World's Largest Thermometer.
84 degrees is a short temperature for the Tallest Thermometer.

World's Tallest Thermometer

Field review by the editors.

Baker, California

Willis Herron grew up in Corbin, Kentucky, at the same time, and in the same small town, where Harlan Sanders was inventing Kentucky Fried Chicken. Some of the Colonel's love of road food and showmanship rubbed off on Willis, who moved to the California desert and operated a restaurant named Bun Boy. When it burned down in 1990 he rebuilt it with a roadside spectacle even grander than a revolving KFC bucket: the World's Tallest Thermometer.

Thermometer and Temp 134.
So tall, it has its own gift shop.

The Bun Boy Thermometer is a skyscraper of symbolism. It's in the town of Baker, "Gateway to Death Valley" and one of the hottest populated places on earth. The highest official temperature on the planet was recorded in Death Valley at 3:30 pm on July 10, 1913: 134 degrees. Willis wanted his thermometer to record temperatures just as high and stand 134 feet tall. In the dry air it would jut skyward, visible for miles. Willis figured that it would pull traffic off the freeway and into town.

Young Electric Sign Company -- designer of some of gaudiest neon showstoppers in Las Vegas -- built the Thermometer's three-sided towering digital display with over 38 tons of steel. It wasn't enough, because Baker's desert winds immediately knocked the Thermometer flat. Willis, undeterred, had it rebuilt, this time filled with 125 cubic yards of concrete. Aside from an occasional gust popping out some of its 5,000+ light bulbs, the Thermometer stood strong.

When Willis finally switched on the Thermometer -- October 9, 1992 -- it had cost him $750,000, but he was proud of it for the rest of his life. He died 15 years later, and the image on his tombstone is not of himself, but a color photo of the World's Tallest Thermometer.

Artist's depiction of the World's Largest Themometer before construction in 1991.
Artist's depiction of the World's Tallest Thermometer before construction in 1991.

By then the Thermometer had passed into new ownership, and without Willis's loving oversight it fell into disrepair. By 2011 its light bulbs showed only random numbers and letters. In 2012 the owner switched it off completely, complaining of a thermometer-topping $8,000-a-month electric bill. In 2013, on the 100th anniversary of the world's hottest day, the Thermometer was dark, and there was dark talk in Baker of tearing it down.

Temperature of the outdoor skillet and eggs is monitored in the gift shop.
Temperature of the outdoor skillet and eggs is monitored in the gift shop.

Barbara Herron, Willis's widow, visited the Thermometer and found frustrated tourists still stopping to take photos with the dead landmark. She vowed to get it back, despite the owner's $1.75 million asking price. Thanks to a foreclosure and a court order by a federal judge, she did. She installed a new Thermometer computer and wiring, replaced its light bulbs with LEDs, gave it a fresh coat of paint, built a picnic area around its base, and opened an adjacent gift shop, Temp 134.

At 3:30 pm on July 10, 2014, the revived Thermometer was lit, displaying its first official temperature of 102 degrees -- a mild summer afternoon by Baker standards. Back in August 1995 the temperature topped out at 127, the hottest and highest ever recorded by the Thermometer. Willis had built it just tall enough.

The outdoor picnic area features a photo-op of two fake eggs in a cast iron skillet rigged to its own thermometer, and visitors in the gift shop can view its temperature to see if it's hot enough -- 158 degrees -- to fry real eggs. Touching the actual skillet is not recommended.

Inside Temp 134, Thermometer history is displayed in artifacts such as the original Thermometer circuit board array that captured the outside temperature and signaled the Thermometer lights to change. A framed oil portrait of Willis and Barbara Herron benevolently hangs on a wall.

The gift shop offers attraction souvenirs, t-shirts, and themed thermometers; money from the shop's sales is used to maintain the Thermometer. Visitors can buy fridge magnets commemorating the hottest Thermometer temperature of the previous year (118 degrees in 2019) and red and white light bulbs from the original Thermometer, individually mounted on wood display bases as prized artifacts.

Also, even though the Thermometer celebrates Baker's blast furnace heat, the gift shop sells World's Tallest Thermometer snow globes.

World's Tallest Thermometer

Address:
72157 Baker Blvd, Baker, CA
Directions:
Near I-15, Exit 246. Death Valley Rd north to 1st right on I-15 Business.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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