Restoring a Texaco Big Friend

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A Texaco Big Friend stands in Kalispell, MT in May 1967

img_2026It was April 2012, and on a windy but clear day, I stood in Pahrump, NV looking up at one of four remaining Texaco Big Friends. These days Texaco Big Friends are not readily identifiable to the untrained eye. When the Big Friend program was canceled in 1967, almost all of the giants were destroyed, except for a few who were drastically altered to fit their new rolls. Like his remaining siblings, the Pahrump Big Friend no longer had his Texaco suit, but was painted to look almost like Robin Hood, and held a large sign in his open palm. The giant had a non standard hat, and a big square hole cut in his back. I remember hearing the birds roosting inside and wondering why there was a hole in his back.

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I don’t have all the details of this particular Big Friend’s history. We know he was made in 1965 or 66 along with 300 others, and stood for a time at International Fiberglass in Venice, CA before being deployed. He was transported on a trailer that hooked to his platform, and tipped him down on his side for transport. The hands, head and hat were removed for transportation, and I am guessing he was used at a number of Texaco texaco-big-friend-october-1966Stations in the South West in 1966 and 67. It is possible he is the same Big Friend that stood at Molly’s Broadway Texaco, in Lemon Grove in October 1966. It is most likely that he was in the Las Vegas area when the program was pahrump-croppedsuspended, and somehow he ended up being owned by the Young Electric Sign Company or YESCO. YESCO is a huge sign company responsible for many famous signs in Vegas, including the Circus Circus, Vegas Vic sign and countless others. It is unknown what they used the Big Friend for, or where and how he was displayed, but in 1981 he was sold to Jack Stanton in Pahrump, who had him repainted in green Irish colors, and made to look a bit like Robin Hood with a new hat. Stanton opened Valley Manufactured Homes in 1989, and the giant advertised for that business until it closed in 2009. It is not known where the giant stood from it’s purchase in 1981, till 1989 when it was used at Valley Homes.

big-friend-down-1In 2013 the property was liquidated to pay restitution to a local family, and as part of the clearing of the property, the giant and sign he was a part of, were dismantled and taken down. The giant was not seen as having any value, but the metal sign and pipe was to be used for scrap and the giant was hooked up to a
crane, and lowered to the ground. The huge pipe that supported the sign was in the giants left leg, however the Big Friend was laid down on his right site. Sadly the weight of the pipe cracked the legs and completely crushed the right arm. The chest literally shattered into pieces from the big-friend-down-3pressure, and the arm tore off.  A shoe was lost in transit to the dump, and the giant was prepared for scrapping. Thankfully the local news did a story on it, and myself and others flooded the landfill with phone calls inquiring about the giant. At that point they realized that he was special, and a historic Texaco figure, and decided to save him. A few months later it was decided to donate him to the local museum in March of 2014, and he was trucked over and dumped on their back lot, with the big heavy pipe still in his leg.

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img_1027The former big friend laid in pieces for the next two years, and was visited occasionally by muffler men enthusiasts, and visitors to the museum. We approached the museum in April of 2016 about purchasing and restoring the giant and after a few months the board notified us of their decision to sell him to us, and we were able to pick him up on October 7, 2016. Neto and I flew into Las Vegas the day before and rented a truck to haul him back east. We arrived early in
Pahrump, and what I thought would take us img_4622about a half hour turned into almost a 4 hour ordeal. The pipe had been removed for us by the museum, but what we didn’t account for was bird poop. The giant’s arm were literally full of bird poop, and after 20 years it was more like concrete. We were not able to lift the giant because of the weight and spent hours removing the poop and bones before we could lift the head and torso into the truck. I have worked extensively with regular muffler men and the Big Friends are much heavier. It was all Neto and I could do, to lift the legs and the torso into that truck. Texaco Big Friends are simply massive and he almost didn’t fit!

img_4630He was transported to Illinois for a restoration that will start summer 2017 and hopefully be completed sometime in 2019. The next step is to take the giant completely apart, and start identifying where each piece of fiberglass fits, it will be like putting together a puzzle on his chest. We will lay the broken fiberglass in all the holes and reconnect them. At that point we will be able to clearly see what pieces are still missing, and we will mold new pieces from an existing big friend. Our giant is completely missing his hat and left foot so those pieces will need to be made from scratch. We will have to take a mold from a current statue and then duplicate the part.

img_4637In addition to making new parts we will have to completely sand the giant down to the gelcoat and also repaint and detail him. It will be a huge undertaking but we are willing to put in the effort and money because of how rare he is. When I stood gazing up at the giant in 2012, I never dreamed we would own him one day, and have the opportunity to restore him. The places Muffler Men will take you……..

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Joel Baker with the Pahrump Big Friend in May of 2014. Joel made 4 trips to Pahrump from 2011-2016, and eventually picked him up for restoration. We want to thank the Pahrump Valley Landfill for saving him, the Museum for catching our vision and selling him to us for restoration, and all of our fans and supporters who have encouraged us along the way!

Chief Bagnell Restoration Update #6

This is the final update episode in the Chief Bagnell Restoration Series. After 5 months of hard work the restoration comes to an end on August 12, 2016 when the Chief was set back up on his former footprints on the Bagnell strip. This update covers the moving of the giant to the airbrush show and we get to meet Kurt Robinson who did all the detail work on the Indian. The update covers the packing for the trip home and finally the set up and unveiling of the giant. We also dug up some old pictures of the Muffler Man over the years that he has stood at Two Bit Town. A big thank you to everyone who helped with the restoration, the local community who was such a support to us, and Iguana who has just been great to work with on this restoration. Hope you all enjoy the final update!

Chief Bagnell Restoration Update #5

Update #5 covers the final priming of the giant as we lay down 2 coats of primer on the entire indian. We hung the giant from the roof of the shop so we could get around and under him better without having to move him during priming and painting. After the primer dried and was wet sanded we started laying down the base coat colors on the shoes, legs, torso and head dress. The head dress took the most work with all the different colors that needed to be layed down. This took a lot of prep time to tape off each section before and after painting. In the end we put down the clear coat and took the giant down to be moved to the detail shop for his final detail work, all the shadows, highlights and details to the face, head dress and eyes. Update #6 will cover this detail process and Update #7 will be the final update and will be about his return to Lake of the Ozarks and setting him back up. This has been a ton of hard work but a very rewarding restoration for the American Giants team!

Chief Bagnell Restoration Update #4

We are approaching the end of this restoration in the update #4 video. We have completed the sanding process and moved to the internal structure assembly phase of the restoration. While Joel has been working on wet sanding the primed torso the rest of the team have been installing in internal structure into the giant. It is important that the Indian can free stand when he returns to the lake without using cables. Small imperfections in the surface are also fixed in this update. We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Chief Bagnell Restoration Update #3

We have been busy here at American Giants plugging away on the restoration of Chief Bagnell. As always with these restorations, the more you restore, the more you find that needs restoring. The extent of restoration on this one has been greater then we first anticipated when we first got him but we have rolled with his punches and the extra patching is almost complete. As this update explains, he had more spider cracks in him then we ever could have imagined. We have completely resurfaced his back to cover them up and will also have to do the same for large portions of his upper legs before we put down the first coats of primer. The huge job of sanding down his face and head dress is over and this coming week our focus will be on building the internal support structure so he can free stand when we take him back home. Our next update #4 will cover the details of installing the internal structure.

Chief Bagnell Restoration Update 2

Week 2 has been a busy one and we are happy with the progress we are making. Although not completely done sanding, we are nearing the end of that process. This week saw the completion of sanding the front side of the indian. It was a bit of a challenge pulling him apart and getting him flipped over but everything went well. The pants were almost completely sanded during the week and more then half of the giants back was finished. The end of the week saw us starting to repair cracks and body damage and work on paint colors. Our graphics department kicked it into high gear sketching out the indian so we can plug in any color we want to test out different color schemes. Hope you enjoy our second update of the  Chief Bagnell Restoration!

Chief Bagnell Restoration Update 1

American Giants is happy to release the first video update of our current restoration of the Lake of the Ozarks Indian Muffler Man. We are one week in on this restoration, and already have a large portion of the indian sanded down to the first layer of paint and gel coat. Next weeks video update will feature the completion of the sanding process, and also the disassembling of the Indian. We want to thank everyone for your support and encourage you to follow us on Instagram and Facebook for more updates as we help restore a piece of Missouri and American history! – Joel