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.

#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.

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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

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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. 

 

#63 Lake Luzerne, NY – Bunyan

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IMG_20120709_145251The Lake Luzerne Muffler Man statue has always been one of my favorites. Ever since I saw a photo at RoadsideAmerica.com of this Paul Bunyan standing in the woods without a head and coming apart at the waist, this unfortunate statue has intrigued me. It is located near Lake George, NY where there are five other Muffler Men.  Among them is the statue from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York now standing at Around the World Mini Golf in downtown Lake George. The rest of the area’s Muffler Men are located at Magic Forest, a recreational park for children.

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It is not known when the Lake Luzerne statue arrived. The earliest report is that it was already installed at the Swiss Campsites entrance in 1976 when the parents of Lynn Kinsman purchased the property.  Her parents changed the name of the campground to the Swiss Trail Campground and repainted the statue’s shirt to reflect the new name. After they sold the campground in 1985, the statue began falling apart and vegetation began obscuring it from view.

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

In the fall of 2002, the statue’s head was knocked off during a storm.  It landed on the lawn, close to the side of the road. Soon afterwards, Debra Jane Seltzer, the creator and manager of RoadsideArchitecture.com, spotted the head and became its caretaker.  She was in the area at a dog agility trial.  When the competition wrapped up for the day, she went to take photos of the statue.  She noticed the statue’s head lying on the ground in full view of the road.  She worried that it might be stolen or destroyed by vandals.  Back at the trial site, she mentioned the situation to a friend who insisted that they go get the head to save it from harm. They drove up to Lake Luzerne in the middle of the night and parked across the street from the statue. The head was light but awkward and slippery.  They finally managed to get it across the road by using the nose and ears as handles. Getting the bulky head into the van was even more challenging and stressful.  Dogs were barking and cars passed by now and then.

The next day, the head was the talk of the agility trial. Everyone wanted a look at the bearded Bunyan face under the tarps.  Debra Jane’s next challenge was getting the head into her New York City apartment.  It just barely squeaked through the door.  For the next eight years, the head lounged comfortably next to a radiator in her apartment.  From time to time, she considered returning it.

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

Then, in September 2010, Paul Magliato posted a comment on RoadsideAmerica.com.  He had recently purchased the Swiss Trail Campground and renamed it the Adirondack Memories Campground.  One of his first orders of business was the Muffler Man.  In his on-line comment, he expressed his desire to restore the statue and inquired if anyone knew the whereabouts of the head.

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

After reading the comment, Debra Jane made a pilgrimage to return the head in 2011. When she arrived, she noticed that the statue had been repainted and looked great with the exception of the missing right arm and head. There was no answer when she knocked on the door of the house next to the statue.  So, she placed the head next to the garage door and hoped for the best.

IMG_20120709_121955The following summer, I was visiting many of the New York Muffler Men.  I drove to the Lake Luzerne campground on July 9th. To my surprise, when I rounded a bend in the road, I saw that the statue had been re-headed.  The Paul Bunyan stood on a hillside next to the road holding a big saw.  The head had been repainted to match the recently painted body.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 8.42.45 PMShortly afterwards, I posted my discovery at RoadsideAmerica.com.  Debra Jane was delighted to learn that, after all these years, the head had finally made it back on top of those broad shoulders. She said later, “It was a pleasure having the giant’s company all those years. But it is a far greater joy to know the head has been reunited with its body and in public where it belongs.”  The Muffler Man is still missing his right arm.  Maybe that, too, will turn up one day or a replacement will be installed.

Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her help in editing and to Roadside America for the information they have shared.

#62 Stony Point, NY – Bunyan

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IMG_20120704_131116In early 2012, I visited the Muffler Man in Stony Point, NY.  This statue is located at Camp Bullowa which is used for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts activities.  It appears to be one of the early Paul Bunyans produced in the mid-1960s by International Fiberglass.  While I was at the Camp, I met Ranger Joe Langdon and spoke with him about the statue.  It is not known where this Muffler Man was located before it arrived at the Camp in the mid-1990s.  It stands next to the parking lot near the main entrance.

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The statue was previously located next to the cafeteria on a steep hill overlooking the lake. It

became a popular prank for young campers to push the statue down the hill. Joe found the Muffler Man in the lake several times.  Since these fiberglass statues are hollow, this statue floated and could be easily found.  Enough was enough and, by 2000, Joe moved the statue to its current location near his house so that he can keep an eye on it.

IMG_20120704_124324Joe enjoys making large footprints in the snow and convincing Boy Scouts that the giant statue walks around at night.  This Muffler Man is in remarkably good condition considering the number of tumbles and swimming escapades it has been through.  The only damage is a crack on one of the statue’s boots.  The wooden axe that the statue holds is a replacement of the original.

Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for reviewing and editing this article. 

American Giants on the Ray Carr Radio Show

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Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 1.41.12 AMOn January 7, 2014. Ray Carr of Cleveland’s WCSB 89.3 did a phone interview with me about Muffler Men for his radio show. His 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.

I asked if I could put the interview on the American Giants  blog. He agreed to that so I  decided to go the extra mile and added video to the audio. So above is the enhanced Ray Carr interview. Ray is going to check back with me from time to time to catch up with my latest adventures. The next interview is scheduled for March 4, 2014 on Cleveland’s WCSB 89.3 at 8:00 AM.