WINSLOW, Ariz. – At this small town on a rail track, supporters brought John Kerry's (search) train to a halt with a homemade sign made of white bedsheets asking for just a few minutes of his time.
The train should have slowly rolled through and allowed the Democratic presidential candidate just enough time to wave and thank supporters, but Kerry ordered it stopped when he saw the plea.
Late for his next stop, a rally in Flagstaff, Ariz., Kerry apologized to the crowd.
"Somebody put up a sign, and it said 'Give us 10 minutes, just 10 minutes.' And another sign said 'Give us 8 minutes and we'll give you 8 years,'" Kerry said. "So just for an insurance policy, I gave them 15 or 20, and that's why we're late."
On a 3,500-mile trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Democratic senators running to be the country's next president and vice president can't afford to spend much time in any one place.
But some supporters hope to grab their attention with personalized messages.
"We dined at Wendy's in Columbus on our wedding night," said a sign in the crowd at a stop in Springfield, Ohio, seeking the attention of vice presidential candidate John Edwards.
Edwards also took his new bride to the fast-food restaurant on their wedding day 27 years ago, but he never made it around the corner to see the sign.
Sometimes the candidates pick the signs out of the crowd.
"I love that sign! 'Republicans for Kerry and Edwards,'" Kerry said after seeing it in the crowd in Wheeling, W.Va.
Rallies along the two-week tour have been filled with signs and T-shirts that proclaim "Firefighters for Kerry," "Carpenters for Kerry," or "Sheet metal workers for Kerry," among others.
In Scranton, Pa., Kerry noticed, "We've got 'Insulators for Kerry.' Now there's a new one. Thank you!"
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said a personalized sign may the only way for voters to communicate with a future president.
"You don't have any way to talk to the candidate. It becomes a way of sending a message," she said.
Kurt Ellefson, a gym teacher and football coach in Monroe, Wis., said he flattened a cardboard box and made a sign to tell Kerry he believed the Massachusetts Democrat can bring health care and blue-collar jobs to needy communities.
"I just want to let him know I saw his speech," he said. "Let him know we support him."
Not all roadside signs offer support.
At a ballpark in Taylor, Mich., Kerry's caravan of buses rolled past a group of Bush supporters and two men protesting Kerry's activism against the Vietnam War (search) who held a big, red sign that said, "Hanoi John — Traitor."
As Kerry headed toward a high speed ferry docked in Muskegon, Mich., a young woman in a black T-shirt with a white W on the front held up a sign — "Why the long face?" — a reference to Kerry's long, slim visage and Republican arguments that he's pessimistic about the economy and the nation.
Kerry's campaign also knows the value of a handmade sign — and makes its own.
Teresa Fadden, of Wauwatosa, Wis., got one at a rally in Milwaukee and decided to keep it. It says, in red and blue paint on a white background, "Milwaukee loves Teresa." She shares a first name with Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.