Dodge City Field Report

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IMG_9244American Giants just got back from an awesome weekend in Dodge City Kansas to cover the Dennis Hopper Muffler men at the 3I event held at the new expo center. We were invited to come out by the Carnegie Center for the Arts who have recently received the Dennis Hopper Muffler Men from the Dennis Hopper Art Trust in California. Travel is nothing new for the Dennis Hopper M Men and they aren’t done yet! They were cast in 2000 and since then at least one of them has traveled the world. They were both cast from a muffler man in LA named Tony who is one of the rare bow tie versions. They were each made to resemble popular LA muffler men, the La Salsa man made by Bob Wade in Malibu and the Mobile muffler man that appeared in life magazine back in the day. IMG_9186After being cast it is believed that the only time Mobile man was publicly shown (other then this venue) was in June of 2010 just shortly after the death of Dennis Hopper. The La Salsa Man however was no rookie to public display and was first displayed in Amsterdam in 2001 and then Paris, Vienna, Melbourne and even rumored to have been on display in St Petersburg Russia at one point. You can tell one has traveled more then the other, the La Salsa Man has it’s share of scuffs and scratches while the Mobile Man is brand new and in almost perfect condition. IMG_3205I’ll save a bunch of the details of how it was shipped and ended up at the expo center for the future AG episode but by the time we got there they were all set up and on display. Summer Bates who is the executive director for the Carnegie Center for the Arts is basically the mother of these two boys and she has found temporary housing for them at the expo center where the 40ft high ceilings accommodate the muffler men’s vertical challenges. With the 3i show coming up she got permission to keep them there during the event and invited us out for the occasion. Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 10.34.16 PMSo myself, Bo, Neto and Sam piled into the tiniest car we could find (32mpg) and after work Thursday traveled the 10 hours to Dodge City Kansas. Although promises had been made by each member to equally share the driving some of us arrived at the 3i show the following morning more worn out then others. We were immediately welcomed to Dodge by Melissa McCoy who is the project development coordinator for the city and she promptly took us to see the muffler men. In a building that size it makes them look a bit smaller then they actually are but these guys were definitely getting attention. Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 10.27.18 PMAfter years in a warehouse they were making up for lost time and at their feet stood interested 3i attendees as well as tables with information about their history as well as a looping video of the Shipping Wars episode. Summer, Melissa and many others are excited about the arrival of the muffler men to Dodge City and welcome the many muffler men followers out there to make Dodge City a stop on their muffler men check list. IMG_9193The expo center that is currently housing the muffler men in a temporary solution and Summer is working hard on permanent housing for these guys. After a very full day of not only covering the muffler men but also the 3i convention we left with hours of B-roll and interviews for me to sort out in editing. We also left with a pretty good appetite that Summer took care of by taking us all to Boot Hill Museum Inc for a dinner and gun fight which we enjoyed thoroughly. Interestingly a muffler man named Big Matt once stood at Boot Hill many years ago and was finally taken down after his head kept blowing off in the Kansas wind. Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 10.48.16 PMI was able to track down his story and history and will post a blog about him soon. From there we headed to Wichita where we visited the muffler man at Browns Tire (which is apparently worth getting up in the middle of the night for) and also caught up with Greg Holmes (The Lope) the proud owner of a muffler man head, both to appear in future episodes. We came home with allot of new content and information and I just want to sincerely thank Summer Bates, Melissa McCoy, Eddie Estes, Jeff Thorpe and Greg Holmes for making this trip possible and for taking such good care of us. The American Giants episodes are currently taking us up route 66 to Chicago but after they are complete I am planning to bump this Dodge City trip into the next episode. It’s not often two fresh muffler men get added to the charts and maps so make sure to stop by and pay them a visit on your next trip through the midwest.

If your interested, check out this behind the scenes clip taken while the American Giants Crew was filming Greg Holmes and his muffler man head. 

American Giants Episode #2

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The second episode of “American Giants” is offically released as of July 9, 2013. The episode covers the details of International Fiberglass the company that made muffler men as well as Steve Dashew who owned it. We also continue to follow Joel and the guys up route 66 in search of muffler men. They make their second stop in Springfield, IL and visit the Lauderbach bunyan and talk to his owners and find out some very interesting history. Also Bo makes a cool discovery when he mounts a go pro camera on a boom pole. This episode is a reality due to the help of the guys at Lauterbach Tire in Springfield and also the many photographers and help I got from Roadside America. Again this episode runs 15min and although I tried to keep it under 8 I was not successful. The plan is for future episodes to be under 10 min in length.

The Uniroyal Gal

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As the Bunyan muffler men began to become popular and more and more businesses across the US started purchasing them International Fiberglass kept on innovating. They first started with the oil giants, Phillips 66, Sinclair and Texaco making versions of muffler men or dinosaurs that could stand that their gas stations and promote their products and business. IMG_9912The idea was a success and the reason there are so many muffler men left today is because most of them were made in mass quantity for oil companies, chiefly Phillips 66. Their cowboys still cover large portions of the US with and without their cowboy hats. The texaco big friend sadly is a different story and Texaco was largely successful in destroying almost all 300 that were purchased except for 4 or 5 of them.   Shortly after Texaco purchased their 300 in 1966 the Uniroyal company also wanted a statue to advertise their tires. So International Fiberglass came up with the idea to do something different and make a female version of the muffler man. She was sculpted by an unknown artist who supposedly had a thing for Jackie Kennedy and IMG_9937sported an orange bikini. I’m not sure how many were made but altogether I have heard of 17 of them so far and 12 of those are still visible today. Needless to say these are one of the less common muffler men and new sightings almost never happen. International Fiberglass also made a skirt and shirt for the giant lady and these could be put on or taken off at the owners will. The Uniroyal girl in Peoria, IL is changed seasonally and during the winter she wears her clothes and during the hot summer she sports a red bikini. In Gainsville Texas owner Glen Goode even made the skirt of his Uniroyal girl longer so she could be “more holy” as he put it and in WV the Farnham’s Uniroyal girl now sports her newly painted bikini while her clothes lay in the grass nearby. The Uniroyal girl IMG_9947was originally made to stand outside gas stations and automotive repair stores that sold Uniroyal products. Like other muffler men owned by large corporations she was used in promotions and was moved from location to location by the sales reps. She stood on the same platform that the rest of the traveling muffler men and big friends did and you can still see one today under the Peoria, IL Uniroyal gal. I have been asked many time what she was originally made to hold in that raised arm. If you look closely at Glen Goode’s girl you can see a bracket inside her hand used to hold a pole or flag. I was told the Uniroyal Girl in Bradenton, FL once held an oil can back in the 70’s and the one in Blackfoot, ID used to hold a plate of food. However “she held tires” is the answer I am most often IMG_3270given and this would make sense since she was made to advertise them. Sometime in the early 70’s the Uniroyal promotion reached it’s end and in most cases the sales reps simply left the giants wherever they happened to be and so they went in most cases to the owners of the gas stations or repair shops. That is exactly how the Uniroyal Girl in Mt Vernon, IL ended up in the area and for her it was the end of the road. In IMG_3803other cases they kept on being sold and moved, interestingly Glen Goode found his in Wichita Falls and the one now in WV once lived in Mississippi at a fireworks stand. There are many interesting stories about these girls, ranging from angry locals upset over her lack of clothing to roomers that the girl in Bradenton once stood on Gasoline Ally at the Indi 500! I also know one once stood at the The St. James Infirmary bar in Mountain View, CA until 1998 when the place burned down along with the Uniroyal Girl inside. There are a few that have fallen off the charts and seem to be gone for good including the girl that used to stand in Ocoee, FL, Del Rio, TX and Chincoteague, VA. As always muffler men or muffler ladies in this case always keep most of their secrets to themselves and who knows how many more gals are out there and where they might be.

Current Uniroyal Girl Locations

Mt Vernon, IL Pearsonville, CA  Ungar, WV Gainesville, TX Bradenton, FL Lamesa, TX        El Paso, TX Hilltop, NJ Blackfoot, ID Rocky Mount, NC Peoria, IL Taber, Alberta

Dennis Hoppers Muffler Men on Shipping Wars

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IMG_8395Muffler Men made prime time today when Dennis Hoppers “Giant Art Sculptures” were shipped from Anaheim, CA to Dodge City Kansas and the shipment was featured on A&E’s Shipping Wars. The pair were made from a mold cast from a LA muffler man back in 2000 and the next year they started traveling with Dennis Hoppers art show. They have been to many places in America and I have even seen pictures of one of them in Paris. They were made to resemble two iconic LA muffler men, the La Salsa m man in Malibu remodeled by Bob Wade and also a muffler man that was featured in a life magazine picture standing at a mobile gas station in the 60’s holding a poster for free 5 cent coupons. IMG_3205The Malibu muffler man still stands today but I’m not sure where the other ended up. It is possible he is still in the area repainted and unrecognizable from his 1960’s picture or he may be long gone. The Dennis Hopper giants, estimated at a whopping $100,000 each, have been in storage for a few years  and were recently donated by the Dennis Hopper Art Trust to the Carnegie Center for the Art’s who notified me about their arrival in Dodge and gave us a heads up about tonights episode of shipping wars. They will be on display July 11th through 13th at the Western State Bank Expo Center. IMG_3222They are also currently working on a Multicultural park Design for their permanent home. It’s great to see these guys back out in view of the public and although not made by International Fiberglass in the 60’s they still certainly count as muffler men. The muffler man that the mold was cast from is known as Tony and he stands at a car repair business in east LA. He disappeared briefly in 2000 and Roadside America even got a few ransom notes as a joke until it was discovered he was being used to make a mold for Dennis Hoppers muffler men. IMG_8478Tony happens to be one of the rare muffler men with a bow tie and so thats how the La Salsa man copy ended up with one. The original that stands in Malibu is the standard version but Dennis Hoppers clearly boasts a black bow tie and that’s how you can tell which one you are looking at. The other Dennis Hopper muffler man known as the “Mobile Man” was altered with a normal neck line and it sits a bit higher up than it does on other muffler men. Tony still stands in east LA and was one of the earlier muffler men I visited when American Giants was just starting out. Needless to say we traveled out to Dodge City to check out the Dennis Hopper muffler men and get the scoop. Oh and interestingly enough these are not the first muffler men to call Dodge City their home.

American Giants Episode #1

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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.

Second Muffler Man Trip Complete

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As you may have noticed the blog has been silent for almost two weeks now and that is due to the second road trip for American Giants. Overall I made 15 new sightings and that brings me up to #97, obviously I have some catching up to do here on the blog. IMG_6139 IMG_6291We started out in West Virginia with a visit to the Parkersburg Indian who stands at a car lot. I have a habit of showing up at places when they are closed and that was the case with Parkersburg. We got some good pictures and video anyhow and a call to the office will fill in the blanks. From there we headed up to PA and hit all 4 of the muffler men located on the western side of the state. I learned some interesting

history on the giants as well as some good news out of Greensburg, that their headless giant will soon no longer be headless. As roadside america puts it, “it’s always nice to see a muffler man re headed” Along with his freshly painted head the muffler man will be returned to his original colors for a classic bunyan. Next we hit the western side of New IMG_1137York stoping in Irving for an update on

the Indians as well as visiting Mark Clien’s soda jerk nearby. In Syracuse we found the bunyan in Liverpool and unearthed some really interesting history on him. Like many muffler men he’s got some travel under his belt and even spent some time high above I-81 on a bill board for many years before settling down to where cars are mostly parked and not driving.

IMG_1424The next stop was a big one for me as I have always wanted to see the canadian headed muffler men and I was finally able to visit Mr Furnace in Ontario. We are still working on trying to find out the history for these guys (the other is located in Montreal) I believe they were made by international fiberglass because we have found post cards dating back to the 60’s of them. The trip started to wrap up with stops in Wisconsin to check out the restoration of the Wabeno muffler man and meet the man behind his restoration as well as some history on the Oshkosh bunyan.

IMG_2431Finally we visited two indians in Indiana, the one in Toto and also Brookston. The indians are both in great shape and we learned that the they both have migrated south from the Gary, IN area. It seems like the 70’s and 80’s was a migratory period for many muffler men and it is during these years that I have learned that many of them were sold and relocated. IMG_1002These days they tend to be

more permanent fixtures as owners are very reluctant to sell them. Allot more time was given on this trip to video production and interviews with owners and much of this trip will appear in the second season of American Giants with many more details then I have shared here. As always we met allot of new people and made some great finds! Season one is just weeks away and due to my heavy work load and this latest trip it has been pushed back a bit but we are still very close. Thanks for your patience!

Watch American Giants Episodes HERE

Muffler Men Location Map

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I have received a few requests and interest in the google map I showed in the first American Giants promo. When I first started my hobby I wanted a way to not only see where all the muffler men were located but also make notes about each one. So I built a map in google that was private but gave me every muffler man location that I had heard about. This map is always a work in progress and every time I learned of a current or former location I would add it. Also every time I visited a location I would jot down in google maps all of my notes. The map is basically a copy of what Roadside America has on their site and includes former and current locations as well as additional discoveries I have made. The google map is also a nice tool to use with your smart phone and when on a trip you can see what muffler men may be around you. Roadside America has also updated their muffler man map recently and cleaned it up and added some cool graphics for easier navigation and identification. At the moment my map is not public because it is more like a personal notepad where I jot down all kinds of stuff. However if there is enough interest I will take the time to convert my google map into a public map that I will share here and anyone is welcome to use it when tracking muffler men. It will include all versions of muffler men and their current and past locations (to the best of my knowledge) as well as other closely related giants like the vikings, A&W Root bear family, Big John statues, Big Friends, Sinclair Dinosaurs, Beach Guy, Pioneer Man, Texaco Tigers and a few other International Fiberglass items. The map will be color coded so you can see for example what is an indian or a cowboy without even clicking on it. If you do choose to click on a marker you will get basic info on that muffler man. More information will appear on this blog about each location then will be available on the map. I also will have question marks on the map for missing muffler men I have not tracked down yet.

#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.

American Giants Promo #2

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Just released the second promo video on my youtube channel for the upcoming season of American Giants. I show a bit more about what some of the first season will cover across the state of Illinois. This happens to be one of the more populated states as far as muffler men go and also is a part of old route 66 so their is some combined interest there. Much of this was shot just as the idea to make episodes was starting to come to me so although I would do a few things differently, I think we got some great content and hope you will find it interesting and helpful in your muffler man hunting!

What are Muffler Men?

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Muffler Men are giant, hollow fiberglass statues which were built from 1963-1972.  They were about 22 feet tall, depending on the model.  The statues were produced in Venice, CA by International Fiberglass which simply called them Giant Men.

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Roadside America team in the early 90s inspecting a Muffler Man in Milford, NB

The Muffler Man name wasn’t coined until the 1990s.  The founders of RoadsideAmerica.com began cataloguing offbeat attractions around the U.S. in the mid-1980s for their first book, “Roadside America.”  The trio, Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins, began to notice the similarities between many of the statues.  There were probably 20% more of them around then than there are now.  By the 1992 release of their second book, “New Roadside America,” they had about 12 of these statues in their database.  While they were amused by the statues, they hadn’t covered them yet.  However, they privately began calling them “Muffler Men” since a few of the statues they’d seen held mufflers.

Screen Shot 2013-04-21 at 3.55.04 PMIn 1996, when Kirby, Smith, and Wilkins launched the website, RoadsideAmerica.com, they included a section called “The Secret Plot of the Muffler Men.”  Sightings and photos of these statues began pouring in from the website’s visitors.  A map and on-line database were created at RoadsideAmeirca.com to document these statues around the country.  The website continues to receive tips about new Muffler Man discoveries and updates about these statues from visitors.  While it is rare that a undocumented statue is found, occasionally, one will emerge from storage or be found in a remote location.

Bob Prewit with one of his creations

Bob Prewitt with one of his creations

The first Muffler Man statue was created by Bob Prewitt in Lawndale, CA.  His business, Prewitt Fiberglass Animals, produced many of the giant chickens, pigs, buffalo, horses, and other animals still seen around the country today.  Around 1962, Prewitt got an order from someone in Sacramento, CA for a 20 foot tall Paul Bunyan statue.  However, the owner never paid for it.  The story goes that Bob hit the road with the statue on a flatbed trailer.  Supposedly, he headed east on Route 66 and went looking for a buyer.  He happened upon the Lumberjack Café in Flagstaff, AZ and sold the statue to them.  It is not known if Prewitt made more Paul Bunyan statues after the first one but it seems likely.  However, his focus was on selling fiberglass animals.

In 1964, Prewitt sold some animal molds and the one for the Paul Bunyan to Steve Dashew’s father.  Dashew owned a boat business but needed more work.  Since he was already skilled with fiberglass, he thought producing some statues might be a good way to boost sales during the slow months.

A indian stands at a Pontiac dealership

A indian stands at a Pontiac dealership

A trade magazine article about the Paul Bunyan statues sparked the interest of gas and tire companies.  Within a few years, International Fiberglass had modified the Bunyan mold to produce Cowboys for Phillips 66 stations, Indians for Mohawk stations and Pontiac dealerships, and Vikings for Viking Carpets.  The company also produced Uncle Sams, Pioneers, Pirates, Alfred E. Neumann look-alikes, as well as other customized statues.  International Fiberglass also produced a giant female statue for Uniroyal Tires.

By the time the company folded in 1972, there were hundreds of these statues on display.  Today, there are about 180 of them left in the U.S.  There are another half dozen or so in Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.  While it is believe that all of the original molds were destroyed, new molds have been created to replace damaged body parts.  A few statues have even been completely built with reproduced molds.

photo 2-7The very first Muffler Man produced is still in Flagstaff.  It now stands outside the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome at Northern Arizona University.  That statue was built in one piece.  The other Paul Bunyan statue at NAU also came from the Lumberjack Cafe.  The restaurant bought that one just a few years after the first one.  By then, the statues were produced in four pieces which bolted together.  At some point, International Fiberglass changed the way that the statues’ arms fit into the shirt sleeves. Many of the earliest statues are still located in the Los Angeles area.

I want to thank Gabriel Aldaz, the author of Right Palm Up, Left Palm Down, for the use of his photo of Bob Prewitt.  Credit must also go to Roadside America.com for the information they have gathered over the years and the photos they have shared with me.  Terry Nelson, a former employee of International Fiberglass, has also kindly shared his memories as well as vintage photos and advertisements. Thanks also to Debra Jane Seltzer of RoadsideArchitecture.com for her help editing this post.