While filming with Greg Holmes of Hutchinson Kansas, he mentioned to me that he had seen a Indian Muffler Man in Wickliffe, KY around 1985. He was on a road trip and had a distinct memory of the sighting, and seemed to recall that the Indian stood on the roof of a trading post. Recently I traveled to Wickliffe to see what I could dig up about the mystery Muffler Man. Very few have any recollections of the Indian that stood there 30 years ago, but I did find a handful of people that remember him. Their story’s varied slightly and some remember him standing out by the road and not on the roof. I was told that the Indian Hills Trading Post was owned in the 1980s by a man named Jean Laster and that he was now old and retired but lived nearby. Finding and talking to him sadly did not shed much light on my quest. He doesn’t remember many details from those days but he did tell me that he did not own the Indian but instead rented him from a man who made fiberglass animals. He did not remember where the man lived or what his name was.
As many of you know, I have been restoring a Muffler Man from Mortons Gap Kentucky that was purchased at Pistold Petes Pawn shop in Oak Grove, KY in 1995. I have been trying to find out how the pawnshop got him, and also recently visited Oak Grove. The locals told me that a man named Robert Ladd owned the business and he had left town years before after closing it down. I was finally able to track his brother down and get some
Photo by Debra Jane Seltzer
information. James Ladd remembered the Muffler Man that we are restoring and referred to him as the “broken one”. He told me that they sold the 14 ft lumberjacks in addition togiant elephants and even the full size Muffler Men Indians. He told me that a fiberglass sculptor in KY was their supplier back in those days and he wasn’t sure what the story was on the broken one we ended up with. I finally figured out that the fiberglass sculptors name is Paul White and that he made animals and figures in western Kentucky back in the80s and 90s. In fact, he made the chicken cars for Krekle’s in Illinois. He also was the man who rented out the giant Indian to Jean Laster in the mid 1980s. Paul White would know the answers behind our Mortons Gap Muffler Man and how he got from St Louis to Oak Grove, KY. However at this point the trail has gone cold and I have no idea where he is or how to get in contact with him.
After leaving Wickliffe, I traveled to Metropolis, IL to check out the restoration the Big John Statue. In October 2014 the giant’s right arm separated above the elbow and 200 lb of arm and grocery bags came crashing down to the parking lot. All fiberglass giants like Muffler Men and Big Johns that were made in the 1960s are getting very old. Often the inside steal frames are rusting away and after years of this, the right wind and temperature conditions can bring these giants down. Sadly this was the case of the Metropolis Big John. I met up with Dave of Dave’s Powder Coating and Soda Blasting, who is restoring the giant. He told me that the giant was full of water and 50 years of bird’s nests. In fact he said the entire left arm was full of sticks, straw and mud from the birds. He and his team have taken the giant apart and are sanding him back down to the gel coat and will soon repaint him and fix his arm. It is always great when an owner decides to pay for restoration rather that toss out an old giant. Our hats are off to the owners of the Metropolis Big John store.
Special thanks to Dave’s Powder Coating and Soda Blasting for letting us visit their shop and also to Debra Jane Seltzer and Roadsidearch.com for letting us use one of her pictures of the chicken car.
Check out our latest Kickstarter Project and a big thank you to all of you who pledged towards our last one!
Muffler Men have been part of the American landscape for more than 50 years now. These giant fiberglass statues were first produced as advertising devices in 1962. International Fiberglass produced thousands of these statues before closing its shop in Venice, California in the early 1970s. Hundreds of these statues remain and each one of them has a unique history. Many of the owners of these statues have a deep connection with them.
Glenn Goode of Gainesville, Texas has been collecting these statues and making his own versions of them since the early 1980s. He has five giant statues on display in front of his farm property. His collection includes two Muffler Men, a Uniroyal Gal, and two Big John statues. Glenn has also produced Muffler Men statues which stand in Sherman, Texas and Amarillo, Texas. He also has an assortment of molds in his barn.
Glenn is now in his 70s and has lots of stories to share about these statues. As anyone who has stopped to take photos of his statues will tell you, Glenn is quite the talker. While he has appeared in a few newscasts and YouTube videos, no one has produced an in-depth documentary about him and his statues. We would like to take a trip to Gainesville to do just that.
The American Giants crew has been documenting Muffler Men statues since 2011. Normally, we pay for the travel and production expenses associated with the blog and videos. However, we’d like to ask for your help with this one. We are introducing this Kickstarter campaign to help out with the cost of producing a documentary that will properly showcase Glenn and his statues.
Since this is a small project, we are keeping the rewards simple. At the moment, we are actively restoring the Mortons Gap Muffler Man statue. This project was successfully funded through our previous Kickstarter campaign. As soon as we return the statue to Kentucky, we can begin working on editing the Glenn Goode documentary. With your help, we would like to get the video footage for it now. I met Glenn a few years ago but it was only a brief visit. I am eager to return and Glenn is anxious to speak with us. Your support can help make that happen.
The American Giants team takes down the Mortons Gap Muffler Man – Photo Luke Short
The statue at its current location in Illinois undergoing repairs
I just want to give a huge thank you to everyone who pitched in to help us reach our Kickstarter goal of $1,575 to restore the Mortons Gap Muffler Man. I was thrilled to discover on Friday, that Kickstarter had made this the Project of the Day! I would also like to thank Luke Short from The Messenger newspaper in Madisonville, KY who covered this project. His great article came Friday morning. Luke was there to document the removal of the statue and he’ll be back for the unveiling when the statue is reinstalled.
Michael applying fiberglass to repair the statue’s right foot
We have 15 days left to raise additional funds for this project. Therefore, I am setting some new goals and raising the bar to $2,000. The fiberglass materials are costing more than we thought. Before we even started this Kickstarter campaign, we had already spent $800 in travel and replacement parts (the statue’s head and arms). With additional funding from you, we can soda blast the giant and also do more thorough fiberglass repairs and provide the statue with a better coat of paint. In addition, I’d like to take a quick trip to Oak Grove, KY to find out more about the statue’s history at Pistol Pete’s Pawn Shop. We might find some vintage photos of him and find out what became of his head and arms. We will be sharing any information that we can dig up in our upcoming video documentary which will cover this project from start to finish.
Many thanks to those of you who have already pledged your support. I hope we can reach this new goal with your help to give this statue a thorough restoration which will last for many years to come. You can visit the Kickstarter by clicking here.
In April 2014, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to restore the Muffler Man in Mortons Gap Kentucky. Although there was a lot of enthusiasm, we fell short of the $4,500 goal. The greatest challenge has been to get the word out to those who are interested in being a part of restoring these icons of Americana. This time we are spending more time on publicity. We have also lowered our funding goal to $1,575. Our focus will be on installing the statue’s new head and arms. We will also repaint the statue. If we exceed our goal, we can use that money for more extensive fiberglass repairs.
We have already obtained the new head, arms and axe for the restoration. Although we paid for the new parts, we are hoping some or all of this will be reimbursed with this Kickstarter campaign. We also need financial help with transporting the statue to our workshop for assembly and painting. Some of the funds raised will also go towards producing a video documentary about this project.
For the full story, please visit our Kickstarter page and also check out our new videos on the project. Thank you for your interest and support in restoring this unique piece of roadside history!
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.
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.
This 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.
In 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 of 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
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.