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.

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#25 Foristell, MO M Man

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This unique bunyan version stands to the west of St Louis at Skyline Motors along I-70 and holds a big sign that says “No Job to Big”. He is a classic bunyan except he has the arm pose of an indian m man. In my two years of muffler man hunting and research he is the only one like this that I know of with a raised right hand salute like a standard indian would have. Back in the 60’s when companies purchased muffler men there were different options they could choose from and IF would combine different versions of their muffler men to meet the purchasers needs. IMG_4973So in this rare case someone wanted a bunyan with a salute instead of the standard palm up/palm down. There is a half wit in Lake of the Ozark’s also in MO that has the right hand salute as well, he is also one of a kind being the only half wit I know of with that arm configuration. There are a few bearded service man models out their with this raised hand salute but they arn’t technically bunyans since they don’t have the pants tucked into the top of the boots and in some cases a knit cap. One of them stood in Vista CA for many years and is now in storage in Rocky Mount, NC along with another saluting M Man. All these versions and combinations can get a bit confusing at times and we can’t forget the Mr Bendo version which looks almost the same but has a closed fist instead of open palm and normally holds an iron bar.

IMG_4970The history on the Foristell Bunyan is a bit hazy but it seems he once stood in front of a tire shop in St Louis during the 60’s and 70’s but was purchased sometime around 1984 and moved to the buyers property and laid on his back until 1997 when he was brought to his current location and set up behind a fence along the frontage road to the interstate. He has been IMG_4988here since then and badly needs a new paint job, the paint is completely gone from his eyes giving him the appearance that he has gone blind. Also again as I have mentioned in other blogs you will notice that he has cuts on his legs just below the knee. I have noticed this on many of the Bunyan versions and have yet stumble upon the reason for it.

 

IMG_5000This Bunyan is part of a small group of muffler men that are in the St Louis area. There is a cowboy to the south that has been down for a few years on his back behind a trailer business and one of the shorter Bunyan versions is to the north standing in a field along the interstate in Livingston. There also used to be a Bunyan down 44 a ways in Sullivan, MO for many years before it moved to MN and now is part of the m man collection in Rocky Mount, NC. I’ll have to do a blog on the Rocky Mount log cabin business since they seem to be collecting muffler men and have got at least 4 that I know of either in storage or at different locations in the area. Also in NC is the White Tire company who collects M Men.

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.