He's the "John-of-all-trades" on the Clatsop County Public Works road crew.
John Lampien makes the signs that grace the county's 250 miles of roadways. Other times, he is holding a sign, as a flagger protecting both traffic and workers at road construction sites. In between, he's shoveling patching gravel, driving a dump truck or doing other typical duties of a road maintenance worker.
National County Government Weeks is this week. This year's theme is " Transportation: Counties Move America's People and Products." County governments build and maintain about 45 percent of the nation's roads and 44 percent of bridges nationwide. Clatsop County is profiling some of its Public Works employees.
Lampien went to work for the county in 1974, while still in high school as a shop aide, sweeping floors and gassing trucks after class. He learned how to drive on the equipment.
After graduating from Seaside High School, he worked for the county full time, splitting his time in the fuel shops and maintaining the parks. In 1980, he became the sign maker. Lampien makes signs to tell motorists where they're going warn boaters of wakes on county lakes and tell riders when to expect the Wahkiakum County ferry. The signs range from "fingerboards" or sliver-shaped directional signs and mile markers to ones several feet wide and high.
Back then, he had to painstaking calculate, measure and mark each letter by hand, then paint the letters or apply stick-on ones. The smaller the letter, the more difficult the job. A sign could take half a day to make. Now he can whip out a "road closed" sign in five minutes. He carries a ready supply of common signs in a special truck he drives.
Today, the process is much easier and faster. He starts with an aluminum panel with a reflective color coating. For routine signs, like speed limits, he lays out a clear transfer sheet ready-made with vinyl letters and then presses the letters down, much like rub-on letters you buy at a stationery store For custom signs, he creates the message on a computer and prints out the transfer. If he needs a special color or shape, he puts a colored backing that comes in rolls onto the metal sign stock and puts it into a machine that cooks the backing onto the metal sheet. The current materials and methods produce signs that will outlast their predecessors for many years, Lampien says. State uniform standards prescribe the size and design of many signs.
Flagging isn't as flashy as sign making, but it keeps Lampien on his toes. Being a flagger is like choreographing a ballet.
The flagger must be alert to what's going on at the construction site and of the traffic coming his way, and coordinate both to keep traffic and construction workers out of each other's way. He needs to be able to relate well with a public that's curious about the construction and calm those who are cranky about being delayed. Usually the flagger is the public's first and only contact at a construction site. He's on his feet for eight to 10 hours a day. And he needs to have a planned exit in case he needs to dodge an errant motorist. Lampien plans and stages the traffic control, putting out the cones, warning signs, barricades and lights. Flaggers go through training to be licensed by the state in Oregon.
When not on the job, Lampien likes tinkering with "old things" and has restored everything from an antique jukebox to a 1953 Oldsmobile Super 88 convertible.