We’re happy to release Episode #7 after a long weekend of editing. This episode continues to follow us on our journey through Chicago. The first stop on this leg is at Ced’s Muffler and Brakes on Grand Avenue. This statue at Ced’s is known as a Mr Bendo. There are a couple of other Mr. Bendos elsewhere in the U.S.. We make an interesting discovery on the roof of the building using our GoPro camera. We also make a quick stop at the “Eye Care Indian” that has been on a Chicago rooftop for a very long time. This episode wraps up with a quick preview of Episode #8. You will see more of Bo and Neto in that video as we move on to some of the more famous Muffler Men and try to figure out their histories. Episode #8 will be the last in the Chicago series. Episode #9 will cover our recent trip to Dodge City, KS to visit the Dennis Hopper Muffler Men.
After traveling up old route 66 through Illinois the crew finally arrives in Chicago area to check out the seven muffler men located there. In Part 1 of this Chicago section they discover some interesting facts and history on the muffler man located at the Greenhouse of Crystal Lake as well as the ruins of the old Adventureland park in Addison, IL. I think this is one of the more exciting adventures I have been on with finding the exact location of the park and going there. I was able to locate “the ruins” of the park now buried in the woods. Although the exact spot where the muffler men stood is now relanscaped much of the parks foundations can still be found in the back of the property.
Because they are rare it is always nice to come upon one of the 15 ft versions of muffler men. As I mentioned in AG Episode #1 after a few years of turning out the full size version of muffler men with great success, Steve Dashew owner of International Fiberglass wanted to offer customers more. He came up with the idea to make these shorter and lighter lumberjack versions in hopes of getting those customers that were put off by size or price when considering the 21 ft full size versions. They started making these guys around 1965 but unfortunately they were not all that popular and they stopped making them within a few years. They sold at least 20 of these guys however and many of them can still be found all across the 48 states today. The history of this one here at Lambs farm in Libertyville is a bit hazy but as far as I can tell he has been here since the mid or late 60’s and probably was ordered right from International Fiberglass. The story behind that started in 1961 when Bob Terese and Corinne Owen opened a pet store on Chicago’s State Street with 12 employees, the difference was that their employees all had developmental disabilities. Bob and Corinne’s mission was to help people with developmental disabilities lead productive and happy lives. They quickly received support and growing recognition from the Chicago community and in 1965 they relocated 35 miles to the north near Libertyville where Philanthropist W. Clement Stone had purchased and donated a 70 acre farm. They restored the century old bard into the area’s largest pet stores and with the extra space they made new businesses to bring in more adults with disabilities into their program. Today Lambs Farm makes a difference in the lives of 250 participants and thousands of visitors stop by every year. The area where the Bunyan/lumberjack stands is part of a children’s attraction that is right next to the interstate and has a petting zoo, train, mini golf, snack shops and even a restaurant. All these contribute and support the programs run by Lambs Farm. The muffler man was probably ordered early on to stand in the park and today he stands next to a huge cow and milk bottle and they all are starting to show their age. It is also possible that the bunyan was purchased later in the 70’s or 80’s and brought to the farm but not even management at the park could remember exactly when he got there or how they obtained him. We got there after the park had closed for the day but did some quick filming for a upcoming Episode and got a few pictures of the worn lumberjack through the fence. After all these years he has managed to keep a firm grip on his trusty axe.
Thanks to Lambs Farm for speaking with me and letting me use content from their website.
Probably the most famous muffler man standing today is the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, IL. He stands in the parking lot of the Launching Pad Restaurant and has been for the last 48 years. I’ve covered the different versions of muffler men on this blog and in my youtube series “American Giants” and the gemini giant belongs the rarest version, the spaceman. In the mid 60’s we were in them middle of the space race and in June of that year Gemini 4 was launched, it was the second manned space flight in NASA’s project Gemini. As these events were unfolding in Cape Canaveral the guys at international fiberglass in California decided to keep up with the times and make a new variation to their muffler man line. And so the space man was born. In addition to the arm positions and bulging veins he was also given a space helmet and often his clothes were painted a spacy gold or green color. To my knowledge only 2 space men have ever been confirmed as being made and I have yet to see evidence of more. The first one seems to have appeared in an early add for international Fiberglass and pictures a space man with a surf board shaped sign that reads “Astro Oil Co”. The giant has on bunyan style legs with the pants tucked into the top of the boots but lacks the suspender buttons. Soon after what I believe is the same giant was moved to Coney Island and was fairly well documented there over the next few years first appearing with his helmet and then at some point it was taken off. The sign also was changed to read “Astroland” and he stood next to the giant ferris wheel. It is possible that the giant in the International Fiberglass add and the one at Coney Island are two different statues and if so then there would have been a total of 3 of these space giants that I know of to have existed. The only remaining space version standing today is the one in Wilmington and he is different in that he has on cowboy pants and what appear to be his suspender buttons appear in some kind of fabricated control panel that appear on his helmet just under the face shield. He is the only one to have received this “control panel” as far as I can tell and the other two did not have this feature. He comes with standard shoes but stands on a concrete pedestal that bares his name. Nearby stands the Launching Pad Restaurant that has just recently closed it’s doors and is now up for sale. Brand new the Giant cost $3,500 in 1965 and that has the same buying power as $25,955.11 in todays market. So even back then that hefty giant came with a hefty price and nothing much has changed. Although owner Morey Szczecin has received dozens of offers the giant can only be yours if you buy the entire property and so far it is still for sale. The giant has become a symbol of old route 66 in Illinois and even appeared in tourist commercials produced by the state. Hundreds of visitors still stop by to see him each year and just down the street stands a fellow International Fiberglass product, a Sinclair dinosaur. Our American Giants crew visited him in the summer of 2012 and that trip will be featured in episode #4.
These days the female version of the muffler man is a rare find and many muffler man hunters will drive out of their way to see her. Our case was no different when the American Giants crew deviated to Peoria, IL after visiting the Atlanta, IL Bunyan and before seeing the Gemini Giant in Wilmington. With only about 12 left across the country a uniroyal gal sighting is always a must if your in the area. I had heard about the one in Peoria before planning our road trip (currently being shown in American Giants Episodes) and found her unique in that she gets an outfit change every year. Turns out she is no stranger to Peoria and arrived there 45 years ago in 1968. She was part of a grand opening promotion for the Plaza Tire Co. and she was made by International Fiberglass for the Uniroyal Tire Company. Uniroyal had dozens of these giant women made in the mid 60’s to promote their tires and the girls were set up for promotions at participating dealers of Uniroyal Tires. Around the same time she arrived in Peoria another uniroyal gal was shipped to Salem, IL about 210 miles to the south. After the promotion the giantess in Peoria was moved around the area to different businesses to help promote tires and other grand openings. After 4 years on the road she was retired in 1971 and given back to the Plaza Tire Co. Uniroyal was moving in new directions and discontinued the Uniroyal Gal program across the country. At this time the giants were either trashed or fell to private businesses and collections. At 17ft 6 inches tall and 450 lb she became a landmark in Peoria and has stood all these years in almost the same spot. Because people kept backing into her legs on occasion she was moved recently to stand on top of a wooden planter to keep her safe from cars. Interestingly if you look at her steel platform it is the same one that she was shipped with from International Fiberglass. All muffler men shipped on these platforms so the area reps could move them around to different promotions locally. She was recently restored and given a new paint job and renamed Vanna Whitewall! Uniroyal Gals came in a fiberglass skirt and shirt and had the option for these to be removed to reveal a bikini underneath. She is the only uniroyal gal I know of that still transitions between the two every year. During the winter she has on her skirt and shirt and when it gets warm off come the clothes to “announce pool season” as the guys there told me. They also took me in the shop and showed me the giant “clothes hanger” they use to hang her clothes on during the summer months. We got an interview and some great go pro shots while we were there and she was well worth the diversion! She will be featured in American Giants Episode #4.
The little town of Atlanta IL has become a big stop for motorists traveling old route 66. With a population of just 1,700 it boasts a very unique old route 66 downtown on Arch Street that also includes the towns very own muffler man named Tall Paul. The area also includes an old diner, clock tower, route 66 antique store as well as other quant businesses. The muffler man is one of most iconic muffler men that exist today and the only one I know of to hold a giant hot dog. He appears to be a Bunyan version except for his clean shaven face and the lack of a knit cap. International fiberglass customized many of their giants to meet the customers needs so he is a bit of a cross breed with a cowboy head but with bunyan pants. He also appears to be made in the early days of International Fiberglass and is one of the few muffler men left to hold a custom accessory. I spotted him on our muffler man road trip last summer and he is a part of the first season of American Giants (episode #3). Along with that giant hot dog this muffler man also comes with a pretty interesting story that started back in 1965 when he was made. He was ordered by a man named H.A Stevens who was 43 at the time and wanted to start a hod dog stand in Cicero, IL. He heard about international fiberglass and the bunyans they were producing and flew out to Encino, CA to pick one up. He stated that this bunyan was already used by the oil companies at the time but also mentioned seeing many of the giants laying on their backs. Encino is 20 miles north of Venice and I was not aware of the giants being made or stored there. Also 1965 was in the hay day of muffler man production and business was going very well at the time so it seems odd this guy would be retired already. I am guessing the giant was new or almost new at the time of purchase and Mr Stevens payed 1,900 for his big guy. If you factor in inflation that was $14,084.37, a hefty price tag even today for a muffler man. On top of that he had it shipped to IL in 5 boxes and then had to have it set up. He replaced the standard axe with a giant hot dog and the muffler man was set up on January 8, 1966 on old route 66 in Cicero. That year was the golden year for muffler men, in 1966 both Texaco and Phillips 66 ordered hundreds of muffler men from International Fiberglass so the hot dog holding bunyan had a lot of company surrounding him. Mr Stevens named his restaurant “Bunyons” to avoid any copyright issues with other businesses. As other muffler men started to disappear he stayed on for almost 40 years at his post enduring bullets and arrows and probably other unpleasantries he doesn’t wish to remember. In the early days he stood on the roof but Mr Stevens wanted him to be more tangible to his customers and the children so he was moved down to the ground. In 2003 at the age of 81 Mr Stevens sold the restaurant and the next year his family was approached by John and Lenore Weiss representing the preservation committee of the Illinois route 66 Association. The muffler man was then loaned to the city of Atlanta, IL 150 miles to the southwest of where he stood for so long in Cicero. So today he still stands along old route 66 and is a major source of tourism for the little town. Literally thousands of people pass through Atlanta every year just to see the statue and get their picture with him. When the American Giants crew stopped by we learned he was getting a fresh paint job the following day by volunteers in the community. So he still looks as new as ever although I noticed a few signs of his true age. His torso no longer fits snuggly into his pants and a bit of a crack is visible. I also noticed his right thumb has been cut off a bit to make room for that giant hot dog bun. I have spoken with the painter that worked at International fiberglass and he remembers making hot dog buns for some giants to hold so I am a bit unsure if that hot dog was made locally in Chicago or if it is from International Fiberglass. So once more we learn about a man who’s life was effected by a tall silent muffler man and when people see the giant, they still remember Hamlet Arthur Stevens and his years of service to his country, his comunity and his hot dogs. He passed away at 89 but every day people still enjoy his contribution and travel miles to see it.
Special thanks to those who interviewed Mr Stevens and got his story such as Roadside America and the Chicago Sun Times. American Giants Episode #3 will feature this muffler man, town of Atlanta and our findings and adventures up old route 66.
Mark Cline and Enchanted Castle Studios is just a perfect example of why I throughly enjoy my hobby of tracking muffler men because you never know what your going to find. When I say tracking I really mean it, finding and photographing a muffler man is one thing but tracking down his story, history and former locations is where the real challenge and fun begins. And the story of the soda jerk has had my interest from early on in my hobby with muffler men. I guess I could have called Mark up right away but it was fun to try to figure it out on my own first. In the end (after the first episode came out) I finally wrote Mark and got the complete and very detailed story on how soda jerks came into existence. I’ve mentioned before that International Fiberglass came out with a second shorter version of the lumberjack a few years after meeting large success with the original. They were hoping that a shorter version and lower price tag would attract more business but interestingly the shorter lumberjacks were not all that successful and they stopped making them after a few years. I’m not sure how many hit the street but today there are more then 15 that are still scattered across America. One of these guys was shipped back in the 60’s to the Buccannan, Va area where by the mid 90’s it was standing at a lawn mower repair business. When that business shut it’s doors the muffler man was picked up by a twin restaurant chain named Spanky’s and Macado’s. Sometime after, Mark spotted the lumberjack, borrowed it and made a mold from it. Mark is an artist from VA that started creating all manner of huge fiberglass objects at the age of 19 when he started his own monster museum. These days it goes by the name of Enchanted Castle Studios and he continues to build a plethora of creatures, sculptures and objects for many different clients. The man is incredibly talented and driven and loves what he does. After making a mold from the muffler man, Spanky wanted the original lumberjack turned into a rock star to resemble the english singer George Michael and attract the youth. So Mark went to work modifying the head, beard, adding a microphone, leather jacket and even boots. The modified m man was then trucked off to a new restaurant in Lynchburg. Hold on this is where it gets interesting, his stay there was brief and the business soon closed it’s doors. At this point Spanky wanted the muffler man returned to a lumberjack so it could stand at a new business he had opened in Elkins, WV called “Lumberjacks”, sound familiar? Another artist did the transformation back to lumberjack status and the giant was moved to Elkins. That business also didn’t last long and somehow the muffler man ended up back at Mark’s studios missing his feet and in need of repair. This is where Debra Jane Seltzer’s muffler man feet picture starts to make sense. Mark replaced the missing feet and the giant went back out into circulation and Mark lost track of it. So today it is anyone’s guess where the muffler man that fathered soda jerks is located and the mystery still remains. Stay with me here…we’re not done! Now with a mold cast Mark created the “first” soda jerk. He decided that a beard was the last thing a soda jerk should have, wouldn’t want all those whiskers ending up in the ice cream float so he shaved it off and made a smooth chin over it. This is where the soda jerk head was born, it is in fact a modified bunyan head from the original. Interestingly before modifying the head mold into what it is today he made one original Bunyan head with the beard. That head used to adorn a 20+ foot Battle Mech. Today the giant is in pieces with the head still wearing his star goggles. Meanwhile the first jerk went to the “Star City Diner in downtown Roanoke at the corner of S Jefferson and Campbell in what used to be the old Hardees building. It was during this time that pictures of it started showing up on roadside america. After the restaurant went out of business Mark got the jerk back and loaned it to some friends that were running a small novelty store called “That’s It” pictures of it surfaced on roadside america during it’s time there as well. After a brief stint the Jerk went back to Mark and was stored at his studio for a few years. Around 2005 Mark took the Jerk to a trade show in Atlanta and a man from Panama bought him. So that is the story of the soda jerk, it’s head and how he came to be. Interestingly the original muffler man is MIA. Mark however is not and still continues to turn out his creations as well as muffler man/soda jerks from time to time. He makes two versions of them, the other being a cowboy. So after all that, true to muffler man style we are left with one missing giant and the first soda jerk is in Panama. It is never a dull story with these guys…
I want to thank Mark Cline for taking the time to dig all this information from his memory and sharing it with me, for the use of his pictures to help tell this story and most of all for adding to this world things that make us take a second look and smile. A documentary about mark is currently in the making, help fund this amazing look at his life and work!