Business

Petrified watermelons, skunks set the stage for this Idaho funny man’s gas empire

Author Rick Just on Fearless Farris Lind, the man behind Stinker stations

Author Rick Just has written a book looking at Farris Lind, who founded the Stinker company of gas stations. Lind was known for humorous road signs placed on lonely highways throughout Idaho and other states.
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Author Rick Just has written a book looking at Farris Lind, who founded the Stinker company of gas stations. Lind was known for humorous road signs placed on lonely highways throughout Idaho and other states.

It was the greatest advertising line that originated in Idaho.

“Petrified watermelons. Take one home to your mother in law,” read the sign on U.S. Highway 30. Its posts were surrounded by smooth round boulders painted green.

The sign was the creation of Farris Lind, an independent Boise gasoline seller tagged in the 1940s by big oil companies as a “stinker” because he undercut their prices. The epithet led to today’s Stinker Stores, a Boise-based chain of 106 convenience stores with gas pumps that employs more than 1,000 people at 65 stores in Idaho, 39 in Colorado and one in Wyoming.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, in the days before the interstate highway system, you could go out and plant a sign anywhere on federal property, said Rick Just, a Boise author whose book “Fearless: Farris Lind, The Man Behind the Skunk” was just published. Lind’s signs struck a nerve with travelers.

“Part of it was the times,” said Just, who has written 10 other books, including “Idaho Snapshots,” “Keeping Private Idaho” and “A Kid’s Guide to Boise.” “It took eight hours to get from here to Idaho Falls across the desert, and it wasn’t much fun. And so you see a sign that says ‘Ain’t this monotonous?’ and you say, yeah, no kidding.”

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Farris Lind stands in front of a gas pump at a Stinker station in Salt Lake City in a 1959 photo from the Salt Lake Tribune. Ethyl was a premium gas containing the additive tetraethyl lead, which prevented knocking caused by an incorrect air-fuel mixture. Photo courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society

Just, who retired after 29 years with the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, writes a blog, “Speaking of Idaho,” and said Lind has long fascinated his readers. While typical blog posts receive 1,500 to 2,500 views, his posts about Lind generated about 25,000 each.

That led to him writing the 123-page softback book, published by Ceder Creek Press of Boise. It’s available for $10 from Rediscovered Books at 180 N. 8th St. A book signing will be held there from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, May 2.

The first of Farris’ signs appeared between Boise and Mountain Home in 1946. It poked fun at ranchers and farmers who, reacting to rising rabbit populations, walked through sagebrush fields, scared up rabbits and shot them. Lind’s sign said: “Notice: Running Rabbits Have Right of Way.”

The number of signs grew to 150 and appeared between Jordan Valley, Oregon, to Green River, Wyoming, and along roads in Utah and Nevada. They were 10 feet high, made first from plywood and later from sheet metal. They were painted yellow with the comical sayings in black block letters.

The petrified watermelons sign, one of two still in existence, is the one most people remember, Just said. It was placed on U.S. 30 outside King Hill in Elmore County in a field of lava rocks tumbled and smoothed by the Bonneville Flood. Gus Roos, who painted the signs and installed them, painted the rounded rocks underneath the sign green.

“People stopped and picked up rocks for souvenirs, some of them weighing as much as a hundred pounds,” said a 2002 story that appeared in the Times-News of Twin Falls that Just included. “Roos went back more than once to paint up more rocks. They kept running out, so Lind trucked some in from another location.”

Today, the sign is on private property located off Interstate 84. It can be found by taking the King Hill exit at Exit 129 and traveling less than 2 miles northwest. It’s on the right just past the intersection of Old Highway 30 and 101 Ranch Road.

“Those roadside signs spoke to his sense of humor,” said Charley Jones, who owns the Stinker company today. “People enjoyed his smile, and he was quirky enough to put those smiles out there on those advertising signs.”

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Old-style gas pumps featured a glass globe at the top that displayed the gasoline before it was pumped into a customer’s car. This one is located at a Stinker station in Boise’s Hyde Park. John Sowell jsowell@idahostatesman.com

Just tells how Lind grew up in Twin Falls and got his start at the “cut-rate” Woodlawn Gas station on the edge of town. At the time, a glass globe at the top of the pump displayed the gas that would go into the car. The big oil companies sold gas that had an amber color. Independent stations got their gas from small Wyoming refineries that supplied clear gasoline.

Lind tinted his gas to make it seem higher in quality.

“The richer looking gas was a hit, especially when he promoted it for 16 cents a gallon,” Just wrote. “Major brand stations were charging about 22 cents.”

Lind and his wife, Ginny, moved to Boise in 1941 after he persuaded Gov. Chase Clark to allow him to establish a gas station on a state-owned parcel at 16th and Front streets, where an office building now sits just north of the I-184 Connector.

Clark had railed against gas prices, saying neighboring states had much lower prices. Lind, then 25, showed up unannounced at the governor’s office, talked his way past the receptionist and told Clark he could quickly bring down the price of gas in Boise if he could get a good deal on a station.

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Author Rick Just holds a copy of his new book on the founder of Stinker gas stations, “Fearless: Farris Lind, the Man Behind the Skunk.”

His first day open, Lind pumped 2,000 gallons of cut-rate gas.

“If you wanted a paved lot, uniformed attendants, a free map, sparkling restrooms and your tires checked, well, there were lots of major oil company stations in Boise where you could get all that,” Just wrote. “If all you wanted was cheap gas and oil from a likable guy who always had a smile, there was Farris Lind.”

Known as “Fearless Farris,” Lind took the nickname from a character in the long-running Li’l Abner comic strip. Fearless Fosdick appeared in the strip as a parody of crime fighter Dick Tracy.

“Lind knew the alliteration would stick in people’s minds,” Just wrote. “The Fearless Farris sign featured a man wearing boxing gloves and striking a fighting stance. The skunk would come later.”

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The back side of the humorous signs planted by Farris Lind featured an ad for this Stinker gas stations. John Sowell jsowell@idahostatesman.com

The president of the Petroleum Marketing Association told a reporter that Lind was a “real stinker” in the market. Instead of being offended, Lind wore the name as a badge of honor and began calling himself a stinker. Radio ads used the musical line “Fearless Farris is a stinker.”

Soon afterward, the Stinker skunk logo was born.

During World War II, Lind, who had learned to fly in high school, became a pilot trainer for the U.S. Navy. After his discharge in December 1945, Lind returned to his station in Boise and went back to undercutting the national brands.

LInd ran the company until his death in 1983 at age 67. His sons, longtime Stinker employees Scott and Kent Lind, headed Stinker until 2002, when employee Shawn Davis and his business partner, Jones, bought the company. A decade later, Davis sold his share in the company to Jones, a Boise native who previously worked as an accountant and was president of an Anheuser-Busch beer distributor.

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Motorists traveling near Beachs Corner, an unincorporated area 5 miles northeast of Idaho Falls, were warned to keep an eye out for grizzly bears in this roadside sign from Stinker. The sign is one of two still in existence. Beachs Corner is the junction of U.S. 26 and Idaho 43. Fred Harris Provided by Ed Harris

Jones said he’s proud of the legacy Lind left behind.

“He was a business legend,” Jones said.

Just’s book is also available online from Amazon and will be in stock at Stinker stations in Southern Idaho beginning Monday, May 6.

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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.

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