The Uniroyal Gal

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As the Bunyan muffler men began to become popular and more and more businesses across the US started purchasing them International Fiberglass kept on innovating. They first started with the oil giants, Phillips 66, Sinclair and Texaco making versions of muffler men or dinosaurs that could stand that their gas stations and promote their products and business. IMG_9912The idea was a success and the reason there are so many muffler men left today is because most of them were made in mass quantity for oil companies, chiefly Phillips 66. Their cowboys still cover large portions of the US with and without their cowboy hats. The texaco big friend sadly is a different story and Texaco was largely successful in destroying almost all 300 that were purchased except for 4 or 5 of them.   Shortly after Texaco purchased their 300 in 1966 the Uniroyal company also wanted a statue to advertise their tires. So International Fiberglass came up with the idea to do something different and make a female version of the muffler man. She was sculpted by an unknown artist who supposedly had a thing for Jackie Kennedy and IMG_9937sported an orange bikini. I’m not sure how many were made but altogether I have heard of 17 of them so far and 12 of those are still visible today. Needless to say these are one of the less common muffler men and new sightings almost never happen. International Fiberglass also made a skirt and shirt for the giant lady and these could be put on or taken off at the owners will. The Uniroyal girl in Peoria, IL is changed seasonally and during the winter she wears her clothes and during the hot summer she sports a red bikini. In Gainsville Texas owner Glen Goode even made the skirt of his Uniroyal girl longer so she could be “more holy” as he put it and in WV the Farnham’s Uniroyal girl now sports her newly painted bikini while her clothes lay in the grass nearby. The Uniroyal girl IMG_9947was originally made to stand outside gas stations and automotive repair stores that sold Uniroyal products. Like other muffler men owned by large corporations she was used in promotions and was moved from location to location by the sales reps. She stood on the same platform that the rest of the traveling muffler men and big friends did and you can still see one today under the Peoria, IL Uniroyal gal. I have been asked many time what she was originally made to hold in that raised arm. If you look closely at Glen Goode’s girl you can see a bracket inside her hand used to hold a pole or flag. I was told the Uniroyal Girl in Bradenton, FL once held an oil can back in the 70’s and the one in Blackfoot, ID used to hold a plate of food. However “she held tires” is the answer I am most often IMG_3270given and this would make sense since she was made to advertise them. Sometime in the early 70’s the Uniroyal promotion reached it’s end and in most cases the sales reps simply left the giants wherever they happened to be and so they went in most cases to the owners of the gas stations or repair shops. That is exactly how the Uniroyal Girl in Mt Vernon, IL ended up in the area and for her it was the end of the road. In IMG_3803other cases they kept on being sold and moved, interestingly Glen Goode found his in Wichita Falls and the one now in WV once lived in Mississippi at a fireworks stand. There are many interesting stories about these girls, ranging from angry locals upset over her lack of clothing to roomers that the girl in Bradenton once stood on Gasoline Ally at the Indi 500! I also know one once stood at the The St. James Infirmary bar in Mountain View, CA until 1998 when the place burned down along with the Uniroyal Girl inside. There are a few that have fallen off the charts and seem to be gone for good including the girl that used to stand in Ocoee, FL, Del Rio, TX and Chincoteague, VA. As always muffler men or muffler ladies in this case always keep most of their secrets to themselves and who knows how many more gals are out there and where they might be.

Current Uniroyal Girl Locations

Mt Vernon, IL Pearsonville, CA  Ungar, WV Gainesville, TX Bradenton, FL Lamesa, TX        El Paso, TX Hilltop, NJ Blackfoot, ID Rocky Mount, NC Peoria, IL Taber, Alberta

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Big John

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If you’re interested in muffler men it’s very likely you have run across these guys known as “Big Johns”. They are the step brothers if you will of muffler men and although they are not  related by “blood” they seem to be part of the extended family. IMG_2854 IMG_2887 IMG_2919 IMG_3260Standing over 5 feet taller then muffler men they are some of the largest giants mass produced back in the golden age of the 1960’s roadside giant architecture era. Their roots are far from the streets of Venice California and they were made in Cape Girardeau, MO at the General Sign Co. Back in 1960 two men Bob Martin and Frank Bayley formed a partnership and started opening grocery stores in rural southern Illinois towns. After about 7 years they started placing giant statues at their store locations. General Sign Co. started turning out the Big Johns around 1967 and I am guessing 10-15 were ordered altogether. These guys are taller and much heavier then muffler men and each of them held 4 giant grocery backs in their arms. The original paint job included a checkered shirt with an apron painted on. The grocery bags were filled with large fiberglass grocery’s and in some locations name brand stickers even appeared on the outside of the bags. At the peak of Big John’s Grocery they had locations in much of southern Illinois as well as a few stores in Tennessee and Kentucky. There is a statue in Cape Coral, FL but I am not sure if that is because there was a grocery store there at one time or it was just purchased and moved there from Illinois. Today there are 9 left that I know of an 2 of them still stand at operating Big John Grocery stores in Southern Illinois. In the 70’s Bob Martin and Frank Bayley slowly moved out of the grocery store industry and started Hucks Gas stations and convenience stores that now cover much of Illinois. As the grocery stores started to close their doors the giant grocery clerks were sold at auctions and start appearing at other businesses. Some have stayed in the grocery store ocupation like the guy in Carmi, IL that stands in front of the Little Giant Grocery Store. In Lakeview, MS one stands on the state line at a seasonal fireworks stand while another guards a strip mall in Florida and was just recently repainted.  They have also become popular with collectors and 4 of them can be found today in private collections. There is a Big John in St Louis, MO that is currently in two pieces. Screen shot 2013-06-07 at 9.21.58 AM IMG_20110520_145233Also the former Benton, IL Big John is now part of the Farnham collection in Ungar, WV. And of course there are the two huge Big Johns that now live in Gainsville, TX and are part of Glen Goode’s giant family. Glen’s Big Johns came from the few grocery locations that were in Tennessee and he picked them up off their backs in an empty lot after the closing of their stores in the 80’s. His Big Johns no longer hold their grocery bags but he still has them in storage. I hope to one day learn more of the story behind these giant grocery clerks and find out exactly how many were made, perhaps there are more that still exist that we have not found yet. Although often confused with muffler men these guys are a breed all of their own and along with what is known as the Beach Guy they tower over their muffler man friends. Recently Roadside America did a story on me and mentioned “my rules” of what constitutes a muffler man sighting or not. I don’t count my Big John sightings as muffler man because they were made by a different company. IMG_6883However I do count Uniroyal Gals and the smaller bunyans because they were made by International Fiberglass. I bend the rules a bit for copies of muffler men if they are exact because although not made by I.F. they still look like muffler men, for example Mark Cline’s soda jerks all get a # on my list. Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for the use of her picture of the Farnham collection in Ungar, WV that includes the former Benton, IL Big John.

#15 Sherman, TX M 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.

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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.

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#14 Gainesville, TX Uniroyal Gal

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Along with his “cowboy” Glen is also the proud owner of one of the rare uniroyal gals. Although not as popular as her male counterparts she was also sold by International Fiberglass. I still am trying to get all the history on the these but apparently Uniroyal Tire started ordering them in the late 60’s to advertise their tires at different locations across America. Some questions have been raised about the unique hand position and what she was originally meant to hold. It appears that this hand design was made to hold a tire although it has always seemed to me that was made to hold something with a handle. I have heard one report that one of these girls stood at a gas station in Florida in the 80’s and held an oil can in that raised hand. There are 11 known Uniroyal Gals left standing today that I know of and 3 others that probably still exist but have been off the grid for awhile. This one here used to stand in Wichita Falls, TX about 65 miles away at a car dealership and only had on a red bikini back then. Glen bought her back in the 90’s I believe and put on her clothes which the car dealership had in storage and also lengthened her skirt so she would “be more holy”. Today you can see her standing with the rest of his giants (which make her look almost small). 

#13 The Glen Goode Cowboy M Man

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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.

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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.

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Another exmple of this version but with a suit coat that came as an option for it is in Chicopee, MA.

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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.