#63 Lake Luzerne, NY – Bunyan

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IMG_20120709_145251The Lake Luzerne Muffler Man statue has always been one of my favorites. Ever since I saw a photo at RoadsideAmerica.com of this Paul Bunyan standing in the woods without a head and coming apart at the waist, this unfortunate statue has intrigued me. It is located near Lake George, NY where there are five other Muffler Men.  Among them is the statue from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York now standing at Around the World Mini Golf in downtown Lake George. The rest of the area’s Muffler Men are located at Magic Forest, a recreational park for children.

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It is not known when the Lake Luzerne statue arrived. The earliest report is that it was already installed at the Swiss Campsites entrance in 1976 when the parents of Lynn Kinsman purchased the property.  Her parents changed the name of the campground to the Swiss Trail Campground and repainted the statue’s shirt to reflect the new name. After they sold the campground in 1985, the statue began falling apart and vegetation began obscuring it from view.

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

In the fall of 2002, the statue’s head was knocked off during a storm.  It landed on the lawn, close to the side of the road. Soon afterwards, Debra Jane Seltzer, the creator and manager of RoadsideArchitecture.com, spotted the head and became its caretaker.  She was in the area at a dog agility trial.  When the competition wrapped up for the day, she went to take photos of the statue.  She noticed the statue’s head lying on the ground in full view of the road.  She worried that it might be stolen or destroyed by vandals.  Back at the trial site, she mentioned the situation to a friend who insisted that they go get the head to save it from harm. They drove up to Lake Luzerne in the middle of the night and parked across the street from the statue. The head was light but awkward and slippery.  They finally

Photo Credit: Debra Jane Seltzer

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

managed to get it across the road by using the nose and ears as handles. Getting the bulky head into the van was even more challenging and stressful.  Dogs were barking and cars passed by now and then.

The next day, the head was the talk of the agility trial. Everyone wanted a look at the bearded Bunyan face under the tarps.  Debra Jane’s next challenge was getting the head into her New York City apartment.  It just barely squeaked through the door.  For the next eight years, the head lounged comfortably next to a radiator in her apartment.  From time to time, she considered returning it.

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Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

Then, in September 2010, David Magliato posted a comment on RoadsideAmerica.com.  He had recently purchased the Swiss Trail Campground and renamed it the Adirondack Memories Campground.  One of his first orders of business was the Muffler Man.  In his on-line comment, he expressed his desire to restore the statue and inquired if anyone knew the whereabouts of the head.

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

Photo Credit Debra Jane Seltzer

After reading the comment, Debra Jane made a pilgrimage to return the head in 2011. When she arrived, she noticed that the statue had been repainted and looked great with the exception of the missing right arm and head. There was no answer when she knocked on the door of the house next to the statue.  So, she placed the head next to the garage door and hoped for the best.

IMG_20120709_121955The following summer, I was visiting many of the New York Muffler Men.  I drove to the Lake Luzerne campground on July 9th. To my surprise, when I rounded a bend in the road, I saw that the statue had been re-headed.  The Paul Bunyan stood on a hillside next to the road holding a big saw.  The head had been repainted to match the recently painted body.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 8.42.45 PMShortly afterwards, I posted my discovery at RoadsideAmerica.com.  Debra Jane was delighted to learn that, after all these years, the head had finally made it back on top of those broad shoulders. She said later, “It was a pleasure having the giant’s company all those years. But it is a far greater joy to know the head has been reunited with its body and in public where it belongs.”  The Muffler Man is still missing his right arm.  Maybe that, too, will turn up one day or a replacement will be installed.

Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her help in editing and to Roadside America for the information they have shared.

#62 Stony Point, NY – Bunyan

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IMG_20120704_131116In early 2012, I visited the Muffler Man in Stony Point, NY.  This statue is located at Camp Bullowa which is used for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts activities.  It appears to be one of the early Paul Bunyans produced in the mid-1960s by International Fiberglass.  While I was at the Camp, I met Ranger Joe Langdon and spoke with him about the statue.  It is not known where this Muffler Man was located before it arrived at the Camp in the mid-1990s.  It stands next to the parking lot near the main entrance.

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The statue was previously located next to the cafeteria on a steep hill overlooking the lake. It

became a popular prank for young campers to push the statue down the hill. Joe found the Muffler Man in the lake several times.  Since these fiberglass statues are hollow, this statue floated and could be easily found.  Enough was enough and, by 2000, Joe moved the statue to its current location near his house so that he can keep an eye on it.

IMG_20120704_124324Joe enjoys making large footprints in the snow and convincing Boy Scouts that the giant statue walks around at night.  This Muffler Man is in remarkably good condition considering the number of tumbles and swimming escapades it has been through.  The only damage is a crack on one of the statue’s boots.  The wooden axe that the statue holds is a replacement of the original.

Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for reviewing and editing this article. 

Report From Arcadia, FL – Indian Muffler Man

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Photo Credit: Terry Nelson

Photo Credit: Terry Nelson

In May 2013, I took on a huge trip to see Muffler Men in Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Canada.  I saw more than 20 statues and made some interesting discoveries. One of my stops was at the Big Indian Smoke Shop in Irving, NY.  There are two Indian Chief statues there.  One stands next to I-90 while the other is currently in storage awaiting repairs.  According to the owner, one of the statues was originally located at the Iroquois Brewery in Buffalo, NY.  She also explained that there were two other Indian Chiefs in Buffalo.  One of these is now at the Big Indian Smoke Shop and the other went to an unknown location.  I jotted down the information for a future search and forgot about it.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 6.28.13 PMThen a few months ago, Debra Jane Seltzer of RoadsideArchitecture.com sent me a link to a photo at Flickr.com taken in the 1990s of an Indian statue at a Florida campground. This statue was located at the Peace River Campground in Arcadia, FL and was toppled by Hurricane Charley in 2004. After that, it was reported as missing at RoadsideAmerica.com.  I think everyone assumed that it had been trashed and was gone forever.

IMG_0162In December 2013, I went to Arcadia in search of the long lost Indian.  At the campground, I met the owner, Johnny Lempenau.  She was surprised that I was looking for the statue and quickly called someone to take me out to where it was being stored.  As we bounced around in the golf cart, I noticed there were ATVs everywhere. The Peace River Campground is the only campground in Florida that allows them.  My driver IMG_0131pointed out the intersection where the statue had stood previously.  When the Indian was knocked over and damaged in a storm, it was hauled off to the woods.  The statue has been there for ten years now and is covered and hidden by brush.  The Indian is missing his feet and right arm.  The fingers on his left hand and portions of his face have also been ravaged by time and the elements.  His deep blue eyes stare up at the sky through the trees while the forest grows up around him more each year.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 12.31.05 AMBack at the office, Johnny presented me with a pile of photos and newspaper clippings with information about the statue’s history.  It turns out that this is the third Indian statue from Buffalo.  It was moved from Buffalo to Tonawanda, NY where it stood at an amusement park with other fiberglass figures, including a giant whale.  Then, in the mid-1970s, the statue was relocated to Perry, NY where it stood on a pedestal on Lower Reservation Road.  At some point, the Indian lost his saluting right arm.  The arm reappeared on a telephone pole at a private residence nearby.  The owner of the statue could not persuade the person to give the arm back.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 12.34.13 AMIn August of 1995, Johnny’s relatives, who owned the Indian, loaded him into a truck with his feet sticking out the back and drove him down to the campground in Arcadia. Initially, the statue stood in grove of trees next to the office at entrance.  Later, the statue was moved further inside the property.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 12.35.50 AMIt is unlikely that this Indian will ever stand again.  This is the most damaged and deteriorated Muffler Man that I have seen so far.  However, thanks to Johnny, I was able to get the statue’s history and link him to the other two Indians in upstate New York.  International Fiberglass made many Indian statues in the 1960s.  They were installed at IMG_0124

gas stations, car dealerships, and other businesses.  There are about two dozen still standing in the United States.  These statues came in two models.  The bare-chested bodies were the same but they had different headgear.  The Indian Brave wore a single feather in his headband while the Indian Chief had a full headdress.  While the Indian in Arcadia is missing much of his face, his headdress is still mostly intact. Although his condition is poor the camp hopes to one day get him up again.

I want to thank Peace River Campground for taken the time to share the Indian Muffler Man story with me and also to Johnny for the use of her pictures. Thanks to Terry Nelson for the use of his historical picture of the Muffler Man Indian at the Iroquois Brewery. Also want to thank Debra Jane Seltzer and RoadsideArchitecture.com for helping me edit this article.  

American Giants Episode #8

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Episode #8 wraps up our first road trip up old Route 66 into Chicago. Our last two Muffler Man stops are in Evergreen Park and then at Haunted Trails in Burbank. Using the GoPro, we discover what the Evergreen Park Bunyan is missing. We also find out that he even lost his head at one point. At Haunted Trails, we check out the Frankenstein statue and compare him to the standard Muffler Man model. We also pull out the GoPro and get some close-up shots of the statue that few people get to see.

When this episode was recorded, I believed the Frankenstein statue was made by FAST. However, I realize now that FAST has only been around since 1983. Most likely, it was Creative Display that made the Frankenstein statue.

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. 

American Giants Episode #7

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IMG_0483We’re happy to release Episode #7 after a long weekend of editing. This episode continues to follow us on our journey through Chicago. The first stop on this leg is at Ced’s Muffler and Brakes on Grand  Avenue.  This statue at Ced’s is known as a Mr Bendo.   There are a couple of other Mr. Bendos elsewhere in  the U.S.. We make an interesting discovery on the roof of the building using our GoPro camera. We also make a quick stop at the “Eye Care Indian” that has been on a Chicago rooftop for a very long time.  This episode wraps up with a quick preview of Episode #8.  You will see more of Bo and Neto in that video as we move on to some of the more famous Muffler Men and try to figure out their histories. Episode #8 will be the last in the Chicago series.  Episode #9 will cover our recent trip to Dodge City, KS to visit the Dennis Hopper Muffler Men.

American Giants Episode #5

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After traveling up old route 66 through Illinois the crew finally arrives in Chicago area to check out the seven muffler men located there. In Part 1 of this Chicago section they discover some interesting facts and history on the muffler man located at the Greenhouse of Crystal Lake as well as the ruins of the old Adventureland park in Addison, IL. I think this is one of the more exciting adventures I have been on with finding the exact location of the park and going there. I was able to locate “the ruins” of the park now buried in the woods. Although the exact spot where the muffler men stood is now relanscaped much of the parks foundations can still be found in the back of the property.