QUINCY, IL — Since 1978, Century Signs has welded, bent and built signs by hand - right here in the Gem City.
"I take a lot of pride in my work," Century Signs shop manager Dustin Schnelle said. "I don't just do it for myself. I do it to represent the company. I feel like I'm a humble person. I didn't build this sign. The whole company as a team built this sign,"
"Born and raised here," Century Signs co-owner Stan Helkey said. "Most of our guys that work here are from Quincy, born and raised here. We've all got something invested in the Tri-States.
That investment can be seen throughout the area, from the iconic Pepsi neon sign to newly custom built gas station price signs.
If it's grabbed your attention, that sign was likely made right here in Quincy.
"You know, the fact that we're making something in the city of Quincy and surrounding area that nobody else really does," Helkey said.
Located at 30th and Kochs Lane, each and every sign at Century Sign begins at a computer with the design process.
From there, shop manager Schnelle transforms 2D into 3D.
"I have to start doing a bunch of math in my head, how many angles we're going to need, what length we're going to need," Schnelle said. "I have to constantly visualize the finished product when I'm building these.
Before he can finish, he needs to start the process which requires a welding mask, a torch and a steady hand.
After welding the frame together in place the sign now heads to be painted.
"The first coat is what they call a tack coat," Schnelle said. "It makes it tacky for the second coat to stick to. The third coat is more for the weather. Getting three coats in there like that, you got a lot more protection against the weather.
Once the the paint dries for 24 hours, it's time to install the electronics followed by a quick check to make sure the lights work.
But off in a small room behind Helkey's office lies a place where neon shines bright.
"If neon is done right from the start and pumped right, processed right, it'll burn forever," said Helkey.
Helkey said he's been bending the chemical element for nearly 30 years.
He said it's a skill that requires one very important thing.
"Practice," Helkey said. "Practice. Practice.
The art of bending neon is a tricky one.
"You just got to know how much area glass to heat and when to take it out and when you can handle it," said Helkey.
Each and every day Helkey, Schnelle and everyone at Century Signs put their mark on something that everyone can see.
A mark that can make a lasting impact.
The next time you pass a sign, take a second to appreciate how it got there.
It likely was made right here in the Tri-States.
If you make something in the Tri-States and would like to be featured in our Made in the Tri-States series, email Marcus Espinoza at email@example.com, or message him on his Facebook or Twitter pages.