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Reviving an icon

Over the last year, sign-maker JR Long has become somewhat of a hero in Tehachapi, beginning with the production of a 100-foot banner depicting the history of Tehachapi and more recently, the painting of the city logo on the iconic water tower in Railroad Park.

Long has been a sign maker for 33 years and moved here from Lancaster following COVID, joining his four sons as a Tehachapi resident. His resume as a sign maker includes work for Legoland, Magic Mountain, Knotts Berry Farm, Northrop Grumman, the defense industry and many "mom and pop" jobs.

Last year, Long was commissioned by Jeanette Pauer, head of the Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce at that time, to create a banner depicting the history of Tehachapi to be displayed at the 2023 Mountain Festival. He presented Pauer with a 20-foot sample of his planned banner and was hired on the spot. The final 100-foot banner, "Brands and Brews," was displayed surrounding the Beer Garden at the 2023 Mountain Festival.

When it came time for the city to repaint the iconic water tower located in Railroad Park, they approached Long asking him to take a look at "touching up" the two Tehachapi city logos on the tower. Even Long could not have imagined the amount of research he would have to go through before he could begin to put paint to metal. As soon as he looked closely at the signs, he knew it would be more than a touch up. It would be a total repaint. Long said there were big chunks of the original automotive paint missing and whole sections of clear coat flapping. This was just the beginning of the months of research that was needed to recreate the logos.

The San Diego company that had originally created the design for the water tower signs was out of business, so Long thought he was going to have to redraw the signs from scratch. However, he found a man on LinkedIn who was involved with the project in 2004 and remembered the process and could help but... where to find the design files? After weeks of research, they finally found an old CD that contained files that Long could use.


A crane was needed to replace the newly repainted signs in the downtown water tower. JR Long said he couldn't watch as the signs were raised.

Long presented his proposal in October 2023 and received the contract the day before Christmas. The city had proposed colors from 20 years ago and the original lettering company was out of business, so more research. Long sandblasted and pressure washed the signs and built an easel in his shop. He then used three coats of primer, taking about one and a half days per coat. He masked off each section as he painted using marine-grade epoxy, but then had to let each section dry before he could move on. Every screw had to be hand painted to match the area where it would be placed. Assisting Long with the painting were his friends and veteran sign painters, Jeff Lyndon and Frank Ramirez. Both men have experience working with the studios in Los Angeles.

So that a record would be kept, Long created a bible of the colors he used and where they were located on the signs. This included the various reds, yellows and blues, plus the shadow colors. There is now a permanent record kept as a PDF for future reference. The finished signs were 16-feet long and 10-feet tall, and were installed on March 5 using a crane lift. Long said he could not watch as they were lifted and secured to the sides of the gray water tower.

The next time you are in Downtown Tehachapi, take a walk by Railroad Park and check out the vibrant city logos on the side of the water tower, thanks to JR Long's months of work.