Standing tall in Springfield, IL the Lauterbach muffler man is one of the better known muffler men out there. He owes this mostly to his popular location standing on historic route 66 in west central Illinois. He appears across the internet in many pictures taken by visitors as well as in Gabriel Aldaz’s book. He is a classic bunyan version and is actually one of the first one’s made judging by the way his arms are connected to his body. This muffler man was featured in American Giants 2nd episode and myself and the guys visited him in the summer of 2012 and were able to get his story and history. In 1952 Russ Lewis started Midtown Tire where the Hilton hotel now stands. Business was good and in 1961 he opened up a second store at the corner of State and Laurel and in 1962 purchased what at the time was a brand new Bunyan giant from International Fiberglass in Venice, CA. In todays money a muffler man in 1962 sold for about $13,600, at the time that was about $1,300. Sadly that store only stayed open another year and when it closed the giant was sold to the Round up Cafe 24 miles to the south in Farmersville, IL. The giant stood there for the next 15 years until 1978 when I-55 was put in and the giant was sold back to the Lewis family. That same year the giant was set up on Wabash Ave at it’s current location and has now been there for 25 years. In 1962 he held a tire in his right hand and today he holds a flag pole, I have yet to see a picture from his days at the Roundup Cafe and I am not sure what he held during that time. Life has not always been perfect for this Bunyan. On March 12, 2006 a two F2 tornados came through Springfield in what was the worst outbreak of tornados since 1957. They caused a total of 150 million in damages and picked up the roof of the Barrel Head restaurant next door to the bunyan and carried it south out over the street. The roof then came back to the north and connected with the head of the bunyan which at that point joined the roof on it’s journey down the street and ended up about 4 doors down to the east. The newspaper shot a famous picture of a neighbor carrying the head back to Lauterbach after the incident. A local body shop repaired the head and the bunyan has been doing pretty well since then. As an interesting side note also covered in American Giants Episode #2, Russ shared with an acquaintance the success of his newly acquired giant. So sometime around 1963 Stan the Tire man in Salem, IL also purchased a bunyan for his tire store. A few years later in 1965 when the Uniroyal company did their promotion with the Uniroyal Gal Stan also acquired one of them when the promotion ended and the gal was left at his location. The two stood together for a time before the bunyan was finally sold to a collector in NC and the gal moved south the Stan’s store in Mt Vernon, IL where she still stands today. I just want to thank the guys at Lauterbach for taking the time to talk to us and for the information Jay shared with us during out visit. Also want to thank Darren Snow for the use of his rare picture taken in 2000 while the bunyan stood at his original location in Salem after his “wife” had moved on and before he was moved to NC.
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.
Muffler Men are giant, hollow fiberglass statues which were built from 1962-1972. They were about 22 feet tall, depending on the model. The statues were produced in Venice, CA by International Fiberglass which simply called them Giant Men.
The Muffler Man name wasn’t coined until the 1990s. The founders of RoadsideAmerica.com began cataloguing offbeat attractions around the U.S. in the mid-1980s for their first book, “Roadside America.” The trio, Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins, began to notice the similarities between many of the statues. There were probably 20% more of them around then than there are now. By the 1992 release of their second book, “New Roadside America,” they had about 12 of these statues in their database. While they were amused by the statues, they hadn’t covered them yet. However, they privately began calling them “Muffler Men” since a few of the statues they’d seen held mufflers.
In 1996, when Kirby, Smith, and Wilkins launched the website, RoadsideAmerica.com, they included a section called “The Secret Plot of the Muffler Men.” Sightings and photos of these statues began pouring in from the website’s visitors. A map and on-line database were created at RoadsideAmeirca.com to document these statues around the country. The website continues to receive tips about new Muffler Man discoveries and updates about these statues from visitors. While it is rare than an undocumented statue is found, occasionally, one will emerge from storage or be found in a remote location.
The first Muffler Man statue was created by Bob Prewitt in Lawndale, CA. His business, Prewitt Fiberglass Animals, produced many of the giant chickens, pigs, buffalo, horses, and other animals still seen around the country today. Around 1962, Prewitt got an order from someone in Sacramento, CA for a 20 foot tall Paul Bunyan statue. However, the owner never paid for it. The story goes that Bob hit the road with the statue on a flatbed trailer. Supposedly, he headed east on Route 66 and went looking for a buyer. He happened upon the Lumberjack Café in Flagstaff, AZ and sold the statue to them. It is not known if Prewitt made more Paul Bunyan statues after the first one but it seems likely. However, his focus was on selling fiberglass animals.
In 1964, Prewitt sold some animal molds and the one for the Paul Bunyan to Steve Dashew’s father. Dashew owned a boat business but needed more work. Since he was already skilled with fiberglass, he thought producing some statues might be a good way to boost sales during the slow months.
A trade magazine article about the Paul Bunyan statues sparked the interest of gas and tire companies. Within a few years, International Fiberglass had modified the Bunyan mold to produce Cowboys for Phillips 66 stations, Indians for Mohawk stations and Pontiac dealerships, and Vikings for Viking Carpets. The company also produced Uncle Sams, Pioneers, Pirates, Alfred E. Neumann look-alikes, as well as other customized statues. International Fiberglass also produced a giant female statue for Uniroyal Tires.
By the time the company folded in 1972, there were hundreds of these statues on display. Today, there are about 180 of them left in the U.S. There are another half dozen or so in Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. While it is believe that all of the original molds were destroyed, new molds have been created to replace damaged body parts. A few statues have even been completely built with reproduced molds.
The very first Muffler Man produced is still in Flagstaff. It now stands outside the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome at Northern Arizona University. That statue was built in one piece. The other Paul Bunyan statue at NAU also came from the Lumberjack Cafe. The restaurant bought that one just a few years after the first one. By then, the statues were produced in four pieces which bolted together. At some point, International Fiberglass changed the way that the statues’ arms fit into the shirt sleeves. Many of the earliest statues are still located in the Los Angeles area.
I want to thank Gabriel Aldaz, the author of Right Palm Up, Left Palm Down, for the use of his photo of Bob Prewitt. Credit must also go to Roadside America.com for the information they have gathered over the years and the photos they have shared with me. Terry Nelson, a former employee of International Fiberglass, has also kindly shared his memories as well as vintage photos and advertisements. Thanks also to Debra Jane Seltzer of RoadsideArchitecture.com for her help editing this post.
At first I didn’t want to go see Chicken Boy, I had been in the LA area on business for a few days and checked out the other M Men in the area but kept putting this one off. I think I was still trying to make up my mind if he even qualified as a muffler men with his big chicken head. Things have changed a bit nowadays and if I even here that someone has a thumb of a muffler man I’ll drive out of my way to go see it. However there was no denying from the pictures that Chicken Boy was a muffler man and a trip to get some auto parts took me and my coworker within a mile of his location in Highland Park. I write from time to time about the famous muffler men or the better known one’s and Chicken Boy certanly makes the list. He has been around LA since the late 60’s and was purchased from International Fiberglass for the Chicken Boy Fried Chicken Restaurant in downtown LA on Broadway.
There’s still a few unknown facts like did he come with a normal bunyan head and was it cut off? The hands look IF to me and it looks like the fiberglass company used two modified right arms and turned them in a bit to hold the big bucket of chicken. I’m not sure if the bucket came with the M Man but the chicken head was made by an artist from Palm Springs. Chicken Boy stood on the roof of the 3 story building for about 16 years with his big bucket of chicken until the owner passed away and the family had no interest in keep the business running. Thats when Amy Inouye came into the picture. Realizing that this downtown LA icon was about to bite the dust she started calling the realty companies asking them what they were going to do with the giant. After a few calls the realty companies started calling her asking if she could take him! So on a dark night in May of 1984 around 4am, some guys Amy hired from a sign company pulled up with a semi truck, flat bed trailer and a cherry picker and picked the M Man right off the roof by his eye bolts and that was the close of his chapter on Broadway. An interesting side note here is that all M Men were shipped with eye blots one on each side of their shoulders. Many of the M Men standing today still have them.
For years he laid on his back at a friends house and only once between 1984 and 2007 was he ever set back up. It was a brief 6 week stint at a downtown mall in LA and typical to muffler man style he attracted allot of attention. Finally in October of 2007 he was set back up and once again can be enjoyed by the public and the occasional long distance trekker like myself.
It was hot the day we stopped in to see him and from the north he was almost completely blocked by a huge Sierra Mist billboard in Spanish. I noticed the hands and how they were unique for a muffler man and also that he had bunyan suspender buttons on his pants but interestingly his plant legs fell all the way to his shoes. I have always enjoyed muffler men standing on buildings or tall poles a bit less because it’s harder to notice the details. After taking a few pictures I walked into a buisness next door and asked the owner if I could climb up on his roof to see the Chicken Boy. He kind of looked at me strange probably wondering how I could have missed him while standing in the street but surprisingly he nodded his head and said “go for it” There was no easy way to get on the roof but after some creative planning I was up and able to get a much better look at his feet. Like many other M Men he’s got those cut marks just below the knee but in addition to that he has been modified with fake pant legs that extend down to his shoes. I also noticed the square hole in his back covered by a panel and that is also something I am starting to see more and more of. Often the owners of muffler men would install a speaker of some kind in their giants so they could “talk” to kids and visitors that stopped by. These holes are often whats left of the access hatch to maintain, repair and install that equipment.
In his case he still had his cover and after an interesting decent I was glad I had stopped by. He is certainly one of a kind and his chicken head alone measures 8 feet from top to bottom. Much of his story is known because of Gabriel Aldaz and his book “Right Palm Up, Left Palm Down”. The book is about Gabriel’s interest and discoveries in muffler men and a chapter is devoted to Chicken Boy and his story. I read his book early on in my hobby and would highly recommend it, you can visit his site at http://www.rightpalmup.com
Today Chicken Boy can still be found on the roof next to the animal hospital while a certain artist in Palm Springs, CA would rather be remembered for his water colors then the 8ft chicken head he made for a muffler man in 1968.
True to muffler man behavior this one comes with a bunch of secrets and history. I am sure there are many who could tell his story much better then I can but I will do my best and please feel free to fill in what I miss in the comment section below. As far as I know this guy goes way back to the 60’s and back then he used to be “Mr Frostie Freeze” and had on a little white bakers hat and held a huge hamburger.
In 1987 this place became the “La Salsa” and the burger man didn’t really fit in anymore so a guy named Bob Wade transformed him into a more appropriate roadside attraction to stand in front of a Mexican Restaurant. He was repainted and given a mustache and the bottom half of his burger bun was turned into a serving plate for chips and salsa as well as other items to be found inside if one would stop. In 2006 someone ran off with his collection food and since then he has been standing here holding an empty tray. The day I was there was windy and hot and the place was covered in people, the traffic was so bad it took us 15 min to get to him after first spotting his head above the buildings. Looking closely I noticed he is one of the few M Men that has both palms facing up in order to hold his tray. At the time I didn’t know what to look for in muffler men so I can’t say for sure if he has the International Fiberglass stamp on his right leg but seeing that his pants drop all the way to the top of his shoes a label should be there. Gabriel Aldaz mentioned in his book that Bob once reported finding a label on the inside that said “Riverside” I am guessing what he really saw was the outside label on the M Man’s right leg that said “Venice” because I have never heard of a label that says Riverside. The La Salsa Muffler man is one of the more altered muffler men out there along with a few others that have undergone dramatic makeovers. Bob Wade was contacted for the make over and came up with the idea and props for his transformation. Interestingly Bob was completely unaware that Dennis Hopper came along years later and made a copy of his La Salsa Man and started sending the copy around the world on tour with his art show! Today that copy can be found in Dodge City and although he is a separate piece , the idea behind him came from Bob Wades creation that still stands today and is in bad need of some new items on his food tray.
Photo credit of 1980’s Frostie Freeze ExperiencingLA.com and a speciel thanks to Bob Wade for sharing pictures of La Salsa man’s transformation.