rive east on Main Street out of El Centro and you will see an empty space on the left marking the entrance to Superior Ready Mix. Maybe you know the company still as Ryerson, because that name appeared on the tall two-story, eleven-foot wide, metal, neon sign — topped with an accurate, working temperature needle affirming the sweltering heat when it hovered above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or offering relief when it held at the 70 mark, mid-day.
Recently, the sign was taken down by Superior who decided it is time to fully transition the name. Businesses often continue under old names, but eventually the old name is dropped. The large Ryerson sign now lies on its back outside a huge shed at the Pioneer Museum on Aten Road.
About 1915, Bess and Pete Ryerson began their company, originally in Holtville, calling it the IV Concrete Company before moving to the north corner of State and Fourth in El Centro. Their youngest son, John, at age 11 was an experienced driver of the “Go Devil” used in the family cement pipe business for his dad, who had patented the unusual invention made of Model T and odd machine parts. This patent was later sold to two gentlemen from the coast that, with a few modifications, renamed it the “Fork Lift” and began mass-producing it.
In the 1940s, the business moved to a small building on East Main that later housed Valley Data Base. By 1952, Ryerson’s three boys bought their dad out, changed the name to Ryerson Concrete Company and built a large new complex next door.
Young John eventually became the sole owner. He worked the company until his retirement in 1995 when he sold to his employees – the two Bills: Hoffman and Lee, who in turn, sold in 2006 to Superior Ready Mix, itself a family-owned business of Jack Brouwer of Escondido that now includes over 20 companies in three Southern California counties.
Big companies often miss what smaller communities have — an affinity for heritage and nostalgia. But the office staff at Superior just could not let the sign disintegrate on the back lot. So they contacted Mrs. (John) Ginger Ryerson who is a long-time volunteer at the Pioneer Museum. The thick metal pole was partially cut and gently tilted to safely transport it on a very long flatbed truck. A welding torch severed the last of the thick iron; its thermometer wiring had already been gutted. The giant sign, with its original neon lettering unharmed, lay safely.
When the backhoe dug down to clear out the cement base that had been holding the sign up, they found a slab 12’ x 19’, and who knows how thick. They let it be. There had never been a concern the sign would fall by natural causes, only new ownership could manage that. The iconic sign will be missed.
The Museum welcomes all contributions including any from Superior to help stand the sign up on museum grounds. Spreckles Sugar donated $5,000 to the museum to display the old Holly Sugar sign when the sign was restored to its new home. Eventually, the old timers will be able to see another iconic Valley sign restored to life at the local museum. Hopefully, sooner than later.[envira-gallery id=”81813″]