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.