#45 Montpelier, IN – Indian

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International Fiberglass made two kinds of indians you could order. One was an indian brave with a bare chest and normally one or 2 feathers and a serious face. This version seems to be the more common today and was the indian chosen by the mohawk gas stations to be their mascot. IMG_20120502_083735The second indian was almost the same but actually had a different head mold with a fierce facial expression and a full indian headdress. Other then the head both versions are the same from the neck down. One of the more uncommon full headdress indians can be found in the small town o Montpelier, IN and he has lived here since January of 1984. Like many full headdress indians his life started out at a Pontiac dealership. I have heard this over and over now in my travels and when asking about the history of an indian the answer is often “oh we got him from a pontiac dealership”. Somewhere back in the day Pontiac must have decided that an Indian muffler man would make a good mascot and at least a dozen of these guys were ordered and stood at lots scattered across america. IMG_20120502_083805Both head versions were used at Pontiac lots and the idea seemed to die out and lots sold the indians mostly in the early 80’s. The name Pontiac was first used around 1893 by the Pontiac Buggy Company later becoming Spring and Wagon Works Company. The Pontiac Buggy Co. originated in Pontiac, MI and got it’s name from the location named after Indian Chief Pontiac. In 1906 the Oakland Motor Car Co. merged with them and in 1909 GM acquired both brands. Seventeen years later in 1926 GM marketed it’s first Pontiac car and it set an automobile industry record selling 76,000 cars the first year and priced under $900.

Picture 4The Montpelier indian stood at a Pontiac lot in during the 70’s as many indian versions did. This one stood at Dave Waite Pontiac at 54th and Keystone and he even appeared in some International Fiberglass promotional material from 1969. After being taken down he was given to the city by Larry P. Godfroy who is the great grandson of Francois Godfroy, the last war Chief of the Miami indians who once lived in the area. Today the muffler man stands on the main intersection in Montpelier and still proudly wears his IF label on his leg.

Thanks to Terry Nelson for providing the vintage photograph of the indian during his days at Dave Waite Pontiac. (the old black and white picture had been reversed for advertising purposes)

#44 Muncie, IN – Service Man

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The Muncie M man seems to have called this town home for a very long time. As far back as I have been able to dig he has always been somewhere in Muncie. Obviously he came to Indiana at some point but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was during the 70’s when he was more then likely sold. Earliest sightings placed him on on Broadway Ave at a local car lot and I have seen one rare picture of him at that location. Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 9.52.34 PMSometime before 1997 that lot went out of business and it is likely that he was sold to the guys at  Smith and Sons RV Sales along I-69 because thats where he ended up.  Smith and Sons RV Sales was located off of exit 41 on the west side of the interstate and it was during this time that he was modified to hold things in his hands. Realizing that although muffler men boast rippling muscles and bulging veins their arms aren’t really all that strong the guys at Smith and Sons poked holes in the back of his elbos and ran steel supports down their forearms and out their hands. This steel structure is connected to the large pole behind the giant to hold him up. So in reality the giant isn’t really holding anything with his fiberglass arms but the steel skeleton inside is doing all the work. This is common in muffler men and you can see this in others like the Pahrump big friend in Nevada. In fact the guys at the disposal plant got him because of the large steel structure that was inside him holding him up and planned to recycle it. However once realizing his value they have left him the way he is for now, although some damage was done in the move. IMG_20120425_121423The Muncie muffler man soon received a sign to hold in one hand an a mini RV in the other and appeared this way with his accessories and white shirt until the business was sold and the property purchased by MacAllister Machinery in 2005. At that point the sign and RV disappeared and the giant was left empty handed and has remained that way till today. Around 2007 he received a new paint job and was given black pants and a bright yellow shirt which makes him nice and easy to spot when driving by on the interstate. I have actually visited him twice now on my travels. He appears to be a service man version but it is possible he was a cowboy at one time. I don’t seem to have a close up of the international fiberglass logo in my files which probably means I was not able to find one. He’s got cowboy legs so he should have one, sometimes these logo’s get sanded off when muffler men are restored or repainted. Thanks as always to Roadside America for the information they provide on their website and Debra Jane Seltzer for letting me use her pictures of the muffler man in 2005 when he was still with Smith and Sons RV Sales.

#42 Caguas, Puerto Rico M Man

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In the late 90’s Roadside America started appealing to it’s website visitors to help find more uncharted muffler men. The tips poured in from across the states and the real scope and reach of muffler men started to be realized and seen as Roadside America built their online map. Among the reports were a few out of country sightings that also made it on to a special page. Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 8.41.25 AM IMG_20120212_113450 IMG_20120212_113734 IMG_20120212_113849 IMG_20120212_113827 Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 9.19.27 AM IMG_20120212_114122When I started my hobby I discovered this and made a mental note of the few muffler men who dared cross our border. There are a small handful of muffler men that have migrated to Canada and Mexico and then one in Panama, Italy and Puerto Rico. The one in Panama has been photographed so I knew that sighting was good but the other two tips did not include pictures which often means it can be a case of mistaken identity. For a long time there was a report of a muffler man in Nashiville TN but after I visited the location I discovered it was a man made out of mufflers that had once lived at the location. I figured this was the case in Puerto Rico but decided to investigate on one of my business trips to the country in February of 2012.

In 1999 a report had come in to Roadside America stating that one was in Caguas. It reported the giant to be a service man version and stood on the back lot of a auto body shop. I arrived in the city early in the morning and started showing locals a picture on my cell of the muffler man in Washington, GA that I figured would most closely resemble the one reported in Puerto Rico. Sure enough the locals started nodding their heads and pointing (because I don’t speak a lick of spanish) and thats when I knew we might have something here. Following the directions given led me right to the shop mentioned in 1999 and when I pulled in I saw the muffler man standing at the back of the lot well off the street. I quick talk with a worker gave me his history and also that of it’s owner.

It appears a man named Rafael Ramirez Aponte owned a gas station in Caguas in the 60’s and during that time visited a trade show in California. That is where he met International Fiberglass and their big men. He purchased a service man version of the muffler man and had him shipped on a freighter to Puerto Rico. Once the giant arrived he was trucked to the inland city of Caguas and set up at the owners gas station where it stood for many years. Most adults in the area who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s remember the giant standing in front of what I think was a texaco station. Sometime in the 80’s the giant was moved to the owners auto shop and set up on the back part of the property where he still stands today. He has been painted many times and like many things in Puerto Rico has darks water stains on him from the almost daily rain showers. He is one of the earlier muffler men produced by IF judging from the way his arms fit into the sleeves. Also interesting to note is that his legs are bunyan with the suspender buttons and pant legs tucked into the top of the boots. The locals seemed to be suprised to learn there are hundreds of them in America since they were under the impression they owned the only one and that his faced was modeled after the owner Rafael who passed away in late 2011.

#38 Hatch, NM Soda Jerk

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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.IMG_7557 IMG_7559

While chatting with her she casually mentioned the other muffler man they had and asked if I had seen it? I had no idea they had a second m man on sight and she took me out back to see what turned out to be a soda jerk! The history of the soda jerk is sketchy at best and tracking this guys roots has left me with more questions then answers. Shortly after Roadside America started their muffler man campaign dozens of tips were flooding in from across the country with muffler man sightings and one tip showed up in March of 1998 from Roanoke, VA. It described a tall fiberglass giant with a square jaw holding an ice

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 4captured 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. IMG_9557The 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.

#36 Las Cruces, NM M Man

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With well over 100 muffler men out there and being over 50 years old now, chances are high that not all of them still are %100 complete. IMG_0468 IMG_7496 IMG_7494 IMG_7503 IMG_7510 IMG_7512IMG_7504Feet, heads, arms and items they held commonly disappear and even a torso from time to time. Before International Fiberglass closed it’s doors part of it’s business was simply replacing missing axes and other things the muffler men held. It seems more then one collage student in the 70’s wanted a giant axe for their dorm room wall. Sadly stealing these items came at a price that the owners had to foot and although some ordered new items many didn’t bother and so the majority of muffler men out there today hold nothing at all.

 

The service man version that stands today in Las Cruces, NM is one of the ones missing some important body parts. I have always thought that if a muffler man is missing something important, it’s because it was taken or stolen at some point in time but surprisingly this is not always true. In fact it is important not to jump to conclusions because in many cases the owner still has the missing pieces. This is the story here in Las Cruces and his arms were simply taken off to accommodate that huge sign he holds and they are stored at another location. Other muffler men with body parts in storage include the steelers football player in PA who’s head is not missing but in storage after falling off. The Bunyan at Lake Vanare, NY is missing a foot that the owners have in storage (although I think one of his arms is gone for good). The Elmsford, NY m man was always missing his right arm but the left was knocked off recently when a truck backed into it and it is stored inside the gas station.

The Las Cruces m man arrived here in the early 90’s and was hauled in the back of a dump truck in 3 pieces. His owner said he was once a Phillips 66 cowboy but had already lost his hat by the time he purchased him. He has stood here at “Big Daddy’s Flea Market” for a long time and the locals all call him “Big Daddy” Since he is a cowboy that almost is a guarantee that he has a International Fiberglass stamp on his leg, although it is faded I could still make it out on his left leg. His right leg is banged up a bit and has been patched with some duck tape thats starting to come off so some fiberglass work on this guy would not be out of order. I was also very interested in the platform that he stood on. International Fiberglass sold their muffler men with a stand that was a metal frame on wheels. This was a patented design made by Steve Dashew and it was built so the giant could be displayed at a business and also easily hooked up to a trailer to be moved to another location for display. The Texaco Big Friends were all sold with this  and I have seen many vintage pictures of muffler men in the 60’s and 70’s standing on these platforms. These days they are almost impossible to find and I have only seen a few of them in my travels. However this giant seems to be standing on one and if it’s not original it still closely resembles what these guys once shipped out with.  The area seems to attract large objects and there is a giant bull across the parking lot from the muffler man. I wish now I would have asked the owner about the platform but as is often the case I noticed it later when studying the pictures I took more closely. It’s amazing the small details you can miss and look over when on site with these guys and I always seem to discover more at home studying the picture then I do out in the field.

Pahrump Big Friend Down

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December 12 was was a sad day in the muffler man world. One of 4 known Big Friends was taken down that morning after standing on top of a sign pole for about 20 years or so. He was known as the Valley Home Giant and stood at Valley Homes along highway 160 in Pahrump, NV. He had been repainted since his Texaco days but was still recognizable as one of the very rare Big Friends. Before coming to Pahrump in the early 90’s he stood on the Boulder Highway in Las Vegas. Originally he most likely stood at a Texaco gas station in Vegas. I’ll let the video tell the story of why he was taken down, it is both sad and unfortunate. There are at least a half dozen museums I know of that would have loved to have had him in their collection for visitors to enjoy. I have always hoped one of these guys would be restored back to Texaco colors and thankfully that is still a possibility for the Pahrump Big Friend. After he was taken down the locals including the TV station and newspaper became aware of his value and history from all the inquiries they received about him. This possibly prompted the Pahrump Valley Times to write an article on his disappearance and they were able to find out what happened to him after he was hauled off. Although some may not have realized his value thankfully the guys at the landfill figured there was more to this guy then a pile of junk. He was broken up a bit in the dismantling and shipping to the landfill so they took him in pieces and he is currently in storage. It is hard to say what will become of him although there has been some talk about possibly putting him up at the dump. I can think of a few better places for a Big Friend to stand then the local dump but am very thankful the guys there rescued him from the machines.

#33 Texarkana, TX M Man

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This one was a long time in coming but finally figured out where he was and sighting #33 became a reality. I came across a picture on flicker one day during my weekly internet muffler man hunt that I didn’t recognize. IMG_7055 IMG_7080 IMG_7082 IMG_7084He was called the “Ledwell Giant” and was said to have once lived on top of a tall platform at a truck stop off the bypass in Texarkana. It seems he had disappeared around 2004 and a few people in the comment section where interested in what had happen to him, as was I. Some time went by before I saw another picture of him, this time indoors and with a complete makeover. I soon discovered he was at the same location but indoors and a few months later stopped in to check him out.

The Ledwell Machinery company has been around since 1946 selling all kinds of yard and construction equipment ranging from toro lawn mowers to chain saws and font end loaders. I’m not exactly sure if they owned this place when it was a truck stop but they have been in this building for awhile now. Before that this lot was busy with semi’s pulling in and out all day from the nearby highway. A tall poll on the property once held a small building where a man would monitor the yard and help truckers in and out of the parking lot via CB I imagine. Next to the building on the catwalk stood the muffler man. Locals guess he was put up sometime in the 70’s until finally coming down in 2004. Ledwell took the building off the poll and replaced it with a full size truck and then hauled the muffler man inside where their guys did a full restoration on him. I don’t think I’ve seen any other muffler man get a makeover like this one. They went all out and gave him pencils for his pocket, Bobcat safety glasses, work gloves, a new belt and a giant shovel to hold. They even made a chain saw for him but it now sits across the room on top of a wall. He also got a new paint job but you can still see the “International Fiberglass” stamp on his leg. The guys that work there are great and took the time to tell me a little about his history and upgrades.

#32 Shreveport, LA Muffler Man

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Actually closer to Bossier City this cowboy has been up on this pole for about 26 years. He stands high above the Topps Western World and Trailer Sales just north of I-20 to the east of Bossier City. As far as cowboys go this one is in really good shape. IMG_7014 IMG_7029 IMG_7028 IMG_7020He also is decked out with allot of accessories which is nice to see since these days many cowboys have long lost all their extra stuff. Maybe standing high up on that pole well out of reach has done him some good. He wears a black stetson and holds a piece of rope and also has a really nice pair of spurs on his shoes. You also don’t see to many muffler men these days with bright yellow shirts so he is hard to miss when driving by. They also have him up on a billboard right next to the interstate advertising their business although he’s wearing a red shirt in the billboard picture. As with most cowboys, he once stood at a Phillips 66 station and had their logo on his chest pocket. He was purchased around 1982 by the owner of Topps named Bubba Reeves. Bubba who started his business in 1964 with Topps Milling company went on in 1973 to start selling western wear and saddles. By the time the muffler man came along  Bubba had a well established buisness and was looking for more ways to promote it.  He doesn’t remember to much about the day he got the cowboy or how much he paid for him but he does remember the Phillips 66 gas station had closed and they were selling everything. He remembers that the gas station was in the Dallas area and I have started to put two and two together with his story and one Glen Goode told me. Glen has stated that he cast the muffler man head and hat mold for his collection form a cowboy muffler man that stood on a billboard at a gas station in Canton, TX about 45 miles south east of Dallas back in the early 80’s. Bubba remembers getting his cowboy in the early 80’s somewhere around Dallas so this could possibly be the Canton muffler man. That could also be why the Shreveport muffler man stands on a tall poll because Bubba first saw him on a billboard up in the air in Canton. Bubba set him up at his store on East Texas street and it stayed there for 5 years before bringing him over next to I-20 around 1987. The muffler man has stood here ever since and hats off to Bubba and his guys for having an original 66 cowboy at their store for over 30 years now.

#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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#30 St Louis, MO M Man

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My #30 sighting landed me in the St Louis area which has a few muffler men in the surrounding area. There used to be a Bunyan south down I-44 in Sullivan and a bunyan also stood downtown at a tire shop at one point. Today that bunyan is to the west of St Louis and there also is the shorter m man version up along old route 66 in Livingston, not to far away. IMG_20130110_113757 IMG_20130110_113320 IMG_6705 IMG_6679 IMG_6728This cowboy is located at Croft Trailer just south of St Louis off I-44 and used to be visible from the interstate. His history is a bit hazy but I do know before arriving at his current location he stood at a used car lot across the border in Illinois at a gas station in Belleville. Trying to find a picture of him there has proved impossible and at this point I haven’t even been able to find out the name of it or where it was located. In the late 90’s he was purchased by the guys at croft and moved to their business. Sadly this guy is a bit unsteady on his feet and he has had a few falls since his move. The first one happened sometime around 2005 and left him with smashed fingers on his right hand. So the guys at croft patched him up and mended his hand and set him back up on his platform which is attached to the edge of the roof of one of their workshops. All was well until 2009 when another storm came along and this time he ended up in pieces. His head broke off and both of his arms and today he lays pretty much where he fell over 3 years ago. The folks at croft are a busy bunch of guys so repairing the cowboy and getting him back up has taken much longer then expected although it’s still in the plans. People have offered to buy him the way he sits (or lays) but the owners are firm on keeping him and will get him up again one day. This is true with almost all muffler men owners, they don’t let their m men go easily. Muffler men rarely appear on e-bay and if one would want to own an m-man it’s not an easy task to get your hands on one. Today this one is mostly forgotten and hard to see with all the weeds and storage equipment surrounding him. He lays on his back with his head tilted at an odd angle from the body and his cowboy hat is partly smashed with pieces of it scattered around. The arms lay in a truck bed liner and the rest of him is stretched out in the weeds waiting to be remembered and one day restored. I also found the name “Tom” spray painted on the inside of his left foot, as I often say these guys have their secrets. Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for the picture of the cowboy when he stood on his platform overlooking I-44 back in the day. http://www.agilitynut.com/giants/momm.html  If your interested in Roadside America’s reports on this guy he is listed under Valley Park Muffler Man.