Wyoming’s Iconic 28-Foot Neon Tumble Inn Cowboy Will Have New Home In Casper

There’s still a lot to do, but the restoration of Wyoming’s iconic 28-foot Tumble Inn neon cowboy has hit overdrive, and when finished is expected to have a prominent new permanent home in Casper.

DK
Dale Killingbeck

December 03, 20235 min read

Tumble Inn as seen in the John Margolies Roadside America photograph archive in the Library of Congress.
Tumble Inn as seen in the John Margolies Roadside America photograph archive in the Library of Congress. (Library of Congress)

CASPER — The resurrection of the 28-foot-tall neon cowboy that towered over the iconic Tumble Inn, a now-closed, once a favorite stop for anyone traveling through Wyoming along U.S. Highway 26, continues in the shop of a Casper master craftsman.

While much more restoration work remains ahead, when finished, the larger-than-life neon Wyoming landmark is likely to have a prominent new home in Casper, perhaps at the intersection of the Yellowstone Highway and Elm Street.

The cowboy’s owner Jonathan Thorne and collaborator John Huff, founder of Yellowstone Garage and a Casper entrepreneur, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that since moving the giant neon symbol of the West and Wyoming earlier this year, one of five largest sections that make up the giant retro sign is restored.

And there’s a lot of work left.

“We got it into my shop … and the last few months I kind of hunkered down and got to work on it,” Huff said. “I’ve been experimenting with ways to make the job as simple as possible."

The easiest part — the horizontal section of the sign that rested behind the cowboy’s shoulders and displays the words “LOUNGE CAFE” — has been sandblasted, blown out with air, coated with primer inside and out and has been painted white inside and blue on the outside.

“It looks fantastic, that part of the sign,” Thorne said.

There are four more parts of the puzzle to tackle including cowboy’s hat, body, his beckoning arrow with flashing lights and the base.

  • Casper’s John Huff is leading the hands-on efforts to restore the Tumble Inn cowboy to his former glory. He found the bulbs still work when he put electricity to the arrow part of the sign.
    Casper’s John Huff is leading the hands-on efforts to restore the Tumble Inn cowboy to his former glory. He found the bulbs still work when he put electricity to the arrow part of the sign. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Tentative plans call for the cowboy to remain in Casper, most likely at this intersection of Yellowstone Highway and Elm Street.
    Tentative plans call for the cowboy to remain in Casper, most likely at this intersection of Yellowstone Highway and Elm Street. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

Where Will It Stand?

While the work continues at a discreet location in Casper, but both men have been thinking a lot about where it could find a permanent home where people can enjoy the iconic Wyoming landmark. Returning it to its place in front of a closed-down and deteriorating building along that lonely stretch of highway between Casper and Shoshone on U.S Highway 20/26 is not an option.

‘Where the sign is going to go is the biggest struggle for us,” Thorne said. “When you look at that stretch of highway, there is 100 miles and if you add of up population (along the way) it is probably 100 people. Do we want to fix it up and put it on a remote stretch of highway?”

Thorne also said when they removed the sign and looked down from the top crane there was abundant evidence that the sign was a frequent and target for tossed beer bottles and rocks over the years.

“This thing needs to go somewhere where its safe,” Thorne said. “We are pretty well set that the sign is going to end up in Casper.”

Both agreed it needs be outside and not in some museum, but a place where the larger-than-life cowpoke with the six-shooters on his hips continues to “beckon people to some establishment,” Thorne said.

Huff, who has been involved in restoring the historic Yellowstone District in Casper, has narrowed it down further to an intersection on West Yellowstone Highway. One option is the corner of Yellowstone Highway and Elm Street adjacent to the Metro Coffee Co. and another is across the street adjacent to where the Bull Horn Brewery now operates.

“I’ve been talking to the City Council about what we are doing, but nobody has given me a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ yet,” Huff said. He said the concept is to erect the sign there and have it prominently displayed for photo opportunities for the public, as well as giving big boost to the neighborhood.

  • The sign's “weathered” look will not remain after restoration is complete.
    The sign's “weathered” look will not remain after restoration is complete. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • One-fifth of the Tumble Inn cowboy sign is complete — the part that rested behind his shoulders with the words “LOUNGE” and CAFÉ.”
    One-fifth of the Tumble Inn cowboy sign is complete — the part that rested behind his shoulders with the words “LOUNGE” and CAFÉ.” (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Cowboy’s face and hand still show their age. Work on this section begins soon.
    The Cowboy’s face and hand still show their age. Work on this section begins soon. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Restoring the base of the sign has begun with sanding.
    Restoring the base of the sign has begun with sanding. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Cowboy’s face and hand still show their age. Work on this section begins soon.
    The Cowboy’s face and hand still show their age. Work on this section begins soon. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Tumble Inn on Sept. 29, 2020.
    Tumble Inn on Sept. 29, 2020. (Wes Dickinson)
  • Tumble inn sign 6 27 23 v2
    (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Full Restoration Or ‘Patina’

Another question the two have wrestled with is whether to restore the sign completely or leave some of its “patina” that gives the old fence rider some aged character. Thorne said they decided to make it look new again.

“It’s going to be in the Wyoming weather, wind and snow,” he said. “We are removing as much of the rust as possible, and where we can’t we are encapsulating the rust with some great products.”

Huff plans to tackle the base of the project next, and then they are going to move it so that neon restoration can begin by the experts.

One amazing thing is that the bulbs that made up the flashing arrow that pointed people to the Tumble Inn still work. While a visitor stood by, Huff plugged it in and the sign started flashing.

A Legacy For Others

As a youngster, Thorne said he would see the sign at work each time his family made the long journey from his home in Colorado to his aunt’s house in Cody. Both men want the cowboy to be a sight for sore eyes long into the future.

“In 50 or 60 years when we are pushing up daisies and feeding worms, we want people to say, ‘We want to restore that thing.’ And the story will go on,” Thorne said.

When will the resurrection be complete? Huff hopes sooner rather than later.

“I want it out of my workshop so I can get on to other projects,” he said.

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Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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