Newly Discovered Texaco Big Friend

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photo 2-6One of the most fascinating chapters in the Muffler Man story is the Texaco Big Friend. These statues were manufactured exclusively for the Texaco Oil Company. International Fiberglass made hundreds of these statues before Texaco ended the contract and had the mold destroyed. Nearly all of these statues were also destroyed. Sometime in late 1965 or early 1966, Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.50.11 PMSteve Dashew, the owner of International Fiberglass, began negotiations with Texaco about the creation of a giant fiberglass Texaco service station attendant. At the time, Texaco wanted to promote its “Big Friend Service” which included a windshield cleaning, checking the oil, radiator, and battery and, most importantly, the courtesy of its Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.51.07 PMemployees. Texaco’s advertising campaign included television commercials and banners depicting its friendly service station attendant dressed in a dark green uniform with a white shirt, tie and hat. In the commercial, Texaco’s service station attendant was nearly 40 feet tall. The fiberglass statues were to be set up at service stations across the country to tie-in with the television campaign.

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Texaco Big Friends lined up behind a Pushcart Tony statue

Texaco contracted with International Fiberglass to make 300 of the twenty two foot tall statues, with an option to order 2,700 more. Steve Dashew hired sculptor Sacha Schnittman to create the statue. Schnittman put a great deal of effort and detail into the design. Texaco got a late start in deploying the statues. All 300 of them were lined up and tied together in International Fiberglass back lot in Venice, CA before Texaco began picking them up. It’s not known how many of those statues actually left the factory before Texaco changed its mind about them. IMG_4754International Fiberglass sold a trailer and platform with each Big Friend statue to make it easy for area representatives to move and display them at different service stations. The statues sold for $5,000 each ($36,500 in today’s money). They began appearing at Texaco stations in September 1966. Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 12.10.11 AMOn September 29 of that year, Texaco service station owner, Peter Gregory of Victorville, CA, received his Big Friend statue. He planned to set up the statue the next day. However, during the night, vandals removed the statue’s four and a half foot tall head and its left hand. The story was covered in the local newspaper. The photo in the article shows the trailer that came with the statue. Peter was able to recover the head and hand. But, just four months later, the statue was toppled by high winds. Peter was unsure if the statue could be repaired and set up again. Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.12.04 PMPeter was not the only Texaco service station owner to have difficulty with these statues. Many owners were concerned about the statues falling over in bad weather or windy conditions. The area service reps also didn’t like moving the statues around. By early 1967, Texaco realized the risk outweighed the benefit of these statues. The company ordered station owners to stop using the Big Friends and have them destroyed. Within a few short months, the giants had entirely disappeared. IMG_2850At that time, the statues had just been installed in California, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Iowa, Nevada, Arkansas and Florida. Only a few of the statues escaped the mass-destruction. The Big Friend in Portland, OR was damaged just before Texaco’s decision. It had been repaired at a fiberglass shop but was never picked up by the owner. This statue is now on display in Aloha, OR and is best-known for its giant rabbit head. The other known survivors include the Lumberjack in St. Marie, ID and the Robin Hood in Pahrump, NV. There is also a Big Friend head in a private collection in Chicago.
TBF4There is also a well-preserved statue in Arkansas which I was delighted to get to see in December. This Big Friend was turned over to Bud Ross of Clarksville, AR by his brother who owned the Texaco station where the statue was displayed. Bud kept the statue next to his pond at the back of his property for many years. Around 1990, he installed the statue at his used car lot in town. By 1997, the car lot had closed and the statue was gone. It was assumed this statue was just another Big Friend casualty.
TBF2However, with a tip from a visitor to my blog, I was thrilled to discover that the statue still exists and was able to track down its owner. Rob Harris, a petroliana collector in Arkansas, purchased the Big Friend years ago. Recently, he had the statue restored to its original colors. Rob plans to replicate the Texaco star logos on the statue’s hat, chest and arm in the near future. The statue is located on private property and stands between two vintage Texaco station signs.
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Standing next to this rare piece of roadside history was the high point for me of the three years I’ve spent documenting Muffler Man statues. It still amazes me that of the 300 Big Friends produced, only four survive. Perhaps there’s still another one out there somewhere. Special thanks to Rob Harris for letting me photograph his Texaco Big Friend. Also thanks to Harvey Marine and the Pahrump Valley Museum for letting me have access to their Texaco Big Friends. I also want to thank Terry Nelson for letting me use his historical photographs of the Texaco Big Friends in the 1960s. And as always, a big thank you to Debra Jane Seltzer for her help in editing. 

Fall 2014 Muffler Man Report

photo 1IMG_9368While filming with Greg Holmes of Hutchinson Kansas, he mentioned to me that he had seen a Indian Muffler Man in Wickliffe, KY around 1985. He was on a road trip and had a distinct memory of the sighting, and seemed to recall that the Indian stood on the roof of a trading post. Recently I traveled to Wickliffe to see what I could dig up about the mystery Muffler Man. Very few have any IMG_1035recollections of the Indian that stood there 30 years ago, but I did find a handful of people that remember him. Their story’s varied slightly and some remember him standing out by the road and not on the roof. I was told that the Indian Hills Trading Post was owned in the 1980s by a man named Jean Laster and that he was now old and retired but lived nearby. Finding and talking to him sadly did not shed much light on my quest. He doesn’t remember many details from those days but he did tell me that he did not own the Indian but instead rented him from a man who made fiberglass animals. He did not remember where the man lived or what his name was.

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As many of you know, I have been restoring a Muffler Man from Mortons Gap Kentucky that was purchased at Pistold Petes Pawn shop in Oak Grove, KY in 1995. I have been trying to find out how the pawnshop got him, and also recently visited Oak Grove. The locals told me that a man named Robert Ladd owned the business and he had left town years before after closing it down. I was finally able to track his brother down and get some

Photo by Debra Jane Seltzer

Photo from RoadsideArchitecture.com

information. James Ladd remembered the Muffler Man that we are restoring and referred to him as the “broken one”. He told me that they sold the 14 ft lumberjacks in addition to giant elephants and even the full size Muffler Men Indians. He told me that a fiberglass sculptor in KY was their supplier back in those days and he wasn’t sure what the story was on the broken one we ended up with. I finally figured out that the fiberglass sculptors name is Paul White and that he made animals and figures in western Kentucky back in the80s and 90s. In fact, he made the chicken cars for Krekel’s Custard in Illinois. He also was the man who rented out the giant Indian to Jean Laster in the mid 1980s. Paul White would know the answers behind our Mortons Gap Muffler Man and how he got from St Louis to Oak Grove, KY. However at this point the trail has gone cold and I have no idea where he is or how to get in contact with him.

photo 4After leaving Wickliffe, I traveled to Metropolis, IL to check out the restoration the Big John Statue. In October 2014 the giant’s right arm separated above the elbow and 200 lb of arm and grocery bags came crashing down to the parking lot. All fiberglass giants like Muffler Men and Big Johns that were made in the 1960s are getting very old. The steel frames inside the statues are often subjected to moisture from rain and humidity.  After years of accumulating rust, these statues can be toppled by high winds. Sadly this was the case of the Metropolis Big John. I met up with Dave of Dave’s Powder Coating and Soda Blasting, who is restoring the giant. He told me that the giant was full of water and 50 years of bird’s nests. In fact he said the entire left arm was full of sticks, straw and mud from the birds. He and his team have taken the giant apart and are sanding him back down to the gel coat and will soon repaint him and fix his arm. It is always great when an owner decides to pay for restoration rather that toss out an old giant. Our hats are off to the owners of the Metropolis Big John store.

Special thanks to Dave’s Powder Coating and Soda Blasting for letting us visit their shop and also to Debra Jane Seltzer from RoadsideArchitecture.com for use of the chicken car photo shown above.

New Glenn Goode Documentary Project

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Check out our latest Kickstarter Project and a big thank you to all of you who pledged towards our last one!

Muffler Men have been part of the American landscape for more than 50 years now.  These giant fiberglass statues were first produced as advertising devices in 1962.  International Fiberglass produced thousands of these statues before closing its shop in Venice, California in the early 1970s.  Hundreds of these statues remain and each one of them has a unique history.  Many of the owners of these statues have a deep connection with them.

Glenn Goode of Gainesville, Texas has been collecting these statues and making his own versions of them since the early 1980s. He has five giant statues on display in front of his farm property.  His collection includes two Muffler Men, a Uniroyal Gal, and two Big John statues.  Glenn has also produced Muffler Men statues which stand in Sherman, Texas and Amarillo, Texas.  He also has an assortment of molds in his barn.

Glenn is now in his 70s and has lots of stories to share about these statues.  As anyone who has stopped to take photos of his statues will tell you, Glenn is quite the talker.  While he has appeared in a few newscasts and YouTube videos, no one has produced an in-depth documentary about him and his statues. We would like to take a trip to Gainesville to do just that.

The American Giants crew has been documenting Muffler Men statues since 2011.  Normally, we pay for the travel and production expenses associated with the blog and videos.  However, we’d like to ask for your help with this one.  We are introducing this Kickstarter campaign to help out with the cost of producing a documentary that will properly showcase Glenn and his statues.

Since this is a small project, we are keeping the rewards simple.  At the moment, we are actively restoring the Mortons Gap Muffler Man statue.  This project was successfully funded through our previous Kickstarter campaign.  As soon as we return the statue to Kentucky, we can begin working on editing the Glenn Goode documentary.  With your help, we would like to get the video footage for it now.  I met Glenn a few years ago but it was only a brief visit.  I am eager to return and Glenn is anxious to speak with us.  Your support can help make that happen.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1335364893/the-glenn-goode-story?ref=discovery

Kickstarter Funded!

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The American Giants team takes down the Mortons Gap Muffler Man – Photo Luke Short

The statue at its current location in Illinois undergoing repairs

The statue at its current location in Illinois undergoing repairs

I just want to give a huge thank you to everyone who pitched in to help us reach our Kickstarter goal of $1,575 to restore the Mortons Gap Muffler Man.  I was thrilled to discover on Friday, that Kickstarter had made this the Project of the Day!  I would also like to thank Luke Short from The Messenger newspaper in Madisonville, KY who covered this project. His great article came Friday morning. Luke was there to document the removal of the statue and he’ll be back for the unveiling when the statue is reinstalled.

Michael applying fiberglass to repair the statue’s right foot

Michael applying fiberglass to repair the statue’s right foot

We have 15 days left to raise additional funds for this project.  Therefore, I am setting some new goals and raising the bar to $2,000. The fiberglass materials are costing more than we thought.  Before we even started this Kickstarter campaign, we had already spent $800 in travel and replacement parts (the statue’s head and arms).  With additional funding from you, we can soda blast the giant and also do more thorough fiberglass repairs and provide the statue with a better coat of paint.  In addition, I’d like to take a quick trip to Oak Grove, KY to find out more about the statue’s history at Pistol Pete’s Pawn Shop.  We might find some vintage photos of him and find out what became of his head and arms.  We will be sharing any information that we can dig up in our upcoming video documentary which will cover this project from start to finish.

IMG_6622Many thanks to those of you who have already pledged your support.  I hope we can reach this new goal with your help to give this statue a thorough restoration which will last for many years to come. You can visit the Kickstarter by clicking here.

The Mortons Gap Muffler Man Restoration Kickstarter Project

Mortons Gap MM new openJoel and MM oldIn April 2014, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to restore the Muffler Man in Mortons Gap Kentucky. Although there was a lot of enthusiasm, we fell short of the $4,500 goal. The greatest challenge has been to get the word out to those who are interested in being a part of restoring these icons of Americana. This time we are spending more time on publicity. We have also lowered our funding goal to $1,575. Our focus will be on installing the statue’s new head and arms. We will also repaint the statue. If we exceed our goal, we can use that money for more extensive fiberglass repairs. 

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 10.57.36 PMWe have already obtained the new head, arms and axe for the restoration. Although we paid for the new parts, we are hoping some or all of this will be reimbursed with this Kickstarter campaign. We also need financial help with transporting the statue to our workshop for assembly and painting. Some of the funds raised will also go towards producing a video documentary about this project. 

For the full story, please visit our Kickstarter page and also check out our new videos on the project. Thank you for your interest and support in restoring this unique piece of roadside history! 

#66 Lake George – Magic Forest Half Wit

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A Half Wit in Production at International Fiberglass

A Half Wit in Production at International Fiberglass – Terry Nelson

This Muffler Man at Magic Forest in Lake George, NY was originally installed in Danbury, CT.  When the Danbury Fair closed in 1981, Magic Forest bought this statue and a few others from the owners.  This statue has been modified a bit.  It has a painted beard and an Amish style hat.  These International Fiberglass statues were promoted as “Mortimer Snerds.”  However, they are more commonly called “Half Wits” since that’s the term RoadsideAmerica.com came up with before the history of these statues was unearthed.  It’s not known how many were produced but there are only about 15 left.  In addition to this one, there are four in New Jersey, three in Texas, one in Missouri, one in California and five in private collections.

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Half Wit at Mortimer Snerd Golf in Lake of the Ozark’s, MO – Terry Nelson

These statues have the same body as the other Muffler Men but a different style head.  These heads were apparently modeled after Alfred E. Neuman, the Mad Magazine character. Some of the Mortimer Snerd statues have the Paul Bunyan type pants tucked into the boots.  Others have the longer Cowboy pants.  The statue in Missouri has a Paul Bunyan body – but the raised right arm normally used for the Indian models. 

IMG_20120709_130236This Lake George statue is the only Half Wit left with what appears to be the original axe. Not far from him another Muffler Man axe can be seeing laying among the tree’s. Perhaps it came from the Pecos Bill statue. International Fiberglass offered many accessories for their statues.  The three Half Wits in Texas hold giant mufflers which appear to be original.  

Thanks to Debra Jane Zeltzer for editing and reviewing this article and to Magic Forest for allowing me to photograph and film their Muffler Man collection. 

#65 Lake George – Magic Forest Pecos Bill

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IMG_20120709_125726In addition to the clown described in this post, Magic Forest in Lake George, NY has 3 other Muffler Men.  The owner refers to this one as “Pecos Bill.” It is not known where this statue came from or how long it has been at Magic Forest.  Pecos Bill was heavily modified at some point.  His chaps, vest, beard, and large droopy hat are unique.  The owner said that the hat seems to sag a little lower each year.  This Muffler Man is one of 4 or 5 that have long sleeves.  I have not been able to determine if these sleeves were original or a later addition.

Determining the origins of drastically modified Muffler Men can be challenging.  However, I have concluded that this one was originally one IMG_20120709_125514of the Paul Bunyan models.  This statue’s straggly beard is covering the original fiberglass beard.  Paul Bunyan statues’ pants are tucked into the tops of their boots.  This Pecos Bill statue’s pants go all the way down to his shoes.  However, the markings where the original pants legs ended are still visible.  This statue is one-of-a-kind and has been painted with the darkest tan that I’ve ever seen, also the statue’s shoes have square toes which I have not seen before.  This was probably another International Fiberglass option to make this cowboy statue more authentic looking 

American Giants on the Ray Carr Radio Show, Again!

Ray Carr from Cleveland’s WCSB 89.3 did another phone interview with me for his radio show on April 29, 2014.  We chatted about my latest roadtrip from Phoenix to San Francisco where the American Giants team got to see and shoot a number of Muffler Men.  One of the high points of the trip was the stop in Pahrump, NV to see the former Texaco Big Friend.  There are only a handful of these statues left.  I also spoke about my favorite stop on this trip which was in Hayward, CA where Bruce Kennedy has a collection of four Muffler Men.  I really appreciate Bruce’s taking time to share the stories behind each statue and letting us get some unique shots of each of them.

 As I did with my first interview with Ray Carr, I have added video footage to the audio so that listeners have visual references to what is being discussed.  Carr’s program features in-depth, live interviews with movers-and-shakers: politicians, journalists, athletes, and folks like me who are interested in Americana. He also features rare oldies music and comedy from the 1950s and 1960s. It was a pleasure to be on his show.

Bruce Kennedy’s Muffler Man Collection – Hayward, CA

photo-2Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 12.40.34 PMThe high point of our West Coast trip was our stop in Hayward, CA at Bell Plastics.  The company’s owner, Bruce Kennedy, has been collecting Muffler Men for a few years now.  His first statue was “Big Mike,” a Muffler Man which has been in Hayward for a very long time. The statue was installed in the 1960’s on Mission Boulevard at the Morris Car Wash. Big Mike held a giant scrub brush at that location. When the Tyre Treads tire store moved in the building, the statue’s scrub brush was replaced with a muffler. The tire store closed in 2010 and the following year, Kennedy bough the statue and moved it to a temporary location. The public found out where it was stored and Kennedy had to hide the statue until the restoration was complete. When Big Mike was restored and delivered to Bell Plastics, he received a big welcome which included press coverage. Shortly after the statue was installed at its new home, Kennedy came in to work one morning and discovered a brand new axe wrapped in paper.  A note was attached to the axe that read “For Big Mike.”  Since the axe is a little too big to fit the statue’s hands, it is displayed in the company’s office.

 Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 12.36.51 PMAfter restoring Big Mike, Kennedy was bitten by the Muffler Man bug.  He began prowling the internet for more of them.   He particularly wanted a Cowboy statue. He finally found one for sale in Kansas City, KS. This was one of the last Muffler Men statues made by International Fiberglass.  It was located at a gas station in Boonville, MO from at least 1972 until the late 1990s. It may have been originally installed at a Phillips 66 gas station but I haven’t found any evidence of this. During this time, the cowboy’s hat bore the letters “MU” indicating his support for the University of Missouri.

photo 1-7In 2000, the statue was sold at auction to David Disney for $9,800.  He planned to donate the statue to the Kansas City Children’s Museum.  That never happened and the statue languished in storage for 13 years until it was sold to Kennedy in 2013.  The statue was in bad shape when it arrived in Hayward.  However, it was completely restored and installed in front of Bell Plastics just a few months later.  The statue’s face has uncharacteristic airbrushed details.  Kennedy calls this statue “Big Don.”

photo 3-9Next, Kennedy acquired a Paul Bunyan style Muffler Man from Paramount, CA.  This statue is painted in the original colors with a red shirt and blue pants.  There is some damage to the statue’s shoulder and back which Kennedy plans to repair.  The statue came with a steel platform, as well as an axe and pickaxe. Kennedy has not restored this statue yet but it stands of the lot at Bell Plastics and goes by the name of “Fix-it”. 

Kansas City Half Wit

Photo used with permission. Scott Phillips

Kennedy’s goal is to have one of each Muffler Man model.  Since he already had a Cowboy and two Paul Bunyans, he was thrilled to find a Half Wit model in Flint, MI for sale on eBay.  This statue was originally installed in the mid-1960s at the Poor Boy’s Pantry in Kansas City, MO.  In the early 1980s, it was repainted and given a Hawaiian shirt.  In 1997, the statue was purchased by Bob Perani and installed in Flint at the Dort Mall which he owned.  Kennedy bought the statue from the Perani family and plans to restore the statue.  He will restore it with the Hawaiian shirt paint job.  Kennedy has named the statue “Hollywood” since it briefly appeared in the 2008 movie “Semi Pro.”

photo 4-5My friend Neto and I spent six hours at Bell Plastics getting the histories of each statue from Kennedy.  He also allowed me to use his scissor lift to get close-up shots for my “American Giants” videos.  I plan to launch the second season of the series with footage of Kennedy’s collection.  We had a great time there and I can’t thank Bruce Kennedy enough for playing host and letting us document these statues. 

Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her editing help with this article. RoadsideArchitecture.com  

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.