Some time ago I realized that the weathervanes of Howard Johnson's Restaurants and Motor Lodges, once a common site were hard to find at all.

Lots of Ho-Jo's Restaurant locations survived their second and third lives with most of the classic Nims style intact. Most of the original Landmark Fixtures were still in use. Many by now have been either knocked down and replaced or remodeled to remove the remaining traces of the once proud Landmark for Hungry Americans - Howard Johnson'S.

Under the Orange Roof, and above the roof. A blue spire copula topped by a golden weathervane of Simple Simon his dog and the Pieman riding on a Saturn globe.

As a Corporative Archivist I documented much less attractive symbols of the living, breathing American Dream. Howard B. Johnson took an idea and made its an Empire. Familiarity with the now more and more Mobil American Johnson used visual symbols such as the orange roofs, and copulas and weathervanes to make them feel at home, even on the road. By the time the post World War II baby boomers started out on the long summer vacations on the new interstate system. Howard Johnson's were there at every major turn, bridge, or rest area, You recognized a Ho-Jo's by the look, and the resulting expected experience, of a homemade meal served by a friendly Johnson's girl. The summer sun glaring off the Simon & the Pieman weathervane at your local Ho-Jo's has already or maybe in the process of setting. This project is an attempt to capture as much visual and hard documentation before it is lost for good. My hope is to one day see one of each design of Ho-Jo'S Logo Weathervanes fly in an exhibit of one of the most successful corporate branding symbols in American business history. 


In August 2006 I had started my search for examples of the three styles for possible purchase, or restoration projects. I purchased my first weathervane after finding that no one met the reserve while it was on  eBay in June. I contacted the owner in Florida and we began a dialog in which I purchased his weathervane.

The history of this vane is rich In the mid Seventies the owners Father worked for an construction firm based here in Connecticut that had been hired by HJ corporate to Enviromentalize Ho-Jo's locations in Connecticut, Mass and the Albany/Troy NY area. 

Part of that process at many locations was to remove the 1960's copulas, weathervanes and fiberglass pie men at the door, and replace them with electric "Beacon" copulas without weathervanes, and cover the front facade with brown wood paneling, and place a stamped sheet metal pie man at the door. Howard Johnson's in Waterbury Connecticut is the perfect example of a surviving environmental theme. Many of the weathervanes were just pitched in the dumpsters. The Father brought a few of them home, including the ten foot mounting pole. Later in the process his Father reports that the word came down from Corporate to send all weathervanes to Ho-Jo's HQ in Mass. The guys up there were taking them home to put on garages and houses.

When the owner moved to Boston he took the Pieman & lamp post version - without the ten foot pole. He thought he would get a display pole and set it up in his living room. He moved to Florida and sadly Simple Simon and the pie man did not fit with the modern style home he was living in.  Simon was sent to the storage facility for safe keeping.

Sometime in the summer of 2005 The owner decided that he would sell his weathervane. He went and looked at it in the storage shed, and almost brought it home with him. A few days later a Hurricane wandered toward Florida and the storage facility had a power issue that resulted in a full blown fire. Everything in storage was lost, except Simon. The weathervane had lost all its paint, and had started to rust after being exposed to the water and allowed to sit in the wet debris for a few days before the owner was allowed to enter the shed. The only real casualty was the rings on the Saturn. The heat of the fire melted the solder holding them on to the copper globe. He was honest in the ad on ebay but no one bid. I contacted him and in a few short days on the head of another possible hurricane the vane arrived back in Connecticut.


I hope it would be a sound with no metal issues other then the ring situation. I found what I had expected, only bigger. Surface rust on the vane. The ordinals had the beginning of flake rust, and the years of weather had pitted the rails which were only rods welded in place on the letters, and again in the center to the cut pipe ring with two holes for set screws, which were also rusted in place. Copper Saturn minus one tube cap and the rings.

Figured I'd have to grind down to metal, sand areas, then a good scrub with a wire brush and a date with some steel wool and it should be ready for new paint.   

Here are some pictures and raw information collected.

Technical Details:    
Pictures Before Restoration Saturn  

  Made from a hollow copper ball that is 8 3/4 inches in diameter with a 1 1/4 inch diameter hole in the center,  Some locations the ball was formed by two halves joined at the equator. 

The bottom hole has a 1 inch sleeve. The Rings of Saturn are 3 inches wide and are offset from the equator by 4 inches.

Most locations the rings top was located between North and East.

The rings were painted silver, and the globe was gold. In some locations if the globe was made of two halves, the top half of the globe was painted silver, the bottom was gold.

The Cardboard template of the three inch ring. The damaged rings are in the background. Cardinals



North South East and West


  Sheet steel letters welded on to 3/8th of an inch rods connected to a center ring one inch in diameter that is 1 1/2 inches high.

Two set screws are located in the ring between North and West and South and East.

Distance across to the start of each letter: N to S 24 1/4 inches, W to E 24 1/2 inches. The Letters height and width in inches: N -5 by 4 3/4, S 5 1/8 by 4, E-5 by 4 1/2, W- 5 by 6 1/4.

The Cardinals were painted Silver.

The Cardinals are in good shape. Very nicely cut out of sheet metal. The Mounting Rod  
    Black steel 10 feet long one inch diameter, last 4 3/4 inches diameter is 3/4 of an inch.

Exposed portion was painted gold.

  The Ornament  

As it was upon arrival from Florida


  One quarter of an inch thick sheet metal, 40 inches tall, 35 inches wide.

Pie Man is 21 1/2 inches tall, 16 1/2 inches wide. The Dog is 7 1/4 inches tall 4 1/4 inches wide, and his tail is 4 1/4 inches high. Simple Simon is 17 inches tall and 9 1/4 inches wide, and the lamp post is 30 1/2 inches tall and 7 1/2 wide.

The mounting socket is 8 inches deep and was packed with grease.

The vanes were brush painted gold. 

The Process    

I spent four days restoring the weathervane spaced over two weeks time. The fire charred but did not melt the weathervane and the ordinals but the rings on Saturn which are made from three pieces of sheet metal, soldered to make the ring then soldered to the 8 inch copper ball. did melt apart and off the ball. A inch copper ring attached to one end of the ball also desoldered. 

the Fire's heat and the water-damage that was done after while waiting rescue,  were hardest on the ordinals were scale flake rusting of the layers of the sheet metal had begun.

The vane itself was still painted in some places so the rust had been slower to take hold. I have seen and have just arranged to purchase one stand alone Restaurant weathervane where the gold elements were gold leafed. I would guess the Restaurant was responsible for upkeep and maintenance so different methods were deployed over the years. The original owner of this project said this one was always a mustard color gold.  I assume at one time it was painted a lead based gold.

Don't think they had metallic based colors back then, or if they did the gold leached out years before the fire. But there is some evidence of gold residue on some of the ring pieces. The Saturn globe is in bad shape with soot, scorch, melted solder and a few small dents. My gut feeling before touching it is that it needs to be replaced.  Since the common spacer ball is 4 inches and not a replica of Saturn, guess this would be a custom copper project done locally.





  Day one  
    I used a wire brush and removed all the loose rust and scaled metal. on both the ordinals and the vane.
  Day two  

I worked on the ordinals all day. I took an electric drill and mounted a series of wire brushes and disks and went down to bare metal where I could. There was a bit of the old primer stuck in the pits. I used 100 grit sandpaper on the arms to knock off the rust bubbles best I could. I then scrubbed with s.o.s. pads and lots of water until all the rust, and the lead based primer was gone.

I had hemmed and hawed for a while since the vanes arrival about its final state. To paint or not to paint? The rust kind of made the decision for me. Since I never considered these items as anything but a rescue project, the restoring for utility and not preserve for resale vale model was followed. That meant after cleanup and rust abatement - Painting silver and gold. Then I gave it a coat of rust-oleum silver. 100% improvement.

  Day Three  

Above: Ready for primer/sealer and topcoat of gold metallic

Below: After top coat catching a sunset

I worked on the vane all day. Same process as I used with the ordinals was employed.  The gold paint had faded to a pale yellow mustard color.

Where it still clung to the vane was where the reddish lead based primer was.  The lead based primer had to be removed in order for the new paint to stick right. The primer was tough to remove.

I found the wire wheel ground off most of the primer and then used s.o.s. pads to take the primer off.  A good rinse with the hose and on to the temp stand for painting.

Several coats of gold rust-oleum paint will seal out the weather and stop the rusting process. Not to mention that the metallic spray-paint  made for a truly stunning look as the sunset glowing Sun caught the surface of the restored Brilliant Gold weathervane. While on the stand, in the yard, several people walking by gave it a double take, older people smiling who knew what Simple Simon and the Pieman meant to them as kids. Just imagine the sight of it up against a blue sky sitting atop of a green cupola.  For the time being she will sit on a display stand in the house. But one day I hope to fly one of the three, or maybe a scaled down version of one on my house.


  Day Four  
  Worked on Saturn and was surprised how much it cleaned up with just steel wool. The original owner emailed that he had found the missing section of the ring and a tube section connecting the Saturn at the top to the pole. so I held off looking for a craftsmen and having a replacement Saturn made. I had found one place on line in the area, and I found a supply source for the mast and ball. I can get the 8 inch globe for $115.00, and figured I could cut copper flashing and attach for a full copper Saturn replication. But for now I have the three placed together and all I need to do is either solder them together and then onto the ball with the plumbers torch, or have a new one made. I like the thought of returning the originals to service. But also don't want to mess up the ball.


The Weathervane Information Center

back to