American Giants Episode #4

Video

After a few delays I’m finally releasing a partial version of episode #4. On this segment of the trip we deviate off route 66 to visit one of the rare female versions of muffler men found in Peoria, IL. She is known as Vanna Whitewall and has stood at Plaza Tire since the 1960’s . We were able to talk with Terry Swisher and find out about her history and hear some of her stories over the years. She is unique in the fact that her outfit is changed out twice a year to coincide with the seasons and she also still has her original International Fiberglass platform. From there we traveled on to visit the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, IL but this section of the episode has been cut out until I can get in contact with the owners and do some fact checking and permissions.

#54 Crystal Lake, IL – Bunyan

Image

It’s always nice to tie in a missing muffler man with a current one and that is the case with the Crystal Lake Bunyan. He has been standing outside of Lumberjacks Firewood and Mulch business since 2009 when he showed up out of the blue. There was actually some confusion among muffler man spotters as to exactly which muffler man was being seen in Crystal Lake. IMG_20121029_114506In 2007 two other muffler men arrived in Crystal Lake not far away at a greenhouse and at first it seemed the bunyan version had been moved to Lumberjacks. The other two muffler men had arrived from Ozzies Waterpark and they were footless and neither of them was a bunyan version so I ruled that out quickly. Our A.G. crew arrived in the May of 2012 and found the giant holding two big bags of mulch. We were new to the game and it was one of the first giants we started shooting extensively with the go proScreen Shot 2013-09-16 at 10.15.13 PM camera. He made a good photo op as he is one of the very classic bunyan versions out there with his yellow knit cap, red shirt and blue pants. Many of the shots we got that day are still used in the episodes and some of them were featured in the open sequence for the series. His history however remained a mystery Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 10.16.14 PMto me until much later in the year when I called owner Jack Foss to find out where he got him. I had a hunch that this was the former muffler man that had stood indoors at Wolfs Flee Market and before that in Melrose Park just south of O’Hare at Village Lumber. Jack confirmed my suspicions and seemed happy with Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 10.58.14 AMhis purchase. Roadside America has a picture of the giant during it’s indoor stint at Wolf’s Flee Market and I was able to get a picture from Jim Hejl that shows the bunyan during his days in Melrose Park. Interestingly Jim not only documented this muffler man but many others during the 1990’s providing a wonderful resource through his website when trying to find previous muffler man history and locations. Jim started photographing himself with larger then life objects and figures in 1991 after coming across a giant skillet in Penn Yan, NY. Since then he has travelled across the country photographing hundreds of unique pieces of roadside architecture as well as muffler men. The Bunyan doesn’t look much different today and we hope he will live in Crystal Lake for many more years to come.

Thank to Jim Hejl and his website for letting us post some of his pictures and to Jack Foss and “Lumberjacks” for clearing up the mystery of his muffler man’s origins.

IMG_0412

#53 Crystal Lake, IL – Indian

Image

IMG_0346My #53 sighting of a muffler man stands not far from the service man also located at the Greenhouse in Crystal Lake, IL. The establishment is impressive with a wide variety of plants, tree’s and everything your lawn or garden could need. The grounds are also nicely lade out and in addition to their two muffler men they have many other statues and yard art that is available for purchase (the muffler men however are not for sale). The pair of muffler men were first reported on Roadside America in 1999 when they stood at the now gone Ozzies Waterpark that was IMG_0266located at 20263 Rand Road between Long Grove Road and Lake Cook Road. They stood close to each other and had different paint schemes at the time.  In 2001 Debra Jane Seltzer stopped by and photographed them for her website. Also Roadside America wrote an article about them on their website around the same time. It was also noticed that they were both missing their feet, not a terribly uncommon problem with muffler men. In my post about the service man I mentioned their possibly history with the now long gone Adventure Land that had two muffler men standing at it’s front entrance. Although I’m unsure if they ever stood at Adventure Land this is the indian that was at Ozzies and he still stands footless today in fresh dirt against a tree at the entrance to the buisness. He IMG_0271has a unique paint job and I noticed his fingers had more detail then most other muffler men I have seen. He is the indian brave version of the indian, the other being a more fierce looking war chief that International Fiberglass made. The indians versions left today can be found with a different styles of shoes. I have seen them with moccasins like the burned Indian in AZ as well as

IMG_0270 shoes with indian tassels like the one in Parkersburg, WV. They also were sold with the same shoes that the cowboy version has. I am guessing somewhere in the Chicago area are two feet incased in concrete, what style they were we may never know. 

 

#52 Crystal Lake, IL – Service Man

Image

Although claiming to be a Bunyan version, this muffler man in Crystal Lake has been many things but I don’t believe a Bunyan has been one of them. Individual muffler man history can be a beast to piece together and often my blogs reflect my conclusions instead of the Picture 7hard facts although my quest is to always get the facts. I visited this gentle footless giant on my first muffler man trip (now showing in AG episodes). He stands with an indian version at the Greenhouse of Crystal Lake Garden Center in Crystal Lake, IL. He has suspender buttons like a bunyan version but appears to not have had the bunyan boots. He’s got suspeners painted on his shirt and a very interesting paint job around his neck line and collar. At first glance he looks like a bunyan in the face but a second look reveals a smooth chin with a painted on beard. So I would classify this one a classic Picture 9service man version. His history is a bit hazy but certainly seems to have roots in the Chicago area. He’s stood next to a green house and pallets of garden soil since 2009 when he and the indian arrived here. They were first reported on Roadside America in 1999 when they stood at the now gone Ozzies Waterpark that was located at 20263 Rand Road between Long Grove Road and Lake Cook Road. They stood close to each other and had different paint schemes at the time.  In 2001 Debra Selzter with RoadsideArchitecture stopped by and photographed them and Roadside America also wrote an article about them on their website around the same time. It was also noticed that they were both missing their feet, not a terribly uncommon problem with muffler men. There are actually a few muffler men in the Chicago area missing their feet including these two and the one standing on the roof of Guardian Auto Rebuilders Adventureland Addin Evergreen Park, IL. Also a long lost bunyan in southern WI also had cut off feet. All four of these giants have been cut off in the same place and it’s my guess that their feet were originally installed in concrete and were simply cut off when it was time for them to be moved or sold. In 2007 Ozzie’s closed to make way for a Whole Foods supermarket and the giants were reported missing that year before reappearing a few years later at their current location. So far I have not found any hard facts about their travels before Ozzie’s but I have had a few ideas. Way back in the 60’s there was amusement park located in Addison, IL called Adventureland. Today very little of it is left but I have found old pictures of the park at Lisa’s Nostalgia Cafe that show evidence of a pirate and a indian version that stood at the parks entrance. You can even see them displayed on the cover of the parks brochures. In 1977 the place closed it’s doors and the park quickly fell into disrepair but many of the buildings and rides remained forAL Map lower many years. The giants were removed but their feet remained until around 2005 when the entire area was cleared for new development. I visited the site in 2012 and found old concrete platforms and ride foundations in the woods but the entrance area had all been cleared IMG_20121031_121401and re landscaped and a huge office complex now sits on most of the former amusement park site. Although originally suspecting the two muffler men at the green house in Crystal lake as coming from Adventure Land I still have some doubts. It appears in vintage pictures from the 60’s that the Bunyan (then a pirate) has an actual beard and pictures from the mid 70’s show the feet cut off at the

IMG_20121031_123109knee’s and not the ankles as they are today. So where did the greenhouse muffler men come from before Ozzies and how did they lose their feet. If they are not the muffler men from Adventure Land then what happened to the Indian and Pirate that once stood at it’s entrance? Another great example of the mysteries of muffler men.

Special thanks to Debra Jane Selzter for the use of her picture showing the service man at Ozzie’s in 2001. For more info on Adventure Land please visit Lisa’s Nostalgia Cafe

#50 Wilmington, IL – Gemini Giant

Image

IMG_0105Probably the most famous muffler man standing today is the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, IL. He stands in the parking lot of the Launching Pad Restaurant and has been for the last 48 years. I’ve covered the different versions of muffler men on this blog and in my youtube series “American Giants” and the gemini giant belongs the rarest version, the spaceman. In the mid 60’s we were in them middle of the space race and in June of that year Gemini 4 was launched, it was the second manned space flight in NASA’s project Gemini. As these events were unfolding in Cape Canaveral the guys at international fiberglass in California decided to keep up with the times and make a new variation to their muffler man line. And so the space man was born. In addition to the arm positions and bulging veins he was also given a space helmet and often his clothes were painted a spacy gold or green color. To my knowledge only 2 space men have ever been confirmed as being made and I have yet to see evidence of more. Astro Oil CoThe first one seems to have appeared in an early add for international Fiberglass and pictures a space man with a surf board shaped sign that reads “Astro Oil Co”. The giant has on bunyan style legs with the pants tucked into the top of the boots but lacks the suspender buttons. Soon after what I believe is the same giant was moved to Coney Island and was fairly well documented there over the next few years first appearing with his helmet and then at some point it was taken off. The sign also was changed to read “Astroland” and he stood next to the giant ferris wheel. It is possible that the giant in the IMG_9976International Fiberglass add and the one at Coney Island are two different statues and if so then there would have been a total of 3 of these space giants that I know of to have existed. The only remaining space version standing today is the one in Wilmington and he is different in that he has on cowboy pants and what appear to be his suspender buttons appear in some kind of fabricated control panel that appear on his helmet just under the face shield. He is the only one to IMG_0014have received this “control panel” as far as I can tell and the other two did not have this feature. He comes with standard shoes but stands on a concrete pedestal that bares his name. Nearby stands the Launching Pad Restaurant that has just recently closed it’s doors and is now up for sale. Brand new the Giant cost $3,500 in 1965 and that has the same buying power as $25,955.11 in todays IMG_0092market. So even back then that hefty giant came with a hefty price and nothing much has changed. Although owner Morey Szczecin has received dozens of offers the giant can only be yours if you buy the entire property and so far it is still for sale. The giant has become a symbol of old route 66 in Illinois and even appeared in tourist commercials produced by the state. Hundreds of visitors still stop by to see him each year and just down the street stands a fellow International Fiberglass product, a Sinclair dinosaur. Our American Giants crew visited him in the summer of 2012 and that trip will be featured in episode #4.

#49 Peoria, IL Uniroyal Gal

Image

IMG_9887These 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. Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 12.06.00 PMUniroyal 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 IMG_9945businesses 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. IMG_9904All 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 IMG_9912gal 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.

Old Add Picture from Plaza Tire Co Website                For Pictures of all Uniroyal Gals still standing today, visit this web site

American Giants Episode #3

Video

IMG_9845Episode #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”.