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.