Stan the Tire Man Uniroyal Gal, Comes Down in Mt Vernon, IL


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Uniroyal Gal statues are the female versions of Muffler Men and were produced by the same company. In the late 1990s, before the history of these statues was known, RoadsideAmerica.com began calling them “Uniroyal Gals”. That is what they are commonly called today.

IMG_4758These statues are 18 feet tall and weigh 230 pounds. In the 1960s, International Fiberglass made dozens of these statues for the Uniroyal Tire & Rubber Company. The “Miss Uniroyal” statue held a sign which read “Uniroyal Tire” in her upraised left hand. She wore a watch on her right wrist. Many people have conjectured that she was modeled after Jackie Kennedy, however, there is no evidence to support that. The statues came with a platform and trailer which made it easy to move them around to different gas stations.

A rare picture of the Uniroyal Gal in 1968 while in Urbana, IL Photo - Len Davidson

A rare picture of the Uniroyal Gal in 1968 while in Urbana, IL Photo – Len Davidson

The Uniroyal promotion ended in the late 1960s and the statues were destroyed or sold to different businesses. International Fiberglass began marketing these statues with the new name of “Miss America”. In 1970, you could purchase one of these statues for $3,150. She came wearing a bikini but you could pay extra for the add-on skirt and blouse.

Two of these statues have been in Illinois since the late 1960s. The one in Peoria is still there and was featured in our American Giants Episode 4 video. The other statue which was in Mount Vernon was removed this week. Around 1970, the Mount Vernon statue was purchased from a gas station and installed at Stan the Tire Man. Stan Koziara, the owner, and Dale Lowery installed the statue next to the shop’s Paul Bunyan Muffler Man. The Paul Bunyan statue was later moved to the Stan the Tire Man in Salem, Illinois. In 2007, it was moved to Rocky Mount, NC.

IIMG_6776n the 1970s, the Mount Vernon Uniroyal Gal wore a white blouse and red skirt. Her trailer was kept nearby but it was stolen at some point. In April 2015, it was announced that the store would be closing on June 1. Many people contacted Stan about the statue and made offers. In the end, it was Bruce Kennedy of Bell Plastics in Hayward, California that bought her on June 15. We recently covered Bruce’s statues in American Giants Episode 11 video. His Muffler Man collection consists of two Paul Bunyans, a Half Wit, and a Cowboy.

IMG_6850Bruce contacted me about his purchase of the Uniroyal Gal statue and asked if we could help take her down for shipment to California. This was something we hadn’t done before but we felt we knew what was involved. On the morning of June 19, we got to work. There were two support bars attached with bolts to her shoulders and four bolts on each foot. It took more than an hour to remove the rusted bolts. Then, we gently lowered her to the ground with a pulley system. The four of us then loaded her into the trailer.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 11.52.43 PMThe people of Mount Vernon and Southern Illinois have lost a rare piece of 1960s roadside Americana. It is always sad when one of these statues that has been standing at one place for so many years is relocated. However, the silver lining is that this Uniroyal Gal will be well taken care of, and displayed where many people can still enjoy her and see her with the other Muffler Men. Bruce plans to restore her and we are looking forward to seeing her again.

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Bruce Kennedy Muffler Man Collection in Hayward, CA

I want to thank Bruce Kennedy for his support of American Giants as well as the people at Stan the Tire Man who were very helpful and accommodating while we were up there taking her down. Also a big thank you to Debra Jane Seltzer for her help in editing this article and fact checking. 

#67 Lake George – Magic Forest Bunyan

IMG_20120709_134051IMG_20120709_133939It’s been awhile since I have worked on my progressive list of Muffler Men sightings, so lets pick up again with sighting #67 in upstate NY. The Bunyan Muffler Man at Magic Forest, was the last one I visited at the amusement park. Like the rest of the Muffler Men there, it is hard to say where he came from. While some of them can be traced back to the Danbury Fair, I have had no luck tracing his origins. He is the only Muffler Man located close enough to the fence, that you can get some good pictures if the park happens to be closed or you don’t want to pay for admission but still see a Muffler Man. He is called a Bunyan because of his lumberjack look and axe but IMG_20120709_134239interestingly he does not have a knit cap. He does however have a beard and boots common to the bunyan Muffler Men but also lacking the buttons for suspenders. International Fiberglass often made custom combinations of their Muffler Men, and I am guessing that is what happened here. After a close look at his axe I am guessing that it is original from International Fiberglass and looks to be in great condition. Often the axe was the first item to disappear and many replacements were made to keep the giants from going empty handed. 

American Giants Episode #11

photo 3-9We are happy to announce the launch of the second season of American Giants, with this extended episode from one of our road trips last year. Instead of the normal 10-15 minutes, episode 11 runs for a full 20 minutes and covers Muffler Men from Flagstaff to Hayward, CA. This episode centers on Bruce Kennedy of Bell Plastics and his growing collection of Muffler Men and other fiberglass giants. It was great to sit down with Bruce and get his story and Neto and I had a great time shooting this episode. I have also shortened the open sequence for the second season, since I think we all know the basics by now of where Muffler Men came from. We have 9 more episodes lined up for this season of American Giants, at this point I am uncertain if there will be a third season or not. If you enjoy these episodes, let us know! joel@usagiants.com

Mini Muffler Men

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 2.24.13 PMScreen Shot 2013-09-24 at 1.49.20 AMWhen Bob Prewitt made the first Muffler Man statue around 1962, he could not have imagined just how popular these statues would be and how many would be produced. Even today, 53 years later, there is still a big demand for these statues. However, the size and price of these statues might not be practical for most collectors of Americana. The statues are over 20 feet tall and sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

The first business to own a Muffler Man was the Lumberjack Café in Flagstaff, AZ. The statue was such a novelty and landmark for their business that a scaled-down souvenir version was made. These were sold at the restaurant and a former employee, who worked there in the 1960s, remembers them selling like hot cakes. It is not known what company produced these figures or how many were sold. Today, they are almost impossible to find.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 11.15.49 PMA few years ago, Blue Ridge Models began selling Muffler Men model kits. These statues are available in two sizes: just over three inches tall and 12 inches tall. They come in Cowboy and Bunyan models, both requiring assembly and paint. These do-it-yourself statues are popular with model railroad builders and diorama makers. They appear to still be available on-line at a few hobby websites.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 1.29.47 PMRecently, I became aware of some new Muffler Man figures, made in early 2015,  that very closely resembles the one sold by the Lumberjack Café back in the 1960s. Scott Farmer, self-described as a human 3-D printer, is a sculptor who has created a few of these figures which he sells at his website, Sculpture Island. Farmer discovered Muffler Men a few years ago and has spent many hours researching their history at roadsideamerica.com and watching our American Giants episodes. He has produced seven different versions of the Paul Bunyan statues, including replicas of the statues in   Elmsford NY, and Evergreen Park, IL Each statue is a hand painted resin cast of an original polymer clay sculpture. The statues are a little over 12 inches tall and come with either an axe or a muffler. These figures are the biggest and most elaborate pieces that he has made. You can purchase them through Scott’s stores at Etsy and eBay.

American Giants Episode #10

In the last episode of the season the American Giants team explore more of the details of the Dennis Hopper Muffler Men. After arriving in Dodge City after driving all night (see Episode #9), they start to dig deeper into the history of the giants and talk with various people at the 3I show , who played a part in the muffler men coming to Dodge City. The end of this episode also gives a glimpse of what is to come in the second season of American Giants!

American Giants Episode #9

After taking more then a year off from making the American Giants Episodes, we are happy to finally release Episode #9. The last two episodes in Season 1 will cover our trip out to Dodge City, Kansas and the Dennis Hopper Muffler Men. After an invitation from Summer Bates who is now the custodian of the giants, we piled into Bo’s Honda Fit and drove the 700 miles to Dodge City. This episode covers some of the background history behind the Muffler Men and how our trip materialized and our journey out there. The episode end just as we arrive and episode #10 will continue with more details of the Dennis Hopper Muffler Men and future plans for them.

Newly Discovered Texaco Big Friend

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photo 2-6One 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, Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.50.11 PMSteve 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 Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.51.07 PMemployees. 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.

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Texaco Big Friends lined up behind a Pushcart Tony statue

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 Sacha 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. IMG_4754International 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. Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 12.10.11 AMOn 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. Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.12.04 PMPeter 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. IMG_2850At 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.
TBF4There 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.
TBF2However, 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.
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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.