MAYNARDVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)– If you’ve driven along the main stretch of Maynardville Highway in Union County, there is one landmark you most likely didn’t miss: Pinto on a pole.
After nearly 40 years, Jimmy Sexton’s business sign has been taken down, and it’s already leaving a hole in the hearts of the community.
Pinto on a pole has a history, and 6 On Your Side heard it straight from the 82-year-old owner himself. Sexton first put the red-orange Ford Pinto up on the pole back in 1983.
“My father-in-law’s first cousin owned a sign company in Knoxville. And he sold it out and he reserved the right for three or four signs a year at cost. And he come out here and wanted to sell me one,” Sexton said.
Sexton said the sign estimate was too expensive for him, which he recalls was around $4,800.
He had other plans in mind.
Sexton had actually been thinking about turning a car into his own business sign for his used car lot, called Jim Sexton Motors.
He previously sold a Ford Pinto, in great condition, and he knew he wanted that to be the car displaying his logo. So, he traded it back.
“I wanted it back especially for that sign. Start with I’m a Ford man. And I would love to put a Ford up there,” Sexton said.
Sexton said putting the car up on the pole wasn’t too hard. He gutted out the Pinto and then called some friends and family for help. It started with creating a concrete foundation, then getting the metal pole in the foundation.
“They had a boom pole for the front bucket. We set the pole good without a bit of problem. We went to put the car up there, and it wouldn’t reach. Wouldn’t go high enough to set it up on top of the pole,” Sexton said.
Sexton said the next day, he hauled two or three loads of rock out by the pole to build a ramp. The truck was able to put the car on the pole that time. Sexton said for the first few years, he was nervous the car would fall off.
“Every time a storm would brew I started worrying about it. But that went away because it went through some pretty high winds and it never bobbled,” Sexton said.
Soon, the car became a landmark for easy directions.
“Sears used to stop here every day wanting to know where so and so lived and how to get there, cause people would tell them, ‘well, if you get to that car you’re close. Just stop, they know me.’ I’d send them on right on in,” Sexton said.
Up until Thursday, it was still being used like that.
Nicole Hopkins, owner of Trixie’s Boutique, said ever since she’s owned her businesses a block away, she’s always pointed it out for directions.
“Every time someone comes and asks us about where we’re located, I always say, ‘do you know where the Pinto is on the pole?’ And if they say yeah, which most of them do, they go, ‘Oh yeah, yeah I know,'” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said the ‘Pinto on a pole’ is more than just a landmark.
Many people, including herself, grew up driving by it.
Around the holidays, Sexton said he would decorate the car with Christmas lights and it became tradition for family to stop by and take photos. Sexton never wanted to make the Pinto on a Pole an official landmark, because he knew if he ever needed to take it down, he would have to jump through hoops.
Although, a state senator made an official proclamation for it. While Sexton learned storms wouldn’t be able to take the car down, apparently, growing traffic would do the worst damage.
Sexton said the state had been trying to expand Maynardville Highway for years.
He said in order to do so, the state came to him about buying a portion of his property for the road work. The Pinto on a pole was located just within the space the state needed, according to Sexton.
“Can’t hold up progress. And we need the road,” Sexton.
So he took it down Thursday.
Sexton wouldn’t deny the expansion was needed. Though, he knew it meant all those memories would be gone, and new memories couldn’t be made.
“This one lady yesterday, she lives nearby and she stopped and I told her it wasn’t happening, and she said, ‘well I sure hope you put it back up. She says it’s been here all my life,” Sexton said.
Sexton said he had alternative ideas for the Pinto, but at 82 — and suffering from cancer for more than 25 years–he knew he wouldn’t be able to execute them.
However, he said his youngest son is thinking about hoisting the car back up, just further back on the property.
Hopkins said she knew the car meant so much to the community and to Sexton, who is also her landlord, so she plans to make t-shirts and stickers to keep the ‘Pinto on a pole’ memory alive.
Sexton said he gave Hopkins his full permission to do so.