Automobile clubs used to install and maintain road signs. Slowly local governments and the state took over the road signs and eventually the interstate and state highway systems were created. But while federal and state routes were clearly marked, local routes were often haphazardly marked.
County highways and roads were not well organized. The roads are typically outside of any municipality and are maintained by county highway departments. However, many of them connect between major highways, or go between highways and destinations.
After WWII my mother’s father became a county engineer with Lassen County. He worked on road design, construction, and maintenance at all levels. From operating machinery, to surveying, to layout and design.
In the 1950’s, as a member of the County Supervisors Association of California, he put forward the idea of identifying and standardizing major county routes and he brought it up at a state meeting. There was some initial opposition citing the cost, however one major backer was the California State Automobile Association. They made road maps and recognized that standardized route and markers would greatly simplify driving in California.
So a committee was created, with my grandfather as the head, to investigate a state route marker program.
And In 1958, the County Supervisors Association of California established the California County Route Marker Program.
They developed this sign: County, Number, Blue and gold for California.
The program designates the more important county routes by assigning them as "County Sign Routes" and giving route numbers to them.
The committee developed the following statement of purpose:
“The County Route Marker Program should be clearly defined as a program to mark County routes of major importance that are of general public interest; that are constructed to sufficient standards to guarantee safe passage to the motorist; that are properly signed in conformance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to further ensure safe travel; and that have a logical beginning and logical terminus.”
It was very important that the routes were between two logical destinations, and not roads to nowhere.
The program was successful, so my grandfather took it to the National Association of Counties and looked to establish a similar program for the rest of the states.
And in 1967, it was incorporated nationwide as the National Uniform County Route Marker Program adopted by the National Association of Counties (NACO). The signs remained the same blue and gold signs.
California signs are labeled with a letter and a number. The letters were arranged alphabetically starting at the top of the state. And with Lassen county being one of the northern most counties, my grandfather was able to grab the designation A-1 for one of his best, most scenic roads, which linked HWY 36 and Eagle Lake. The road won national recognition, and the Olympic torch was carried on it for the 1984 Olympics. The road has since been given the designation the “William D. McIntosh Highway.”
Upon retirement my grandfather was given an A-1 belt buckle, which I have up in my office.
When we used to go on car trips as kids we would always point out the blue and gold markers and say “There’s Papa’s sign!”