These days the female version of the muffler man is a rare find and many muffler man hunters will drive out of their way to see her. Our case was no different when the American Giants crew deviated to Peoria, IL after visiting the Atlanta, IL Bunyan and before seeing the Gemini Giant in Wilmington. With only about 12 left across the country a uniroyal gal sighting is always a must if your in the area. I had heard about the one in Peoria before planning our road trip (currently being shown in American Giants Episodes) and found her unique in that she gets an outfit change every year. Turns out she is no stranger to Peoria and arrived there 45 years ago in 1968. She was part of a grand opening promotion for the Plaza Tire Co. and she was made by International Fiberglass for the Uniroyal Tire Company. Uniroyal had dozens of these giant women made in the mid 60′s to promote their tires and the girls were set up for promotions at participating dealers of Uniroyal Tires. Around the same time she arrived in Peoria another uniroyal gal was shipped to Salem, IL about 210 miles to the south. After the promotion the giantess in Peoria was moved around the area to different businesses to help promote tires and other grand openings. After 4 years on the road she was retired in 1971 and given back to the Plaza Tire Co. Uniroyal was moving in new directions and discontinued the Uniroyal Gal program across the country. At this time the giants were either trashed or fell to private businesses and collections. At 17ft 6 inches tall and 450 lb she became a landmark in Peoria and has stood all these years in almost the same spot. Because people kept backing into her legs on occasion she was moved recently to stand on top of a wooden planter to keep her safe from cars. Interestingly if you look at her steel platform it is the same one that she was shipped with from International Fiberglass. All muffler men shipped on these platforms so the area reps could move them around to different promotions locally. She was recently restored and given a new paint job and renamed Vanna Whitewall! Uniroyal Gals came in a fiberglass skirt and shirt and had the option for these to be removed to reveal a bikini underneath. She is the only uniroyal gal I know of that still transitions between the two every year. During the winter she has on her skirt and shirt and when it gets warm off come the clothes to “announce pool season” as the guys there told me. They also took me in the shop and showed me the giant “clothes hanger” they use to hang her clothes on during the summer months. We got an interview and some great go pro shots while we were there and she was well worth the diversion! She will be featured in American Giants Episode #4.
Episode #3 is finally a reality after allot of hard work and research. The episode covers our visit to the town of Atlanta, IL and the bunyan giant that lives there. Interestingly I learned more in post production then I did during the initial visit last summer. While editing I was able to get in touch with John Wiess and the information and video he was able to provide really filled out the episode nicely. We want to thank him for his time and effort in helping us get this episode out as well as the Stephens family for their desire to help others continue the route 66 experience and for lending their giant to the town of Atlanta. I also want to thank Bill Thomas for the time he took to talk to our crew while we were in town and for all the work he has done to help the town. There are countless others who help out with keeping the giant repaired and painted, it really is a community effort. Although named “Tall Paul” during his move to Atlanta the giant is formally known as “The Bunyon’s Giant” This is to help us remember what he was for so many years while standing in Cicero. The reason for the interesting spelling is that Art Stephens didn’t want to run into any copyright issues so he named his restaurant “Bunyons”.
The little town of Atlanta IL has become a big stop for motorists traveling old route 66. With a population of just 1,700 it boasts a very unique old route 66 downtown on Arch Street that also includes the towns very own muffler man named Tall Paul. The area also includes an old diner, clock tower, route 66 antique store as well as other quant businesses. The muffler man is one of most iconic muffler men that exist today and the only one I know of to hold a giant hot dog. He appears to be a Bunyan version except for his clean shaven face and the lack of a knit cap. International fiberglass customized many of their giants to meet the customers needs so he is a bit of a cross breed with a cowboy head but with bunyan pants. He also appears to be made in the early days of International Fiberglass and is one of the few muffler men left to hold a custom accessory. I spotted him on our muffler man road trip last summer and he is a part of the first season of American Giants (episode #3). Along with that giant hot dog this muffler man also comes with a pretty interesting story that started back in 1965 when he was made. He was ordered by a man named H.A Stevens who was 43 at the time and wanted to start a hod dog stand in Cicero, IL. He heard about international fiberglass and the bunyans they were producing and flew out to Encino, CA to pick one up. He stated that this bunyan was already used by the oil companies at the time but also mentioned seeing many of the giants laying on their backs. Encino is 20 miles north of Venice and I was not aware of the giants being made or stored there. Also 1965 was in the hay day of muffler man production and business was going very well at the time so it seems odd this guy would be retired already. I am guessing the giant was new or almost new at the time of purchase and Mr Stevens payed 1,900 for his big guy. If you factor in inflation that was $14,084.37, a hefty price tag even today for a muffler man. On top of that he had it shipped to IL in 5 boxes and then had to have it set up. He replaced the standard axe with a giant hot dog and the muffler man was set up on January 8, 1966 on old route 66 in Cicero. That year was the golden year for muffler men, in 1966 both Texaco and Phillips 66 ordered hundreds of muffler men from International Fiberglass so the hot dog holding bunyan had a lot of company surrounding him. Mr Stevens named his restaurant “Bunyons” to avoid any copyright issues with other businesses. As other muffler men started to disappear he stayed on for almost 40 years at his post enduring bullets and arrows and probably other unpleasantries he doesn’t wish to remember. In the early days he stood on the roof but Mr Stevens wanted him to be more tangible to his customers and the children so he was moved down to the ground. In 2003 at the age of 81 Mr Stevens sold the restaurant and the next year his family was approached by John and Lenore Weiss representing the preservation committee of the Illinois route 66 Association. The muffler man was then loaned to the city of Atlanta, IL 150 miles to the southwest of where he stood for so long in Cicero. So today he still stands along old route 66 and is a major source of tourism for the little town. Literally thousands of people pass through Atlanta every year just to see the statue and get their picture with him. When the American Giants crew stopped by we learned he was getting a fresh paint job the following day by volunteers in the community. So he still looks as new as ever although I noticed a few signs of his true age. His torso no longer fits snuggly into his pants and a bit of a crack is visible. I also noticed his right thumb has been cut off a bit to make room for that giant hot dog bun. I have spoken with the painter that worked at International fiberglass and he remembers making hot dog buns for some giants to hold so I am a bit unsure if that hot dog was made locally in Chicago or if it is from International Fiberglass. So once more we learn about a man who’s life was effected by a tall silent muffler man and when people see the giant, they still remember Hamlet Arthur Stevens and his years of service to his country, his comunity and his hot dogs. He passed away at 89 but every day people still enjoy his contribution and travel miles to see it.
Special thanks to those who interviewed Mr Stevens and got his story such as Roadside America and the Chicago Sun Times. American Giants Episode #3 will feature this muffler man, town of Atlanta and our findings and adventures up old route 66.
American Giants just got back from an awesome weekend in Dodge City Kansas to cover the Dennis Hopper Muffler men at the 3I event held at the new expo center. We were invited to come out by the Carnegie Center for the Arts who have recently received the Dennis Hopper Muffler Men from the Dennis Hopper Art Trust in California. Travel is nothing new for the Dennis Hopper M Men and they aren’t done yet! They were cast in 2000 and since then at least one of them has traveled the world. They were both cast from a muffler man in LA named Tony who is one of the rare bow tie versions. They were each made to resemble popular LA muffler men, the La Salsa man made by Bob Wade in Malibu and the Mobile muffler man that appeared in life magazine back in the day. After being cast it is believed that the only time Mobile man was publicly shown (other then this venue) was in June of 2010 just shortly after the death of Dennis Hopper. The La Salsa Man however was no rookie to public display and was first displayed in Amsterdam in 2001 and then Paris, Vienna, Melbourne and even rumored to have been on display in St Petersburg Russia at one point. You can tell one has traveled more then the other, the La Salsa Man has it’s share of scuffs and scratches while the Mobile Man is brand new and in almost perfect condition. I’ll save a bunch of the details of how it was shipped and ended up at the expo center for the future AG episode but by the time we got there they were all set up and on display. Summer Bates who is the executive director for the Carnegie Center for the Arts is basically the mother of these two boys and she has found temporary housing for them at the expo center where the 40ft high ceilings accommodate the muffler men’s vertical challenges. With the 3i show coming up she got permission to keep them there during the event and invited us out for the occasion. So myself, Bo, Neto and Sam piled into the tiniest car we could find (32mpg) and after work Thursday traveled the 10 hours to Dodge City Kansas. Although promises had been made by each member to equally share the driving some of us arrived at the 3i show the following morning more worn out then others. We were immediately welcomed to Dodge by Melissa McCoy who is the project development coordinator for the city and she promptly took us to see the muffler men. In a building that size it makes them look a bit smaller then they actually are but these guys were definitely getting attention. After years in a warehouse they were making up for lost time and at their feet stood interested 3i attendees as well as tables with information about their history as well as a looping video of the Shipping Wars episode. Summer, Melissa and many others are excited about the arrival of the muffler men to Dodge City and welcome the many muffler men followers out there to make Dodge City a stop on their muffler men check list. The expo center that is currently housing the muffler men in a temporary solution and Summer is working hard on permanent housing for these guys. After a very full day of not only covering the muffler men but also the 3i convention we left with hours of B-roll and interviews for me to sort out in editing. We also left with a pretty good appetite that Summer took care of by taking us all to Boot Hill Museum Inc for a dinner and gun fight which we enjoyed thoroughly. Interestingly a muffler man named Big Matt once stood at Boot Hill many years ago and was finally taken down after his head kept blowing off in the Kansas wind. I was able to track down his story and history and will post a blog about him soon. From there we headed to Wichita where we visited the muffler man at Browns Tire (which is apparently worth getting up in the middle of the night for) and also caught up with Greg Holmes (The Lope) the proud owner of a muffler man head, both to appear in future episodes. We came home with allot of new content and information and I just want to sincerely thank Summer Bates, Melissa McCoy, Eddie Estes, Jeff Thorpe and Greg Holmes for making this trip possible and for taking such good care of us. The American Giants episodes are currently taking us up route 66 to Chicago but after they are complete I am planning to bump this Dodge City trip into the next episode. It’s not often two fresh muffler men get added to the charts and maps so make sure to stop by and pay them a visit on your next trip through the midwest.
If your interested, check out this behind the scenes clip taken while the American Giants Crew was filming Greg Holmes and his muffler man head.
The second episode of “American Giants” is offically released as of July 9, 2013. The episode covers the details of International Fiberglass the company that made muffler men as well as Steve Dashew who owned it. We also continue to follow Joel and the guys up route 66 in search of muffler men. They make their second stop in Springfield, IL and visit the Lauderbach bunyan and talk to his owners and find out some very interesting history. Also Bo makes a cool discovery when he mounts a go pro camera on a boom pole. This episode is a reality due to the help of the guys at Lauterbach Tire in Springfield and also the many photographers and help I got from Roadside America. Again this episode runs 15min and although I tried to keep it under 8 I was not successful. The plan is for future episodes to be under 10 min in length.
Standing tall in Springfield, IL the Lauterbach muffler man is one of the better known muffler men out there. He owes this mostly to his popular location standing on historic route 66 in west central Illinois. He appears across the internet in many pictures taken by visitors as well as in Gabriel Aldaz’s book. He is a classic bunyan version and is actually one of the first one’s made judging by the way his arms are connected to his body. This muffler man was featured in American Giants 2nd episode and myself and the guys visited him in the summer of 2012 and were able to get his story and history. In 1952 Russ Lewis started Midtown Tire where the Hilton hotel now stands. Business was good and in 1961 he opened up a second store at the corner of State and Laurel and in 1962 purchased what at the time was a brand new Bunyan giant from International Fiberglass in Venice, CA. In todays money a muffler man in 1962 sold for about $13,600, at the time that was about $1,300. Sadly that store only stayed open another year and when it closed the giant was sold to the Round up Cafe 24 miles to the south in Farmersville, IL. The giant stood there for the next 15 years until 1978 when I-55 was put in and the giant was sold back to the Lewis family. That same year the giant was set up on Wabash Ave at it’s current location and has now been there for 25 years. In 1962 he held a tire in his right hand and today he holds a flag pole, I have yet to see a picture from his days at the Roundup Cafe and I am not sure what he held during that time. Life has not always been perfect for this Bunyan. On March 12, 2006 a two F2 tornados came through Springfield in what was the worst outbreak of tornados since 1957. They caused a total of 150 million in damages and picked up the roof of the Barrel Head restaurant next door to the bunyan and carried it south out over the street. The roof then came back to the north and connected with the head of the bunyan which at that point joined the roof on it’s journey down the street and ended up about 4 doors down to the east. The newspaper shot a famous picture of a neighbor carrying the head back to Lauterbach after the incident. A local body shop repaired the head and the bunyan has been doing pretty well since then. As an interesting side note also covered in American Giants Episode #2, Russ shared with an acquaintance the success of his newly acquired giant. So sometime around 1963 Stan the Tire man in Salem, IL also purchased a bunyan for his tire store. A few years later in 1965 when the Uniroyal company did their promotion with the Uniroyal Gal Stan also acquired one of them when the promotion ended and the gal was left at his location. The two stood together for a time before the bunyan was finally sold to a collector in NC and the gal moved south the Stan’s store in Mt Vernon, IL where she still stands today. I just want to thank the guys at Lauterbach for taking the time to talk to us and for the information Jay shared with us during out visit. Also want to thank Darren Snow for the use of his rare picture taken in 2000 while the bunyan stood at his original location in Salem after his “wife” had moved on and before he was moved to NC.
As the Bunyan muffler men began to become popular and more and more businesses across the US started purchasing them International Fiberglass kept on innovating. They first started with the oil giants, Phillips 66, Sinclair and Texaco making versions of muffler men or dinosaurs that could stand that their gas stations and promote their products and business. The idea was a success and the reason there are so many muffler men left today is because most of them were made in mass quantity for oil companies, chiefly Phillips 66. Their cowboys still cover large portions of the US with and without their cowboy hats. The texaco big friend sadly is a different story and Texaco was largely successful in destroying almost all 300 that were purchased except for 4 or 5 of them. Shortly after Texaco purchased their 300 in 1966 the Uniroyal company also wanted a statue to advertise their tires. So International Fiberglass came up with the idea to do something different and make a female version of the muffler man. She was sculpted by an unknown artist who supposedly had a thing for Jackie Kennedy and sported an orange bikini. I’m not sure how many were made but altogether I have heard of 17 of them so far and 12 of those are still visible today. Needless to say these are one of the less common muffler men and new sightings almost never happen. International Fiberglass also made a skirt and shirt for the giant lady and these could be put on or taken off at the owners will. The Uniroyal girl in Peoria, IL is changed seasonally and during the winter she wears her clothes and during the hot summer she sports a red bikini. In Gainsville Texas owner Glen Goode even made the skirt of his Uniroyal girl longer so she could be “more holy” as he put it and in WV the Farnham’s Uniroyal girl now sports her newly painted bikini while her clothes lay in the grass nearby. The Uniroyal girl was originally made to stand outside gas stations and automotive repair stores that sold Uniroyal products. Like other muffler men owned by large corporations she was used in promotions and was moved from location to location by the sales reps. She stood on the same platform that the rest of the traveling muffler men and big friends did and you can still see one today under the Peoria, IL Uniroyal gal. I have been asked many time what she was originally made to hold in that raised arm. If you look closely at Glen Goode’s girl you can see a bracket inside her hand used to hold a pole or flag. I was told the Uniroyal Girl in Bradenton, FL once held an oil can back in the 70′s and the one in Blackfoot, ID used to hold a plate of food. However “she held tires” is the answer I am most often given and this would make sense since she was made to advertise them. Sometime in the early 70′s the Uniroyal promotion reached it’s end and in most cases the sales reps simply left the giants wherever they happened to be and so they went in most cases to the owners of the gas stations or repair shops. That is exactly how the Uniroyal Girl in Mt Vernon, IL ended up in the area and for her it was the end of the road. In other cases they kept on being sold and moved, interestingly Glen Goode found his in Wichita Falls and the one now in WV once lived in Mississippi at a fireworks stand. There are many interesting stories about these girls, ranging from angry locals upset over her lack of clothing to roomers that the girl in Bradenton once stood on Gasoline Ally at the Indi 500! I also know one once stood at the The St. James Infirmary bar in Mountain View, CA until 1998 when the place burned down along with the Uniroyal Girl inside. There are a few that have fallen off the charts and seem to be gone for good including the girl that used to stand in Ocoee, FL, Del Rio, TX and Chincoteague, VA. As always muffler men or muffler ladies in this case always keep most of their secrets to themselves and who knows how many more gals are out there and where they might be.
Current Uniroyal Girl Locations
Mt Vernon, IL Pearsonville, CA Ungar, WV Gainesville, TX Bradenton, FL Lamesa, TX El Paso, TX Hilltop, NJ Blackfoot, ID Rocky Mount, NC Peoria, IL Taber, Alberta