In the Trenches: The Trooper

Rick Williams owns Rick’s Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business since 1986. Contact Rick via e-mail at

As a young boy, greatly because of the influence of the little boy that is now the CEO and owner of the company that publishes this magazine, I worked every summer and at other times as well. Bob set that example, having come from such a large family, that very early on he realized that if he wanted anything extra he would have to earn the money to pay for it himself.

Several summers we were part of a small sales crew that was taken all over Northeast Texas selling subscriptions to the Longview Morning Journal, which was based in downtown Longview, our home town. One summer, when we were about 14 years old, the driver and supervisor assigned to us was Mr. Bailey, an elderly man from Gilmer, Texas, who managed to cram his portly self and four or five teenage boys into his little four-door Simca, a French made import about the size of a VW bug.

Each day, we left the newspaper office with more than 100 copies of that day’s Journal, and gave them away to our victims, offering a free month of morning papers if they would subscribe for six months or a year. But, some days we could not call on enough housewives and retirees who would answer our knock at their door, and we’d have multiple papers left over. These we rolled up and threw out as gifts to the locals from the captives in the unairconditioned import full of sweaty teenage boys.

Once we left the city limits of whatever town we had worked in, the paper throwing evolved into a game of seeing who had the best aim and could hit a speed limit sign, or any other sign while moving along those rural Texas highways. And it was a great game of fun and skill, and hilarity was enjoyed by all until the day, coming back from Carthage, Texas, Officer Wisenhunt, a Panola County state trooper, flipped on his lights and siren and pulled over Mr. Bailey and his motley crew.

The state Trooper walked up the passenger side of the car first and demanded an explanation as to why we were littering his highway. We responded as politely and respectfully as we could, in repentant voices, accurately claiming to have not thought of the seriousness of our actions. He received woeful apologies from two or three of us, especially Ricky Webb, a future Baptist minister who had not yet seen the light, but spoke well and knew something about repentance already.

Officer Wisenhunt said little, then told Mr. Bailey to get out of the car and come back to see him in his vehicle. We knew we were in trouble, and while they talked we were devising ways we could raise the money to pay for Mr. Bailey’s ticket.

When Mr. Bailey got back in the car, without a word he cranked up and started driving in silence. After several miles he spoke and said, “Boys, you know what you were doing, and I let you do, was wrong, dead wrong, and we are never going do it again. But mostly due to the respect you showed, your politeness and good manners, this time we were only issued a warning.”

“And in fact,” Mr. Bailey continued, “I believe officer Wisenhunt was a bit impressed with you all, because he told me he’d been following us at a distance for four or five miles, and as far as he knew… you boys hadn’t missed a single sign!”

Well, that was a long time ago, but besides the reminder that littering is a crime, the take away from that experience was that politeness and good manners makes any human situation, even a troubled one, go a lot smoother and probably have a much better outcome.

This is especially true in business, as an employer (as many of you are), or fellow worker at any enterprise, the courtesy shown to each other in the work place sets a tone for each and every workday and makes a huge difference in our ability to enjoy our work and be able to function as a team. And if the business is a family affair, triple what I just said.

Though we fail at times, I really do make a diligent effort to set the best example I can and try hard to encourage my team leaders and team workers, especially those of my family, to treat everyone with respect always, with politeness and courtesy always, even those they grew up with from day one. This, perhaps above anything else, helps us enjoy what we do, allows us to be professional and productive at it, and have a great month, every month.

This is my constant wish for my crew, and for all my readers out there.