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Check Out Matt Bay’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Bay. 

Matt, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?

Who IS Old Man Bay Signs? 

So where to begin. I started as a firefighter as a volunteer when I was around 16 years old in a rural community called St Clair MO about 50 miles outside of St. Louis MO. I moved closer to St. Louis years later and volunteered with another fire dept for a few years, and was hired as a paid firefighter/EMT for more than 25years. 

I am married to my amazing wife Angie and I have a daughter Bailey. My wife is an RN for a rehab hospital, she works with brain and spinal cord injury patients and Bailey is a pharmacy technician. OH, and we have a little bundle of joy we call Jitterbug (bug) she is a 4yo Pitbull French Bulldog mix. 

Ok so that is my Family, so what’s Old Man Bay Signs? 

In November of 2018, I was suffering from severe nightmares, Depression, Anxiety that eventually led to a major breakdown that led me to a trip to the hospital and was diagnosed with PTSD Anxiety & Depression. 

I had a real hard time with this diagnosis, PTSD is military guys that fought in wars. It took military guys to tell me that yes, they saw bad stuff real bad stuff, but they did one tour or two maybe three. They would ask me, how many years have you been a firefighter and how many bad things did you see throughout those 25+ years. That is when I was able to understand the diagnoses and to really begin my road towards healing through therapy and medication. Boy what a road that was, well still is. At the time of my diagnoses, I was at my rock bottom, severely depressed, my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t even ride in a car without major medication, I was having suicidal thoughts, yeah, I was in a very dark place. Thankfully, I have an amazing Wife Daughter Family, and Friends for support. I couldn’t and didn’t want to get off the couch, I wanted the house dark all the time, didn’t want to talk to no one but my wife and daughter, many days of nothing but crying and wondering what was going to happen to me, I was a firefighter all my life and that’s all I know, I have no purpose and nothing to fall back on. What’s going to happen to me and my wife, will she grow tired of me being this messed up, she work’s all the time to make ends meet, will she hold this against me and start to resent me because I can’t work? These are all things going through my mind, emotions, and thoughts that I could not control. It was horrible. 

Nope, she did not leave me, as a matter of fact, our love for each grew stronger in way that I did not know was possible. She so caring by nature, that is why she is the most amazing nurse on this planet. She would do anything to get me off that couch, get up and get moving, puzzles, going for walks whatever it took to get moving. 

We are getting closer to the Old Man Bay Signs Part I promise. 

One day she asked if I could make a Welcome sign for the porch. Well, I guess I could I had some old fence boards by the shed and some ¼ plywood in the garage so yes, I can do that. I got a cheap scroll saw from Harbor Freight and there I went. I cut out the letters and made several for her and some family members. Ok that was cool, I was off the couch, in my garage all by myself listening to my jams. I liked it. 

Another day she was out shopping and she text me a picture of a sign at a store that read, Grow Old Along With Me The Best Is Yet To Be (there’s that love growing stronger) and I thought hmmm I still have more fence planks and plywood I’m going to surprise her with a sign with that saying. So again, here I go, in the garage, by myself, jams cranking and now these letters are a lot more intricate, so I have to be very focused and pay attention closely. WOW, I am not thinking about all the other stuff that is usually going around in my head. I think I like this. Then my best friend Josh bought a place in the historic neighborhood of St. Louis called Soulard. Home of the St. Louis Blues music. Ok, I am going to make him a sign for his new place but this time I’m going to carve it with a Dremel tool. OH MAN, it came out amazing compliments after compliments, my buddy was blown away by it and wow that felt good. 

Oh man, I am going to make a St. Louis Blues Hockey sign (I love hockey and our Stanley Cup Champions St. Louis Blues) but there has got to be a better way than a Dremel tool. It is so slow, and the bits wear out quickly and they are not cheap. So, I go to YouTube and search how to make a wood sign. So, when you search How To Make A Wood Sign this guy pops up on a channel called oldave100. His name is Eric Rhoten he is the son of the Godfather of Sign Carving Dave Rhoten. Eric and Dave make YouTube videos that shows you how to carve wood signs with a palm router and they sell bits and other items for sign carving on their website www.makeawoodsign.com. Heck YA I need a router and some bits. After getting my router and bits, I kept getting request for signs, and the more signs I make the better I get, the better I get the more request I get. 

SOOOOOOO, I am in a much better place today than I was a few years ago, a lot of the issues were my meds, those are straightened out. My team of Dr’s are amazing, and what began as a means of therapy (and still is), carving signs, being in my shop (no longer a garage), listening to Cas Haley’s fun, wonderful, inspirational music is something I look forward to doing. I get up in the morning drink my cup of joe, OPEN THE BLINDS, and get excited about the sign(s) I get to make and to see and hear the excitement and ah of what I made for them…LOVE THAT! 

I still have some bad days, I still struggle with anxiety, I am man who had no fear to someone who struggles with fear most the time, I startle very easy and I have to be facing forward all the time. Will this stuff ever go away? I don’t know but I can tell you this I heard a song the other day about going down a road that you were given, this road has burning pain and broken dreams, you have to find meaning, lessons always come rearranged, you have to face the facts and the only plan you have is here right now! I could not have said it better myself. 

If you’re a Fire Fighter, EMS, Police, Dispatchers, Military, or just anyone who struggles with mental health illness, GET HELP, talk to someone and start down the road of a new beginning. Find your thing, maybe it’s sign carving, or painting, whatever it’s find something that will bring you joy and purpose. I’m so happy to I have found place of peace and it just happens to be Old Man Bay Signs! 

To Angie and Bailey, I love you both more than you’ll ever know and I thank you both for caring for me, loving me and supporting me, and helping me down this new road I’m on. 

To my parents, family, firefighter brothers, and dear friends I want thank you for all your love and support, I didn’t know then but I do know now the support you all gave Angie during my craziness, she kept it all to herself protecting me, so thank you being there for her giving your love and support it means so much to us both. 

To all my family and friends that “ordered” signs you may have never knew it and maybe you did, but making your sign helped me in my darkest hours, it showed me that I do have a purposeful presence still in this world and I love and thank you all for that! 

If you have made it all the way to this, thank you for reading this, my hope is by sharing my story that maybe it will help someone like me to know that it can be better, you just have to be willing to accept the help and love of others to find it. Never Give Up! 

Best, 

Matt Bay 

The OLD MAN of Old Man Bay Signs 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Obstacles, Challenges. This is complicated or maybe it requires a two-part answer. 

Regarding my work/workspace, I work in my 2-car garage it’s not insulated heated, or cooled so that is a challenge. I don’t have a dust collection system, so I am always battling sawdust in the shop making finishing especially difficult because of the sawdust. But I make it work sand and carve one day, vacuum it up and blow out the shop to do my finishing work. That is a constant challenge in my shop not being able have a sign being finished and carving or sanding at the same time. 

Regarding my PTSD, after being diagnosed my body changed, I changed. I was a guy with no fear, I’ve scuba-dived 120 ft in one of the world’s deepest trenches in Grand Cayman, I’ve jumped out of a perfectly good airplane at 13,000 ft, and oh yeah, I ran into burning buildings for a living. Well now I’m a guy full of fear. I can’t get on an airplane at one time I couldn’t ride in a car, but the biggest thing that affects my work in the shop is I startle very easily. When I say startle I mean my entire body shakes, it rattles me to the bone. So, my family knows if you hear the router running don’t come in the shop until it stops. I get frightened while carving it could ruin the piece I’m working on. 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
My Work. 

I make custom hand routed whiskey barrel signs. It is a long tedious process of tear the barrel down, cleaning of the char from the inside, gluing the staves together, shaping and sanding the barrel back to its original shape, applying the image from corporate logos, brands, distilleries, etc. to carved, carve the image, more sanding, hand painting, finishing and applying the barrel rings. 

I have had the opportunity and privilege to 

collaborate on a few benefit signs with Makers Mark, I made a sign in conjunction with the St Louis Bourbon Society for the 8th Generation Distiller for Jim Beam Freddie Noe. I’ve made a sign for the former Lead Guitarist of Montgomery Gentry and now the brand ambassador of Wild Turkey Bo Garret, my work can be seen at “The Reserve by Old Elk” in Fort Collins Colorado. I was selected to showcase my work and did live carving demos at the Iconic Kentucky Bourbon Festival. I did a sign for the whiskey professor himself and the brand ambassador for Heaven Hill Distillery Bernie Lubbers. My work is also in several bar and grills around the St. Louis area and a bunch of home bars. 

I like to say if you can think it, I can make it (well within reason). I don’t like to do ordinary I like to do extraordinary. I find most of the time the client usually has a general idea of what they think they want but then I put my magic on it and they are blown away. There is nothing better than when the client sees the sign for the first time. 

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk-taking?
Risk Taking. I really had to stop and think about this, and I remembered this famous quote from NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. My mom always said it never hurts to ask all they can do is say no. SO like Wayne and my mom said to do I hustle every day to get my work out in front of people. Those are the shots, the asks, the risk I take every day. Does it always work? NO, it sure doesn’t as a matter of fact there’s usually no answer, or a No Thank You and that’s ok because if you keep pushing and trying and never giving up one day you have to believe something big is going to happen for you. Everyone keeps saying don’t worry about the money it will come, if you are putting out an amazing, unique, well-crafted item or art or whatever it is people will begin to find you, and the next thing you know your work is being sought after. I’m not there yet but I will continue to take risks and never give up because my wife, daughter, friends, and family never gave up on me. 

Contact Info:

  • Email: oldmanbaysigns@gmail.com
  • Website: https://www.oldmanbaysigns.com/
  • Instagram: @oldmanbaysigns
  • Facebook: @oldmanbaysigns
  • Twitter: @oldmanbaysigns
  • Youtube: @oldmanbaysigns

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1 Comment

  1. Matt Bay

    December 28, 2021 at 7:54 pm

    Thank You @Voyagestl!

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