My #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 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 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 has 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
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.
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 hard 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 service 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 in 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 for 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 and 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
knee’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.
Probably 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. The 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 International 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 have 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 market. 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.
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.