It’s been two years now since I started my hobby and finally all those hours of study, research and travel are paying off in the form of videos of my travels and discoveries. This is the promo video for the episodes which will start this spring. Subscribe to the youtube channel to keep posted on my progress. Also make sure your following this blog as I post almost daily.
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.
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
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.
The half wit is an interesting part of the muffler man story. He wasn’t the first variant made as I believe the indian came before but he was one of the options you could chose from when purchasing a muffler man. In all, there was a regular service man that was pretty much just the basic muffler man head and body, sometimes coming with a beard or a bow tie but normally clean shaven. Also the cowboy made mostly for Phillips 66 gas stations and the Indian, some of the first being made for the mohawk gas stations. There was the Texaco Big friend and Uniroyal Gal both made exclusive for the Texaco and Uniroyal companies respectively. And then what we call today the Happy Half Wit. Most of the terms we use today to describe muffler men were actually coined by
A Half Wit in Production at International Fiberglass Photo:Terry Nelson
Roadside America when they started seeing these guys over and over again on their travels across the country back in the early 90’s and even before. They came up with the name muffler man since many of the giants they saw held big mufflers. I believe “Half Wit” was another name they came up with for the Alfred Neumann looking model but International Fiberglass referred to it as the “mortimer snerd”. The early ones were made for mini golf courses up the east coast and in Ohio and many of the half wits left today are still in these areas. The other cluster is located in Dallas texas after Ken Johnson decided to go with the half wit model to advertise his muffler shops back in the 60’s. The only other state I can think of that has one is Missouri and he can be found at Lake of the Ozark’s in the central part of the state. He is unique in that he is the only half wit I know of that has a raised right hand like the indian versions do. From what I have gathered the half wits came in two paint schemes, one was the yellow shirt with suspenders and blue pants with patches on it and the other was a red shirt and yellow suspenders with blue pants and no patches. Most of the half wits out there today still tend closely to these schemes. When talking to Ken Johnson of Ken’s mufflers in Dallas he told me that all his half wits had yellow shirts and suspenders until he ordered the one that now stands in Beaumont. That one came off the truck in a red shirt and didn’t match the rest he said. I also have noticed two different hat styles came with these half wits. The far more common of the two is the standard round farmer looking hat but there are two half wits that I know of that have the far more rare conductor looking hat. The conductor hat was made by simply cutting and modifying the round one. These conductor hat versions stand at Seaside Heights, NJ just off the pier and the other stood for many years at the Wagon Wheel Inn in North Madison, OH. The picture below is the one standing in NJ, wearing the red shirt and conductor hat. (Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for sharing the picture www.RoadsideArchitecture.com )
Another interesting fact about Half Wits are their neck sizes! This is something Roadside America picked up on and mentioned in some of their posts. Most have the standard neck size but a few have hardly a neck at all and their heads are jammed down on their shoulders. These neckless versions are far more rare and I believe the one in MO is that way as well as one that used to stand on the pier at Seaside Heights, NJ. Seaside Heights is a story in itself for muffler men and it’s pier has been known for many years now to house a few. At one time a Bunyan stood here along with two half wits. However the Bunyan was knocked down in a bad storm around 2003 and pictures of it in pieces bounced around on the web for awhile until it disappeared altogether. The short neck half wit also disappeared around the same time but after looking closely at a google satellite image I noticed he was still there laying on his back on the pier staring up at the satellite.
You can see the half wit on his back in the lower right hand corner of the picture. This is exactly where he was when Hurricane Sandy hit in late 2012 and after closely looking at news footage after the disaster I saw that the pier had broken away just east of his position and he seemed to still be in one piece in the same spot. Also his brother half wit standing a few hundred feet to the west on top of a building also seemed to have survived the storm (seen in the picture above). Sadly the Half Wit is the rarest of the muffler men (other then the big friend) but thankfully there are still over 10 in the US that can be seen and visited today.
In a lonely field all by himself stands one of Glen Goode’s “copies” at his sons sand blasting business in Sherman. Glen made two more cowboys from the mould he cast (see #13) and one came here and the other one went to Sanger, TX. All three look just the same and have an original muffler man head, hat and hands which were not actually designed to go with this body.
It looks like it has been awhile since this guy got a touch up and paint job and I am not sure how much business goes through this place anymore as it was pretty empty when I stopped in. The cowboy in Sanger also stood at one of Glen’s son’s businesses but that one was sold and moved up to Amarillo in early 2004. It now stands in front of the Country Barn Steakhouse right along I-40 and looks in much better shape then it did when in Sanger. Bullet holes have been patched up and a local painter in Amarillo has done an amazing job with this guy. Thanks to my friend Michael Younkin for snapping this picture for me in 2011.
Visited this M man on 2-1-11 and back then he was in pretty rough shape with pealing pant. On a recent visit I found him in much better shape with a fresh paint job. Also talked to his owner Steve who owns four muffler men in the Tampa Bay area. Steve’s business Bigmechanic.com uses the muffler men for his companies mascot and even changed the name of his business to better match with the giants. The Zephyrhills M Man is one of the rare bow tie versions and was moved a few years back from Seven Points Texas. Steve keeps a close eye on roadsideamerica.com and other muffler men sites and is always on the lookout for other muffler men to put at his remaining auto shop locations. He came across the Seven Points muffler man while on a vacation in TX standing in someone’s front yard and looking run down. He was clearly an old Phillips 66 cowboy and after waiting a year for the owner to make up their mind if they were willing to sell Steve was able to go out and haul this giant to his Zephyrhills location. All of Steve’s muffler men hold a wrench he has made in his shops.