The giant American flags are visible across Southern Nevada, off freeway exits, near neighborhoods and behind strip malls — a sign of patriotism at the businesses where they fly.
One man considers it an honor to handle all those banners.
“I’m proud to be an American, and I take it as a privilege to be in this position to handle the flags,” said Tom Pedro, who manages the flags for Terrible Herbst convenience stores and gas stations as the company’s maintenance director. “Not everybody on a daily basis touches the flag — and I do,” he said.
The company has about 85 American flags in front of their locations in the Las Vegas Valley, other places in Nevada and parts of Arizona and California, Pedro said. Kaila Tuvell, the company’s social media director, said there are more than 150 Terrible Herbst locations, including car washes, oil change stations and Herbst Markets. But Summerlin locations don’t have flags because of height restrictions in the area.
Pedro said the flags have become a company trademark.
“It just became part of their tradition to always fly the flag proudly,” he said. “Whenever we open a new store we always fly the flag, wherever we can.”
Pedro said the average size of an American flag at a major Terrible Herbst location is about 20 feet by 38 feet. If measured against a 6-foot tall man, these flags are taller than three men standing on one another’s shoulders, and wider than six lying head to foot.
The smallest flags are 5 feet by 10 feet. The largest flag, in Searchlight, is about 30 feet by 50 feet, he said.
The flags stay up 24/7, through rain and heat, “as long as we can keep them up there,” Pedro said.
He said the average price for a flag is $700, and restorations throughout the flag’s life cost $100 to $200.
When flags are torn or overly faded, store managers are in charge of notifying the company that they need a repair. Sometimes people will call the corporate office to alert Terrible Herbst if a flag is in disrepair.
“We don’t take that as a negative thing,” Pedro said. “It’s another set of eyes out there watching it for us”
Terrible Herbst uses Las Vegas-based Flags Unlimited to repair the flags. The large ones need two technicians to retrieve and handle the flags.
After they are taken down, holes and rips in the fabric are sewn shut. The flags are cleaned in commercial washing machines and hung to dry in a warehouse.
Pedro said the entire process takes about two weeks.
Why are they there?
The Terrible Herbst business was officially established in 1959 after Jerry Herbst moved his family west. The company is now run by two of his sons, but Jerry Herbst has always been patriotic, Pedro said.
“He wanted those flags to be seen,” Pedro said. “Not because it was his property, but because he was proud to be an American.”
Pedro said that, while the flags may go unnoticed to the average customer, there are passionate people who ask about them.
“We have a lot of veterans in town,” he said. “And because they fought for that flag, they really pay attention to it.”
Stephen Dennis said he’s glad the flags can be found all across Las Vegas.
“I’m always happy to see people demonstrate respect for the flag and patriotism,” said Dennis, who fought in the Vietnam War while serving in the Navy from 1969 to 1980.
Dennis is now chairman of the Keys Foundation, an organization aiming to help homeless and unemployed veterans. The flags are one of the first things he associates with Terrible Herbst. And as a military veteran, Dennis said the flag has only one meaning to him.
“Nothing else other than the primary symbol of our country,” he said. “I think most of us in the military were proud to serve under it.”
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What’s with the name?
Pedro said company legend claims that the name Terrible Herbst comes from when Jerry Herbst moved West to expandhis business. When competitors would meet to discuss new gas stations, which Pedro said had the lowest prices in town,they jokingly called the company “Terrible Herbst.”
“I guess that’s how the name stuck,” Pedro said.