Community effort turns vision into reality in Shell

Nathan Oster

New signs expected to go up next spring

Come spring, a pair of new signs will greet motorists passing through Shell on U.S. Highway 14.
The signs will be unique in every way — representative not only of Shell›s connection to the Big Horn Mountains and its rich agricultural heritage, but also, in a way, of the spirit of a small Wyoming community that consistently rises to meet a challenge.
The signs are the latest example.
Long before Oct. 7, when Mart Hinckley burned the brands of approximately 20 family ranching operations into the wooden logs that will be used to support the metal signs, the Big Horn County Citizens for Economic Development had a vision.
The question wasn’t whether Shell needed new signs.  Most agreed it did, based upon the results of a community assessment led by the Wyoming Business Council.  But it wasn’t that simple.  What would the signs look like?  And where would they go?
When they approached WYDOT, BCED officials initially got some bad news. They were told that because Shell is not an incorporated place, the signs could not be placed in the public right of way along US 14. They would have to go on public land.
Undeterred, BCED shifted its attention to designing the sign.  Al Webster, who serves on the BCED board, took the lead.
“There was no consensus whatsoever,” he admitted.  
Some wanted a metal sign, some wanted to incorporate rock, some wanted a painted sign.
Needing to choose a lane, Webster sketched out a concept for a metal sign with a patina finish that would incorporate the mountains, cattle and cowboys and have a lasting appeal.  He then approached Butch at the welding shop in Greybull to see if he’d be interested in the job.
“He told me if we buy the material, he’d donate the labor required to cut it out,” said Webster.
Meanwhile, BCED needed to come up with a way to pay for it. Believing it would cost about $5,000, the organization offered to contribute up to $2,500, but the remaining funds would need to be raised in the community.
To make it happen, ranching families — both past and present – were offered the opportunity to place their brands on the wooden logs will eventually support the signs.  The ask was $50 for one sign, $100 for both.  
“Everyone we heard from said, ‘Wow, that sounds like a great idea,’” said Hayes.
It took a little while, but the community came through in a big way, buying between 20 and 25 spots which BCED marketed at events in and around Shell. Others who didn’t have a brand but supported the vision offered donations of their own.
Long story short, the fundraising campaign surpassed its goal, which lessened the financial burden on BCED.
There’s a story behind the logs that were used, too.  “They came right out of Shell Hall and were found when the floor was replaced,” said Hayes. “Eighty years old or better, they came off the mountain and were drug down when Shell Hall was built.”
Come spring, one of the signs will be installed on property owned by Frank and Bette Neal, the other on land owned by The Hideout.
“What a great community Shell is,” Webster said, expressing appreciation to everyone who made it happen. “Every time there’s a need — whether it’s a person or family, something like the mental health event or the replacement of the floor — the community really comes together.”