I’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.
We 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!
The 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.
We 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.
Since 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.
Muffler 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.
Then 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 arrival 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.
Tim 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 sat 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.
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.