One of the most fascinating chapters in the Muffler Man story is the Texaco Big Friend. These statues were manufactured exclusively for the Texaco Oil Company. International Fiberglass made hundreds of these statues before Texaco ended the contract and had the mold destroyed. Nearly all of these statues were also destroyed.
Sometime in late 1965 or early 1966,
Steve Dashew, the owner of International Fiberglass, began negotiations with Texaco about the creation of a giant fiberglass Texaco service station attendant. At the time, Texaco wanted to promote its “Big Friend Service” which included a windshield cleaning, checking the oil, radiator, and battery and, most importantly, the courtesy of its employees. Texaco’s advertising campaign included television commercials and banners depicting its friendly service station attendant dressed in a dark green uniform with a white shirt, tie and hat. In the commercial, Texaco’s service station attendant was nearly 40 feet tall. The fiberglass statues were to be set up at service stations across the country to tie-in with the television campaign.
Texaco contracted with International Fiberglass to make 300 of the twenty two foot tall statues, with an option to order 2,700 more. Steve Dashew hired sculptor Sasha Schnittman to create the statue. Schnittman put a great deal of effort and detail into the design. Texaco got a late start in deploying the statues. All 300 of them were lined up and tied together in International Fiberglass back lot in Venice, CA before Texaco began picking them up. It’s not known how many of those statues actually left the factory before Texaco changed its mind about them.
International Fiberglass sold a trailer and platform with each Big Friend statue to make it easy for area representatives to move and display them at different service stations. The statues sold for $5,000 each ($36,500 in today’s money). They began appearing at Texaco stations in September 1966.
On September 29 of that year, Texaco service station owner, Peter Gregory of Victorville, CA, received his Big Friend statue. He planned to set up the statue the next day. However, during the night, vandals removed the statue’s four and a half foot tall head and its left hand. The story was covered in the local newspaper. The photo in the article shows the trailer that came with the statue. Peter was able to recover the head and hand. But, just four months later, the statue was toppled by high winds. Peter was unsure if the statue could be repaired and set up again.
Peter was not the only Texaco service station owner to have difficulty with these statues. Many owners were concerned about the statues falling over in bad weather or windy conditions. The area service reps also didn’t like moving the statues around. By early 1967, Texaco realized the risk outweighed the benefit of these statues. The company ordered station owners to stop using the Big Friends and have them destroyed. Within a few short months, the giants had entirely disappeared.
At that time, the statues had just been installed in California, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Iowa, Nevada, Arkansas and Florida. Only a few of the statues escaped the mass-destruction. The Big Friend in Portland, OR was damaged just before Texaco’s decision. It had been repaired at a fiberglass shop but was never picked up by the owner. This statue is now on display in Aloha, OR and is best-known for its giant rabbit head. The other known survivors include the Lumberjack in St. Marie, ID and the Robin Hood in Pahrump, NV. There is also a Big Friend head in a private collection in Chicago.
There is also a well-preserved statue in Arkansas which I was delighted to get to see in December. This Big Friend was turned over to Bud Ross of Clarksville, AR by his brother who owned the Texaco station where the statue was displayed. Bud kept the statue next to his pond at the back of his property for many years. Around 1990, he installed the statue at his used car lot in town. By 1997, the car lot had closed and the statue was gone. It was assumed this statue was just another Big Friend casualty.
However, with a tip from a visitor to my blog, I was thrilled to discover that the statue still exists and was able to track down its owner. Rob Harris, a petroliana collector in Arkansas, purchased the Big Friend years ago. Recently, he had the statue restored to its original colors. Rob plans to replicate the Texaco star logos on the statue’s hat, chest and arm in the near future. The statue is located on private property and stands between two vintage Texaco station signs.
Standing next to this rare piece of roadside history was the high point for me of the three years I’ve spent documenting Muffler Man statues. It still amazes me that of the 300 Big Friends produced, only four survive. Perhaps there’s still another one out there somewhere.
Special thanks to Rob Harris for letting me photograph his Texaco Big Friend. Also thanks to Harvey Marine and the Pahrump Valley Museum for letting me have access to their Texaco Big Friends. I also want to thank Terry Nelson for letting me use his historical photographs of the Texaco Big Friends in the 1960s. And as always, a big thank you to Debra Jane Seltzer for her help in editing.