#66 Lake George – Magic Forest Half Wit

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A Half Wit in Production at International Fiberglass

A Half Wit in Production at International Fiberglass – Terry Nelson

This Muffler Man at Magic Forest in Lake George, NY was originally installed in Danbury, CT.  When the Danbury Fair closed in 1981, Magic Forest bought this statue and a few others from the owners.  This statue has been modified a bit.  It has a painted beard and an Amish style hat.  These International Fiberglass statues were promoted as “Mortimer Snerds.”  However, they are more commonly called “Half Wits” since that’s the term RoadsideAmerica.com came up with before the history of these statues was unearthed.  It’s not known how many were produced but there are only about 15 left.  In addition to this one, there are four in New Jersey, three in Texas, one in Missouri, one in California and five in private collections.

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Half Wit at Mortimer Snerd Golf in Lake of the Ozark’s, MO – Terry Nelson

These statues have the same body as the other Muffler Men but a different style head.  These heads were apparently modeled after Alfred E. Neuman, the Mad Magazine character. Some of the Mortimer Snerd statues have the Paul Bunyan type pants tucked into the boots.  Others have the longer Cowboy pants.  The statue in Missouri has a Paul Bunyan body – but the raised right arm normally used for the Indian models. 

IMG_20120709_130236This Lake George statue is the only Half Wit left with what appears to be the original axe. Not far from him another Muffler Man axe can be seeing laying among the tree’s. Perhaps it came from the Pecos Bill statue. International Fiberglass offered many accessories for their statues.  The three Half Wits in Texas hold giant mufflers which appear to be original.  

Thanks to Debra Jane Zeltzer for editing and reviewing this article and to Magic Forest for allowing me to photograph and film their Muffler Man collection. 

#65 Lake George – Magic Forest Pecos Bill

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IMG_20120709_125726In addition to the clown described in this post, Magic Forest in Lake George, NY has 3 other Muffler Men.  The owner refers to this one as “Pecos Bill.” It is not known where this statue came from or how long it has been at Magic Forest.  Pecos Bill was heavily modified at some point.  His chaps, vest, beard, and large droopy hat are unique.  The owner said that the hat seems to sag a little lower each year.  This Muffler Man is one of 4 or 5 that have long sleeves.  I have not been able to determine if these sleeves were original or a later addition.

Determining the origins of drastically modified Muffler Men can be challenging.  However, I have concluded that this one was originally one IMG_20120709_125514of the Paul Bunyan models.  This statue’s straggly beard is covering the original fiberglass beard.  Paul Bunyan statues’ pants are tucked into the tops of their boots.  This Pecos Bill statue’s pants go all the way down to his shoes.  However, the markings where the original pants legs ended are still visible.  This statue is one-of-a-kind and has been painted with the darkest tan that I’ve ever seen, also the statue’s shoes have square toes which I have not seen before.  This was probably another International Fiberglass option to make this cowboy statue more authentic looking 

American Giants on the Ray Carr Radio Show, Again!

Ray Carr from Cleveland’s WCSB 89.3 did another phone interview with me for his radio show on April 29, 2014.  We chatted about my latest roadtrip from Phoenix to San Francisco where the American Giants team got to see and shoot a number of Muffler Men.  One of the high points of the trip was the stop in Pahrump, NV to see the former Texaco Big Friend.  There are only a handful of these statues left.  I also spoke about my favorite stop on this trip which was in Hayward, CA where Bruce Kennedy has a collection of four Muffler Men.  I really appreciate Bruce’s taking time to share the stories behind each statue and letting us get some unique shots of each of them.

 As I did with my first interview with Ray Carr, I have added video footage to the audio so that listeners have visual references to what is being discussed.  Carr’s program features in-depth, live interviews with movers-and-shakers: politicians, journalists, athletes, and folks like me who are interested in Americana. He also features rare oldies music and comedy from the 1950s and 1960s. It was a pleasure to be on his show.

Bruce Kennedy’s Muffler Man Collection – Hayward, CA

photo-2Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 12.40.34 PMThe high point of our West Coast trip was our stop in Hayward, CA at Bell Plastics.  The company’s owner, Bruce Kennedy, has been collecting Muffler Men for a few years now.  His first statue was “Big Mike,” a Muffler Man which has been in Hayward for a very long time. The statue was installed in the 1960’s on Mission Boulevard at the Morris Car Wash. Big Mike held a giant scrub brush at that location. When the Tyre Treads tire store moved in the building, the statue’s scrub brush was replaced with a muffler. The tire store closed in 2010 and the following year, Kennedy bough the statue and moved it to a temporary location. The public found out where it was stored and Kennedy had to hide the statue until the restoration was complete. When Big Mike was restored and delivered to Bell Plastics, he received a big welcome which included press coverage. Shortly after the statue was installed at its new home, Kennedy came in to work one morning and discovered a brand new axe wrapped in paper.  A note was attached to the axe that read “For Big Mike.”  Since the axe is a little too big to fit the statue’s hands, it is displayed in the company’s office.

 Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 12.36.51 PMAfter restoring Big Mike, Kennedy was bitten by the Muffler Man bug.  He began prowling the internet for more of them.   He particularly wanted a Cowboy statue. He finally found one for sale in Kansas City, KS. This was one of the last Muffler Men statues made by International Fiberglass.  It was located at a gas station in Boonville, MO from at least 1972 until the late 1990s. It may have been originally installed at a Phillips 66 gas station but I haven’t found any evidence of this. During this time, the cowboy’s hat bore the letters “MU” indicating his support for the University of Missouri.

photo 1-7In 2000, the statue was sold at auction to David Disney for $9,800.  He planned to donate the statue to the Kansas City Children’s Museum.  That never happened and the statue languished in storage for 13 years until it was sold to Kennedy in 2013.  The statue was in bad shape when it arrived in Hayward.  However, it was completely restored and installed in front of Bell Plastics just a few months later.  The statue’s face has uncharacteristic airbrushed details.  Kennedy calls this statue “Big Don.”

photo 3-9Next, Kennedy acquired a Paul Bunyan style Muffler Man from Paramount, CA.  This statue is painted in the original colors with a red shirt and blue pants.  There is some damage to the statue’s shoulder and back which Kennedy plans to repair.  The statue came with a steel platform, as well as an axe and pickaxe. Kennedy has not restored this statue yet but it stands of the lot at Bell Plastics and goes by the name of “Fix-it”. 

Kansas City Half Wit

Photo used with permission. Scott Phillips

Kennedy’s goal is to have one of each Muffler Man model.  Since he already had a Cowboy and two Paul Bunyans, he was thrilled to find a Half Wit model in Flint, MI for sale on eBay.  This statue was originally installed in the mid-1960s at the Poor Boy’s Pantry in Kansas City, MO.  In the early 1980s, it was repainted and given a Hawaiian shirt.  In 1997, the statue was purchased by Bob Perani and installed in Flint at the Dort Mall which he owned.  Kennedy bought the statue from the Perani family and plans to restore the statue.  He will restore it with the Hawaiian shirt paint job.  Kennedy has named the statue “Hollywood” since it briefly appeared in the 2008 movie “Semi Pro.”

photo 4-5My friend Neto and I spent six hours at Bell Plastics getting the histories of each statue from Kennedy.  He also allowed me to use his scissor lift to get close-up shots for my “American Giants” videos.  I plan to launch the second season of the series with footage of Kennedy’s collection.  We had a great time there and I can’t thank Bruce Kennedy enough for playing host and letting us document these statues. 

Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her editing help with this article. RoadsideArchitecture.com  

West Coast Muffler Man Trip 2014

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photo-2A few months ago, I found out that my job was sending me to a broadcasters’ convention in Las Vegas. I decided that this was a great opportunity to take a Muffler Man road trip. Neto and I made plans to fly first to Phoenix.  From there, we would pick up a one way car rental to San Jose and visit 14 Muffler Men along the way and ending with Bruce Kennedy’s collection of Muffler Men in Hayward.

Las Vegas M ManOur first Muffler Man destination was in Prescott, AZ. This statue was first mentioned on RoadsideAmerica.com in 1998.  However, it has actually been in Prescott since the early 1970s. It was originally one of the dozens of cowboys built for Phillips 66 gas stations by International Fiberglass. The statue was moved around in the late 1960s for various Phillips 66 gas station Grand Openings in northern Arizona. When Phillips 66 ended the promotion, the statue was photo 1-8purchased in 1970 and installed in front of Big Johnson Realty.  The statue has been there since then.  When the city changed the level of the street, the statue was kept in place at the original height.  If it had been raised, it would have been in violation of the city’s sign ordinances.  In the summer of 2013, a new business moved into the building next to the statue.  Gamers Trading Post added a few Magic: The Gathering playing cards to the statue’s right hand.

Lumberjack M MenOur next Muffler Man stop was in Flagstaff to see the legendary Louie the Lumberjack. He was one of the first, if not the very first, Muffler Men ever made. Bob Prewitt of Prewitt Fiberglass in Lawndale, CA made the original Muffler Man statue for a customer in Sacramento.  When that deal fell through, he sold the statue to the Lumberjack Cafe on Route 66 in Flagstaff.  The statue was installed around 1964.  Shortly after this, Prewitt sold the lumberjack mold and some animal statue molds to International Fiberglass. In the late 1960s, the owners of the Lumberjack Café ordered a second Muffler Man from International Fiberglass.  The two statues remained at the restaurant until it closed in 1971, they were then donated to Northern Arizona University.  The older of the two statues stands outside Walkup Skydome.  The other statue is installed inside the building in the football field’s end zone.

photo 5-10Upon our arrival we looked the statues over carefully and noticed that they were made very differently. The original is all one piece while the second statue comes apart at the arms, head and waist.  The second statue also has the International Fiberglass stamp on its leg. Both statues have the original axes.  I hopped on top of a roll of football turf inside the dome for a photo to give a size comparison of how big these statues really are. Although it looks small standing in the end zone, Muffler Men are incredibly big.

We loaded up again and continued our trek north stopping in Pahrump, NV to see one of the last remaining Texaco Big Friends. I photographed this statue back in 2011 not realizing that his days were numbered. Sometime after Texaco
IMG_2044stopped using these statues, this one found its way from Las Vegas area to Pahrump.  Most of these Big Friends were scrapped but this statue was transformed into a green giant. The statue was installed on top of a sign at Valley Homes, a mobile home dealership. Things went well for many years until his owner got in trouble with the law and sadly ended up in prison. When I was there in 2011, I saw that the statue was still in place and in good shape other than a square hole in its back.  In 2012, the sign and statue were removed and carted off to the dump in an effort to clean up the town I suppose.  The photo 1-9statue’s sudden disappearance sparked interest in its history and what had become of it.  Journalists from the local newspapers discovered and published information about these statues which they found at RoadsideAmerica.com and my blog. The Pahrump Landfill started getting phone calls, including a few from me, about the statue and started to realize this was no ordinary statue.  Although photo 2-6the giant was badly damaged during its removal, the manager decided to hang onto it and for that he should have Muffler Man named after him or something.  Eventually he passed the statue on to the Pahrump Valley Museum for future restoration.  When Neto and I arrived we were told that the statue was still in storage but we got to take some photos of it.  The museum would like to restore the statue at some point which will require some effort and money due to it’s poor condition.  One of the statue’s arms and one of the hands has been ripped off.  The statue’s torso is torn in half.  The legs have also been detached and a shoe is missing.  Maybe one day, this statue will reappear as either a Texaco Big Friend or as the Valley Homes Giant once more.

photo 4-6Our next stop Muffler Man stop was more than 400 miles away in Merced, CA.  There, we saw a Service Man model that has seen better days. The Agriculture Museum next to the statue appears to have been closed for a while.  We then moved on to San Jose to see Babe the Muffler Man.  This statue was installed at Babe’s Muffler and Brake in the 1960s.  It photo 5-11was one of three identical statues purchased for this local chain of San Jose auto repair shops.  One of the statues was burned down in the early 1990s by a local gang. The other statue was removed because of a local sign ordinance. The torso, head and arms were attached to the roof of a car which was driven around town to advertise for the three shops until it fell into disrepair.

After San Jose, we headed to Hayward to see Bruce Kennedy’s collection of Muffler Men.  I’ll cover that stop in the next blog post.

I want to thank all the people along the way who took the time to talk to us and share their stories and history on the giants. Also special thanks to the Pahrump Museum for allowing us to go see the giant off site. Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her help in editing. 

 

Mortons Gap Restoration Project Kickstarter is Launched!

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IMG_6622After months of planning we are super excited to announce the launch of a Kickstarter to help get a headless Muffler Man restored in Mortons Gap, KY. In 2011, I visited the Mortons Gap Muffler Man for the first time.  I had seen a photo of it on RoadsideAmerica.com.  This was early on in my documenting of these statues and I had not yet started my blog, usagiants.com.  The couple that IMG_20120816_151253owned the statue told me the story behind it.  In 1995, they acquired the statue in Fort Campbell, KY.  It was already missing its arms and head at that point.  The statue had previously been installed at Pistol Pete’s Pawn Shop in Fort Campbell.  No one knows where it was located originally.  Today, it stands in the couple’s donkey pasture on a hillside overlooking Edward T Breathitt Pennyrile Parkway.  At some point, a handmade head was made for the statue and a normal-sized axe was hung from the statue’s arm socket. For more see the complete story here.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 5.29.22 PMI have returned a few times after that to see the Muffler Man and visit with its owners.  They always asked where they could get arms and a head for the statue.  Since International Fiberglass went out of business in 1972, there are no spare parts anywhere.  However, a few people are making molds for replacement parts.  In the 1990s, Mark Cline made a mold of a 14 foot tall Muffler Man.  IMG_6564He has created a few other statues with it including a cowboy and a handful of soda jerks holding ice cream cones.  After explaining the situation to him, he agreed to recreate the parts and make a new axe for the Mortons Gap statue.  At that point I realized that the statue’s owners did not have the money to pay for the restoration – and neither did I!

Artistic conceptThe money for this blog, the video episodes, and our travel expenses have all come from our own pockets.  We are now asking for your support for this special project.  If you have enjoyed this blog and our web episodes funding this Kickstarter is a great way to let us know! This project has also prompted us to finally produce American Giants t-shirts!  Right now, they are only available with your contributions.  Also one of the larger rewards is a real Muffler Man head! If you have ever wanted one of these this is your chance to get one. Of course, the greatest reward is knowing that you helped preserve one of these rare statues.

Go to KICKSTARTER

Muffler Men News – Winter 2014

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

al_manzAlthough the lumberjack statue at the May Café in Albuquerque is not a Muffler Man, many of you may still be interested in this recent news. In January, the statue’s lower arms, hands and axe were blown off during a storm. The restaurant’s owners saved the parts and are waiting for insurance money to make the repairs. They hope to have the statue back to normal by summer. The photo of the statue in its current state appears on the left with permission from the Instagram account of al_manz.

First Muffler Man, Flagstaff AZ

First Muffler Man, Flagstaff AZ

This statue is roughly the same size as the Muffler Man statues and it bears a strong resemblance to them. The statue’s clothing is painted the same colors as International Fiberglass’ standard Paul Bunyan statues. The hand position is basically the same. The May Cafe statue was originally built in the early 1960s for the Duke City Lumber Company. It’s possible that it was modeled after the very first Muffler Man statue which was installed in Flagstaff, AZ in 1962.

When the lumber company closed, the building housed a hardware store. The May Café has been here since at least 2000. Since the statue and the sign below it have been here for more than 50 years, they have “grandfathered” status with the City. The owners simply changed the sign panel below the statue when the restaurant moved in.

josharpalicousIn other giant statue news, a Muffler Man in Shelton, WA came out of hiding for Super Bowl Sunday. The statue appeared at a local gas station wearing a football jersey bearing the number 12. The “12” stands for the Seattle Seahawks “12th man”: the fans. The name “Seahawks” was also painted on the blade of the statue’s axe. The photo on the left appears courtesy of josharpalicous’ Instagram account.

The Paul Bunyan statue has been IMG_0395located in Shelton since the early 1960s. It first stood at the Binger’s gas station next to the old bridge. Lloyd Prouty used to pass the statue on his way to high school every day. Today, he is the proud owner of the statue and has it installed on a trailer with a hydraulic jack. This enables him to easily set up the statue for different events in town. This appearance of the statue may have brought some good luck since the Seahawks trounced the Denver Broncos 43 to 8.

Half Wit MovingLastly, the Half Wit statue from Flint, MI is now on its way to sunny California.  In January, Bruce Kennedy purchased the statue.  It will soon join his other Muffler Men statues at Bell Plastics in Hayward, CA.  Bruce already has two Paul Bunyans and a Cowboy.  I’m sure if an Indian or any of the rarer statues becomes available, he’ll be jumping at the chance to add more statues to his collection.  This Half Wit statue was originally located in Kansas City, MO.  It was moved to Flint in the late 1990s.  In the 1980s, while it was in Kansas City, the statue’s shirt was painted in a Hawaiian print.  I don’t know if Bruce plans to keep this design.

Thanks to al_manz and josharpalicous for letting me use their Instagram photos at this website and Bruce Kennedy for the use of his photo. Also thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her editing help and research.