West Coast Muffler Man Trip 2014

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photo-2A few months ago, I found out that my job was sending me to a broadcasters’ convention in Las Vegas. I decided that this was a great opportunity to take a Muffler Man road trip. Neto and I made plans to fly first to Phoenix.  From there, we would pick up a one way car rental to San Jose and visit 14 Muffler Men along the way and ending with Bruce Kennedy’s collection of Muffler Men in Hayward.

Las Vegas M ManOur first Muffler Man destination was in Prescott, AZ. This statue was first mentioned on RoadsideAmerica.com in 1998.  However, it has actually been in Prescott since the early 1970s. It was originally one of the dozens of cowboys built for Phillips 66 gas stations by International Fiberglass. The statue was moved around in the late 1960s for various Phillips 66 gas station Grand Openings in northern Arizona. When Phillips 66 ended the promotion, the statue was photo 1-8purchased in 1970 and installed in front of Big Johnson Realty.  The statue has been there since then.  When the city changed the level of the street, the statue was kept in place at the original height.  If it had been raised, it would have been in violation of the city’s sign ordinances.  In the summer of 2013, a new business moved into the building next to the statue.  Gamers Trading Post added a few Magic: The Gathering playing cards to the statue’s right hand.

Lumberjack M MenOur next Muffler Man stop was in Flagstaff to see the legendary Louie the Lumberjack. He was one of the first, if not the very first, Muffler Men ever made. Bob Prewitt of Prewitt Fiberglass in Lawndale, CA made the original Muffler Man statue for a customer in Sacramento.  When that deal fell through, he sold the statue to the Lumberjack Cafe on Route 66 in Flagstaff.  The statue was installed around 1964.  Shortly after this, Prewitt sold the lumberjack mold and some animal statue molds to International Fiberglass. In the late 1960s, the owners of the Lumberjack Café ordered a second Muffler Man from International Fiberglass.  The two statues remained at the restaurant until it closed in 1971, they were then donated to Northern Arizona University.  The older of the two statues stands outside Walkup Skydome.  The other statue is installed inside the building in the football field’s end zone.

photo 5-10Upon our arrival we looked the statues over carefully and noticed that they were made very differently. The original is all one piece while the second statue comes apart at the arms, head and waist.  The second statue also has the International Fiberglass stamp on its leg. Both statues have the original axes.  I hopped on top of a roll of football turf inside the dome for a photo to give a size comparison of how big these statues really are. Although it looks small standing in the end zone, Muffler Men are incredibly big.

We loaded up again and continued our trek north stopping in Pahrump, NV to see one of the last remaining Texaco Big Friends. I photographed this statue back in 2011 not realizing that his days were numbered. Sometime after Texaco
IMG_2044stopped using these statues, this one found its way from Las Vegas area to Pahrump.  Most of these Big Friends were scrapped but this statue was transformed into a green giant. The statue was installed on top of a sign at Valley Homes, a mobile home dealership. Things went well for many years until his owner got in trouble with the law and sadly ended up in prison. When I was there in 2011, I saw that the statue was still in place and in good shape other than a square hole in its back.  In 2012, the sign and statue were removed and carted off to the dump in an effort to clean up the town I suppose.  The photo 1-9statue’s sudden disappearance sparked interest in its history and what had become of it.  Journalists from the local newspapers discovered and published information about these statues which they found at RoadsideAmerica.com and my blog. The Pahrump Landfill started getting phone calls, including a few from me, about the statue and started to realize this was no ordinary statue.  Although photo 2-6the giant was badly damaged during its removal, the manager decided to hang onto it and for that he should have Muffler Man named after him or something.  Eventually he passed the statue on to the Pahrump Valley Museum for future restoration.  When Neto and I arrived we were told that the statue was still in storage but we got to take some photos of it.  The museum would like to restore the statue at some point which will require some effort and money due to it’s poor condition.  One of the statue’s arms and one of the hands has been ripped off.  The statue’s torso is torn in half.  The legs have also been detached and a shoe is missing.  Maybe one day, this statue will reappear as either a Texaco Big Friend or as the Valley Homes Giant once more.

photo 4-6Our next stop Muffler Man stop was more than 400 miles away in Merced, CA.  There, we saw a Service Man model that has seen better days. The Agriculture Museum next to the statue appears to have been closed for a while.  We then moved on to San Jose to see Babe the Muffler Man.  This statue was installed at Babe’s Muffler and Brake in the 1960s.  It photo 5-11was one of three identical statues purchased for this local chain of San Jose auto repair shops.  One of the statues was burned down in the early 1990s by a local gang. The other statue was removed because of a local sign ordinance. The torso, head and arms were attached to the roof of a car which was driven around town to advertise for the three shops until it fell into disrepair.

After San Jose, we headed to Hayward to see Bruce Kennedy’s collection of Muffler Men.  I’ll cover that stop in the next blog post.

I want to thank all the people along the way who took the time to talk to us and share their stories and history on the giants. Also special thanks to the Pahrump Museum for allowing us to go see the giant off site. Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her help in editing. 

 

Mortons Gap Restoration Project Kickstarter is Launched!

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IMG_6622After months of planning we are super excited to announce the launch of a Kickstarter to help get a headless Muffler Man restored in Mortons Gap, KY. In 2011, I visited the Mortons Gap Muffler Man for the first time.  I had seen a photo of it on RoadsideAmerica.com.  This was early on in my documenting of these statues and I had not yet started my blog, usagiants.com.  The couple that IMG_20120816_151253owned the statue told me the story behind it.  In 1995, they acquired the statue in Fort Campbell, KY.  It was already missing its arms and head at that point.  The statue had previously been installed at Pistol Pete’s Pawn Shop in Fort Campbell.  No one knows where it was located originally.  Today, it stands in the couple’s donkey pasture on a hillside overlooking Edward T Breathitt Pennyrile Parkway.  At some point, a handmade head was made for the statue and a normal-sized axe was hung from the statue’s arm socket. For more see the complete story here.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 5.29.22 PMI have returned a few times after that to see the Muffler Man and visit with its owners.  They always asked where they could get arms and a head for the statue.  Since International Fiberglass went out of business in 1972, there are no spare parts anywhere.  However, a few people are making molds for replacement parts.  In the 1990s, Mark Cline made a mold of a 14 foot tall Muffler Man.  IMG_6564He has created a few other statues with it including a cowboy and a handful of soda jerks holding ice cream cones.  After explaining the situation to him, he agreed to recreate the parts and make a new axe for the Mortons Gap statue.  At that point I realized that the statue’s owners did not have the money to pay for the restoration – and neither did I!

Artistic conceptThe money for this blog, the video episodes, and our travel expenses have all come from our own pockets.  We are now asking for your support for this special project.  If you have enjoyed this blog and our web episodes funding this Kickstarter is a great way to let us know! This project has also prompted us to finally produce American Giants t-shirts!  Right now, they are only available with your contributions.  Also one of the larger rewards is a real Muffler Man head! If you have ever wanted one of these this is your chance to get one. Of course, the greatest reward is knowing that you helped preserve one of these rare statues.

Go to KICKSTARTER

Muffler Men News – Winter 2014

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

al_manzAlthough the lumberjack statue at the May Café in Albuquerque is not a Muffler Man, many of you may still be interested in this recent news. In January, the statue’s lower arms, hands and axe were blown off during a storm. The restaurant’s owners saved the parts and are waiting for insurance money to make the repairs. They hope to have the statue back to normal by summer. The photo of the statue in its current state appears on the left with permission from the Instagram account of al_manz.

First Muffler Man, Flagstaff AZ

First Muffler Man, Flagstaff AZ

This statue is roughly the same size as the Muffler Man statues and it bears a strong resemblance to them. The statue’s clothing is painted the same colors as International Fiberglass’ standard Paul Bunyan statues. The hand position is basically the same. The May Cafe statue was originally built in the early 1960s for the Duke City Lumber Company. It’s possible that it was modeled after the very first Muffler Man statue which was installed in Flagstaff, AZ in 1962.

When the lumber company closed, the building housed a hardware store. The May Café has been here since at least 2000. Since the statue and the sign below it have been here for more than 50 years, they have “grandfathered” status with the City. The owners simply changed the sign panel below the statue when the restaurant moved in.

josharpalicousIn other giant statue news, a Muffler Man in Shelton, WA came out of hiding for Super Bowl Sunday. The statue appeared at a local gas station wearing a football jersey bearing the number 12. The “12” stands for the Seattle Seahawks “12th man”: the fans. The name “Seahawks” was also painted on the blade of the statue’s axe. The photo on the left appears courtesy of josharpalicous’ Instagram account.

The Paul Bunyan statue has been IMG_0395located in Shelton since the early 1960s. It first stood at the Binger’s gas station next to the old bridge. Lloyd Prouty used to pass the statue on his way to high school every day. Today, he is the proud owner of the statue and has it installed on a trailer with a hydraulic jack. This enables him to easily set up the statue for different events in town. This appearance of the statue may have brought some good luck since the Seahawks trounced the Denver Broncos 43 to 8.

Half Wit MovingLastly, the Half Wit statue from Flint, MI is now on its way to sunny California.  In January, Bruce Kennedy purchased the statue.  It will soon join his other Muffler Men statues at Bell Plastics in Hayward, CA.  Bruce already has two Paul Bunyans and a Cowboy.  I’m sure if an Indian or any of the rarer statues becomes available, he’ll be jumping at the chance to add more statues to his collection.  This Half Wit statue was originally located in Kansas City, MO.  It was moved to Flint in the late 1990s.  In the 1980s, while it was in Kansas City, the statue’s shirt was painted in a Hawaiian print.  I don’t know if Bruce plans to keep this design.

Thanks to al_manz and josharpalicous for letting me use their Instagram photos at this website and Bruce Kennedy for the use of his photo. Also thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her editing help and research.

#64 Lake George – Magic Forest Clown

IMG_20120709_132113Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 8.56.01 PMIf you like giant fiberglass statues, then Magic Forest in Lake George, NY is the place for you. This fairy tale theme park has four Muffler Men and many other statues.  Magic Forest opened in 1963.  It features a 40 foot tall Uncle Sam statue which is the twin to the one in Ottawa Lake, MI.  There Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 6.12.38 PMis also a Santa statue, an 11 foot tall Tire Salesman, a Caveman, and three modified A&W Root Beer Family statues.  All of these statues were produced by International Fiberglass which made the Muffler Men.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 6.07.48 PMIn addition, there are many statues that were produced by other fiberglass companies including an Archer, a couple of Astronauts, an Indian, a Caveman and a Cavewoman, several storybook characters, as well as various animals.  Many of Magic Forest’s statues, including at least one of the Muffler Men and the Uncle Sam, came from the Danbury Fair which was located in Danbury, CT and closed in 1982.

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One of the most unusual statues at Magic Forest is the Giant Clown.  To my knowledge, International Fiberglass never produced a Clown model. This particular Muffler Man actually started out as a Pirate.  The company only made about four Pirates.  One of them still stands in Ocean City, NJ, another one is in

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.51.11 PMOcean City, MD, and one has gone missing. The Lake George statue originally stood at Ocean Playland Amusement Park in Ocean City, MD.  It was installed high above the entrance to the park.  After a few years, the park’s name was changed to Playland Park.  At that point, the Pirate was transformed into a Clown. Balloon clown pants were added, the hat was altered, and the statue was Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.50.33 PMrepainted.  The Clown remained there until the park closed.  It was purchased later by Magic Forest. Today, the statue looks about the same as it did when it stood at Playland Park. It is possibly the creepiest clown statue in existence with its still recognizable Muffler Man features.

Thanks to Terry Nelson for the vintage pictures of the pirate and clown when they stood in Ocean City and also to Debra Jane Seltzer for her editing help and research.

Texaco Big Friend TV Commercial

Big Friends wating for deliveryI’ve mentioned Texaco Big Friend statues in a previous post at this blog.  Of all the Muffler Men statues that International Fiberglass produced, I find these to be the most intriguing. About 300 of these statues were produced in 1966.  However, nearly all of them are gone now.

Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 12.13.15 AMI recently came across a TV commercial from 1966 on YouTube.com.  It shows how Texaco planned to use the statues in its advertising campaign. Texaco service station attendants were portrayed as your car’s “Big Friend.” While this commercial was being aired, the giant statues were being deployed around the country. However, for reasons that are still unknown, Texaco changed its mind about the statues.  While the TV commercial was still being aired a year later, the statues had all been removed from the company’s gas stations.  It is believed that those statues and the ones that were still in storage were destroyed.

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 9.22.01 AMTo my knowledge, there are only three Big Friend statues that escaped Texaco’s purge.  They are located in Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada.  All three of those statues have either been heavily modified or damaged.  Recently, I was contacted by Ryan Lindstrom who lives in Chicago.  He owns a well-preserved Big Friend head which was bought at a antique shop in Georgia in the 1980s.  He is considering displaying the head at Route 66 exhibits in the future.

For more about Texaco Big Friends, see this blog post.  Texaco also produced Big Friend signs.  If you missed it, you might enjoy the recent Ray Carr Show interview which covers a lot of Muffler Men topics as well as the Texaco Big Friends and more pictures then are shown here. 

 

 

#63 Lake Luzerne, NY – Bunyan

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IMG_20120709_145251The Lake Luzerne Muffler Man statue has always been one of my favorites. Ever since I saw a photo at RoadsideAmerica.com of this Paul Bunyan standing in the woods without a head and coming apart at the waist, this unfortunate statue has intrigued me. It is located near Lake George, NY where there are five other Muffler Men.  Among them is the statue from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York now standing at Around the World Mini Golf in downtown Lake George. The rest of the area’s Muffler Men are located at Magic Forest, a recreational park for children.

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It is not known when the Lake Luzerne statue arrived. The earliest report is that it was already installed at the Swiss Campsites entrance in 1976 when the parents of Lynn Kinsman purchased the property.  Her parents changed the name of the campground to the Swiss Trail Campground and repainted the statue’s shirt to reflect the new name. After they sold the campground in 1985, the statue began falling apart and vegetation began obscuring it from view.

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

In the fall of 2002, the statue’s head was knocked off during a storm.  It landed on the lawn, close to the side of the road. Soon afterwards, Debra Jane Seltzer, the creator and manager of RoadsideArchitecture.com, spotted the head and became its caretaker.  She was in the area at a dog agility trial.  When the competition wrapped up for the day, she went to take photos of the statue.  She noticed the statue’s head lying on the ground in full view of the road.  She worried that it might be stolen or destroyed by vandals.  Back at the trial site, she mentioned the situation to a friend who insisted that they go get the head to save it from harm. They drove up to Lake Luzerne in the middle of the night and parked across the street from the statue. The head was light but awkward and slippery.  They finally

Photo Credit: Debra Jane Seltzer

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

managed to get it across the road by using the nose and ears as handles. Getting the bulky head into the van was even more challenging and stressful.  Dogs were barking and cars passed by now and then.

The next day, the head was the talk of the agility trial. Everyone wanted a look at the bearded Bunyan face under the tarps.  Debra Jane’s next challenge was getting the head into her New York City apartment.  It just barely squeaked through the door.  For the next eight years, the head lounged comfortably next to a radiator in her apartment.  From time to time, she considered returning it.

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

Then, in September 2010, David Magliato posted a comment on RoadsideAmerica.com.  He had recently purchased the Swiss Trail Campground and renamed it the Adirondack Memories Campground.  One of his first orders of business was the Muffler Man.  In his on-line comment, he expressed his desire to restore the statue and inquired if anyone knew the whereabouts of the head.

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

After reading the comment, Debra Jane made a pilgrimage to return the head in 2011. When she arrived, she noticed that the statue had been repainted and looked great with the exception of the missing right arm and head. There was no answer when she knocked on the door of the house next to the statue.  So, she placed the head next to the garage door and hoped for the best.

IMG_20120709_121955The following summer, I was visiting many of the New York Muffler Men.  I drove to the Lake Luzerne campground on July 9th. To my surprise, when I rounded a bend in the road, I saw that the statue had been re-headed.  The Paul Bunyan stood on a hillside next to the road holding a big saw.  The head had been repainted to match the recently painted body.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 8.42.45 PMShortly afterwards, I posted my discovery at RoadsideAmerica.com.  Debra Jane was delighted to learn that, after all these years, the head had finally made it back on top of those broad shoulders. She said later, “It was a pleasure having the giant’s company all those years. But it is a far greater joy to know the head has been reunited with its body and in public where it belongs.”  The Muffler Man is still missing his right arm.  Maybe that, too, will turn up one day or a replacement will be installed.

Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her help in editing and to Roadside America for the information they have shared.

#62 Stony Point, NY – Bunyan

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IMG_20120704_131116In early 2012, I visited the Muffler Man in Stony Point, NY.  This statue is located at Camp Bullowa which is used for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts activities.  It appears to be one of the early Paul Bunyans produced in the mid-1960s by International Fiberglass.  While I was at the Camp, I met Ranger Joe Langdon and spoke with him about the statue.  It is not known where this Muffler Man was located before it arrived at the Camp in the mid-1990s.  It stands next to the parking lot near the main entrance.

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The statue was previously located next to the cafeteria on a steep hill overlooking the lake. It

became a popular prank for young campers to push the statue down the hill. Joe found the Muffler Man in the lake several times.  Since these fiberglass statues are hollow, this statue floated and could be easily found.  Enough was enough and, by 2000, Joe moved the statue to its current location near his house so that he can keep an eye on it.

IMG_20120704_124324Joe enjoys making large footprints in the snow and convincing Boy Scouts that the giant statue walks around at night.  This Muffler Man is in remarkably good condition considering the number of tumbles and swimming escapades it has been through.  The only damage is a crack on one of the statue’s boots.  The wooden axe that the statue holds is a replacement of the original.

Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for reviewing and editing this article.