#58 Evergreen Park, IL – Bunyan

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IMG_0601The Muffler Man in Evergreen Park, IL is part of what I call the Chicago Cluster.  This Paul Bunyan model is one of two in the Chicago area.  It was first documented by RoadsideAmerica.com in 1997. The statue has been updated a few times over the years. A call to his owners shed only a little light on this Muffler Man’s history. The statue stands on the roof of Guardian Auto Rebuilders.  It is held in place by supports inside his legs.  Picture 5Some cables are also attached to the eye bolts on top of his shoulders. The current owners bought the business in 1975.  The statue was already on the roof at that time. The owners don’t know how long the statue has been there.  When the company moved in, the statue held a giant hammer. That accessory disappeared a few times during the 1980s. The guys at Guardian got tired of making new hammers for the statue and finally hung the last one up in the shop.  In 1998, a tornado knocked the statue over.  The statue was removed at that point and repainted with DuPont ChromaBase auto paint.  A giant G was also painted on his shirt before he was returned to the roof.

Picture 10When I visited him in 2012 while taping for the American Giants video series, I discovered that the statue didn’t have any feet. There are several other Muffler Men around the country that also have missing feet. Often these feet were submerged in concrete for stability.  When the statues were moved, the feet were simply cut off. We can therefore assume that this statue was located somewhere else previously.  Other than the missing feet, this statue is in good shape.

I want to thank the guys at Guardian Auto Rebuilders for sharing their memories about the statue. I also want to thank RoadsideAmerica.com for the information at their website. For more about Muffler Men and their sometimes missing feet, check out American Giants Episode #5.

American Giants Episode #6

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In Episode #6, our American Giants crew continues to make its way around the Chicago area visiting Muffler Men. We start out at the Greenhouse of Crystal Lake and hop over to Lumberjacks, a firewood and mulch business. You will see the Muffler Man that we used for our American Giants Opener and find out some of its history. We end this episode at Lambs Farm in Libertyville and realize just how long this 15 foot tall lumberjack has been around!

North Carolina Muffler Man Trip

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IMG_4120American Giants just wrapped up a two day road trip in North Carolina shooting most of the Muffler Men in that state. It was a great opportunity for me to see some of them for the first time.  I also discovered a new Uniroyal Gal never reported on before, (something I can now cross off my bucket list)

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About four months ago, I was prowling the internet for vintage photos and information about these Uniroyal Gal statues.  I stumbled upon a photo at Flickr of one that I had never seen before.  By my count, there are less than 10 of these statues left so finding one is a big deal! Since there are so few of them, I can identify each one immediately in photographs.  So, I knew this one was something new.  I contacted the guy who took the photo back in 2007 and told me that the statue was somewhere between South of the Border and Wilmington, NC. He didn’t remember anything else.  During the following week, I scoured Google satellite images along his most likely route until I finally found her.  I could clearly see not just one but three Uniroyal Gals lying in the grass in the back field! I tracked down the owner and went to meet him and his statues in Bolton, NC as the first stop on this road trip.

IMG_4183The statues are located at Graham & Dolce Fiberglass which is located on Highway 74 east of Bolton.  It’s hard to miss since there are dozens of fiberglass animals in front of the private residence.  Among the statues is a Uniroyal Gal standing next to a pond, holding a giant beach ball buried past her ankles in the mud.  The owner hopes to open a miniature golf course next year which will showcase the fiberglass animals and IMG_4193the Uniroyal Gals.  The three Uniroyal Gals were produced from a mold that the owner obtained many years ago near Rocky Mount.  Although the property is not yet open to the public, visitors are welcome to pull over and snap photos. In addition to the dozens of animals, there will be a Boo-Boo Bear and other character statues. I spent four hours filming and will feature this fiberglass collection in an upcoming episode of American Giants and future blog posts.

IMG_4232White’s Tire currently has six locations in the Wilson area. One of the locations in Wilson has an unusual Paul Bunyan model.  While there, I got to speak briefly with Bobby White, the son of the company’s founder. His father bought the statues back in the 1960s from International Fiberglass. He ordered at least two of the 15 foot tall versions and one full-size Paul Bunyan. Unlike the standard arm position, this statue has his right arm IMG_4244raised and his left arm down at his side like the Indian models.  He also wears the Cowboy model pants. Bobby said that the giant statues remind us of better times and represent good.  He said that many people have tried to buy the statue or have it moved.  However, he believes that the statue belongs at White’s Tire where it has stood for nearly 50 years.

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On my way to see the Uniroyal Gal in Rocky Mount I passed another fiberglass business. I pulled over and asked the owner about the Uniroyal Gal that used to stand in town. We know that these days she is hanging out at the private “mens club” as they call it but I was curious what he remembered. He told me that she used to stand at Mosley’s Shady Lake Motel and that he was the one that had made her from a mold. It was IMG_4295unclear where he got the mold but it seems to be the same mold that eventually fell into the hands of  Graham & Dolce Fiberglass in Bolton. I tried to get a picture of the Uniroyal Gal in Rocky Mount but not wanting to trespass behind the gates and fence my angle was limited. While the Uniroyal Gals in Bolton show some differences in their structure the one in Rocky Mount is harder to distinguish from the originals. She was obviously cast from the mold when it was in better condition. Interestingly both the standing Uniroyal Gals in North Carolina hold beach balls.

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I then headed to Log Cabin Homes in Rocky Mount where there is another Paul Bunyan model located next to I-95.  The Bunyan at Log Cabin Homes came from Salem, IL. It was joined recently by a statue of Babe the Blue Ox that was produced by FAST in Sparta, WI. Log Cabin Homes also has a handful of other Muffler Men in storage. One of them came from a bowling alley in Baxter, MN.  Another one came from a hotel in Lakewood, WI.  Due to time constraints, I didn’t get to see the Muffler Men in storage.

IMG_4344I wrapped up this road trip with a visit to the Muffler Man in Raleigh. He was repainted in 2011 and is still looking sharp.  His knit cap has been modified into a ball cap. The statue’s right foot has been reworked and looks strange.  It was probably run over by one of the construction vehicles driving around on the property. This statue stood in downtown Raleigh in the 1960s.  Since the 1980s, it has been located the outskirts of town.  I got to see eight Muffler Men on this trip – bringing my total sightings to 118!

IMG_4108I want to thank all the Muffler Men owners who took the time to talk to me on this trip as well as a special thank you to those at Graham & Dolce Fiberglass. Also to Debra Jane Seltzer for her input, fact checking and helping me edit this article. 

The Story of the Texaco Big Friend

Big Friends wating for deliveryIMG_2980Due to the popularity of this article it has been re edited and reposted.

 One of the most interesting side stories of Muffler Men is what is now known as the Texaco Big Friend. Around 1965, large oil giants like Phillips 66, Sinclair, Exxon and Texaco started taking notice of International Fiberglass’s statues in Venice, CA. All four oil companies would eventually work out contracts with I.F. and soon the green dinosaur, Phillips 66 cowboy and Esso Tiger started appearing at gas stations across the country. I’m not sure in what order they were built but the least known and seen would turn out to be the Texaco Big Friend or Friendly Service Man.

Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 12.13.15 AMInternational Fiberglass hired artist and sculptor, Sasha Schnittman, to make the first Big Friend and Texaco ordered 300 of them with an option to buy more. They began distributing them in 1966 at Texaco stations around the country to run along side the televised add campaign but it was short-lived.  Because of the distraction these giants posed to drivers and for whatever other reasons, Texaco discontinued the promotion and the Big Friends already installed at gas stations were taken down and destroyed. It must have been soon after the first ones were erected because the Texaco Big Friend has been the hardest thing to find information about or evidence of online. There are only three vintage photos that I have been able to find.  The first photo above shows Big Friends at International Fiberglass’ lot awaiting shipment to gas stations. The second photo appeared in an Ocala, FL newspaper in 1966 showing the sales reps and workers standing at it’s base. And a third shows one of the giants standing at a Texaco station in Lemon Grove, CA the same year.

IMG_20120625_091434Many people confuse the Texaco Big Friend with a Waving Giant also created by International Fiberglass.  However, by comparing them, it’s clear that they came from two different molds. The lines and creases of their clothing do not match. The Big Friend also has different shoes then the waving giant. The big friend cracks a smile and you can see his teeth. The other statue has a closed mouth. Glenn Goode in Gainesville, TX has another one of these statues. However, he stuck a standard Muffler Man head on his. There is another example of this version in Chicopee, MA at the Plantation Inn.

IMG_2826Texaco Big Friends are the rarest breed of Muffler Men.  There are only two other examples known to exist:  one in Oregon and another in Idaho. Both of these are missing original parts . The big friend in Oregon had his head replaced years ago with that of a Rabbits and the one in Idaho has no feet. In the 1990′s, there was one in Clarksville, AR.  However, that statue has been missing since 1998. (The Clarksville statue was found in Dec, 2015)

Big FriendUntil recently, one of these statues stood on top of the sign at Valley Homes in Pahrump, NV. It had been there for 20 years. The statue originally stood on the Boulder Highway in Las Vegas.  After changing hands a few times, it was moved to Pahrump in the early 1990s. On December 12, 2013, the statue was taken down when the property was put up for sale.  Sadly, it was hauled off to the dump.  The people who removed it did not realize its historical value. Thankfully, before he was destroyed the guys at the dump stuck him in a container. The statue is currently in storage. I have always hoped that one of these statues would be restored with the hat, stars, and original colors.  It would make a great display at a sign or gas station museum. Although the Pahrump Big Friend was damaged when it was removed, perhaps one day it can be restored to what he once was.

I want to thank Roadside America for all the information they have provided on their site about Big Friends and for their interview with the former owner of International Fiberglass, Steve Dashew.  For more information check out the article Roadside America posted a few years ago. Also special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for helping me re edit this article.

#57 Chicago, IL – Eye Care Indian

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IMG_0494The Eye Care Indian is a must on any Muffler Man excursion in the Chicago area. The statue has been there since the 1970s or possibly the 1960s. We visited him while shooting for Episodes #5-7 in the Chicago area for American Giants. Bo stayed in the car the entire time while Neto and I ran around shooting photos and video. Since it was the weekend and the business was closed, we didn’t have a chance to talk with anyone about the statue’s history. So far, my phone calls have not been returned.

However, there are a few interesting details that we know about this Indian Brave version of the Muffler Man. First off, this is the only Muffler Man that I know of that wears glasses. Eye glasses were not a Muffler Man accessory and certainly would not have been appropriate for the Paul Bunyan or IMG_0569Cowboy models. Maybe a Half Wit model could have pulled it off. Back in the 1970s, this Indian advertised for a Capitol Cigar. There was a banner on his chest advertising “White Owl Cigars”.  During that time, someone had implanted an arrow in his chest. Sometime between 2001 and 2006, the cigar shop sign was later replaced with a sign that reads “Eye Can See Now”. The statue still holds his salute after all these years at the northwest corner of 63rd and Pulaski. This is one of the few Muffler Men statues to appear in a movie and can be seen in “Wayne’s World” which was released in 2001.

#56 Chicago, IL – Mr Bendo

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 3.59.06 PMIMG_20110328_111330Mixed in with the many other International Fiberglass muffler men versions was one that is rare and fairly uncommon. However in my continuous search for muffler men I have run across enough of them to realize that they are a version all of their own although it seems less then 10 were made. We call them today by the name that was often printed on their shirt “Mr Bendo”. I have spent more time then I had planned scouring the internet for clues and information about this Mr Bendo. It seems he was popular with auto repair businesses but a chain by that name doesn’t seem to have existed. Adding to the mystery is the fact that these giants are not concentrated in one state or area but strewn about the US from Texas to Indiana with one even in Sioux Falls. The ones today all look the same for the most part and come with white pants, red shirt and a bunyan face without the knitPicture 3 cap. They also normally had the indian arm positions with the left hand at the side and the right arm up but instead of a salute Mr Bendos all clutched an iron bar in their fist. The bar was often somewhat bent suggesting the giant was strong and able to bend iron, maybe thats where the name came from. The name “Mr Bendo” was often printed in white letters on the right side of the chest. To this day I have yet to find the story behind these rare versions. While our American Giants crew was making their was through Chicago last summer shooting for Episodes 5-7 we came across one of these rare iron bar holders on Grand Ave. Sadly he has seen IMG_0476better days and is one of a few unfortunate muffler men across the country to be missing some very essential body parts. Way back in the day the auto repair shop who’s roof he stands on was called Ted’s Auto Body and was first reported on Roadside America in 1997. I am guessing he stood there for many years before that first report came in but his life changed on Friday June 18th 2010 when a storm came through and knocked everything from the waist up down onto the roof. The incident was quickly reported online on Roadside America and a few other websites known for their muffler men information. IMG_0483The workers at the shop soon recovered the detached body parts and shortly after the head disappeared. They stored the torso but without a head nothing could be done with the giant and so those sad looking pants have stood on top of that roof for 3 years now. In 2012 Dean Hickstein reported on R.A. that it had been two years since the giant stood complete on the roof and noted that he was “only half the man he used to be” and asked for the publics help to find the missing head. This tactic has actually worked in the past and in 2011 a head was returned to a giant in NY after the IMG_20120709_121607owners posted a plea for help on Roadside America (see picture to the left). Our A.G. crew arrived on May 21, 2012 and almost right away we pulled out the go pro for a quick roof inspection. I quick look at the footage showed nothing of interest and we shot our B roll and interviews and went on our way. It wasn’t until months later when I was editing some shots that I took a better look at those few minutes of go pro footage. There against the back wall of the roof was what looked like a head turned away from the camera with it’s face to the wall. By that time more then a year had gone by since our stopPicture 4 on Grand St and a call to what is now Ced’s Muffler and Brakes sent a worker scrambling up on the roof to have a look. Sadly the head was gone and we have no idea where it ended up but we do know that somehow after it’s initial disappearance in 2010 the head was returned to the roof and was there in May of 2012. Today the giant still awaits the return of his head and if you know where it is and could help with it’s return, give the roof one more chance to have a secret.

I want to thank the guys at Ced’s for taking the time to talk with me about the disappearance of their m man head. Also a bit thank you to “Annoyance” and their flicker account for sharing with us the picture of Mr Bendo in better days.

American Giants Episode #5

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After traveling up old route 66 through Illinois the crew finally arrives in Chicago area to check out the seven muffler men located there. In Part 1 of this Chicago section they discover some interesting facts and history on the muffler man located at the Greenhouse of Crystal Lake as well as the ruins of the old Adventureland park in Addison, IL. I think this is one of the more exciting adventures I have been on with finding the exact location of the park and going there. I was able to locate “the ruins” of the park now buried in the woods. Although the exact spot where the muffler men stood is now relanscaped much of the parks foundations can still be found in the back of the property.