The iconic neon sign up above the Horseshoe Bend Motel is once again shining in the night, letting travelers know there’s new life to an old standby in Lovell.
The hotel is one of three in town recently refurbished or in the process of being refurbished. The Horseshoe Bend Motel’s glowing red sign is one of the more visible clues to the revitalization of an essential sector for tourism, in a small town that offers more than just charm.
Bobbi Jo McJunkin views the sign as a bit of a good luck charm for the motel, but it’s also a piece of its irreplaceable history.
“This town, from what I understand — and you might talk to someone who’s lived here longer — was a little Vegas. It was all neon signs,” McJunkin told Cowboy State Daily.
Horseshoe Bend Motel’s sign has found a place in a bit of iconic history along the way. It’s a key part of a picture that’s immortalized in the book called “Uncommon Places,” by Stephen Shore.
The artist was the first living photographer to get a one-man show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when he was just 24.
“He came through here in the ’70s, and he had taken a picture of the sign, and it sold at the Museum of Modern Art,” McJunkin said. “It’s a picture of the motel sign and, so, it’s kind of iconic. That sign to me — the day I got that sign lit, you would have thought I won $100 million dollars.”
Shore’s photo of the sign sold for $40,000, McJunkin told Cowboy State Daily, but she won’t take any amount of money for the sign itself. She’s been offered more than $50,000 for it, but good luck isn’t for sale, nor is an icon easy to replace.
“I just said absolutely not,” McJunkin said. “I won’t do it.”
A Place Where Time Lets Go
McJunkin took over the aging motel from her father.
Her father and the motel were getting older, McJunkin told Cowboy State Daily, and trying to keep up with the motel’s growing maintenance needs was quickly becoming too much for her dad.
“I came out to stay while he was sick, and I stayed,” she said. “I had only been out here twice, but I’ve always loved it out here.”
What she found in Lovell is a place where time didn’t feel as restrictive as it once did.
“This was the first place I’d been in a long time where I could just breathe,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I had to just go all out all day. You know, it’s just a really cool community, and wonderful people.”
That sense of time letting go is something she hopes guests will achieve, too, when they stay in her rooms. The rooms have all been decorated with fun themes aimed at transporting
a each guest to a special place in their mind.
“I have an astronaut Lovell room, and then I have one that has famous Yellowstone photographer Ansel Adams of the park,” she said. “I have a cowboy room, and I’m going to have a Stephen Shore room.”
A print of the photo Shore took with the lucky rainbow arcing between the sign and the motel is going into that room.
“It will have a big camera like in those black art pieces,” she said. “The theme of this whole place is really off that sign, to be honest with you. I’ve always felt like, you know, you can go anywhere and just have a great stay. A decent stay, in a clean, you know room. But what’s going to make it like elevated, and an experience?
“That’s what I want. And it’s about the people, and the interactions. That’s what I want here.”
Other themes she’s mulling over right now are a Wild Bill room and a Crazy Woman room.
Each room is also getting an up-cycled tailgate from an old vehicle, which will serve as a bench or luggage rack in each room.
A Brand New Trick
While McJunkin is doing most of the heavy lifting, she credits her dad with helping her to get such a large project done — 20 motel rooms in all — despite the fact she’s never done anything like this before. In her prior career, she was a men’s luxury clothing buyer.
“My dad is brilliant,” she said. “You know, he can just sit back and tell me how to go about things.”
The way McJunkin got the carpet out of the rooms was to put a rope through a hole in the carpet and then use her vehicle to pull it out for her. No heavy lifting required.
“I looked so tacky,” she said. “But I mean, it’s just me, and I have to not kill myself completely doing it.”
McJunkin is working on all of the bathrooms right now, gutting them, and adding a barn door instead of tiny door frames that restrict the space.
“We are a little Bates-y on the outside right now,” she said. “But we’re getting there.”
When people see the actual inside of the rooms, they tell her the motel actually looks better than its online pictures suggest.
“I’ll take that every day,” she said.
Once she’s done with all the interior renovations, she’s got plans for the exterior as well.
In the meantime, she’s bringing in a grain silo that will serve as an outdoor living space for guests to relax, watch TV, or hang out by a cozy fireplace as they drink coffee in the morning.
Many of her guests right now are workers, or people checking on their horses. She wants a place that feels like an extension of home where they can spread out a bit, read the paper while drinking coffee. A home-style living room away from home.
She also plans to put space outside the silo to seat customers of the food trucks that are on a rotation in her parking lot.
Getting The Sign Back
The story of how McJunkin got the motel light working again shows how serendipity, determination, and a dose of just plain luck, have all been working to help her change the future of the Horseshoe Bend Motel, as well as the town she now loves.
“I was working, and I’m running around ripping out carpet and stuff,” she said. “And there’s this truck over in the parking lot over here and they’re getting food.”
McJunkin noticed it had a big boom on it and thought briefly about walking over to find out more about that. But she was too involved in what she was doing to actually do that.
When the driver of that truck decided to check into the motel, McJunkin was forced to take a breather, and check him in.
On impulse she asked him if he would look at her sign and give her a bid for fixing it. Her father had already had bids on fixing the sign. They were steep — $40,000.
“And I don’t know if that’s what I want,” McJunkin said. “Because I don’t want it to look like the McDonald’s yellow signs, because (our sign) never looked like that.”
The man, however, had no problem doing that for her on the spot, even though he’d obviously already worked a long day.
“He just took the boom up and did it,” McJunkin said.
He charged just $1,500 to get the sign working again as is, with no modernizing involved.
“And it works now,” McJunkin said. “I mean, on a good, windy day, it might go off, but I’ll take it, you know, and I’m just adamant (about keeping it original). I just want it to stay the way it is.”
But it’s not just the sign. McJunkin hopes what she’s doing with the motel is helping maintain the character of the Lovell community the same as it’s always been.
It’s a unique, charming place, one that she has often seen convince passersby to change their plans and staya little longer than the single night they’d planned.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.