World's Tallest Thermometer
Willis Herron, a businessman, dreamed of a huge thermometer for 25 years before he made it real in California's high desert. The World's Tallest Thermometer is a 134-foot-tall symbol of the record high temperature in the U.S., in nearby Death Valley -- 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913.
It juts skyward next to Bob's Big Boy in Baker, a small town near the Nevada border that calls itself, "Gateway to Death Valley."
The site chosen for the thermometer was along the main drag through town, visible from the interstate. In 1990 Herron paid to have the thermometer constructed by Young Electric Sign Co., manufacturers of many neon and bulb monstrosities on The Strip in Las Vegas. 33 tons of steel and almost 5,000 lamps went into the three-sided digital display.
But strong winds broke the thermometer, smashing a gift shop under construction. Herron, undaunted, had the thermometer rebuilt, filled with concrete so that it would survive anything short of a direct thermonuclear attack (Okay, that's our claim -- not Baker's). Herron finally switched it on October 9, 1992.
On one trip we tried to coax the lovely ladies of Exotic World out to dance at the base of the thermometer. It was only 121 degrees that day, but the plan fell apart, and we continued on to the thermometer alone.
Baker's Thermometer has no real competition from other towering thermal measurement devices. International Falls, Minnesota, passively perpetuated an old claim that their 22-foot-tall thermometer was the World's Largest (ha!), but even the notion that they are still the "Coldest Spot in 48 States" was challenged by a sturdy concrete penguin statue in Cut Bank, Montana -- "Coldest Spot in the Nation." In 2002, International Falls gave up and took apart their thermometer after it stopped working.
Herron died in 2007. In 2012 the Baker thermometer stopped working and was put up for sale. Its owner blamed its shutdown on a bad economy and a thermometer-topping monthly electric bill. In 2014 the thermometer was purchased by Herron's daughter, and his widow paid to repair the thermometer; it was officially turned back on Oct. 11. The Herrons say that the gift shop, named "TEMP134," will sell signed and numbered light bulbs from the original thermometer.
Willis Herron's decision to build his thermometer 134 feet tall has proved to be just tall enough, as the highest temperature it's recorded was 127 degrees in August 1995.