Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Billboard Gives Drivers a Glimpse of Inspiration

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Billboard Gives Drivers a Glimpse of Inspiration

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Woods

I've said that one of the reasons I don't "tweet" is that I can't say anything in only 140 characters.

But Tom Trout Jr. shoots down that argument.

Trout isn't some young micro-blogger. He's 82, the patriarch of a local contracting company. But for more than two decades, he has been coming up with 72-character messages -- three lines, 24 characters maximum -- to post on a site that has been known to attract nearly 100,000 views a day.

A billboard.

It's located just off Interstate 95, near the Bowden Road exit.

If you've driven that stretch of highway any time since February 1986 -- when the first message was posted on the sign with a trout logo -- you've probably seen some of Trout's words of wisdom. A few examples:

Horsepower was much safer when only horses had it.

Forbidden fruit is responsible for many a bad jam.

If you want to leave footprints in the sands of time, wear work shoes.

The messages usually change once a week, usually on Thursday. They often are simultaneously old-fashioned and current. You might say they are literally signs of the times. (A recent sign: "People who live beyond their income should act their wage.")

Trout tries to avoid using anything twice. He has 1,596 messages meticulously catalogued in a book. And although he passed along control of the company to his son about a decade ago, he continued to come up with the inspirational messages for the board. Now, though, he has decided it's time to hand that job to his son.

"It's a huge responsibility," Tom Trout III said. "Dad has a real gift."

The younger Trout admits that when his father first suggested buying the billboard, he questioned whether the expense would be worth it. Not anymore.

"I really underestimated the value and impact," he said.

It's not just that it has become a staple of the First Coast commute. Or that a teacher at the beach uses it to help her foreign students learn English words and expressions. The sign has developed a following that stretches well beyond Jacksonville.

One time the Trouts were eating in the Bahamas and the restaurant owner recognized the name. …

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