#31 Beaumont, TX M Man

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Here is a classic all the way, one of the rare half wits and also a muffler man still holding a muffler. Many believe that all muffler men once carried a muffler and that most simply don’t have them anymore. IMG_6933 IMG_6941 IMG_6924
In truth many muffler men were shipped with other objects or nothing at all. All muffler men ordered by Phillips 66 normally carried a rifle or held a tire, I have yet to see a vintage picture of one holding a muffler. Bunyans always carried an axe and then there were all the unique items like rockets and hot dogs. Midas ordered a few of their guys with mufflers as well as Ken’s collection in Dallas but I have found that giant mufflers are much more rare then you would think. This one is yet another one of Ken’s Johnsons half wits, one of 4 that he purchased back in the 60’s for his muffler shops around Dallas.

While all of his half wits were shipped from International Fiberglass with yellow shirts and blue pants this guy came off the truck in a red shirt instead. This was the last half wit Ken purchased and it has been standing here in Beaumont most of it’s life. He is weathered a few storms over the years including hurricane Rita and hurricane Ike even knocked him half way over busting his shoe. After that he got repainted and set back upright although his foot is still damaged from the tip. He also is one of the M Men that has the International Fiberglass logo on his right leg. I’ve found that it’s pretty much a rule that cowboys, service men and half wits will always have the logo on their legs while Bunyans never do. Furthermore Bunyans always have cut marks around their legs below the knee. Clearly there was some modifications going on or a time difference here in manufacturing. Overall this guy is in great shape and it’s always nice to find one of these rare breeds of muffler men.

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The Half Wit

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Kansas City Half Wit IF addThe half wit is an interesting part of the muffler man story. He wasn’t the first variant made as I believe the indian came before but he was one of the options you could chose from when purchasing a muffler man. In all, there was a regular service man that was pretty much just the basic muffler man head and body, sometimes coming with a beard or a bow tie but normally clean shaven. Also the cowboy made mostly for Phillips 66 gas stations and the Indian, some of the first being made for the mohawk gas stations. There was the Texaco Big friend and Uniroyal Gal both made exclusive for the Texaco and Uniroyal companies respectively. And then what we call today the Happy Half Wit. Most of the terms we use today to describe muffler men were actually coined by

A Half Wit in Production at International Fiberglass

A Half Wit in Production at International Fiberglass Photo: Terry Nelson

Roadside America when they started seeing these guys over and over again on their travels across the country back in the early 90’s and even before. They came up with the name muffler man since many of the giants they saw held big mufflers. I believe “Half Wit” was another name they came up with for the Alfred Neumann looking model but International Fiberglass referred to it as the “mortimer snerd”. The early ones were made for mini golf courses up the east coast and in Ohio and many of the half wits left today are still in these areas. The other cluster is located in Dallas texas after Ken Johnson decided to go with the half wit model to Snerdadvertise his muffler shops back in the 60’s. The only other state I can think of that has one is Missouri and he can be found at Lake of the Ozark’s in the central part of the state. He is unique in that he is the only half wit I know of that has a raised right hand like the indian versions do. From what I have gathered the half wits came in two paint schemes, one was the yellow shirt with suspenders and blue pants with patches on it and the other was a red shirt and yellow suspenders with blue pants and no patches. Most of the half wits out there today still tend closely to these schemes. When talking to Ken Johnson of Ken’s mufflers in Dallas he told me that all his half wits had yellow shirts and suspenders until he ordered the one that now stands in Beaumont. That one came off the truck in a red shirt and didn’t match the rest he said. I also have noticed two different hat styles came with these half wits. The far more common of the two is the standard round farmer looking hat but there are two half wits that I know of that have the far more rare conductor looking hat. The conductor hat was made by simply cutting and modifying the round one. These conductor hat versions stand at Seaside Heights, NJ just off the pier and the other stood for many years at the Wagon Wheel Inn in North Madison, OH. The picture below is the one standing in NJ, wearing the red shirt and conductor hat. (Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for sharing the picture www.RoadsideArchitecture.com )

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Another interesting fact about Half Wits are their neck sizes! This is something Roadside America picked up on and mentioned in some of their posts. Most have the standard neck size but a few have hardly a neck at all and their heads are jammed down on their shoulders. These neckless versions are far more rare and I believe the one in MO is that way as well as one that used to stand on the pier at Seaside Heights, NJ. Seaside Heights is a story in itself for muffler men and it’s pier has been known for many years now to house a few. At one time a Bunyan stood here along with two half wits. However the Bunyan was knocked down in a bad storm around 2003 and pictures of it in pieces bounced around on the web for awhile until it disappeared altogether. The short neck half wit also disappeared around the same time but after looking closely at a google satellite image I noticed he was still there laying on his back on the pier staring up at the satellite.

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You can see the half wit on his back in the lower right hand corner of the picture. This is exactly where he was when Hurricane Sandy hit in late 2012 and after closely looking at news footage after the disaster I saw that the pier had broken away just east of his position and he seemed to still be in one piece in the same spot. Also his brother half wit standing a few hundred feet to the west on top of a building also seemed to have survived the storm (seen in the picture above). Sadly the Half Wit is the rarest of the muffler men (other then the big friend) but thankfully there are still over 10 in the US that can be seen and visited today.

The Kansas City Half Wit

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Flint Half Wit

When roadsideamerica.com started posting about their muffler man sightings and enlisting the publics help to find more, one of the early reports that came in was of a half wit that had stood in Kansas City, KS. From the reports given in seemed that it has disappeared sometime in 1996 after falling over in a storm or possibly was moved during road construction. I was never able to find anything else about it and often wondered if there was really ever a half wit there at all. Well in Sept Scott Phillips settled all those questions when he posted a picture on his blog of the Kansas City Half Wit that he snapped in 1985. From the picture we can see that he stood in front of a place called “Poor Boy’s Pantry” and from the records I was able to dig up this name is still registered and has been since 1960. Today nothing is left of the half wit except the same pole he stood against in 1985. The building is still there although now a sign above the door describes it as ” The Cabana Tanning Co”.

1965 advertising photo from International Fiberglass of the Half Wit after installation. Photo Credit Terry Nelson

1965 advertising photo from International Fiberglass of the Half Wit after installation. Photo Credit Terry Nelson

After looking at Scotts picture I recognized the shirt as the same one the half wit in Flint, MI wears. I have heard reports that the Kansas City half wit’s Hawaiian shirt was painted on sometime in the early 80’s, this makes sense because I have seen a advertising photo from International Fiberglass showing the Kansas City Half wit around 1969 and he is still wearing factory colors at that time. So I think it’s pretty safe to say that this guy is now in Flint, MI. We know that  Bob Perani bought the Flint M Man sometime in the late 90’s and that he stands outside his business the Dort Mall. Sadly Bob passed away in the summer of 2012 and no one else seems to know where exactly Bob got him. I think it’s safe to assume that Hawaiian shirt says it all. Thanks Scott for shedding some light on a long lost m man!

UPDATE: In January 2014 the giant was sold to Bruce Kennedy of Hayward, CA and the Half Wit will soon join the 3 other Muffler Men of Bell Plastics.

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Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer and her website Roadside Architecture for letting me post her picture of the Half wit in Flint. Also thanks to Scott Phillips for the use of his picture. 

#12 Dallas TX, Love Field Half Wit

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This Half Wit standing just north of Dallas’s Love Field is one of the best looking half wits out there, he is great shape with a nice paint job. He like the other muffler men owned by Ken holds a muffler and has since the late 60’s. Ken has something unique here in that his half wits appear just the way they did when ordered from International Fiberglass. I have verified that both the muffler and this paint job are original, although both have been touched up a few times since they were delivered in the late 60’s. Another interesting thing to notice is that his feet are the Bunyan model. One way to ID a Bunyan Muffler Man is by their legs and feet. They always have their pant legs tucked into the top of their boots as do about 50% of the half wits out there. Ken had two other half wits that I know of, one is my #31 sighting in Beaumont, TX and the other one was located off the Dolphin Road exit in east Dallas and stood on the roof of the muffler shop. It was last reported there in 1998 and after that moved south to Cleburne, TX where it stood for years behind a barn against a telephone pole on private property. It was just sold a few weeks ago and still is in the area.

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Another interesting thing to note here about muffler men is that they often clearly have a line around their leg just below the knee where they have been cut or fabricated together. I have not seen this on every one but on many. Footless muffler men are common across the states and many are either cut here or farther down at the ankle.