In the 1950s and 60s, as national chains began to fill the landscape, there was an emerging sense that large commercial signs were contributing to a growing graphic conformity along the American roadside. Corporate logos for gas stations, restaurants and motels varied little from place to place. Distinctive signs like Tony Hmura’s colorful neon marquis for the Flying Yankee diner in Auburn countered blandness, catering to individual business owner’s tastes and forging connection to local history.
While the name of the diner evoked a connection with a much-loved New England streamliner train, the rocket logo, with its distinctive flashing tail, celebrated the accomplishment of local aerospace inventor Dr. Robert H. Goddard. Goddard made history when he launched the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn in 1926. The site of Goddard’s rocket launch, which took place on the Ward Farm (now Pakachoag Golf Course) was commemorated with a plain granite obelisk. The Flying Yankee’s sign added visual excitement to the location of the diner while celebrating local history and the beginning of the space age.
Sign-makers were required to sign their work by affixing tags of nameplates called “snipes”, making attribution easy. Sign Layout Artists learned their trade at specialty schools or in some cases, were self-taught through inexpensive sign-maker’s manuals, gaining technical expertise by experiment. Tony Hmura, the creator of the Flying Yankee’s eclectic sign was an exception. As the founder of Leader Signs, Hmura grew a successful sign business after returning from military service in WWII. Hmura’s design skills, as well as his ongoing community involvement as an active leader of various civic groups means that his works are easy to identify, even without a snipe. Leader Sign designed and fabricated dozens of distinctive signs around Springfield. The Flying Yankee’s sign is unique in its fusion of automobile-friendly scale, railroad nostalgia and celebratory rocketry: three forms of transportation technology neatly encapsulated in one neon sign.