition. I have repainted almost all of this and it really helps everything look crisp. For example, the words “100% REFRIGERATED AIR” on the sign had almost all of the black-out paint peeled off each connecting tube, so it really looked like a large green blob at night. Now, with all the proper areas painted over, the words are crisp and sharp looking. This will probably be an annual task, touching all of these areas up.”
TravelRetro – Wow, that is really cool! I love the dedication that you and all of the Route 66 owners take in their properties. I have also noticed that it is a real community atmosphere along the route. So, do your neighbors with neon seek your newly-learned skill?
Blue Swallow – “Some [do]. I’ve also helped others with their neon, such as Del’s Restaurant.”
TravelRetro – Wow, I am blown away with the depth of understanding and dedication you have towards your neon. I hope this inspires others to invest time into their signs as well. I know that all of our travelers are enamored with neon from the past. I am also pleased the neon at the Blue Swallow will continue to be a beacon in the night for weary travelers.
TravelRetro.com invites readers to share their own neon sign photos. Add your comments, then email digital photos to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll take it from there. Wishing all, “Bright, welcoming lights and happy retro travels!”