F&S billboard revived; memorabilia of beer company still popular
Phil Thompson, whose grandfather founded Thompson Advertising, has graciously donated three of the firm's most popular retired billboards to the people of Shamokin.
Northumberland County Council for the Arts and Humanities (NCCAH) accepted Monday an 8-by-18-foot billboard that advertised the former Fuhrmann and Schmidt (F&S) Brewing Company and two smaller billboards that promoted the former Glen Burn Mine Tour.
The former Tharptown business was well-known for its colorful hand-painted signs, which promoted a variety of products and businesses. Ranging from a few inches to the F&S billboard size, Thompson's artwork could be seen on hillsides, bars, gas stations and at other locations throughout the area.
Thompson's late father, Philip, created the F&S painting on galvanized metal attached to a wooden frame to promote the firm's 16-ounce beer. The billboard consisted of at least eight pieces, but only seven have been located.
Put together, they read, "a good CASE against litter / Help keep Pennsylvania clean w" - the remaining words on the missing panel or panels. Large black text and a giant red beer case that take up most of the sign seem to compensate for whatever it is that's missing.
Unfortunately, records of where and when the sign was installed were lost in the Flood of 2011, but Thompson believes it may have been located near the Cameron Bridge, a popular place for advertisements. Several other signs and documents were washed away when nearly 3 feet of water from Shamokin Creek flowed through a side door of the former business. The F&S billboard was buried in 2 feet of mud when a back wall collapsed.
"The sign might not exist if it wasn't for Coal Township," Thompson said of cleanup help from municipal workers in the community after the flood.
Thompson said the billboard is resilient, having survived a fire in 1978, floods in 2011 and 1972 and a partial garage collapse several years ago.
'Signs of Shamokin'
Thompson Advertising was incorporated in 1910 by Phil's grandfather, Roy Thompson, and operated until Philip's death in 2002. The firm's first headquarters was at Fifth and Willow streets in Shamokin; it then relocated to Center Street at the west end of Tharptown, where Phil Thomspon still has the garage and his home today. The garage served as a storage area, workshop and main office.
Ironically, the location of the garage is just a few hundred feet from Brewery Curve on Route 61, where Eagle Run Brewery, later known as F&S, was located.
Thompson decided to donate the three billboards after learning that the grandchildren of Max Schmidt, co-founder of F&S, would be honorary grand marshals for this evening's Anthracite Heritage Festival of the Arts parade.
"Numerous contacts wanted to buy it, but I always wanted it to go back to Shamokin," Thompson said. "After I read they were coming to town, I knew this was the time."
Jeanne Shaffer, executive director of the arts council, which organizes the annual two-day festival, is thrilled about the donation. She said it was a perfect union between Thompson and the council.
Jeff Tweed, a tattoo artist from Shamokin, is expected to lead a restoration of the billboards. Tweed, along with Claude Harrington, Fine Art Gallery coordinator for NCCAH, and Matt Leavens, coordinator for the "Art About Town" program, were integral in creating the mural at Eighth and Independence streets in Shamokin last summer.
Shaffer said a decision on whether the billboards are restored or remain "as is" will be left to the artists. Details on where and when they will be installed are also not set in stone.
However, "We will make sure they get their due in terms of recognition," Shaffer said.
Display at festival
In the meantime, plans are to display them at the heritage festival on Saturday. The billboards will be propped against a building at the southwest corner of Market and Arch streets.
Shaffer said that because she was so "blown away" by the uniqueness of the signs, the council for the arts has decided to publish a historical book, "Signs of Shamokin," featuring photos of the signs that remain in the Thompson garage. Council members will take photos and attempt to gather information about the signs. The book will be published around Christmas, Shaffer said.
"We feel so fortunate to be able to get these things and to get them out for everyone to enjoy," she said. "I am just wondering what other best-kept secrets there are in Shamokin."
One of those secrets might be the F&S collection of Jeff Fodor, 43, a lifelong resident of Shamokin. Despite never having the opportunity to taste F&S beer, he has amassed a variety of products used to promote it, including neon lights, tap handles and bottles. One of his favorite items is an original label that was used between 1896 and 1904.
Fodor started collecting Shamokin beer-related items, mainly from F&S, around 2000 following a period of collecting beer cans. The assortment of items fill several tables in his garage on Vine Street, located just a stone's throw from where the main brewery was located.
"I don't remember much about the fire, just people running around," Fodor said about the 1975 arson blaze that effectively shut down F&S permanently. "But years later people were going into the brewery to look around."
Pieces from the collection were acquired from various sources, including ebay, yard sales, auctions and word-of-mouth. Fodor keeps an inventory of items in his head, but once in awhile has to ask his wife if he has a certain item.
One of his newest additions is a large, red, metal billboard with the words "F&S Fuhrmann and Schmidt Brewing Co. Shamokin, Pa." He purchased it from a resident of Paxinos, who struck the buried billboard with a pick while digging a garden.
"I remember F&S in the house when growing up, but I did not drink it," Fodor said. "I think my first beer was a Genesee."