Watch the Eclipse with a Muffler Man

IMG_2602As we all know, an eclipse is comping up next week and America is counting the days. Today as I was looking at the map and lamenting the fact that I am 2 hours from the totality path, I noticed some muffler men aren’t. In fact, 15 Muffler Men, 2 Big Johns and a handful of A&W family’s are going to get a great view!

IMG_8126The eclipse will start on the west coast and travel east. The first International Fiberglass figure to see it will be a teen burger boy in Albany, OR standing just south of the line of totality at Shirley May’s café. It’s ladies first after that, with the Uniroyal Gal in Blackfoot, ID who is just south of the totality path and will get an almost perfect view. Two A&W burger family’s follow her in Thermopolis, WY and also another in Casper, WY. Next is the “indian”, actually bow tie service man version in North Platte, NB who stands on the southern boundary of the eclipses path. Just south of the path stands the Lake of the Ozarks Indian we restored a year ago, he will get an almost perfect view and he’s even facing the right IMG_9638direction. The only Bunyan to have a raised right arm in a waving position is next, not far from St Louis, MO. He stands along interstate 70 on the south side near the town of Foristell and is on the northern boarder of the path. As the eclipse continues to move across MO it will pass another little known Muffler Man lying on his back in a junk yard who will watch it go by. Next is Illinois and the entire American Giants collection will get a great view of the eclipse. Two Big Johns will also enjoy the event, first the one in Eldorado, IL and almost immediately after, the recently restored giant in Metropolis. The honored Muffler Man of the day will be the Mortons Gap Muffler Man that we restored a few years back in KY. He stands just slightly south of the line of totality and thumb_IMG_9293_1024also happens to be within a few miles of the location of greatest Eclipse. Another almost direct hit will be the Indian in Cross Plains, TN. This would be a great spot to watch the eclipse go by. The former El Monte, CA Muffler Man moved all the way to Gallatin, TN just so he could get a good view and he will if he takes his hat off and looks up. Next is the former Chicago Mr Bendo who also seems to have moved for the same reason. He is now known as Mr Hobby and stand in Blue Ridge GA just on the southern boundary of the path of totality. Last but not least is the Muffler Man in Washington, GA who is just a few miles past the southern boundary of totality but still almost a perfect view.

IMG_3063IMG_1861After that the eclipse passes over the Muffler Man vacant state of South Carolina and out to sea. So if you have the chance pick one of these Muffler Men to watch the eclipse with and be sure and send us a picture on instagram #mufflermaneclipse

The Giant Event!

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 12.34.52 AMAs many of you know, Bruce Kennedy of Bell Plastics in Hayward, CA has been collecting Muffler Men for years. These days his collection has grown to epic proportions and includes much more than just Muffler Men. In addition to the doggie diner heads, Sinclair Dino’s and Big Boy statue, Bruce has a few creations of his own as well as a classic Uniroyal Gal right out of the restoration shop!

Bruce has decided to throw a birthday party for his first Muffler Man “Big Mike” and everyone is invited. Neto and I will be there from American Giants as well as some of the guys from Roadside America and Weird California. This is a great opportunity to see one of the largest collections of Muffler Men and International Fiberglass products as well as meet fellow enthusiasts.

We know many of you from Facebook and Instagram and hope to see as many of you there as possible. Admission is free and the event will be open from 10am to 5pm, Sunday August 27. If you have any questions about the event, please feel free to contact us or Bell Plastics. You can reach us info@usagiants.com See you there!

Treasure at the Clover Leaf

 

 

Ardmore Big Friend 3I’m often asked, what is it about Muffler Men that pulls you in? I’ve never claimed to have that answer, but I do know that there is something fascinating about these giants, and their story. It’s probably a combination of different factors, that make finding and tracking them so intriguing. It doesn’t take long to get the “bug”, and after that, your forever aware of the giants, and always seem to have an eye out for them.

IMG_8622We don’t know how many were made, but we do know that there are still close to 200 Muffler Men out there, and even more that are tucked away in storage, or rotting away out in the back 40. It seems the rare ones are the most interesting. Like the 14 half wits that are left, the 16 Uniroyal Gals or the 7 Mr Bendo’s. And let’s not forget the rarest of them all, the Texaco Big Friend!

Big Friends wating for deliverytexaco-big-friend-1The big question is, how is it that 300 of these colossal service men were made, and only four remain today. Many of us have seen the old picture from 1966 of all the Big Friends lined up at International Fiberglass ready for shipment to various Texaco stations across the country. The sheer size and number impress us, as they all stand grouped together, making the flatbed truck seem so small. It’s easy to look at that picture and think, “yep there they all are, 300 big friends”. Actually, if you count, there are only around 22 in that picture, a small fraction of the 300 that were made. One can only imagine what a picture would look like, that actually showed all 300 of them grouped together. It’s hard to comprehend how large that group would have been, and yet, only 4 of the giants remain today.

TBF4We don’t know many of the details of why the promotion was canceled so fast, or what the deposal method was for the giants, but it must have been a good one. Today Big Friends still stand (or lay) in Oregon, Idaho, Illinois and Arkansas. In addition to that a few parts and pieces have survived. There is a Texaco Big Friend head in Chicago, in a private collection, as well as a arm and hand holding a bird bath in a backyard somewhere out West and that’s it. Or is it? What are the odds that with 300 of the giants made, there’s more than just 4 left, I’d say very high, we just haven’t found them yet.

Screen shot 2013-07-24 at 4.46.18 PMSince the guys at Roadside America started bringing attention to the Muffler Men, back in the mid 90s, the knowledge and interest in them has steadily grown and continues today. The giants drawn more and more visitors each year and many tourist towns recognize this fact, and capitalize on their local giant, or desire to purchase one. Business owners also desire the giants, and we have watched their value steadily increase from 3 digits to 5! However, even with their growing popularity, it has been proved over and over again, that they can be in plain sight and still go unnoticed.

DSCN5600Muffler Men always sell when they come up for sale to the muffler man audience, there is a high demand for them. And yet, finding them is the challenge! Recently a Phillips66 Cowboy sat on craigslist for months before he was finally noticed and purchased. A Uniroyal Gal also sat on craigslist for months in Baltimore before her owner stumbled on this website and mentioned her, she was sold within hours with dozens of would be buyers lamenting the fact that she had been for sale for 6 months and they never noticed.

handThen there is the story of Tim Loyd. Tim lives in Denton Texas, and owns a candy store just off the town square, across from the courthouse. He enjoys collecting Americana to decorate his store, and in 2011 visited Burley Auction in New Braunsfels, TX. He noticed a large, well defined hand being sold and purchased it for his candy store. When he got home he hung it from the ceiling to join the other unique attractions. He had no idea what the big hand was from, but it seemed like the perfect fit. Years past and early this year someone mentioned to him that there was a large head out in front of an antique store in Ardmore, OK. This intrigued Tim and he decided to drive up to Ardmore to see if he could find this giant head. Upon IMG_9696arrival at the Clover Leaf antique store he immediately spotted the head just to the right of the entrance. It had been painted a pasty white and had a cap on its head, and was staring happily at the sky. The owner wanted more than Tim was willing to pay so he drove home. But there was just something about that head, and Tim started doing some research. He discovered this website and started reading the articles, and learned about the Texaco Big Friend. How 300 were made and only 4 were left today. As he looked at those pictures, he realized what he had just found in Ardmore. It wasn’t long before Tim was headed back to the Clover Leaf, and secured the purchase of a VERY rare Texaco Big Friend head, to join the Texaco Big Friend hand he already had in his store.

IMG_9835Tim wasted no time in getting to work on the head. He found that with effort, he was able to remove the white paint from the face, revealing the original paint underneath. It took him about 20 hours to remove all the paint and get things back to original. Although worn, the Big Friend head came to life all over again. The hat has a few holes and cracks in it but demonstrates how old these giants are, and validates their vintage.

 

Ardmore is just another town in America, I actually dated a girl from Ardmore back in my collage days and visited a few times. That Big Friend head arrived at the Clover Leaf possibly around 2012, after being purchased at the Round Top Texas annual flee market It IMG_9697sat just off the interstate exit, right smack in front of the store, outside, for years, without being spotted by anyone that knew what a Muffler Man was. It never showed up on Instagram, facebook or Roadside America. It just goes to show you that, there are more undiscovered giants out there, and they could very possibly be in plain sight. In fact, another piece of a Muffler Man still remains at the store, yards from where the Big Friend head was. You just never know what tomorrows discoveries might be. So on your next trip through Denton Texas, be sure and stop by the Atomic Candy Store, buy some candy and check out one of six known Texaco Big Friend heads….and a left hand.

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A big thank you to Tim Loyd for rescuing this Big Friend head and for letting us know about him and sharing with us us all the details of the story along with the pictures.

Feeding Hills, MA Waving Giant

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 11.39.38 AMMy #70th Muffler Man sighting took place in Chicopee, MA in July of 2012. This was a unique sighting, because he is a rare breed of Muffler Man. Although made by International Fiberglass, he is not made from the regular Muffler Man mold. He is a unique giant that we refer to as a waving giant and he is taller than regular Muffler Men.

IMG_20121031_131317Waving Giants, although they closely resemble the Texaco Big Friend, are not the same. Texaco Big Friends show teeth and actually lack the top of their heads under the cap, while these guys have closed lips and a full head of hair. Waving Giants could be ordered with a dress shirt and tie or with a full suit coat as well. We know a handful were made in the mid 1960s but only 4 originals can still be found today. The one this article is about, another in Oakwood Village OH, a third that is stored in the attic of a business near Chicago and a forth that Glenn Goode found in Garland, TX in the 80s rotting away behind a business. Glen would not only restore this waving giant but make copies of him, although all of his, including the original have regular muffler man heads.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-1-53-51-pmThe Waving Giant in MA is one of two that we know of that had the full suit coat. We have uncovered a vintage picture of a waving giant with a suit coat at an unknown location but have no idea where he ended up or if he still exists and feel it is very unlikely he is the one from MA.

We don’t know when the waving giant was ordered but we do known that in 1970 Mario Cantalini bought the statue from a pizza shop, for $2,000 and moved it to his Mutual Ford dealership in Springfield, MA. It is likely thatScreen Shot 2013-11-12 at 12.03.16 PM the pizza shop ordered the giant new from International Fiberglass, as we have seen pictures of a waving giant head wearing a pizza chef hat on the lot at International Fiberglass. However after extensive searching I’ve never been able to find record of a pizza shop with a giant in Framingham, or any pictures.
Mario Cantalini’s new dealership used the slogan of “Buy American” so the statue was transformed into an Uncle Sam character and the statue’s chef’s hat was replaced with a top hat. The statue stood on the lot until 1988 when the dealership closed. The property was then leased to a used car dealership and things changed. The owner was not interested in keeping the statue since the “Buy American” slogan didn’t fit well with all the foreign cars they were selling. The statue was taken down and put into storage.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-1-51-37-pmCantalini was involved in many businesses over the years.  He ventured into the hotel industry in the early 1990s at the age of 74.  One of the hotels that he owned was known as the Chicopee Motor Inn when it was built in 1958.  The hotel was designed by the highly acclaimed architect, Morris Lapidus.  It went by several names over the years before Cantalini bought it and renamed it the Plantation Inn. The hotel’s heyday was in the 1960s when it was known as the Schine Inn.  It was a very popular place with celebrities like Muhammad Ali and Judy Garland. In 1999, the hotel’s most famous guest arrived.  The Uncle Sam statue was taken out of storage and transformed into a Southern gentleman.  The statue’s suit and top hat were painted white.  It was installed in front of the hotel facing a busy interstate exit.

IMG_20120709_201412After 14 years at this location, the giant statue was sold at an auction on Friday, November 15th.  According to an article in The Republican “Plantation Man” sold at auction on Friday to Charlie Arment Jr. of Charlie Arment Trucking in Springfield. The auction generated allot of interest and over 100 people were present to witness the event. Charlie won the bid at $11,500 outbidding others as far away as KY. He was sketchy when giving future details but planned to keep the giant in the local area. According to the auction’s advertising, the statue was sculpted by Sacha Schnittman.  While Schnittman did sculpt the Texaco Big Friend, I have not heard or read anywhere that he created the Waving Giant statues like this one.  However, it is possible.

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Terry Nelson Collection

I have yet to find a photograph of this statue in its early days as a Pizza Man in Framingham.  International Fiberglass started selling this particular model in the mid-1960s. I recently spoke with former International Fiberglass painter, Terry Nelson.  He showed me photographs of statues being assembled  in Venice, CA.  One of the heads (see photo at left)  wore a chef’s hat and could have been a Pizza Man.  This may have been the same style hat that the Plantation Inn statue wore originally.  I have not been able to find anything about “Too-Fy” or “Stoo-fy” which is printed on this hat.   If anyone knows the correct name of the business and where this statue was located, I’d love to hear from you.

img_6036After it was sold the waving giant was moved to Feeding Hills just outside of Agawam, MA at a shopping plaza on Springfield Street. In late 2015 the giant could be seen at the east end of the Plaza but in 2016 was moved to the west end and stood in front of construction storage building. In May 2017 the giant disapeared and we have yet to learn where he was moved to. If anyone has information please email me joel@usagiants.com

Thanks to the Plantation Inn for providing information about the statue during my 2012 visit.  Also to The Republican newspaper (see article herefor the information and reference to my blog. Additional thanks to Hell’s Acres blog for letting me use their picture of Plantation Inn Man when he stood at Mutual Ford.

 

The Green Valley Equipment Giant

img_20120709_175114Screen shot 2012-12-13 at 7.14.14 PMThis post is an attempt to continue posting information on my Muffler Man Sightings, picking up where I left off with me #69 sighting back in July 2012. I had been traveling across New York, visiting Muffler Men, and had just left Lake George. I headed east and just after crossing into Massachusetts, I stopped at Green Valley Equipment in the little town of Hancock. This was a special sighting for me, because it is one of the rare bow tie versions. Only a handful of these variants remain today, and other then the bow tie, they look just like the rest.

The Muffler Man is one of golfer versions made by International Fiberglass. We don’t know if he actually ever held a golf club, but he has a golfer’s hat and the same pants and shoes that the golfer versions had. We don’t know who first ordered him, or where he stood, but it is believed he was first shipped to NY or NJ in the late 1960s or early 1070s, shortly before International Fiberglass stopped producing the giants.

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Photo – Len Davidson Collection

The earliest record I was able to find of him, is a picture of him standing at McLaughlin Ford in New Milford, CT about 80 miles to the south of where he currently stands. The picture was taken in 1977, and he was taken down a few years later and somehow ended up at a nudist camp! We have yet to learn the details of exactly how he ended up at the nudist camp, but he stood there until the early 80s, when a group of teenagers took him to their high school and put him up on the roof as a prank. The police got involved, and he was impounded just like a car would be. After some time in lockup, he was purchased by Donald Whitman around 1984 and hauled up to Donald’s shop in Hancock.

By 1998 Donald decided the giant could use a nice paint job, and hired a sign company to paint him. In 1999 he showed up on Roadside America, looking new and sharp in his Green img_20120709_175050

Valley Equipment shirt and cap. Over the next 10 years the weather took its toll, and by the time I arrived he was looking really rough. I had been driving for over an hour and desperately needed to pee, so I trotted up behind the shop. That is exactly when Donald pulled up in his pickup truck, and I was a bit embarrassed as I finished up business and emerged from the bushes.

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Donald is a kind friendly man, and must have talked to me for almost an hour about the giant and his history, and took me inside to show me the hat that had blown off in 2010. He reminisced about the old days, and a simpler time when the valley was full of farms. The world has changed so much since these giants first started appearing across this country.

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Photo – Melissa Mendes

In 2016, I learned that the giant had finally been taken down, for a much needed restoration. A local artist named Melissa Mendes, took on the challenge to save and restore the Muffler Man, and from the pictures we have seen on her Instagram, she is doing an amazing job! I can’t wait to see pictures of the Green Valley Equipment Giant standing once again.

Special thanks to Donald for sharing the history of this giant and Melissa Mendes instagram page melmmmendes, and also to Len Davidson and his amazing collection of old pictures of these giants, that have helped us solve a few mysteries about former locations. 

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!