Business & Economy

World's tallest thermometer could light up again

The world's tallest thermometer is displayed on January 7, 2013 in Baker, California. T
The world's tallest thermometer is displayed on January 7, 2013 in Baker, California. T
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The world's tallest thermometer in Baker may finally light up again this summer.

The 134-foot tall electronic thermometer (technically an electric sign) visible along Interstate 15 has been broken for years.

That upset the family of the late Willis Herron, the thermometer's creator, and they vowed to get it back. The family succeeded in its mission earlier this month.

"My family is very excited to get the world's tallest thermometer back. It was a dream of my dad's," said LaRae Harguess, Herron's daughter. 

The thermometer was built in 1991 as a way of attracting tourists to Baker, a small desert town in San Bernardino County. Herron later sold the thermometer property, and eventually it ended up under the ownership of Matt Pike.

In recent years, the thermometer went dark. Pike told Nevada Public Radio that the thermometer's electricity bills were high — about $8,000 a month — and that he turned it off when the economy went south. Pike did not respond to KPCC's request for comment. 

RELATED: World's tallest thermometer in Baker is busted

Harguess said her family foreclosed on the property because of the previous owner's lack of payment and waste of the property. The family was successful in the foreclosure, and the thermometer is now back to its original owner.

"It's very important to my mom that we get it turned back on," Harguess said. "My dad always wanted the thermometer not for personal gain of our family. He wanted to help the town of Baker, and my mom has made a commitment to pay for restoring the thermometer."

Harguess said her family will spend roughly $150,000 to bring the thermometer back to life. They'll work with YESCO, the original company that worked on the thermometer. The family is even looking into the possibility of powering it through the use of solar panels. 

The family hopes to break even in the endeavor by selling items at the gift shop located near the thermometer. Items could include magnets and T-shirts, she said.

Pike, the previous owner, had been leasing restaurant space owned by Harguess' mom, Barbara Herron, near the thermometer site. Harguess said that restaurant property is up for sale.

Community excited about tourists coming back

A fixed thermometer could bring more tourists to the desert town of Baker. Several businesses told KPCC that sales declined after the thermometer stopped working. There have been efforts to revive the tourism industry with the creation of a hotel shaped like an alien spaceship.

Diana Romo, district secretary for Baker Community Services District, said the thermometer is one of the highlights of the area, and it was upsetting for travelers to see the thermometer not working for years.

"I think it's wonderful that it's back in the hands of the original owners and they know that they are going to help preserve this memory of Mr. Herron for the town of Baker," Romo said.