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Smoke School Stories



This was an email that I sent to all Whitlow Employees- we do try harder.


My brother Ricky printed the very first smoke school signs that I used in 2001. I think he charged me 2 or 300 bucks. The signs lasted ma about 30 days. They were very professional and looked very good- I am certain in some teenager’s bedroom wall. What is smoke school?


Ever since then, I have used hand painted signs that I did myself. In the very early days, when money was as scarce as hen’s teeth I drove from one political campaign headquarters to another begging for signs. I remember in El Dorado Arkansas the Republican Mayor Campaign was across the street from the Democratic Campaign headquarters. I walked into the Democrat’s first. “I love this guy. I need about 20 signs to put up in all my neighbor’s yards- they all love him.” I guess I would have been in trouble if they looked outside and noticed the Louisiana tags on Big Red parked outside their window. Then I drove around the block, so they would not notice, came back and parked across the street and repeated the sign theft at the Republican Headquarters.


I remember one day down here in redneck land, where everyone sleeps with a 12 gauge, I got one of my volunteer employees to slip through people’s yards in the middle of the night stealing political signs as the residents watched TV in their living room. I sat peacefully in the picking up truck listening to the radio waiting to make the get-a-way.


It was a hard job painting the political signs with several coats of white paint and then in black paint making the words for smoke school. The entire process took me about 5 days. I hated painting the signs so I was very religious about putting the signs out before each school and picking them up. One early employee complained that the hardest part of the job and the part he dreaded the most was putting out and picking up the signs.


Not long after El Dorado I started feeling guilty about the sign theft, as well as the five days work painting over the fluorescent campaign messages. Perhaps it was because several of the customers complained that it was hard to read the signs from the road with the campaign posters bleeding in over the smoke school words. They said that I should be making enough money to buy the signs and told me where to find them. I started looking for a place to buy the plastic white signs and the wire stakes to hold them up. All I had to do then was take some black paint and a one inch brush and paint the smoke school and the directional arrow.


Well after 9 years, with the help from the wife, Angie I got almost all of my debts paid off and the IRS caught up, and we are able to keep up with payroll on time. We actually had a few extra bucks built up so I decided to try professional signs again. These new professional signs were not cheap. I think I paid $400 for 25 of them. I will put 5 on each trailer here in Louisiana and send 5 to Dave in Indiana.  The signs are not on the trailer just for the ride. Use them and then pick them up.


Lagniappe is a Louisiana French word for just a little something extra. I personally like a waitress who will stop by often and fill up my sweet tea glass. With the daily temperature in the triple digits and the humidity to match, the lack of sweet tea will kill you. Sweet tea is the national drink around these parts. If I am trying out a new restaurant, I don’t look at the menu; I look for the sweet tea picture, take out a cup and taste it. Tea is not the same if you let it cool off before adding the sugar. You have to put about 3 cups of sugar in the tea when it is hot so it will dissolve and blend in. If the tea tastes stale, this is a sign of neglect. I just walk out the door if I find stale tea.


The other national drink around here is fresh coffee 24/7. We don’t drink that unleaded neither- we drink the leaded. My mamma and me could drink a pot of coffee at midnight and sleep like a baby. When I am on the road a lot and pull into a truck stop, they better have some fresh coffee or I will make some for them. Being a diabetic I had to give up the sugar in coffee and the cokes, most of my pies and cakes, but I still need to have my sweet tea- it is just not the same. Fresh coffee and sweet tea are lagniappe, and they are expected or you may run out of business.


My momma raised me on lagniappe although she never knew what the word meant. She ran that Nu-2-U second hand store in Clarks Louisiana. If someone died, the relatives would call momma and we would go into the house clean up the house, and the barn, and take most of it to the dump. The every day yard sale stuff went on the store shelves and the antiques and collectibles went into hiding until we could make it to the flea markets like Canton Texas and Bonnie and Clyde in Arcadia Louisiana. There was always a picture of ice tea and a fresh pot of coffee brewing. The customers would come spend the day by the pot belly iron railroad wood heater or at the large kitchen table in the middle of the store and watch us unload the trailers while searching for the bargain of a lifetime. The customers would bring in pot luck lunches and all sit down to eat as soon as they arrived. Hence the Cajun food served at all Whitlow Smoke Schools, and the ice cooler full of iced tea, cokes, bottled water, and other sodas.


Whitlow do lagniappe all of the time. When people show up at the schools, shake hands and greet them. Put a little music on the PA system if it gets boring. Tell them where the coffee pot is and where the sodas are. On the way to the hotel or the school, look for Donuts and pick up at lest one for everyone registered and for the crew. Start on time- 8 AM. You know how much you hate hurry up and wait. If you see a delay coming, get them to sit inside or in their car. Explain the situation. Give good precise instructions and watch the crowd to make sure they understand. Give the test slowly and do not jump around a lot. Tell them not to look at the smoke when you get off track. If the delay lasts a few minutes, say time out, give a spot calibration point check before resuming. Get a rhythm and stick with it. Grade the test slowly and give them time to add and subtract after each answer. On the pink slip many people state they did not read the web site- always advertise the website at each school. Tell them it is a lot of fun and is a constant reminder they need smoke school every 6 months. Get them to send us an email smokeschool@yahoo.com to be added to our list. As the Bible says, treat people the way you wish to be treated.


Part of lagniappe is the signs. Most people who have not been to our smoke school are under stress from the other schools. A lot of supervisors just tell them to come and tell them nothing else including how to get there. By now we all realize the Google Map and the GPS are not always correct. We should use the Google maps on our web page to find the site. I remember in Chalmette Louisiana, both the Google and GPS said to turn left when we should have turned right. If you notice these errors, email me as soon as possible for map corrections and immediately put up a sign to get the people on the right track.


Normally start putting up signs on the road where people turn to enter the park. Put a sign up at every turn until you see the trailer. A lot of people start showing up at 7 AM so put out the signs as you enter the park. During one of the breaks have someone go pick up the signs. A lot of parks do not allow signs, so pick them up before the park does. If the signs are gone, check the dumpsters by the maintenance office or the park office. Before you leave, ask the park office where they put the signs.


I remember one particular school in Frankfort Kentucky where the Buffalo Trace Distillery did not want the people parking inside the fence. They wanted the people to go a block past the gates, turn left past McDonalds, go down a road, turn left again,  and park in the outside parking lot, and then walk over a walkway past the guard shack, and into the plant. I put up about 12 signs from McDonalds to the other end of the parking lot right up to the gate. One of the customers came up to me and said he knew we would have good service because of how the signs directed him to where to park. He and his wife have been coming faithfully now for 5 years. Keep up the good work.



These new signs serve 2 purposes. They tell people how to get to the school and they advertise our name, phone number, and web page. Use them religiously. I have had more than a few people who said they passed the signs on the way to work and had been driving over a hundred miles to another smoke school provider. During your travels, if you notice advertising park benches close to several plants- stop by and get the phone number and the street address, and email smokeschool@yahoo.com the information to me. If you pass a smokestack stop by and leave a brochure and a tee-shirt or hat for the guard and the environmental person. Write a small note on the brochure saying to tell us that you sent us. We give you $50 bonus for all new plants.   


Do not throw away the old hand painted signs. Keep then on the trailer and use them if the new signs get lost. Let me know when you run out of new signs and I will order some more. Thanks. Buck

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