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!
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.
About the time I felt I had a pretty good grip on what was and what was not a muffler man I started seeing these guys. Yet another mystery in the history of the International Fiberglass muffler man saga. Roadside America when starting to document muffler men also started running into these guys. Although they look similar they are a totally different mould and size and when I first started to see them I questioned if they were muffler men at all. That question was put to rest on my #23 sighting in Sutter Creek, CA just north of Jackson. I had been working for the week in Sacramento and got some free time to take a drive out in the country to the east and see this guy. Roadside America had not reported a sighting since 2005 so I wasn’t sure if he would still be there or not. I found him in good shape and holding some nice balloons to to announce the opening of the thrift store he stood at. He also bore the name of the store on the back of his shirt.This came as a bit of a surprise since for years the business had been a equipment rental store I believe. I still have yet to do my homework on this one and contact the owner. At the time I was there the owner was renting the building to the thrift store people and he allowed the M Man to stay. From my understanding this guy has been in the area since the 60’s and always has been with the same owner.
I have yet to find out if this mould was built by Bob Prewitt or International fiberglass but any doubt about him being a muffler man was put to rest when I noticed the “International Fiberglass” raised letters on his leg. It’s not the exact same logo that appear on the larger muffler men but IF all the same. So for some reason IF started selling not just the standard 22 ft muffler men but these smaller versions as well that are actually a completely different mould. I have heard they are around 15ft high but have yet to measure one to be sure. They also really don’t have a name to separate them from their taller counterparts and both models are called muffler men. For the most part they are the same idea, a lumberjack holding an axe with most often a red shirt and blue pants with suspender buttons on the pants. However these shorter versions often have a hat that looks more like a jungle pith helmet then something Paul Bunyan would wear. They also came without a hat but if one is wearing a hat it is always this same hat. As with the other Bunyans the pant legs come to the top of the boots and the shoes are similar. These versions are more rare then the taller ones and although I have yet to do an official count I would guess there are only around 20 of these left standing today, perhaps less.
Interestingly International Fiberglass made another version of muffler man based on this mould and it is known today as a soda jerk. The original stood in Roanoke VA for years before being purchased by an artist named Mark Clien who runs Enchanted Castle Studios and builds and modifies hundreds of fiberglass animals and figures. Mark made a mould from the original soda jerk which held an ice cream and hamburger and today he occasionally sells them on e-bay. His copies can be found in OH, IL and CA. Hopefully in the future I can meet Mark and get the scoop on his soda jerk and also a muffler man head he has floating around his studio.