After taking a long break from making Muffler Men episodes, American Giants has released a brand new episode detailing the story of Chicago’s Mr Bendo on the roof of Ced’s Muffler. In the early 60s a dozen or so, 21 foot unique Muffler Men were made by International Fiberglass in Venice, CA to advertise a muffler bending machine called the Bendo. The giants were called Mr Bendo, and ere purchased by auto garages who owned the machine and wanted to better advertise it. One of these giants was transported to Chicago by train and was in stalled on the roof of a Muffler Shop in Humboldt Park. In episode 7 produced in 2012 we visited the Muffler Man and searched for the missing head. Now in this follow up episode we reveal the entire story and where the giant is today and how he got there.
It’s always been a challenge to keep track of the history of Muffler Men because over the last 50 years some of them have been sold and moved multiple times! Once such Muffler Man is the St George Utah Paul Bunyan.
The earliest history on this guy comes from inside his left boot where the workers at International Fiberglass clearly wrote the date he was made. January 27 1964 is this guys birthday, which makes him one of the early models made. From there he was shipped to Boulder City Utah where he either advertised for a business or Casino, we are not exactly sure. In the early 70s he was purchased by the owners of a sporting good store in St George Utah. He stood at 968 E St George Blvd where Fox’s Friendly Automotive is today right behind a Sinclair gas station. He was owned by McKnights Sporting Goods and each Christmas they put a home made Santa suit on him to celebrate the holidays. By 1997 the business had changed to a motorcycle shop with the logo and name on his chest. Around 1998 the place again changed, this time to a car stereo outlet and the giant again was modified to reflect correct advertising. In 2000 the business was put up for sale and by 2001 the giant was reported missing. He was purchased my Billings MT collector Owen Johnson who has collected and sold a number of giants over the years. Owen hung on to the giant for a number of years before selling him in the fall of 2008 to the House of Doors in Cheshire, CT. They already had one Bunyan and wanted to put this new one up at a second store location in Salem. However zoning laws kept him from being put up and he was stored in the woods behind the Cheshire location.
Many of you have visited the Cheshire Bunyan and I know a few of you have ventured around back into the woods to take pictures of the second long lost Bunyan. Sadly the years have taken their toll on the paint job but the giant itself is actually in really good condition.
In October 2019, this Bunyan was purchased once more and has now been moved to his new home in McAlester, OK. We have very few details at this point if he will be be displayed publicly or how exactly purchased him.
Eight months ago I was contacted by Mary Beth Babcock who runs Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios on 66. She had a vision to have a giant Muffler Man standing outside her revamped gas station, and I seemed like the logical guy to talked to I guess. Many emails later we decided her best option was to have Mark Cline from Enchanted Castle Studios in VA, make her a custom one of a kind space cowboy!
Today that dream is fast becoming a reality with a scheduled set up day in May and the giant nearly completed. Hundreds have helped make this dream come true by volunteering and donations. Mary Beth is beyond excited to help bring a Muffler Man to Tulsa and this guy will stand just across the street from the Meadow Gold sign.
Last week American Giants visited Mark and got a behind the scenes tour, showing us just how Buck Atoms the space cowboy Muffler Man is being made. Mark is also currently working on a few Muffler Men from the now closed, Magic Forest park in Lake George, NY and gives us an update on those restorations. We have put together a short video for you all to enjoy.
Starting in 2011, I began collecting pictures and information on all Muffler Men locations past and present. Over the last 8 years that has grown into a large detailed map I have built. Every year I try to tackle a few of the mysteries, statues I have pictures of from the 60s and 70s but have long since disappeared. The best way to get information is to go to the local area and talk to people that remember the giant and may have information on who owned it. Sometimes these mysteries take years to solve and other times, they are never solved at all.
One mystery on my list, was the lost girl of Corova, NC. She was a Uniroyal Gal that somehow ended up in the outer banks of North Carolina in the dunes. The challenging part was every shred of evidence I had on her, was from the 70s with nothing recent. For years all I had was one old news paper article from the early 70s talking about the decline of the Currituck Banks. The only picture in the article showed a Uniroyal Gal in a bikini standing in the sand somewhere near Currituck. Recently another Muffler Man enthusiast named Tristan Sadones from the Netherlands, discovered a second picture of her that showed more of the surrounding area.
Armed with these shots I headed out last week for the outer banks and started showing locals the old pictures hoping for information. It wasn’t until I got within 5 miles of where she once stood that people started remembering her. I learned that she had stood in a place called Carova Beach and it is a community of beach houses north of Carolla where the road ends. Sadly I was not able to find her but I do think I got within a mile or less of where she once stood and possibly as close as a few hundred feet. If you have any old pictures of her or any information, we would love to hear from you! Enjoy the video of my adventure below.
Since 2015 American Giants as been restoring Muffler Men, and our list of completed projects is growing. Our passion has always been the giants, but what started out in 2011 as mostly visiting and research, has now grown into offering many services to Muffler Man owners. We help interested buyers find and purchase originals, we often take down, and set up the giants as well as transport them. We also specialize in building internal structures for them, as well as full restorations. Although it is difficult to find and purchase originals, a few undiscovered ones turn up every few years, and we are always on the lookout to find these long lost relics of 1960s Americana.
In 2017 we were contact by a salvage and surplus company in Maine called Marden’s. They had purchased a Muffler Man back in the mid 70s and named him Howard Huge. He was used in front a few of their stores over the years before being retired to their warehouse in the late 90s. While cleaning out that warehouse and making more room, he was rediscovered and they contacted us to help them find a buyer. We were able to connect them with the Wine Garage, down in Fredericksburg Texas and the purchase was made. The wine Garage then asked us to assist in his transport, restoration and setup.
We had to squeeze Howard into our already busy summer schedule but in December 2018, we were able to deliver him to Texas and assist in getting him up on a huge sign that was made just for him. Instead of explaining all the details here, we thought we would make a short documentary about him so you can get a front row seat, and see for yourself just what it is we are all about. Enjoy!
When American Giants flew out to Magic Forest in October, in preparation for the sale and listing all the items, we were floored by size of the collection. Many of the items that had been collected by Magic Forest over the years, were unknown to still exist. We were shocked at the volume of the collection, and how all these great representations of 1960 roadside attractions, ended up in one place. Imagine you like Texaco signs, and you spend 10 years trying to find one, and finally land one from some guys backyard that was posted on craigslist. Well for us it was like finding 300 sign variations, and all in one place, and all for sale.
It all started back around 1960, when Bob Prewitt of Lawndale, CA wanted to make fiberglass horse trailers, and ended up having a horse made to demo the trailers. The horses started selling like hot cakes, and he only sold a handful of trailers. He quickly realized he needed to switch gears, and start making animals and figures out of fiberglass. He really catered well to restaurants, western stores, ranches, dairies, meat markets, rodeos and fairs. These businesses took full advantage of the availability of these true to life animals. Prewitt sold a complete selection of cows and horses, including quarter horses, hereford steers, angus steers, holstein cows and even guernsey cows. He quickly adapted to the growing market, and started offering other animals, as well as options for human figures, like the bucking horse that could come with a rider. Prewitt advertised the rider as Casey Tibbs, and the figures sold by the dozens.
Prewitt was not a sculptor himself, and used others to do that work for him. It is really these little known sculptors, that are the unsung heroes of the 1960s fiberglass era. Gladys Brown was used to sculpt the first horses and most likely many of the cows. Sculptor Bill Swan was heavily used by Prewitt and he is the maker of the first Paul Bunyan Muffler Man made around 1961. These amazingly skilled artists, have almost been forgotten by time, while their creations are still enjoyed today.
Around 1964 Prewitt sold a large collection of his molds to a brand new boat making company called International Fiberglass. Just as Bob switched from trailers to the animals, International Fiberglass, also switched quickly from making boats, to producing animals, figures, and giant Muffler Men. International Fiberglass was owned by a young man in his 20s named Steve Dashew, and it was his father Stanley who helped him set up the business, and worked the deal with Prewitt for the fiberglass molds. Stanley also gave his son a trusted employee named Violet Winslow who is also largely responsible for the marketing success of the fiberglass figures and giants.
International Fiberglass went on to make hundreds of giants and figures from the molds purchased from Prewitt. They also made many new molds taken from sculptures formed by hired artists. The company’s success was due largely to its ability to make whatever the customer wanted. Animals and giants were altered to match the customers vision, and the painters were skilled and could do just about any paint job that was required to make each product unique if necessary. By 1966 business was booming, and major corporations were starting to take notice of the relatively small fiberglass shop in Venice, CA. Dinosaurs were being made for Sinclair, a burger family for A&W, tigers for Esso, a bull for Sizzler, giant cowboys for Phillips 66, Yogi Bear figures for the Jelly Stone campgrounds, a burger boy for Bob’s Big Boy and a huge service man for Texaco, to name just a few! Not only was International Fiberglass taking full advantage of the molds from Prewitt, but they constantly added to their inventory and by 1969 had most likely doubled their mold count by using new sculptors, as well as many of the artists who had originally done work for Bob Prewitt, like Michael McCracken who is the creator of all the animal trash can lids and the huge 17 foot giraffe.
In 1966 a teenager on his way to school, named Terry Nelson, stopped at the fence of International Fiberglass and stared at hundreds of Texaco Big Friend giants lined up waiting for delivery to Texaco stations across the country. He told his friends, “I’m going to work there one day”. That dream came true when around 1968, he got a job as a painter. Terry is responsible for much of what we know about International Fiberglass today. He took hundreds of pictures of his work, and kept original advertising materials. That entire collection has been donated, and digitally scanned by Vintage Roadside and American Giants, and gives us a unique look back in time. Because of Terry’s documentation, we are able to verify many figures scattered across the country today, as coming from Prewitt or International Fiberglass.
Sadly, the fiberglass figure boom of the 1960s, came to an end around 1972, when businesses started considering the giants old news, and the cost of shipping them soared. The gas crisis of the early 70s didn’t help matters, and International Fiberglass quickly ditched the animals and started making fiberglass molds for concrete construction. The last Muffler Men were made in 1972, and the last of the animals around 1974. Sadly little interest was taken in the molds and most, if not all of the ones made by International Fiberglass, were destroyed. Prewitt’s molds were returned to him, or so I’ve been told.
These days much of what was made back then, has been copied and reproduced. Most of the horses, roosters, Sinclair Dinos and burger boys, you see today, are all reproductions. So that makes the originals all that more rare and special when you can get your hands on them. So when Magic Forest dropped us an email in September saying they were closing their park in Lake George, and selling all their fiberglass animals and figures, we were immediately interested.
Jack Gillette whose father opened the park in 1963, spent much of the 80s and 90s collecting fiberglass giants and animals from all over the country. Because most reproductions weren’t being made till the 2000s, much of the collection at Magic Forest is original. Every theme park that closed got Jack’s attention, and he made multiple trips with truckloads of fiberglass to places like Time Town, Bensons Wild Animals Farm and the Great Danbury Fair, as well as many other smaller parks and mini golf courses. He essentially ended up drag netting a good portion of original International Fiberglass products, as well as original Prewitt animals, and they have been living happily at Magic Forest for years. Historian Billy Florio notes that when the great Danbury Fair closed its doors in 1981, Jack hightailed it to Connecticut in hopes of buying their old fiberglass statues at auction. He was largely successful and came back with truckloads of fiberglass. Interestingly, Prewitt had an east coast distributer for his animals so many of his animals had ended up at the Danbury Fair, and were in turn, purchased by Jack for Magic Forest, thus saving a huge original collection.
We spent a day at Magic Forest taking pictures of the massive collection, and many more hours on the phone with Jack, going over history and pricing for each figure. For us, it has been like walking into a museum and looking at all this original materia,l and being able to study it up close. It’s also an incredible experience, because all these items are also for sale! It is very rare that the general public, and those that are so passionate about 1960s roadside attractions, can actually purchase animals that were made by Prewitt, and giants that were made by International Fiberglass, and with such a large inventory to choose from. Many of these items have already been sold, but there is still plenty to choose from. We wrote this article for those who are considering a purchase and those who have already made one, so you can truly appreciate the history behind your figure, and the rare opportunity we all have at this moment in time!
To view the full listing of items for sale click HERE.
Magic Forest, an amusement park in Lake George, NY has been around since the 70s and since that time they have collected a massive amount of fiberglass. Magic Forest is well known in the roadside attraction world and to travelers. They probably have one of the largest collections of original fiberglass figures from the 1960s. Much of their collection was made by Bob Prewitt, International Fiberglass and FAST. Many of these giant figures and animals came from the Great Danbury Fair auction of 1987. Magic Forest recently sold their park and the new owners will be going with a new theme and are not interested in the current collection of animals and figures.
For those who collect old fiberglass giants and figures this is like hitting the jack pot. Included in their massive inventory are many sought after and well known figures like the Esso Tiger, Sinclair Dino, A&W figures, Muffler Men and the large Santa in the front parking lot. A few items have already sold and sadly the giant Uncle Sam figure is not for sale but returned to Danbury but most of this massive collection is for sale and waiting for you to check it out.
American Giants is helping negotiate the sale of the figures for Magic Forest. Once a price is agreed upon and the deal made, buyers will work directly with Magic Forest on payment and pickup. If you have any questions please let us know. Click HERE to go to the Magic Forest page and see all the items listed in detail.
The Pioneer Man as we call him today, is technically not a Muffler Man but one of the many other giant figures made by International Fiberglass. The mold for these statues was entirely different from the Muffler Man variations that we commonly see. The statues were developed in 1968 for the Wagon Ho! restaurant chain. Early on, the owners of the chain decided they wanted to visually catch people’s attention and turned to companies like Orion and International Fiberglass to make this possible. Don Williams owner of Orion, was a designer of air supported and inflatable fabric coverings, and he designed and built the huge covered wagon canopies thatcovered the restaurant. International Fiberglass was hired to design and fabricate the giant teamster, that would sit on the edge of the building in front of the canopy and drive the imaginary ox or horse team. These seated statues are 15 feet tall and Wagon Ho! called them “Wagon Masters”. The Pioneer’s hand positions suggest that the statue held reins or a whip, but he never did. The company opened its first location in Birmingham, AL in 1968 and moved its headquarters to St. Petersburg, FL later that year. There were plans to build 51 restaurants by mid-1969 and another 200 units by the end of 1970. Wagon Ho! even sold franchising rights to someone in Canada. However, the company soon ran into financial trouble, and had folded by 1970.
There were only about five locations built in Florida, the one in Birmingham, and a few others in the Vancouver, BC area. The location in Birmingham retained the covered wagon building and statue and operated for a few years as a Kelley’s Hamburgers and later as Dilly’s Deli. However, none of the buildings still exist in a recognizable form. Only six of the statues are known to have survived. The Birmingham statue was recently purchased by Bell Plastics in Hayward, CA. Other original statues can be found in Florida, Missouri, Alabama and BC.
At some point, standing versions of these statues began appearing in North Carolina. At Debra Jane Seltzer’s website RoadsideArchitecture.com, she concludes that Unique Fiberglass Figures either copied the seated statues or acquired a mold and added a different, standing lower torso. These standing versions were made and sold to businesses on the east coast, primarily North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee in the 70s.
One business that obtained one of these standing versions, was a restaurant in the Outer Banks. At some point the giant was sold to Forbes Carpet Golf in Nags Head, NC and was photographed in 1985 by the famous John Margolies. We don’t know much about the business but like many others in the area in closed down in the late 90s, due to a drop in tourism to the area. Fast forward twenty years and meet Damon McGee. He and his two sons discovered American Giants and our YouTube episodes around 2013. Damon had fond memories of roadside giants as a child, and wanted his kids to share his enthusiasm for the roadside attractions. One day while driving along a street in their neighborhood, they noticed 2 giant feet sticking out from under a house!
Anyone who has a passion for these giants knows that the ultimate adventure, is not too just visit one, but find one that has been lost for years! Excited that they may have just discovered a Muffler Man they talked of little else for the next few days, and about the possibility of owning it one day. Every day they would drive home from school that way just to see if someone was in the yard they could talk to, no one ever was. Finally one dark and stormy night Damon decided to get a closer look and after parking down the street, ran over to the giant and ducked under the house for a few selfies with giant, who he discovered was a pirate and not a standard Muffler Man.
It was time for some research and Damon quickly found Debra Jane Seltzer’s website, that shed some light on the rare breed of giants. He learned about Wagon Ho, and that someone in North Carolina had modified the giants and had made standing versions. He also read about one that had been at a restaurant in the Outer Banks, and realized he had just found that long-lost giant! He also contacted us here at American Giants about his find. We congratulated him on his discovery, and provided some more background information about these standing versions and pictures. Now that he knew what was under that house, he wanted the giant all the more!
Damon was a bit nervous about knocking on the door of the place, and so his friend Matt volunteered to do it. That resulted in the land lords phone number, and after a phone call it was discovered that he was willing to sell the pirate! The landlord mentioned he purchased the giant from Forbes Carpet Golf, and said that he also had a sword for him. A few days later Damon returned with a 16 foot flatbed trailer and 6 men to help lift the giant. They loaded him up, and drove him a few blocks to his new home. He had been repainted since the picture from 1985 and needed a bath after being stored for so many years. Damon and his boys were thrilled about owning their very own giant, especially one with so much local history. The boys named him Patchy because he needed so many patches and body work as well as a paint job.
Over the next few weeks, Damon and his boys repaired cracks and holes, and painted the pirate. They decided to leave the pants the way they were, because Matt really liked the way they looked. Once the repairs were complete, Damon arranged a Pirate rising party and had some friends over to help. It wasn’t easy getting a 20-foot pirate standing in the air, and he thought for sure somebody was going to get crushed by a falling pirate. They mixed up 600 pounds of concrete and shoveled it into the ground around the spikes under the giant’s feet.
John’s pictures from the 80s provided some history about the giant, in the fact that he had a gun and sword. Because the land lord never came through with his promise to deliver the sword, Damon made one for the pirate, and they are thinking about maybe getting him a gun. He and the boys still can’t believe they own their own giant and love him to death. This story is exactly why we have this website and share our adventures, findings and history with all of you. So more of you can find and enjoy these giants from the 60s. We may not be able to look for the tombs of the pharaohs in Egypt, but we all have a chance to find a long-lost Muffler Man!
Special thanks to Damon McGee for contacting us and sharing his story and pictures. Also thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer, her website and dedicated updates on these giants. Also Terry Nelson for providing original advertising pictures from International Fiberglass of the Wagon Ho team masters.
Join our latest adventure as we head North to snow country to save a wrecked Muffler Man. Muffler Men don’t pop up very often and when they do, they normally don’t look like this. However we are in the business of saving these giants, and we have yet to find one that we think isn’t worth the effort. Take the trip with us in this latest update from American Giants.
This is Howard Huge, until now Howard has been one of a handful, and growing number of Muffler Men, that exist, but are unknown by Muffler Men followers. During the 1960s and early 70s, International Fiberglass manufactured hundreds of these giants and now, 50 years later, around 200 are still known to exist. However, many unknown and undocumented survivors still lay in storage across American waiting for their owners to make their existence known, or a Muffler Man follower to find them.
International Fiberglass started out making the classic Paul Bunyan, and these soon proved to be wildly popular because of the revenue they generated for businesses. Today the Bunyans are still the most common of the giants, and 53 of them are still standing and visible to the public. The first Muffler Man was such a success that the company went on to modify that version, creating 5 other options, as well as offering to make custom giants as well.
Hundreds of Cowboy versions were made for businesses as well as the Phillips 66 Oil Company and 31 of these cowboys still exist and stand today. A Alfred Neuman character was made called a Snerd (known today also as a “half wit”) and 14 of this version can still be found. A standard service man version was made for gas stations, without the bunyan hat and boots, and 33 of this type are still around. The mold was heavily modified at one point to make American Indians. They made a chief and brave version that differed slightly, and 29 of these can still be found today. A unique raised arm Muffler Man was made to advertise a auto repair shops ability to bend and make mufflers, and these were called “Mr Bendo” and only 7 of these can still be found. International also made a 14 ft version of the giant which turned out to be a poor seller and was only sold in 1963 and 1964 but surprisingly 17 of these survive.
If you look carefully at the Muffler Man survivors of today, you will notice that 6 of them have a bow tie instead of a standard collar. This seemed to have been an option that the company offered, that a few customers opted for. About 12 of the giants in America are what we call custom or one of a kind giants made special to meet the customers exact needs. One such giant is known as Casey Jones and he was probably made for a railroad themed amusement park or museum in Boyne Falls, MI back in the late 60s or early 70s. Today he stands at the Ed Lowe foundation holding a giant oil can in Cassopolis Michigan. Ed Lowe purchased the giant at an auction in the mid 70s, and moved him to the foundations camp area, where Casey is surrounded by railroad cars. He is one of a kind with a unique style hat that we considered the only one of it’s kind until just recently.
People often share with me their memories of Muffler Men from the 70s and 80s and I keep records of all these memories, locations and sightings, even if the giants no longer exist in that spot. A few years ago I was contact by a Muffler Man follower from New York named Rachael. Rachael runs a blog called fuzzygalore.com and she has been riding motorcycles and visiting roadside attractions for over 20 years. She told me that her husband remembered seeing a blue and red Muffler Man in the small town of Oakland Maine at the corner of Fairfield and Kennedy many years ago. I made a note of the sighting and thought no more of it until August 2017 when I first saw pictures of Howard and started to piece his story together.
Howard’s early life is still unknown and we are still in the process of trying to piece it together and obtain early pictures of him. He one was probably manufactured sometime after 1966, and is one of the rare bow tie versions. He us unique in that he is also one of the custom jobs done by International Fiberglass and has a unique hat like the Muffler Man in Cassopolis. It is not known who ordered him originally but early reports say he stood at a Mobile gas station in Oakland Maine in the 70s and possibly late 60s. He was purchased used sometime between 1976-1978 by Marden’s Surplus and Salvage Company and named “Howard Huge”. The giant was used outside a few different store fronts, primarily Waterville and Bangor in the 70s and 80s. When the company continued to grow and open more stores, the use of the giant was discontinued and he was put in storage sometime in the early 1990s. He has been stored indoors since that time and is in very good condition with just a few common scrapes and scuff marks that comes with moving and age. He also has as a few small cracks under his arms.
When we were contacted by Marden’s in August 2017 we quickly made the connection to Rachael’s husbands sighting, and for the first time, got to see pictures of the long lost giant. He is a rare and unique find, in great condition for his age and the best part is, the owners were willing to sell him. Although he had sentimental value and reminds them of their early days, the owners realize that they woulden’t ever display him again, and that he would be better off with someone who would. American Giants an auction for him that ended on December 10, 2017 and the giant is now headed to a much warmer climate!