In the mid 1960s Phillips 66 petroleum initiated an ad campaign around the slogan “Go with Phillips 66… the gasoline that won the west”. The ads featured images of cowboys along with some snappy copy that talked about Phillips’ “down home hospitality and service”, as well as their gasoline’s performance, which they claimed “gave you more gallop per gallon”. Motoring at this time was still a major recreational activity for most Americans and Phillips effectively used cowboy imagery to symbolize the “freedom of driving on the open road”. Much like the American cowboy who had rode west and tamed the wilderness, Phillips aligned itself with the cowboy mystique, aiding adventurous 1960s travelers as they made their way westward.
As we all know a number of muffler men were put to use in conjunction with this campaign. I’m not sure if International Fiberglass created a special version of the muffler man for Phillips or not, but we do know that a standard Phillips 66 cowboy had a hat and rolled up shirt sleeves… sporting Phillips 66 logos on their breast pockets as well as on the front of the cowboy hat. In some shots one can see cowboys wearing a holster and six shooter, there has been some speculation that some also carried rifles, but I have yet to see an example of this. Through my research I’ve come across a number of vintage images of various Phillips 66 cowboys, all of which are long gone. Luckily for us a few of these muffler men ended up on promotional postcards created by the proprietors of these stations. One of the nicer ones I’ve seen was used to promote Vaughn’s Phillips 66 Station located on Highway 20 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. I have no idea whatever happened to this muffler man, but it’s a great example of roadside vernacular especially with that huge mutant head located on the roof. Another Iowa cowboy can be seen on this postcard from the Landmark Truck Stop and Restaurant, located in Williamsburg. This restaurant is still in operation today but unfortunately the cowboy is long gone. Locals referred to him simply as “Phil” – he must have had some impact because as you can see he even made his way onto their matchbooks! There is also a well documented Phillips 66 cowboy which was located in a station next to the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas in the mid 60s. Gabriel Aldaz devoted a whole chapter in his book “Right Palm Up, Left Palm Down” on his attempt to find this particular cowboy , unfortunately he was unsuccessful in obtaining any relevant information about his current whereabouts.
Another great source for vintage Phillips 66 cowboy imagery can be seen in newspaper articles from the period. I’m guessing if the town was small enough having a 20′ tall fiberglass statue erected on main street was something worth reporting. One can see this in this blurry newspaper article from Conroe, TX. I also uncovered this press photo from St Petersburg, Florida. This is a particularly good shot in that one can see this cowboy’s holster and gun clearly as well as the rolling base. The little kid holding his arms up is also pretty funny. He’s identified on the back of the photo as “Little Donnie Brown” age 3… his father ran the Phillips 66 station located coincidentally on 66 Street North. (I noticed that this photo refers to these cowboys as part of a “touring promotional attraction” so perhaps some of these moved around from site to site? ) Article by Roger Bywater
Editors Note: It seems most cowboy versions left today were at one time Phillips 66 Cowboys. Many have lost their hats and are mistaken for the service man version when in fact they were once Phillips 66 cowboys. The cowboy hat was made from a simple mold they made at International Fiberglass and because it’s so thin and fiberglass becomes brittle over time they often crack and fall apart and are long outlived by the cowboy. Very few left today still have their six shooters on their belt. These were often the first items to “walk off” and I only know of 3 that still have their six shooters. As Roger mentioned, it has been reported that they also carried rifles although I have yet to see a vintage picture of this. A few hold rifles today and when talking to Marvin Hawk who used to own a cowboy m man in Roseville, IL he stated that when he got his muffler man from a western store in Monmouth he was wearing a cowboy hat and holding a rifle. Some cowboys still are standing on the platform patented by Steve Dashew like the cowboy at the top of this article in Wendell, ID. This would support the idea that these cowboys did move around from gas station to gas station as part of a ongoing promotion by Phillips 66. I have heard it said that the area reps were less then excited about these muffler men as moving them about from site to site was not a “fun activity”. Today very few if any still wear their original stickers but if you look closely at the cowboy in Wendell you can still make out the outline of a Phillips 66 sticker and a time gone by.
Special thanks to Roger Bywater for his contribution to this blog. All pictures used with permission from a private collection.
With well over 100 muffler men out there and being over 50 years old now, chances are high that not all of them still are %100 complete. Feet, heads, arms and items they held commonly disappear and even a torso from time to time. Before International Fiberglass closed it’s doors part of it’s business was simply replacing missing axes and other things the muffler men held. It seems more then one collage student in the 70’s wanted a giant axe for their dorm room wall. Sadly stealing these items came at a price that the owners had to foot and although some ordered new items many didn’t bother and so the majority of muffler men out there today hold nothing at all.
The service man version that stands today in Las Cruces, NM is one of the ones missing some important body parts. I have always thought that if a muffler man is missing something important, it’s because it was taken or stolen at some point in time but surprisingly this is not always true. In fact it is important not to jump to conclusions because in many cases the owner still has the missing pieces. This is the story here in Las Cruces and his arms were simply taken off to accommodate that huge sign he holds and they are stored at another location. Other muffler men with body parts in storage include the steelers football player in PA who’s head is not missing but in storage after falling off. The Bunyan at Lake Vanare, NY is missing a foot that the owners have in storage (although I think one of his arms is gone for good). The Elmsford, NY m man was always missing his right arm but the left was knocked off recently when a truck backed into it and it is stored inside the gas station.
The Las Cruces m man arrived here in the early 90’s and was hauled in the back of a dump truck in 3 pieces. His owner said he was once a Phillips 66 cowboy but had already lost his hat by the time he purchased him. He has stood here at “Big Daddy’s Flea Market” for a long time and the locals all call him “Big Daddy” Since he is a cowboy that almost is a guarantee that he has a International Fiberglass stamp on his leg, although it is faded I could still make it out on his left leg. His right leg is banged up a bit and has been patched with some duck tape thats starting to come off so some fiberglass work on this guy would not be out of order. I was also very interested in the platform that he stood on. International Fiberglass sold their muffler men with a stand that was a metal frame on wheels. This was a patented design made by Steve Dashew and it was built so the giant could be displayed at a business and also easily hooked up to a trailer to be moved to another location for display. The Texaco Big Friends were all sold with this and I have seen many vintage pictures of muffler men in the 60’s and 70’s standing on these platforms. These days they are almost impossible to find and I have only seen a few of them in my travels. However this giant seems to be standing on one and if it’s not original it still closely resembles what these guys once shipped out with. The area seems to attract large objects and there is a giant bull across the parking lot from the muffler man. I wish now I would have asked the owner about the platform but as is often the case I noticed it later when studying the pictures I took more closely. It’s amazing the small details you can miss and look over when on site with these guys and I always seem to discover more at home studying the picture then I do out in the field.
My #30 sighting landed me in the St Louis area which has a few muffler men in the surrounding area. There used to be a Bunyan south down I-44 in Sullivan and a bunyan also stood downtown at a tire shop at one point. Today that bunyan is to the west of St Louis and there also is the shorter m man version up along old route 66 in Livingston, not to far away. This cowboy is located at Croft Trailer just south of St Louis off I-44 and used to be visible from the interstate. His history is a bit hazy but I do know before arriving at his current location he stood at a used car lot across the border in Illinois at a gas station in Belleville. Trying to find a picture of him there has proved impossible and at this point I haven’t even been able to find out the name of it or where it was located. In the late 90’s he was purchased by the guys at croft and moved to their business. Sadly this guy is a bit unsteady on his feet and he has had a few falls since his move. The first one happened sometime around 2005 and left him with smashed fingers on his right hand. So the guys at croft patched him up and mended his hand and set him back up on his platform which is attached to the edge of the roof of one of their workshops. All was well until 2009 when another storm came along and this time he ended up in pieces. His head broke off and both of his arms and today he lays pretty much where he fell over 3 years ago. The folks at croft are a busy bunch of guys so repairing the cowboy and getting him back up has taken much longer then expected although it’s still in the plans. People have offered to buy him the way he sits (or lays) but the owners are firm on keeping him and will get him up again one day. This is true with almost all muffler men owners, they don’t let their m men go easily. Muffler men rarely appear on e-bay and if one would want to own an m-man it’s not an easy task to get your hands on one. Today this one is mostly forgotten and hard to see with all the weeds and storage equipment surrounding him. He lays on his back with his head tilted at an odd angle from the body and his cowboy hat is partly smashed with pieces of it scattered around. The arms lay in a truck bed liner and the rest of him is stretched out in the weeds waiting to be remembered and one day restored. I also found the name “Tom” spray painted on the inside of his left foot, as I often say these guys have their secrets. Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for the picture of the cowboy when he stood on his platform overlooking I-44 back in the day. http://www.agilitynut.com/giants/momm.html If your interested in Roadside America’s reports on this guy he is listed under Valley Park Muffler Man.
In a lonely field all by himself stands one of Glen Goode’s “copies” at his sons sand blasting business in Sherman. Glen made two more cowboys from the mould he cast (see #13) and one came here and the other one went to Sanger, TX. All three look just the same and have an original muffler man head, hat and hands which were not actually designed to go with this body.
It looks like it has been awhile since this guy got a touch up and paint job and I am not sure how much business goes through this place anymore as it was pretty empty when I stopped in. The cowboy in Sanger also stood at one of Glen’s son’s businesses but that one was sold and moved up to Amarillo in early 2004. It now stands in front of the Country Barn Steakhouse right along I-40 and looks in much better shape then it did when in Sanger. Bullet holes have been patched up and a local painter in Amarillo has done an amazing job with this guy. Thanks to my friend Michael Younkin for snapping this picture for me in 2011.
My 13th M Man was one of the more famous or well known ones out there. A tall cowboy standing in Gainesville, TX one of 4 giants standing in front of Glen Goode’s farm. Glen’s collection is one of the more photographed and talked about ones so I had heard of Glen long before my visit and it was a pleasure to finally meet him. He loves having visitors and as soon as he saw me out there taking picture he hopped in his golf cart and came right over to tell me about his collection. He’s got 2 Big Johns (not M Men but another bread of big men, I’ll do a blog about them sometime in Feb) a cowboy and a Uniroyal Gal. The cowboy is a rare model made by International Fiberglas that has yet to be coined with a name (I call it the “Glen Goode” version) and it often is confused with the Texaco Big Friend which Glen assured me it was not. He told me he had once worked for Texaco and remembers the big friends and that the wind blew a few over and they caused law suits and Texaco ordered them all taken down and destroyed. He alluded to the fact that he had a chance to get his hands on a few but didn’t. Anyhow years later he spotted this body in Garland, TX at a go cart track laying out back with no head or hands. He bought him and hauled him home to start his collection of giants. A standard head and cowboy hat was borrowed from a muffler man in Canton, TX and Glen cast a mould from it. He then talked to Ken Johnson of “Ken’s Mufflers” in Dallas and borrowed the arms from one of his half wits to make moulds for the missing hands. If you look close you will notice that the hands are a dead match for any other standard muffler man as well as the head and face.
Glen went on to also cast a mould of the body and legs and started making copies so his son could also have a giant at his sandblasting shop in Sherman, TX. In total he cast two copies from his mould, one still stands in Sherman and the other is up in Amarillo. The moulds still stand in his barn and although they aren’t used anymore it is a rare site to see a mould for this version of muffler men.
There are a few originals of this kind of M Man still standing but they are rare. There is one in Oakwood Village, OH that I mentioned in my last blog as well as my #72 sighting (not standing) which is a good example of what the original face and hands looked like.
Another exmple of this version but with a suit coat that came as an option for it is in Chicopee, MA.
These are great examples of what Glen’s Cowboy once looked like and somewhere out there is a head and hands without a body. So the truth be told, Glen’s cowboy is not really a cowboy at all. Also as a side note and another mystery I want to track down is the muffler man he cast the head and cowboy hat from. It stood in Canton TX but I’ve never seen a picture of it or learned where it went. If you have any ideas or info let me know.