Digging up Giants in Nags Head!


Photo: Terry Nelson Collection


Photo: Terry Nelson Collection

The Pioneer Man as we call him today, is technically not a Muffler Man but one of the many other giant figures made by International Fiberglass. The mold for these statues was entirely different from the Muffler Man variations that we commonly see.  The statues were developed in 1968 for the Wagon Ho! restaurant chain.  Early on, the owners of the chain decided they wanted to visually catch people’s attention and turned to companies like Orion and International Fiberglass to make this possible.  Don Williams owner of Orion, was a designer of air supported and inflatable fabric coverings, and he designed and built the huge covered wagon canopies thatSarasota Wagon Ho 1960'scovered the restaurant. International Fiberglass was hired to design and fabricate the giant teamster, that would sit on the edge of the building in front of the canopy and drive the imaginary ox or horse team.  These seated statues are 15 feet tall and Wagon Ho! called them “Wagon Masters”.  The Pioneer’s hand positions suggest that the statue held reins or a whip, but he never did. The company opened its first location in Birmingham, AL in 1968 and moved its headquarters to St. Petersburg, FL later that year.  There were plans to build 51 restaurants by mid-1969 and another 200 units by the end of 1970.  Wagon Ho! even sold franchising rights to someone in Canada.  However, the company soon ran into financial trouble, and had folded by 1970.

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Photo: James Laughlin

There were only about five locations built in Florida, the one in Birmingham, and a few others in the Vancouver, BC area.  The location in Birmingham retained the covered wagon building and statue and operated for a few years as a Kelley’s Hamburgers and later as Dilly’s Deli.  However, none of the buildings still exist in a recognizable form.  Only six of the statues are known to have survived.  The Birmingham statue was recently purchased by Bell Plastics in Hayward, CA.  Other original statues can be found in Florida, Missouri, Alabama and BC.


At some point, standing versions of these statues began appearing in North Carolina.  At Debra Jane Seltzer’s website RoadsideArchitecture.com, she concludes that Unique Fiberglass Figures either copied the seated statues or acquired a mold and added a different, standing lower torso. These standing versions were made and sold to businesses on the east coast, primarily North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee in the 70s.

Forbes Carpet Golf Nags Head 1985

Photo – John Margolies 1985

One business that obtained one of these standing versions, was a restaurant in the Outer Banks. At some point the giant was sold to Forbes Carpet Golf in Nags Head, NC and was photographed in 1985 by the famous John Margolies. We don’t know much about the business but like many others in the area in closed down in the late 90s, due to a drop in tourism to the area. Fast forward twenty years and meet Damon McGee. He and his two sons discovered American Giants and our YouTube episodes around 2013. Damon had fond memories of roadside giants as a child, and wanted his kids to share his enthusiasm for the roadside attractions. One day while driving along a street in their neighborhood, they noticed 2 giant feet sticking out from under a house!

PatchyAnyone who has a passion for these giants knows that the ultimate adventure, is not too just visit one, but find one that has been lost for years! Excited that they may have just discovered a Muffler Man they talked of little else for the next few days, and about the possibility of owning it one day. Every day they would drive home from school that way just to see if someone was in the yard they could talk to, no one ever was. Finally one dark and stormy night Damon decided to get a closer look and after parking down the street, ran over to the giant and ducked under the house for a few selfies with giant, who he discovered was a pirate and not a standard Muffler Man.

IMG_3711It was time for some research and Damon quickly found Debra Jane Seltzer’s website, that shed some light on the rare breed of giants. He learned about Wagon Ho, and that someone in North Carolina had modified the giants and had made standing versions. He also read about one that had been at a restaurant in the Outer Banks, and realized he had just found that long-lost giant! He also contacted us here at American Giants about his find. We congratulated him on his discovery, and provided some more background information about these standing versions and pictures. Now that he knew what was under that house, he wanted the giant all the more!

Damon was a bit nervous about knocking on the door of the place, and so his friend Matt volunteered to do it. That resulted in the land lords phone number, and after a Patchy2phone call it was discovered that he was willing to sell the pirate! The landlord mentioned he purchased the giant from Forbes Carpet Golf, and said that he also had a sword for him. A few days later Damon returned with a 16 foot flatbed trailer and 6 men to help lift the giant. They loaded him up, and drove him a few blocks to his new home. He had been repainted since the picture from 1985 and needed a bath after being stored for so many years. Damon and his boys were thrilled about owning their very own giant, especially one with so much local history. The boys named him Patchy because he needed so many patches and body work as well as a paint job.

Patchy3Over the next few weeks, Damon and his boys repaired cracks and holes, and painted the pirate. They decided to leave the pants the way they were, because Matt really liked the way they looked. Once the repairs were complete, Damon arranged a Pirate rising party and had some friends over to help. It wasn’t easy getting a 20-foot pirate standing in the air, and he thought for sure somebody was going to get crushed by a falling pirate. They mixed up 600 pounds of concrete and shoveled it into the ground around the spikes under the giant’s feet.


patchy10John’s pictures from the 80s provided some history about the giant, in the fact that he had a gun and sword. Because the land lord never came through with his promise to deliver the sword, Damon made one for the pirate, and they are thinking about maybe getting him a gun. He and the boys still can’t believe they own their own giant and love him to death. This story is exactly why we have this website and share our adventures, findings and history with all of you. So more of you can find and enjoy these giants from the 60s. We may not be able to look for the tombs of the pharaohs in Egypt, but we all have a chance to find a long-lost Muffler Man!

Special thanks to Damon McGee for contacting us and sharing his story and pictures. Also thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer, her website and dedicated updates on these giants. Also Terry Nelson for providing original advertising pictures from International Fiberglass of the Wagon Ho team masters. 


Saving a Canadian Muffler Man

Join our latest adventure as we head North to snow country to save a wrecked Muffler Man. Muffler Men don’t pop up very often and when they do, they normally don’t look like this. However we are in the business of saving these giants, and we have yet to find one that we think isn’t worth the effort. Take the trip with us in this latest update from American Giants.

Howard Huge



2017-08-02 10.10.23This is Howard Huge, until now Howard has been one of a handful, and growing number of Muffler Men, that exist, but are unknown by Muffler Men followers. During the 1960s and early 70s, International Fiberglass manufactured hundreds of these giants and now, 50 years later, around 200 are still known to exist. However, many unknown and undocumented survivors still lay in storage across American waiting for their owners to make their existence known, or a Muffler Man follower to find them.

Unknown New England BunyanInternational Fiberglass started out making the classic Paul Bunyan, and these soon proved to be wildly popular because of the revenue they generated for businesses. Today the Bunyans are still the most common of the giants, and 53 of them are still standing and visible to the public. The first Muffler Man was such a success that the company went on to modify that version, creating 5 other options, as well as offering to make custom giants as well.

Hundreds of Cowboy versions were made for Snerdbusinesses as well as the Phillips 66 Oil Company and 31 of these cowboys still exist and stand today. A Alfred Neuman character was made called a Snerd (known today also as a “half wit”) and 14 of this version can still be found. A standard service man version was made for gas stations, without the bunyan hat and boots, and 33 of this type are still around. The mold was heavily modified at one point to make American Indians. They made a chief and brave version that differed slightly, and 29 of these can still be found today. A unique raised arm Muffler Man was made to advertise a auto repair shops ability to bend and make mufflers, and these were called “Mr Bendo” and only 7 of these can still be found. International also made a 14 ft version of the giant which turned out to be a poor seller and was only sold in 1963 and 1964 but surprisingly 17 of these survive.

thumb_IMG_8749_1024If you look carefully at the Muffler Man survivors of today, you will notice that 6 of them have a bow tie instead of a standard collar. This seemed to have been an option that the DCIM100MEDIADJI_0015.JPGcompany offered, that a few customers opted for. About 12 of the giants in America are what we call custom or one of a kind giants made special to meet the customers exact needs. One such giant is known as Casey Jones and he was probably made for a railroad themed amusement park or museum in Boyne Falls, MI back in the late 60s or early 70s. Today he stands at the Ed Lowe foundation holding a giant oil can in Cassopolis Michigan. Ed Lowe purchased the giant at an auction in the mid 70s, and moved him to the foundations camp area, where Casey is surrounded by railroad cars. He is one of a kind with a unique style hat that we considered the only one of it’s kind until just recently.

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One of Rachael’s Muffler Man stops in Cheshire, CT – Photo fuzzygalore.com

People often share with me their memories of Muffler Men from the 70s and 80s and I keep records of all these memories, locations and sightings, even if the giants no longer exist in that spot. A few years ago I was contact by a Muffler Man follower from New York named Rachael. Rachael runs a blog called fuzzygalore.com and she has been riding motorcycles and visiting roadside attractions for over 20 years. She told me that her husband remembered seeing a blue and red Muffler Man in the small town of Oakland Maine at the corner of Fairfield and Kennedy many years ago. I made a note of the sighting and thought no more of it until August 2017 when I first saw pictures of Howard and started to piece his story together.

Atlantic City 1965

A Muffler Man almost identical to Howard in Atlantic City 1965.

2017-10-13 11.02.18-1Howard’s early life is still unknown and we are still in the process of trying to piece it together and obtain early pictures of him. He one was probably manufactured sometime after 1966, and is one of the rare bow tie versions. He us unique in that he is also one of the custom jobs done by International Fiberglass and has a unique hat like the Muffler Man in Cassopolis. It is not known who ordered him originally but early reports say he stood at a Mobile gas station in Oakland Maine in the 70s and possibly late 60s.  2017-08-02 10.10.50He was purchased used sometime between 1976-1978 by Marden’s Surplus and Salvage Company and named “Howard Huge”. The giant was used outside a few different store fronts, primarily Waterville and Bangor in the 70s and 80s. When the company continued to grow and open more stores, the use of the giant was discontinued and he was put in storage sometime in the early 1990s. He has been stored indoors since that time and is in very good condition with just a few common scrapes and scuff marks that comes with moving and age. He also has as a few small cracks under his arms.

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Big guy (1)When we were contacted by Marden’s in August 2017 we quickly made the connection to Rachael’s husbands sighting, and for the first time, got to see pictures of the long lost giant. He is a rare and unique find, in great condition for his age and the best part is, the owners were willing to sell him. Although he had sentimental value and reminds them of their early days, the owners realize that they woulden’t ever display him again, and that he would be better off with someone who would. American Giants an auction for him that ended on December 10, 2017 and the giant is now headed to a much warmer climate!


The Dodge City Muffler Man

Dodge City Phillips 66 CowboyWith almost 200 original Muffler Man still standing across America, Canada and even a few in other countries, one can wonder how many were made new in the 60s and 70s. I think one thing that fascinates us about these giants is their history. They have a connection with the past, and they all hide stories that are hard to discover. I’m on a never ending quest to find out their stories and when I do, they never disappoint. The challenge is, most of the original owners of these giants have past away, and the history and stories with them. This makes it challenging, but not impossible to connect the dots on where these giants have been, and the secrets they are hiding.

IMG_3241Recently I have been going state by state on instagram, detailing each Muffler Man as we go and briefing us all on their individual history. In doing this I have answered questions I have had for years, by uncovering details that connected current locations with far away stories. One such mystery has been the Muffler Man of Dodge City, KS.


In 2013 the American Giants team traveled to IMG_9186Dodge City to see Dennis Hoppers Muffler Men. Dennis was born and raised in Dodge city and later in life he ran some traveling art shows. He was inspired by two Muffler Men and decided to pull a mold from one of the giants in LA and create near identical copies to the La Salsa Man and a vintage Muffler Man standing at a mobil gas station featured in Life Magazine. These giants toured California and the world before Dennis died and they were put in storage. Years later his firm donated the giants to his home town of Dodge City and so we showed up to see them and get some interviews for American Giants Episodes nine and ten.

photo 5-4While in town we discovered that Dodge City had it’s own Muffler Man, but no one seemed to know where it had ended up. I was told by some, that it was in storage, while others claimed he had been hauled off to the landfill. We were put in touch with a man named Larry who’s Uncle Dale Bushell had first owned the giant. Larry was just a teenager in the mid 60s but remembered the Muffler Man, how could you not? He agreed to meet with us at the Carnegie Art Center and show us some old pictures.

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 12.53.35 AMUncle Dale was a Phillips 66 jobber. A jobber was the guy who made sure all the local gas stations in his district were running and had fuel and product for the customers. Dale happened to own the four Phillips 66 stations in Dodge City in the 60s and would often drive down to Texas to pick up tank loads of fuel and keep his stations filled. He also serviced a few stations in the surrounding towns of Ford and Bucklin, known as satellite stations.

Dodge City Cowboy 3In 1966 Dale heard about the new Cowboy Giants used for promotions and to advertise new locations and he decided he needed one for his stations. Dale and his wife hopped in their pickup and drove the 1,279 miles to Venice California to pick one up. They arrived and picked up one of the cowboys, complete with a trailer and 6 shooter at his side, and hauled the giant back to Dodge City. Dale used the giant at all 4 of his stations in Dodge City and even hauled the giant to Ford and Bucklin a few times. Only a few pictures survive of the cowboy during this time and show the giant standing at the east side Phillips 66 station in Dodge City, where the Taylor Market is located today. Dodge City winds toppled the giant at one point and broke off one of his hands.

Big Matt 1In June 1971 when the Giant Cowboy program came to it’s end, Dale donated the 20ft giant to Boot Hill, the local old town tourist attraction. George Henrichs, executive director of the Front Street exhibition, was all to happy to accept the gift. In addition to fixing the broken hand, George also had long sleeves made for the cowboy since no real cowboy goes around in short sleeves. He also saw to it that he got a new sheriff vest  painted on and a 20ft rifle was ordered for the cowboy. At first it was made of wood but proved to be very heavy so a fiberglass one was made instead. The rifle didn’t arrive till March of 1972 and it took Allen Green and Denney Herman to lift the huge Model 66 Winchester into the giants hands, before the tourist rush in May. By June of 72 he was known as Big Matt and was in the prime of his life with hundreds of visitors enjoying his size, new paint job and rifle.

Boot Hill KS Big Matt

Matt 2Happy times for Matt were short lived when on October 30 he was discovered missing. Harry Rice, a worker at Boot Hill, found him laying across the railroad tracks a short distance away. His back was broken along with his cowboy hat and rifle. A little investigation showed that he had been pulled over with a ski rope tied to a car. Rice was perturbed when he found Matt all busted up, “We got the statue as a gift” he told the paper, “We worked all winter on him. It’s a sad deal when we can’t have something up that people enjoy, because others had to tear it down.”

Matt wasn’t the only Muffler Man in America suffering because of teenagers out to have a good time. I’ve heard of at least 20 other Muffler Men during the 70s and 80s being pulled over and hauled off by vandals. Just a few years ago one of the Indian Muffler Men in Irving, NY was pulled down by local teens trying to prove something. Matt was able to lick his wounds, and thankfully Boot Hill was able to repair all the damage and get him standing again for the next tourist season in 1973.

Matt 3In April of 1975 Matt lost his head in a windstorm and that left him standing headless as the staff scrambled to get him presentable again for the tourist season. Sadly the head was pretty damaged after falling off Matts shoulders and rolling some distance away so the giant was taken down and put in storage. In 1982 Boot Hill did some spring cleaning and decided it was time for Matt to go, so he was hauled off to the auction lot. Don Trigg of Arizona won the auction and hauled Big Matt all the way down to Yuma.

He decided Matt’s head was to far gone so he made a new head for the Muffler Man that could swivel and had a motor so the head could turn. We don’t know if Don fiberglassed over the top of the original head or simply made a new one but the replacement head looked nothing like the original. At the time the motor and turning head seemed like a great idea but after the giant was set up, this feature was never actually used. Don set the giant up at Westward Village RV Park and eventually sold the business in 1998 with the now old and tattered Matt, still standing there.

The new owners decided the giant could stay, and in 2006 his sad looking head got a makeover. It still left much to be desired, but was an improvement over the last one. He still stands in Yuma today and somehow has kept a firm grip on that giant rifle, although he has lost his pistol and gun belt somewhere along the way. Today he goes by the name of Big Wes and very few people know his story.

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Photo Credit Wayne Stadler

Many of these roadside giants have stories like Matt’s, they just need to be dug up and shared. Maybe one day Matt will get a real Muffler Man head again, maybe one day he may be able to go back home to Dodge City and Boot Hill, maybe his story is not over….maybe.


In 2018 at Burning Man, a head was spotted that I believe to be the missing head from Matt. It was purchased at an estate sale in San Diego about 170 miles from Yuma. Although I don’t have hard proof, it is a very possible match. The head is now part of our American Giants collection.


Special thanks to Larry Leonard and his extended family for provided history and family photos of Big Matt in 1966. Also thanks to Wayne Stadler for letting us use his picture of the Muffler man where he stands today. Also a big thank you to Roadside America for the info found on their site and linking the Yuma Muffler Man to Dodge City. 

Muffler Men For Sale

IMG_4716Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.51.11 PMSince the first day a Muffler Man was made back around 1961, they have been popular. Bob Prewitt made the first one that stands today in Flagstaff AZ,  and shortly after ,sold the mold to International Fiberglass. They started selling the giants around 1962, and boy did they sell! So much so that in just 10 short years, we guess a few hundred, of just the Bunyan version alone, stood at various businesses across the country. International Fiberglass went on to make other versions and broaden their market, so today, you can still visit, bunyans, cowboys, snerds (half wits), golfers, pirates and Indians after more than 50 years on the roadside.

bunyan-2Interestingly the most visited page of this website is the “for sale” page, and the question I am asked the most is, “how much is a Muffler Man worth?” This is a loaded question and to answer it properly, we should look at a little bit of history. In 1969 a standard 20ft Bunyan would have cost you $2,830 doll hairs, and additions would go up from there. The larger giants and Indian versions would run you a bit more. Great price right!? To put that into perspective, thats about $18,818 in todays money.

IMG_0196In 1972 IF stopped making Muffler Men, because the demand had dropped and shipping costs had sky rocketed. They continued to use outside contractors to fill orders for the giants, until the last two Muffler Men were made in 1974. That was the end of new Muffler Men, and the molds were destroyed. By the late 70s and early 80s the giants left standing across IMG_3063America were starting to look a bit haggard, and they were considered eye sores, and you could hardly give them away. I have heard of many being thrown out, buried, given away or sold for $30 or $40 bucks. That sentiment started to change in the early 90s, when they were becoming vintage and in the mid to late 90s the guys at Roadside America, started noticing them and brought attention to them after discovering their origins. People started writing in tips about current locations and they started to develop a following that is still growing today.

IMG_4806Smithsonian did an article about the long lost giants in 2000, and this raised interest and popularity even more. Over the next 10 years, more and more travelers would go out of their way to see a Muffler Man, and this was noticed by business owners. Because they had not been made in over 20 years, would be buyers, found them hard to obtain. Many owners were reluctant to part with the giants, because they were often passed down from an uncle or father, and had sentimental value. Also, the communities in small cities and towns were often (and still are) up in arms when learning, that the long time local landmark might be leaving. So the challenge of obtaining an original Muffler Man was born and the value of these aging giants was no longer $40.

DSCN5600By the time I came on the scene, and started researching these gentle giants in 2011, the going rate was around $5,000 and we would gawk, when we heard of one selling for more. Those who had purchased a giant in the 80s or 90s for a few bucks, were feeling pretty good about their purchase, and those who had done the selling were in shock. Muffler Men continued to remain hard to find, and it seems that to this day, only a handful will come up for sale each year, if any at all. It was kind of like winning the lottery, and if you happened to find one before all the other collectors had noticed you might get a good deal!

IMG_0105I sometimes wonder if my videos and research on these giants has contributed to the increased interest and value. As more people become aware of these unique giants from the 60’s, they continue to attract more visitors each year, which in turn makes them more desirable by business owners and collectors. Condition has always been a factor in value, and now that many of these giants have turned 50, it seems harder and harder to find ones in good condition. And lets not forget the mysterious pull these giant’s have, they are old, unique to the 60s and remind of us a different time and seem to bring adventure and joy to all who seek them out.

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-1-38-36-pmIn the last few years we have seen Muffler Men in good condition, once again reach the same value they had when sold new back in the 60s. There is no set value on a Muffler Men but some of the most recently sold Muffler Men have fetched higher numbers, which are very close to the $18,818 they sold for in the 60’s, if you adjust for inflation. Now that doesn’t always mean that grandpas Muffler Man, you’ve still got laying out in the back 40 rotting away is going to get you 20K! Remember that condition plays a big part of the sale price, because once a buyer purchases your giant, he IMG_20130110_113320has to restore it, and he doesn’t want to end up with more into the giant then he could possibly get back out. I’d say most original Muffler Men today, are valued around 3-11K, but one in decent condition could fetch much more. Also another factor is how rare they are, if you have an original 14 ft version, Uniroyal Gal or one of 5 existing Texaco Big Friends, the value goes way up regardless of condition. Bottom line, Muffler Men are worth what the collector is willing to give, and sometimes that figure may surprise you and other times disappoint.

For current Muffler Men for sale keep a regular eye on our “For Sale” page. Currently there is an original 14 ft version for sale in AZ as well as a standard Bunyan head, you can check them out by clicking here



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!