Pioneer Man

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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. 

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The places they have been……

 

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I think one of the things that interest me most about muffler men is their history. The fact that they were made in the early 1960’s and set up by businesses and family that are now long gone and very hard to track. The mystery of it all, to wonder what stories they could tell if they could talk or what they would have seen if they could. So much has changed since the days when they were shipped brand new across the states to stand at mom and pop restaurants and gas stations like Phillips 66. They were made in a day when no one thought twice to have the phillips 66 cowboy hold a huge rifle and a gun on his hip to represent an oil giant. Today they are like looking at a petrified tree standing alone in what used to be a forest full of 1960’s roadside architecture. Tracing their tracks has from the start been interesting to me, to go back and find the spots where they once stood and look for former owners or townsfolk who might have walked by them a thousand times as a kid. In Milford, NB a cowboy M Man used to stand next to a huge covered wagon off the exit from I-70. As the years passed the man who had built the roadside attraction and business got older and the place fell into disrepair. Sometime in the late 90’s the muffler man was sold and moved and the huge covered wagon lost it’s wheels. America was changing, the roadside advertising strategies of the 50’s and 60’s were slowly starting to disapear and were being replaced with commercials and internet pop up adds. The cowboy was moved to Cody, WY where he stood in a lot next to burger and ice cream stand until the place was cleared to make way for the new super walmart. From there he was carted off to Billings, MT where he still stands today, one of two M Men in town. I remember this awesome picture Roadside America posted from their trip through Milford in 1992 with them standing next to the M Man and looking at the covered wagon building. The wagon and lamp are still there but just some big footprints mark where the cowboy was.

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Although not a Muffler man, in Benton, IL a large yellow concrete slab still marks the spot where a Big John statue once stood outside the Big John grocery store. The Big John story deserves a blog post all of it’s own and I’ll post one sometime in the near future. Today the Big John who formerly stood on this round pedestal is a part of the Farnham collection of giants in Unger, WV www.roadsideamerica.com/story/10965

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I also think of my #81 sighting (yes I have some catching up to do on this blog) in Shelton, WA when I visited with Lloyd Prouty and he told me of the bunyan that stood for years at Bingers Gas station on South First St next to the old bridge and how he walked by him everyday on his way to school. Every once in awhile an old black and white picture will surface of an M Man standing at a spot an old timer has pointed out and that will totally make my day.

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