Mark Cline and Enchanted Castle Studios is just a perfect example of why I throughly enjoy my hobby of tracking muffler men because you never know what your going to find. When I say tracking I really mean it, finding and photographing a muffler man is one thing but tracking down his story, history and former locations is where the real challenge and fun begins. And the story of the soda jerk has had my interest from early on in my hobby with muffler men. I guess I could have called Mark up right away but it was fun to try to figure it out on my own first. In the end (after the first episode came out) I finally wrote Mark and got the complete and very detailed story on how soda jerks came into existence. I’ve mentioned before that International Fiberglass came out with a second shorter version of the lumberjack a few years after meeting large success with the original. They were hoping that a shorter version and lower price tag would attract more business but interestingly the shorter lumberjacks were not all that successful and they stopped making them after a few years. I’m not sure how many hit the street but today there are more then 15 that are still scattered across America. One of these guys was shipped back in the 60’s to the Buccannan, Va area where by the mid 90’s it was standing at a lawn mower repair business. When that business shut it’s doors the muffler man was picked up by a twin restaurant chain named Spanky’s and Macado’s. Sometime after, Mark spotted the lumberjack, borrowed it and made a mold from it. Mark is an artist from VA that started creating all manner of huge fiberglass objects at the age of 19 when he started his own monster museum. These days it goes by the name of Enchanted Castle Studios and he continues to build a plethora of creatures, sculptures and objects for many different clients. The man is incredibly talented and driven and loves what he does. After making a mold from the muffler man, Spanky wanted the original lumberjack turned into a rock star to resemble the english singer George Michael and attract the youth. So Mark went to work modifying the head, beard, adding a microphone, leather jacket and even boots. The modified m man was then trucked off to a new restaurant in Lynchburg. Hold on this is where it gets interesting, his stay there was brief and the business soon closed it’s doors. At this point Spanky wanted the muffler man returned to a lumberjack so it could stand at a new business he had opened in Elkins, WV called “Lumberjacks”, sound familiar? Another artist did the transformation back to lumberjack status and the giant was moved to Elkins. That business also didn’t last long and somehow the muffler man ended up back at Mark’s studios missing his feet and in need of repair. This is where Debra Jane Seltzer’s muffler man feet picture starts to make sense. Mark replaced the missing feet and the giant went back out into circulation and Mark lost track of it. So today it is anyone’s guess where the muffler man that fathered soda jerks is located and the mystery still remains. Stay with me here…we’re not done! Now with a mold cast Mark created the “first” soda jerk. He decided that a beard was the last thing a soda jerk should have, wouldn’t want all those whiskers ending up in the ice cream float so he shaved it off and made a smooth chin over it. This is where the soda jerk head was born, it is in fact a modified bunyan head from the original. Interestingly before modifying the head mold into what it is today he made one original Bunyan head with the beard. That head used to adorn a 20+ foot Battle Mech. Today the giant is in pieces with the head still wearing his star goggles. Meanwhile the first jerk went to the “Star City Diner in downtown Roanoke at the corner of S Jefferson and Campbell in what used to be the old Hardees building. It was during this time that pictures of it started showing up on roadside america. After the restaurant went out of business Mark got the jerk back and loaned it to some friends that were running a small novelty store called “That’s It” pictures of it surfaced on roadside america during it’s time there as well. After a brief stint the Jerk went back to Mark and was stored at his studio for a few years. Around 2005 Mark took the Jerk to a trade show in Atlanta and a man from Panama bought him. So that is the story of the soda jerk, it’s head and how he came to be. Interestingly the original muffler man is MIA. Mark however is not and still continues to turn out his creations as well as muffler man/soda jerks from time to time. He makes two versions of them, the other being a cowboy. So after all that, true to muffler man style we are left with one missing giant and the first soda jerk is in Panama. It is never a dull story with these guys…
I want to thank Mark Cline for taking the time to dig all this information from his memory and sharing it with me, for the use of his pictures to help tell this story and most of all for adding to this world things that make us take a second look and smile. A documentary about mark is currently in the making, help fund this amazing look at his life and work!
This blog happens to be coming out appropriately right after the release of the first episode of American Giants that covers this soda jerk found in Macon, IL. I have created a slightly confusing situation by referring to this muffler man as both the Macon and Decatur soda jerk. There is only one and he is actually in the small town of Macon which is just south of the much larger town of Decatur. As I mentioned in the episode, he stands in the middle of a field along highway 51 and the business he apparently was ordered for stands empty and unfinished behind him. He has been standing here holding his ice cream for a few years now and it is unknown what will become of him. He is defiantly one of Mark Cline’s creations made from the mold he cast from a 15 ft muffler man. Mark continues to make soda jerks and cowboys, all variations of the original lumberjack from International Fiberglass. This one has one hand down at his side and the other in standard muffler man configuration. The soda jerk found in Derby, NY was made about the same time as this one and is almost an exact copy except that one is holding a burger as well. Check out the blog on Mark Cline for allot more information on him and these soda jerks.
Finally at long last we have completed and released the first episode of the series “American Giants” The episode covers the details of how muffler men got their name as myself and two of my friends head north in the state of IL near old route 66 in pursuit of muffler men. We discover the soda jerk in Macon and learn about it’s connection to the shorter muffler men that International Fiberglass built. This episode has been a long time in the making and I just want to thank everyone who was involved for your help. Big thanks to the guys at Roadside America for helping me get my facts right and for what they started so many years ago. Also to Debra Jane Seltzer for all her help and countless e-mails in helping me in my research and also for the use of many of her pictures she has taken on her travels. The episode runs 15min and because it was the first one we needed a bit more time to lay some foundation. Future episodes will run closer to 8-10 minutes in length and now that the groundwork is done there should be a new one every 3 to 4 weeks.
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. Standing 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. Also 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. However 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.
So here is an interesting side story. While browsing Debra Jane Seltzer’s website I came across this picture she took back in 2001 in the little town of Elkins, WV. She mentioned when the picture was taken and that it looked like it was sawn off at the ankles and also that she had no idea where the rest of him ended up. Missing feet or in this case missing bodies always have a good story behind them so I found a local that was able to do some digging for me. So for those of you who are interested in this long lost muffler man here are some details for you. The story starts in 1998 when a few guys partnered and opened the “Lumberjack’s Restaurant” on the upper floor of the Elks Lodge at the Elkins Country Club south of the cities airport. The main partner in the business had arrangements made for a lumberjack statue to be made in Roanoke, VA. After it was completed the lumberjack was brought to Elkins and set up in front of the lodge. His feet were set in concrete on top of a slab to keep him secure. By the latter part of 1999 the restaurant went out of business and shortly after the statue disappeared. It is not certain if someone stole him or perhaps the owner cut him off at the feet and hauled him away. I am also not sure if his feet are still on the property or not, it has been over 10 years so I am guessing they have been removed by now. It would be interesting to learn where he went and what he looked like. I have speculated that since he was made in 1998 that he is one of Mark Cline‘s creations since Mark’s studio is only about 40 miles from Roanoke. Anyone with more information please enlighten us! Check out the update to this story!
While visiting the muffler man in Hatch New Mexico I was in for a real surprise when I walked inside to talk to the lady in the office. By now she is fairly used to the visitor simply there to see Teako Nunn’s collection of fiberglass figures and there is information scattered around the room you can read about his various pieces.
cream cone standing about two blocks from the town center at a small cafe. I believe this is the first time the Soda Jerk came on the scene and how he was made and got there is still a mystery, at least to me. By 2000 he had been moved to Natural Bridge and stood on highway 11 at an ice cream stand called “That’s It”. The next time he showed up was in 2004 and by this time he had been captured by the artist Mark Cline and stood at his “Enchanted Castle Studios” in Natural Bridge. I have yet to make my way to Virginia on a muffler man trip so I have not met Mark yet and when I do hopefully I can get more of a scoop on his ice cream guy. (npi) Mark is a artist and entertainer who is inspired by science fiction films and his work is featured in the first episode of American Giants. Mark makes large foam and fiberglass figures for attractions and his work has slowly been expanding across the states. He has made hundreds of creatures and dinosaurs and also seems to provide a home for other fiberglass figures that he has not made. Years ago he got his hands on a 15ft muffler man version and made a mold from it. Since then he has been making his own version of muffler men that we call soda jerks. He smoothed out the chin for the new models but not before making one copy of the original Bunyan head. Years ago it adorned one of Marks creations, a 20+ foot tall battle mech. Today just the head, helmet, shoulders and the star goggles are left. The soda jerk however had a brighter future and Mark went on to make copies of it and eventually started selling them on e-bay. I know of 3 so far, my #43 sighting in Decatur, IL (white shirt blue pants and arm to the side) another one in Derby, NY at the Super Freeze ice cream store and finally this one in Hatch. I had heard about Mark by the time of my visit to hatch and figured this was one of his creations since the original Roanoke soda jerk had a left hand that faced down and this new arrival had an ice cream in his right hand and a burger in his left! Mark also has made a cowboy variation that stands north of Cincinnati. The reason all of this counts as a muffler man sighting is because somewhere somehow in the Roanoke soda jerk’s history he came from international fiberglass. His mold is a copy of the shorter bunyan that international fiberglass made although he has a different head then the bunyans. Since my visit to hatch the soda jerk has been moved outside by the road for others to see and enjoy.