#61 Elmsford, NY – Bunyan

IMG_0466

Picture Credit: Debra Jane Seltzer RoadsideArchitecture.com

Picture Credit: Debra Jane Seltzer RoadsideArchitecture.com

In July 2012, I had the opportunity to go to New York to visit some Muffler Men that I had not seen before.  My first stop was the Orange County Fairgrounds in Middletown to see “Chief Towaco”. This was an Indian Chief model that had been there since the 1970s.  Originally, this statue was one of three Indian models installed at the Danbury Fair in Danbury, CT.  Vintage photos show that this statue always had this strange looking, duct taped body.  At that point, his head was in normal condition and stayed that way until the giant was taken down.

IMG_20120704_152038

I arrived at the Orange County Fairgrounds on the 4th of July only to find out that the statue had been removed and trashed just two days earlier! I was told that the head was saved by one of the men who helped take the statue down. The rest of the body was hauled off to the dump. While I was at the Fairgrounds, I checked out the giant fiberglass cow head and some neat lights which came from the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

IMG_0475

After that, I went to see the Muffler Man in Elmsford.  This Paul Bunyan model stands on North Central Avenue just off I-287. It has been there since at least the 1970s. From the style of the statue’s shirt sleeves and arms, this appears to be an early statue from the mid-1960s.  The statue’s right arm has been missing as far back as anyone can remember. It’s possible that this statue never had one or it was removed to fit next to the sign.

Picture Credit: Debra Jane Seltzer RoadsideArchitecture.com

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer RoadsideArchitecture.com

The statue was originally painted the standard Paul Bunyan colors with a red shirt and blue pants.  By 2001, his shirt had been repainted gold.  Around 2004, the Amoco station was rebranded as a BP station.  The statue was painted green and yellow to match the new company’s logo. The statue’s eyes were also painted green and a flower planter was built around its feet.  The statue is a classic Paul Bunyan and not the same style as Phillips 66 or or Texaco Muffler Men so I have my doubts this giant was purchased for the oil industry. I have yet to find out if this statue has always been at this site or if it was moved there from somewhere else.

IMG_0479

In 2007, a driver accidentally backed a truck into this statue and ripped the left arm off right below the shirt sleeve. The station owner put the arm in a storage room where it has remained ever since.  Although I begged to see the arm, the clerk would not allow it.  He said that the owner was going to reinstall the arm at some point.  While there are a few Muffler Men around the country with missing feet, I believe this is the only one with missing arms. At the time of my visit, the gas station was being remodeled and the pumps had been removed.  Hopefully, the statue is also on the owner’s “to do” list and that the left arm will be reinstalled soon.

Pioneer Man

Image

IMG_4676

The Pioneer statue is technically not a Muffler Man.  When RoadsideAmerica.com began documenting these giant roadside statues in 1996, the name “Muffler Man” was born.  It was used to describe the Paul Bunyan type statues and their look-alikes that we would later learn were produced by International Fiberglass.  RoadsideAmerica began producing t-shirts showing the four different types:  Cowboy, Indian, Bunyan and Half-Wit.  The bodies for these statues were all spin-offs of the original Paul Bunyan model.  International Fiberglass marketed these statues as Cowboys, Indians Braves, Indian Chiefs, Golfers, Astronauts, Mortimer Snerds, and other names.

IMG_4727We now know that the Pioneer statue was also originally produced by International Fiberglass.  However, the mold for these statues was entirely different from the Muffler Man variations.  The statues were developed in 1968 for the Wagon Ho! restaurant chain.  Early on the owners of the chain decided they wanted to visually catch peoples attention and turned to companies like Orion and International Fiberglass to make this possible.  Don Williams owner of Orion was a designer of air supported and inflatable fabric coverings and he designed and built the huge covered wagon canopies that covered the IMG_4638restaurant. International Fiberglass was hired to design and fabricate the giant teamster that would sit on the edge of the building in front of the canopy and drive the imaginary ox or horse team.  These seated statues are 15 feet tall and Wagon Ho! called them “Wagon Masters”.  The Pioneer’s hand positions suggest that the statue held reins or a whip but he never did.

The company opened its first location in Birmingham, AL in 1968 and moved its headquarters to St. Petersburg, FL later that year.  There were plans to build 51 restaurants by mid-1969 and another 200 units by the end of 1970.  Wagon Ho! even sold franchising rights to someone in Canada.  However, the company soon ran into financial trouble and had IMG_4726folded by 1970.  There were only about five locations built in Florida, the one in Birmingham, and a few others in the Vancouver, BC area.  The location in Birmingham retained the covered wagon building and statue and operated for a few years as a Kelley’s Hamburgers and later as Dilly’s Deli.  However, none of the buildings still exist in a recognizable form.  Only two of the statues are known to have survived.  The Birmingham statue now sits in front of a construction company in Moody, AL.  The other statue was originally located in South Pasadena, FL.  It is now installed at a used car lot in Pinellas Park, FL.

IMG_3711At some point, standing versions of these statues began appearing in North Carolina.  At Debra Jane Seltzer’s website RoadsideArchitecture.com, she concludes that Unique Fiberglass Figures either copied the seated statues or acquired a mold and added a different, standing lower torso. I am inclined to agree with her since I have not found any evidence that International Fiberglass produced these standing statues. There are six of these standing statues known to exist:  five in North Carolina and one in Tennessee.

If you know of any other Pioneer statues, standing or seated, I’d love to hear from you. I also want to thank Terry Nelson for sharing his pictures of Pioneer Man during construction at International Fiberglass in 1968 as well as his International Fiberglass promotional material. 

#50 Wilmington, IL – Gemini Giant

Image

IMG_0105Probably 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. Astro Oil CoThe 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 IMG_9976International 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 IMG_0014have 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 IMG_0092market. 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.

#49 Peoria, IL Uniroyal Gal

Image

IMG_9887These 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. Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 12.06.00 PMUniroyal 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 IMG_9945businesses 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. IMG_9904All 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 IMG_9912gal 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.

Old Add Picture from Plaza Tire Co Website                For Pictures of all Uniroyal Gals still standing today, visit this web site

American Giants Episode #3

Video

IMG_9845Episode #3 is finally a reality after allot of hard work and research. The episode covers our visit to the town of Atlanta, IL and the bunyan giant that lives there. Interestingly I learned more in post production then I did during the initial visit last summer. While editing I was able to get in touch with John Wiess and the information and video he was able to provide really filled out the episode nicely. We want to thank him for his time and effort in helping us get this episode out as well as the Stephens family for their desire to help others continue the route 66 experience and for lending their giant to the town of Atlanta. I also want to thank Bill Thomas for the time he took to talk to our crew while we were in town and for all the work he has done to help the town. There are countless others who help out with keeping the giant repaired and painted, it really is a community effort. Although named “Tall Paul” during his move to Atlanta the giant is formally known as “The Bunyon’s Giant” This is to help us remember what he was for so many years while standing in Cicero. The reason for the interesting spelling is that Art Stephens didn’t want to run into any copyright issues so he named his restaurant “Bunyons”.

#48 Atlanta, IL – Bunyons Giant

Image

IMG_9739The 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. IMG_9707International 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. IMG_9713Encino 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. Screen shot 2013-07-24 at 4.44.37 PMThat 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. Screen shot 2013-07-24 at 4.32.34 PMIn 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. IMG_9718When 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 IMG_9845fiberglass 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.

American Giants Episode #2

Video

The second episode of “American Giants” is offically released as of July 9, 2013. The episode covers the details of International Fiberglass the company that made muffler men as well as Steve Dashew who owned it. We also continue to follow Joel and the guys up route 66 in search of muffler men. They make their second stop in Springfield, IL and visit the Lauderbach bunyan and talk to his owners and find out some very interesting history. Also Bo makes a cool discovery when he mounts a go pro camera on a boom pole. This episode is a reality due to the help of the guys at Lauterbach Tire in Springfield and also the many photographers and help I got from Roadside America. Again this episode runs 15min and although I tried to keep it under 8 I was not successful. The plan is for future episodes to be under 10 min in length.