Barns and watering troughs served as billboards in the 1880s, proof that advertising was as much a part of life in those days as railroading and road building.

Advertising crews traveled stage roads in wagons and on horseback, paid by Levi Strauss to paint barns and watering troughs with ads for Levi Strauss overalls and Leake’s work gloves.

They carried paint and paraphernalia to last them from one railroad station to the next between Dunsmuir, Calif., and Ashland, Ore. Each crew had a carpenter, cook, wrangler, the “background boys” and the graphic “lettermen.”

According to Frank Scott, his father, Isaac, was a skilled letterman. One day at chowtime, he put down his paintbrush and hurried off to eat. He had only completed the first word of an advertisement on a newly painted water trough when a freight wagon approached. The driver led his thirsty mules to the trough, and let out an exasperated sigh.

The sign read “Leake’s,” the only word Scott had finished painting before chowtime. The mule driver spat, and said, “Well, if it leaks, why cantcha just fix it instead of going to all that trouble painting a sign?”

Source: Scott, Frank L. Siskiyou Pioneer and Yearbook. Vol. 5. Yreka: Siskiyou County Historical Society, 1950. 30.

— As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.