A muffler man is a 23 ft (give or take a few feet depending on version) hollow fiberglass giant that was built in the 1960′s for advertising purposes. They were made by a company in Venice California called International fiberglass that was in buisness from 1962 to 1972. The name muffler man was coined some 30 years later. In the 1980′s a group of guys from Roadside America started traveling across the States cataloging offbeat attractions for their first book “Roadside America”. They started noticing the giants on their travels and that there was more then one version. In 1985 there was probably 20% more muffler men out there then there are today so coming across these giants happened a bit more frequently as one traveled across the 48 states. By the time their second book came out “New Roadside America” in 1992 they had about 12 of these giant men in their database but they weren’t quite amusing enough to write about as a group. It was also around this time that the guys started calling them Muffler Men because they had seen a few of the giants holding mufflers. In 1996 when they launched the website they started out with a section called “The secret plot of the muffler men” and from that point on the interest really took off. Sightings and pictures started pouring in from around the country and soon the Roadside America team started compiling a database of muffler men and built a map so visitors to their site could see where all the muffler men were located. Today there are hundreds if not thousands of people that know about muffler men and RoadsideAmerica.com still gets tips and updates each month about muffler men.
Today the tips and pictures that come in are mostly about already reported and known muffler men and people write in if one falls over or perhaps disappears altogether. Then someone else (sometimes myself) will report a few months later of where that muffler man ended up and all is right with the world once more. To find and report on a new and previously undetected muffler man is kind of like the best achievement one can make at Roadside America! These days very few people get the oportunity to actually find a Muffler Man that has never been reported on or photographed before. After 17 years of people looking and reporting on these giants, only the Muffler Men in very remote areas or in storage barns and laying in the woods are left undetected. I am guessing that there still may be over 20 or 30 Muffler Men or pieces of them that are in private collections or storage across America today.
The origins of the muffler man is still a continuing discussion so I won’t pretend to have all the answers. From everything I have learned and read it all started with a man from California named Bob Prewitt. Bob had a business in Lawndale, CA called “Prewitt Fiberglass Animals” and his passion and skill was making fiberglass animals. Actually his company or a descendant of it still exists today in Gibbon, NB and they make all the animals for these cities that sometimes have animal themes. For example fish in Baltimore and horses in Lexington, buffalo in Buffalo and recently pigs in Cincinnati. Around 1962 a guy up in Sacramento wanted a 20 ft paul bunyan statue and so Bob made him one. And so was born the very first Paul Bunyan Muffler Man. However the owner never paid so Bob hit the road with a large flat bed trailer with a giant Paul Bunyan on it looking for a buyer. In Flagstaff Arizona on route 66 he came upon the Lumberjack Cafe and sold the giant on the spot. It is unclear how many other bunyans he made over the next two years if any. Bob was not a big fan of his bunyan model and was much more interested in his animals. In 1964 he sold the mould to the father of a young man named Steve Dashew who had a fiberglass boat business and wanted to augment his sales a bit during the slow months by selling some roadside advertising giants. This became the International Fiberglass company the makers of the muffler men that now dot our country.
Within a few years International Fiberglass had gone on to make a few versions from the original mould to meet more customer needs. They made Indians for the Mohawk gas stations as well as Pontiac car dealerships across the country. Cowboys were best known for standing in front of phillips 66 gas stations holding a rifle and pistol at the hip. The half wits or Mortimer Snerds were popular early on at mini golf courses in Ohio and the New England states as well as New Jersey. Of course the Paul Bunyans continued to sell until the company closed up shop in 1972. From that point to now the muffler man population has slowly been declining till only about 180 are left standing across America today (this number includes all versions and kinds of muffler men) with some of the versions like Half Wits down to as low as 10 left.
It is a bit hard to figure out where the first muffler men made are today. I have noticed that somewhere along the way International Fiberglass changed the way the arms fitted into the shirt sleeves and some of the very early ones can be discerned because of this change. Many of the first ones are still in the LA area although the original one that Bob delivered stands outside the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, AZ. A few years after the Lumberjack Cafe got the very first M Man from Bob they bought another one from International Fiberglass. The first one came all as one piece but the second came in 4 pieces and those were stored in separate shipping crates. When the Lumberjack Cafe closed it’s doors they donated the statues to the Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and they have been there ever since. The original now named Louie stands outside the dome by the ticket booth while the newer of the two stands inside in the end field.
As I mentioned before there are still conflicting stories about the origins of muffler men and a few alternate stories suggest that Steve Dashew bought the entire business from Bob and then sold the first bunyan to the PB Cafe in Flagstaff on route 66. I have also heard rumors that the first Muffler Men were made in Riverside or San Diego. Interestingly enough Ken Johnson of Ken’s mufflers in Dallas received a call in 2002 from some guys lawyer up in NY who claimed that his client owned International Fiberglass, the moulds and all the rights to the giants and Ken would have to take all of his half wits down. This differs from Steve Dashews statement that he did not sell the business and simply closed it and the moulds were destroyed. Ken never heard back from the lawyer and his half wits still stand today. So the truth is out there but over the years the facts can often get terribly twisted when it comes to muffler men.
I want to thank Gabriel Aldaz for his book and use of one of his picture as well as Roadside America for the info they have gathered and pictures they have shared with me. Debra Jane Seltzer and for the use of her picture of the first Muffler Man. Also a bit thank you to Terry Nelson for the use of his historical pictures of Muffler Men advertising.