By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Saturday, December 29th, 2018
The first boat John Teeto lettered was a very large boat—and it was in the water, which was something he hadn’t done before. That meant working off a float that was pitched up and down by the constant waves. The customer gave him the job, paid him in full, then left for Europe. When John got on the float and started lettering, his motion sickness got the best of him. He could only do two or three letters at a time before getting off the float to throw up.
“What an experience!” he says. “I so wanted to walk away from that job but I just couldn’t. The guy had paid me, and I promised it would be done when he got back. It was the longest lettering job of my life. Thankfully, though, as you get used to it and concentrate more on your lettering, bobbing around on a float doesn’t bother you anymore. I do it all the time now.”
Stock cars to gold leaf signs
1800 sq. ft.
Gerber Omega software
Growing up back in Niagara Falls, New York, I always had the art thing going. My dad was in the used car business, and he raced dirt track stock cars. I started off lettering a few cars for my dad and his friends. As I got older and they started paying me, I figured, “Hey! This is the way to go!”
At the races I checked out all the other lettering on the cars, and I loved to see my work out there on the track. My work was nothing to brag about, but it got me started. Plus they were always wrecking the cars, so there was plenty of work. [Laughing.]
I was lucky because one of my Dad’s friends, Mike Plummer, was a sign painter at a big manufacturing plant in our area. He did some sign work from his garage, and I used to ride my bike over there to watch him letter. Eventually I started helping him out. That’s where I got my first real training.
Making a move
In the ’70s, the economy in Niagara Falls started to slide. The manufacturing jobs were going away, and I decided it was time for a change. Mike had retired and moved to Florida, and was really busy with sign work there. My brother was also living in Florida. So in 1980 we made the move.
Mike started sending some accounts to me, and I went to work for Harry Bundy at Bundy Signs in Hollywood. They did everything there—from show cards to billboards and electrical signs. I met an outstanding show card writer there from up north, Lee Hill. Over the years, I’ve known some great sign people— Harry, Lee, Jerry Hancock, Jimmy Prohaska and many others. They have all been real inspirations.
Boat after boat
After four years at Bundy Signs, I opened my own shop in 1985. At first I was doing a little bit of everything. Then my brother met Jerry Hancock, who specialized in boats. Jerry was a great guy and did mostly gold leaf transoms. He was getting ready to retire and gave me many of his accounts. Before long, I was specializing in boats.