American Giants on the Ray Carr Radio Show, Again!

Once more on April 29, 2014. Ray Carr of Cleveland’s WCSB 89.3 did a phone interview with me about Muffler Men for his radio show. We chatted about the latest road trip that myself and the American Giants crew recently went on. We had just returned from a road trip covering Muffler Men from Phoenix to San Francisco including a rare Texaco Big Friend sighting in Nevada. We concluded the show talking about the highlight of the trip, our visit with Bruce Kennedy in Hayward and his 4 Muffler Men. After my first interview with Ray I put the interview to video so the listeners could see what was being talked about and decided to do it again. Ray’s program features in-depth, live interviews with movers-and-shakers: politicians, journalists, athletes, and guys like me who are into Americana. He also features unusual oldies and comedy interludes from the 1950s and 1960s. A big thank you to him and his team for having me on the show and also I want to thank Bruce Kennedy for having us out to Bell Plastics and for helping make the trip possible.

 

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. Big Mike appeared on Mission Blvd in Hayward, California in the 1960′s as an advertising ploy for Morris Car Wash and held a giant scrubber. When Tyre Treads, an auto tire business, bought the lot, they decided to keep the giant and replaced his brush with a giant muffler. Tyre Treads went out of business in 2010 and left the giant to simply mark the buss stop at Grace and Mission.  In 2011, Kennedy bought the statue and put it in storage while he arranged for it’s Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 12.40.47 PMrestoration.  The public found out about the Muffler Man’s new temporary location and Kennedy had to hide the statue until it was restored. Finally the Big Mike was restored and delivered to Bell Plastics to a large welcome that even included some press! Shortly after he was set up at his new home, Bruce arrived to work one morning to find a brand new lumberjack axe wrapped in paper with a note that read “For Big Mike”. Although the axe is a little big to fit into Mike’s hands you can ask to see the axe that now hangs in the office.

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 12.36.51 PMSoon after, Kennedy began prowling the internet in search of more Muffler Men, particularly another version that International Fiberglass made.  He finally found a Cowboy version for sale in Kansas City, KS.  This was one of the last Muffler Men 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.  However, the statue languished for 13 years in storage 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 the statue “Big Don.”

photo 3-9Kennedy next 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 that Bruce plans to repair.  The giant 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 “Fit-it”.

Kansas City Half WitKennedy’s goal is to have one of each Muffler Man model.  He already had a Cowboy and two Paul Bunyans.  So, he was thrilled to find a Half Wit version 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, the statue was repainted and given a Hawaiian shirt.  It was purchased by Bob Perani in 1997 and installed at the Dort Mall which he owned.  Kennedy plans to restore the station with the Hawaiian shirt pattern.  He 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 background stories about 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.

 

West Coast Muffler Man Trip 2014

Image

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!

Image

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

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 5.46.59 PM

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.

#64 Lake George – Magic Forest Clown

IMG_20120709_132113Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 8.56.01 PMIf you like giant fiberglass statues, then Magic Forest in Lake George, NY is the place for you. This fairy tale theme park has four Muffler Men and many other statues.  Magic Forest opened in 1963.  It features a 40 foot tall Uncle Sam statue which is the twin to the one in Ottawa Lake, MI.  There Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 6.12.38 PMis also a Santa statue, an 11 foot tall Tire Salesman, a Caveman, and three modified A&W Root Beer Family statues.  All of these statues were produced by International Fiberglass which made the Muffler Men.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 6.07.48 PMIn addition, there are many statues that were produced by other fiberglass companies including an Archer, a couple of Astronauts, an Indian, a Caveman and a Cavewoman, several storybook characters, as well as various animals.  Many of Magic Forest’s statues, including at least one of the Muffler Men and the Uncle Sam, came from the Danbury Fair which was located in Danbury, CT and closed in 1982.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.50.50 PM

One of the most unusual statues at Magic Forest is the Giant Clown.  To my knowledge, International Fiberglass never produced a Clown model. This particular Muffler Man actually started out as a Pirate.  The company only made about four Pirates.  One of them still stands in Ocean City, NJ, another one is in

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.51.11 PMOcean City, MD, and one has gone missing. The Lake George statue originally stood at Ocean Playland Amusement Park in Ocean City, MD.  It was installed high above the entrance to the park.  After a few years, the park’s name was changed to Playland Park.  At that point, the Pirate was transformed into a Clown. Balloon clown pants were added, the hat was altered, and the statue was Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.50.33 PMrepainted.  The Clown remained there until the park closed.  It was purchased later by Magic Forest. Today, the statue looks about the same as it did when it stood at Playland Park. It is possibly the creepiest clown statue in existence with its still recognizable Muffler Man features.

Thanks to Terry Nelson for the vintage pictures of the pirate and clown when they stood in Ocean City and also to Debra Jane Seltzer for her editing help and research.

Texaco Big Friend TV Commercial

Video

Big Friends wating for deliveryI’ve mentioned Texaco Big Friend statues in a previous post at this blog.  Of all the Muffler Men statues that International Fiberglass produced, I find these to be the most intriguing. About 300 of these statues were produced in 1966.  However, nearly all of them are gone now.

Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 12.13.15 AMI recently came across a TV commercial from 1966 on YouTube.com.  It shows how Texaco planned to use the statues in its advertising campaign. Texaco service station attendants were portrayed as your car’s “Big Friend.” While this commercial was being aired, the giant statues were being deployed around the country. However, for reasons that are still unknown, Texaco changed its mind about the statues.  While the TV commercial was still being aired a year later, the statues had all been removed from the company’s gas stations.  It is believed that those statues and the ones that were still in storage were destroyed.

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 9.22.01 AMTo my knowledge, there are only three Big Friend statues that escaped Texaco’s purge.  They are located in Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada.  All three of those statues have either been heavily modified or damaged.  Recently, I was contacted by Ryan Lindstrom who lives in Chicago.  He owns a well-preserved Big Friend head which was bought at a antique shop in Georgia in the 1980s.  He is considering displaying the head at Route 66 exhibits in the future.

For more about Texaco Big Friends, see this blog post.  Texaco also produced Big Friend signs.  If you missed it, you might enjoy the recent Ray Carr Show interview which covers a lot of Muffler Men topics as well as the Texaco Big Friends and more pictures then are shown here.