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"Welcome to Philip"sign in place west of town

First of four sign artists ... Donnie Ehlers stands next to the “Welcome to Philip” sign at the west entrance to town. He created the three sheet metal figures and the letters with the artistic use of a plasma cutter.

The "Welcome to Philip, est. 1907" sign at the intersection of Highway 14 and Pine Street will eventually be highlighted with decorative landscaping and accent lighting.

The community assessment done in 2004 brought to light that such signage was a priority to the community. Actual planning was begun in 2005, and it was decided to focus on only one sign for now because of the availability of funds.

After the project was officially commissioned, the metal work began around the middle of September and was completed in early November. Three 4'x8' sheets of metal were used to create sections of the sign. Each original sheet weighed around 225 to 250 pounds. The cut metal was then powder coated - special plastic was melted at 450 degrees right to the metal - to prevent weathering and rusting. The sections were assembled at the site on an I-beam base.

Donnie Ehlers, owner of Lazy E Bar Steel Signs, cut the images and letterings manually using a plasma cutter. The machine forces compressed air into a tiny cutting arc. It does not create the heat that a cutting torch generates, and thus does not warp the metal.

"I've been accused of using a computer to measure and cut my work," said Ehlers. "There is no way you're going to do that quality of original work other than by hand. I can do more with my hand outfits than they can do with a computer."

Ehlers, temporarily using extra space at Hansen's Fur and Hide building, will by springtime be doing business in his new location at 120 South Center Avenue in Philip.

The extra space might help with his growing customer demands. "Right now, I'm about two months behind," admitted Ehlers.

"I started doing odds and ends to help make things more user friendly for my brother who is in a wheelchair. People saw what I had done, and it exploded into a part-time job which will eventually become a full-time business. Right now my pickup is my office and whatever else it needs to be."

Ehlers has done tiny jobs such as light switch covers to big jobs such as the Philip sign and a spiral staircase. "The staircase turned out really, really good, but it was a job.

"Every piece is original. I keep the patterns unless the customer wants them back, but I'll change the turn of a horse's head or something. I keep it interesting that way.

"Last year my mother said that I was the last one she ever expected to be an artist." Ehlers' artistry comes from skill and research. The train outline for the Philip sign was based from the original Chicago and Northwestern locomotive #290 which actually came through Philip decades ago.

The south, east and north "Welcome to Philip" signs will be created by other craftsmen.

For the future sign north of Philip, the National Mutual Benefit is applying for a grant to fund materials, and Philip High School's Future Farmers of America will be doing the majority of the labor. The construction will also be of plasma-cut sheet metal.

For the future sign east of Philip, a verbal commitment has been given by brothers David K. and M.R. Hansen to construct the sign. Their father, Virgil (Dobby) Hansen, put up an earlier welcome sign west of Philip. That sign has suffered the wear of time.

No commitments have yet been made concerning a future sign at the south entrance to Philip.