#59 Burbank, IL – Mutant Frankenstein

Screen Shot 2013-12-07 at 10.20.43 PMIMG_0689Just when you think you have figured out a pattern for Muffler Men, one will turn up that breaks the rules. International Fiberglass’ Muffler Men were often customized for the customer. Some people believe that the Frankenstein statue at Haunted Trails near Chicago was one of these made-to-order statues.  However, I don’t believe that this statue was produced by International Fiberglass.

The Frankenstein at Haunted Trails Family Amusement Park in Burbank, IL  bears a strong resemblance to Muffler Men.  His general stance and the wrinkles of his pants are a dead match. His hands are also positioned with the  right palm up, left palm down like the classic Muffler Man.  However, that’s where the similarities end. The Frankenstein head , shoulder pads, tie, and bloody axe are unique. The statue also has an iron bar stuck through his neck.

IMG_0682This statue’s history varies depending on who you talk to but it seems that he first appeared at Haunted Trails in 1977. Originally, Haunted Trails was known as “Happy Trails” and used a clown mascot. I have not seen any photos of this clown but I believe it was smaller than a Muffler Man and stood on the Happy Trails sign. Shortly after the park changed its name and adopted a monster theme, the Frankenstein statue arrived.  According to one source, it cost the park $5,000.

Screen Shot 2013-12-07 at 10.23.01 PMWe can already rule out that International Fiberglass made this statue since that company had folded by the early 1970s.  It has been reported that the statue came from Wisconsin.  The logical conclusion is that Creative Display made the statue.  That fiberglass statue manufacturer and precursor to FAST, was located in Sparta, WI at the time.  Since the statue’s pants, proportions and general stance closely mirror the typical Muffler Man, we have to assume that Creative Display got its hands on a mold or made one from a statue and then customized to make this Frankenstein.


IMG_0706Although this statue was apparently created as a one-off and was built much later than the others, I still refer to it as a Muffler Man. He was the last statue that we visited on our Illinois roadtrip in the summer of 2012.  The American Giants Episode #8 video will close out this trip.  The series will now move on to some of our most recent adventures.

Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer (RoadsideArchitecture.com) for her input and editing help. American Giants Episode #8 will cover our trip to Haunted Trails. Episode has a release date for Dec 19, 2013

American Giants Episode #7

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IMG_0483We’re happy to release Episode #7 after a long weekend of editing. This episode continues to follow us on our journey through Chicago. The first stop on this leg is at Ced’s Muffler and Brakes on Grand  Avenue.  This statue at Ced’s is known as a Mr Bendo.   There are a couple of other Mr. Bendos elsewhere in  the U.S.. We make an interesting discovery on the roof of the building using our GoPro camera. We also make a quick stop at the “Eye Care Indian” that has been on a Chicago rooftop for a very long time.  This episode wraps up with a quick preview of Episode #8.  You will see more of Bo and Neto in that video as we move on to some of the more famous Muffler Men and try to figure out their histories. Episode #8 will be the last in the Chicago series.  Episode #9 will cover our recent trip to Dodge City, KS to visit the Dennis Hopper Muffler Men.

Plantation Inn Man Auctioned for $11,500

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Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 11.39.38 AMThe Plantation Inn Man may be witnessing some of his last sunsets at the hotel located in Chicopee, MA. I was recently alerted by one of my blog followers that the statue was going up for auction. Thankfully, I had the chance to see him in July 2012.  I got some great shots of him then and got some information about his history. The statue was built by International Fiberglass in Venice, CA as a Pizza Man. The statue was installed in the mid to late 1960s at a pizza shop in Framingham, MA.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 12.03.16 PMIn 1970, Mario Cantalini bought the statue from the pizza shop for $2,000 and moved it to his Mutual Ford dealership in Springfield, MA..  The dealership used the slogan of “Buy American” so the statue was transformed into an Uncle Sam character and the statue’s chef’s hat was replaced with a top hat. The statue stood on the lot until 1988 when the dealership closed. The property was leased to a used car dealership and the statue was put in storage. The owner was not interested in keeping the statue since the “Buy American” slogan didn’t fit well with all the foreign cars they were selling. The statue was taken down and put into storage.

IMG_20120709_200051Cantalini was involved in many businesses over the years.  He ventured into the hotel industry in the early 1990s at the age of 74.  One of the hotels that he owned was known as the Chicopee Motor Inn when it was built in 1958.  The hotel was designed by the highly acclaimed architect, Morris Lapidus.  It went by several names over the years before Cantalini bought it and renamed it the Plantation Inn.

The hotel’s heyday was in the 1960s when it was known as the Schine Inn.  It was a very popular place with celebrities like Muhammad Ali and Judy Garland.. In 1999, the hotel’s most famous guest arrived.  The Uncle Sam statue was taken out of storage and transformed into a Southern gentleman.  The statue’s suit and top hat were painted white.  It was installed in front of the hotel facing a busy interstate exit.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 11.45.37 AMAfter 14 years at this location, the giant statue will be moving again. It was sold at an auction on Friday, November 15th.  According to an article in The Republican “Plantation Man” sold at auction on Friday to Charlie Arment Jr. of Charlie Arment Trucking in Springfield. The auction generated allot of interest and over 100 people were present to witness the event. Charlie won the bid at $11,500 outbidding others as far away as KY. He was sketchy when giving future details but plans to keep the giant in the local area. According to the auction’s advertising, the statue was sculpted by Sacha Schnittman.  While Schnittman did sculpt the Texaco Big Friend, I have not heard or read anywhere that he created the Waving Giant statues like this one.  However, it is possible.

IMG_4650I have yet to find a photograph of this statue in its early days as a Pizza Man in Framingham.  International Fiberglass started selling this particular model in the mid-1960s.  A few of them still exist in Chicago, IL and Oakwood Village, OH. There are also a few in Texas with non-standard heads and hands. I recently spoke with former International Fiberglass painter, Terry Nelson.  He showed me photographs of statues being assembled  in Venice, CA.  One of the heads (see photo at left)  wore a chef’s hat and could have been a Pizza Man.  This may have been the same style hat that the Plantation Inn statue wore originally.  I have not been able to find anything about “Too-Fy” or “Stoo-fy” which is printed on this hat.   If anyone knows the correct name of the business and where this statue was located, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks to the Plantation Inn for providing information about the statue during my 2012 visit.  Also to The Republican newspaper (see article herefor the information and reference to my blog. Debra Jane Seltzer (RoadsideArchitecture.com) for her input and editing help. Additional thanks to Hell’s Acres blog for letting me use their picture of Plantation Inn Man when he stood at Mutual Ford.

#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, Sacha 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 at the Pahrump Valley 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.