While filming with Greg Holmes of Hutchinson Kansas, he mentioned to me that he had seen a Indian Muffler Man in Wickliffe, KY around 1985. He was on a road trip and had a distinct memory of the sighting, and seemed to recall that the Indian stood on the roof of a trading post. Recently I traveled to Wickliffe to see what I could dig up about the mystery Muffler Man. Very few have any recollections of the Indian that stood there 30 years ago, but I did find a handful of people that remember him. Their story’s varied slightly and some remember him standing out by the road and not on the roof. I was told that the Indian Hills Trading Post was owned in the 1980s by a man named Jean Laster and that he was now old and retired but lived nearby. Finding and talking to him sadly did not shed much light on my quest. He doesn’t remember many details from those days but he did tell me that he did not own the Indian but instead rented him from a man who made fiberglass animals. He did not remember where the man lived or what his name was.
As many of you know, I have been restoring a Muffler Man from Mortons Gap Kentucky that was purchased at Pistold Petes Pawn shop in Oak Grove, KY in 1995. I have been trying to find out how the pawnshop got him, and also recently visited Oak Grove. The locals told me that a man named Robert Ladd owned the business and he had left town years before after closing it down. I was finally able to track his brother down and get some
information. James Ladd remembered the Muffler Man that we are restoring and referred to him as the “broken one”. He told me that they sold the 14 ft lumberjacks in addition to giant elephants and even the full size Muffler Men Indians. He told me that a fiberglass sculptor in KY was their supplier back in those days and he wasn’t sure what the story was on the broken one we ended up with. I finally figured out that the fiberglass sculptors name is Paul White and that he made animals and figures in western Kentucky back in the80s and 90s. In fact, he made the chicken cars for Krekel’s Custard in Illinois. He also was the man who rented out the giant Indian to Jean Laster in the mid 1980s. Paul White would know the answers behind our Mortons Gap Muffler Man and how he got from St Louis to Oak Grove, KY. However at this point the trail has gone cold and I have no idea where he is or how to get in contact with him.
After leaving Wickliffe, I traveled to Metropolis, IL to check out the restoration the Big John Statue. In October 2014 the giant’s right arm separated above the elbow and 200 lb of arm and grocery bags came crashing down to the parking lot. All fiberglass giants like Muffler Men and Big Johns that were made in the 1960s are getting very old. The steel frames inside the statues are often subjected to moisture from rain and humidity. After years of accumulating rust, these statues can be toppled by high winds. Sadly this was the case of the Metropolis Big John. I met up with Dave of Dave’s Powder Coating and Soda Blasting, who is restoring the giant. He told me that the giant was full of water and 50 years of bird’s nests. In fact he said the entire left arm was full of sticks, straw and mud from the birds. He and his team have taken the giant apart and are sanding him back down to the gel coat and will soon repaint him and fix his arm. It is always great when an owner decides to pay for restoration rather that toss out an old giant. Our hats are off to the owners of the Metropolis Big John store.