#52 Crystal Lake, IL – Service Man


Although claiming to be a Bunyan version, this muffler man in Crystal Lake has been many things but I don’t believe a Bunyan has been one of them. Individual muffler man history can be a beast to piece together and often my blogs reflect my conclusions instead of the Picture 7hard facts although my quest is to always get the facts. I visited this gentle footless giant on my first muffler man trip (now showing in AG episodes). He stands with an indian version at the Greenhouse of Crystal Lake Garden Center in Crystal Lake, IL. He has suspender buttons like a bunyan version but appears to not have had the bunyan boots. He’s got suspeners painted on his shirt and a very interesting paint job around his neck line and collar. At first glance he looks like a bunyan in the face but a second look reveals a smooth chin with a painted on beard. So I would classify this one a classic Picture 9service man version. His history is a bit hazy but certainly seems to have roots in the Chicago area. He’s stood next to a green house and pallets of garden soil since 2009 when he and the indian arrived here. They were first reported on Roadside America in 1999 when they stood at the now gone Ozzies Waterpark that was located at 20263 Rand Road between Long Grove Road and Lake Cook Road. They stood close to each other and had different paint schemes at the time.  In 2001 Debra Selzter with RoadsideArchitecture stopped by and photographed them and Roadside America also wrote an article about them on their website around the same time. It was also noticed that they were both missing their feet, not a terribly uncommon problem with muffler men. There are actually a few muffler men in the Chicago area missing their feet including these two and the one standing on the roof of Guardian Auto Rebuilders Adventureland Addin Evergreen Park, IL. Also a long lost bunyan in southern WI also had cut off feet. All four of these giants have been cut off in the same place and it’s my guess that their feet were originally installed in concrete and were simply cut off when it was time for them to be moved or sold. In 2007 Ozzie’s closed to make way for a Whole Foods supermarket and the giants were reported missing that year before reappearing a few years later at their current location. So far I have not found any hard facts about their travels before Ozzie’s but I have had a few ideas. Way back in the 60’s there was amusement park located in Addison, IL called Adventureland. Today very little of it is left but I have found old pictures of the park at Lisa’s Nostalgia Cafe that show evidence of a pirate and a indian version that stood at the parks entrance. You can even see them displayed on the cover of the parks brochures. In 1977 the place closed it’s doors and the park quickly fell into disrepair but many of the buildings and rides remained forAL Map lower many years. The giants were removed but their feet remained until around 2005 when the entire area was cleared for new development. I visited the site in 2012 and found old concrete platforms and ride foundations in the woods but the entrance area had all been cleared IMG_20121031_121401and re landscaped and a huge office complex now sits on most of the former amusement park site. Although originally suspecting the two muffler men at the green house in Crystal lake as coming from Adventure Land I still have some doubts. It appears in vintage pictures from the 60’s that the Bunyan (then a pirate) has an actual beard and pictures from the mid 70’s show the feet cut off at the

IMG_20121031_123109knee’s and not the ankles as they are today. So where did the greenhouse muffler men come from before Ozzies and how did they lose their feet. If they are not the muffler men from Adventure Land then what happened to the Indian and Pirate that once stood at it’s entrance? Another great example of the mysteries of muffler men.

Special thanks to Debra Jane Selzter for the use of her picture showing the service man at Ozzie’s in 2001. For more info on Adventure Land please visit Lisa’s Nostalgia Cafe

American Giants Episode #2


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.

American Giants Episode #1


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.

Big John


If you’re interested in muffler men it’s very likely you have run across these guys known as “Big Johns”. They are the step brothers if you will of muffler men and although they are not  related by “blood” they seem to be part of the extended family. IMG_2854 IMG_2887 IMG_2919 IMG_3260Standing over 5 feet taller then muffler men they are some of the largest giants mass produced back in the golden age of the 1960’s roadside giant architecture era. Their roots are far from the streets of Venice California and they were made in Cape Girardeau, MO at the General Sign Co. Back in 1960 two men Bob Martin and Frank Bayley formed a partnership and started opening grocery stores in rural southern Illinois towns. After about 7 years they started placing giant statues at their store locations. General Sign Co. started turning out the Big Johns around 1967 and I am guessing 10-15 were ordered altogether. These guys are taller and much heavier then muffler men and each of them held 4 giant grocery backs in their arms. The original paint job included a checkered shirt with an apron painted on. The grocery bags were filled with large fiberglass grocery’s and in some locations name brand stickers even appeared on the outside of the bags. At the peak of Big John’s Grocery they had locations in much of southern Illinois as well as a few stores in Tennessee and Kentucky. There is a statue in Cape Coral, FL but I am not sure if that is because there was a grocery store there at one time or it was just purchased and moved there from Illinois. Today there are 9 left that I know of an 2 of them still stand at operating Big John Grocery stores in Southern Illinois. In the 70’s Bob Martin and Frank Bayley slowly moved out of the grocery store industry and started Hucks Gas stations and convenience stores that now cover much of Illinois. As the grocery stores started to close their doors the giant grocery clerks were sold at auctions and start appearing at other businesses. Some have stayed in the grocery store ocupation like the guy in Carmi, IL that stands in front of the Little Giant Grocery Store. In Lakeview, MS one stands on the state line at a seasonal fireworks stand while another guards a strip mall in Florida and was just recently repainted.  They have also become popular with collectors and 4 of them can be found today in private collections. There is a Big John in St Louis, MO that is currently in two pieces. Screen shot 2013-06-07 at 9.21.58 AM IMG_20110520_145233Also the former Benton, IL Big John is now part of the Farnham collection in Ungar, WV. And of course there are the two huge Big Johns that now live in Gainsville, TX and are part of Glen Goode’s giant family. Glen’s Big Johns came from the few grocery locations that were in Tennessee and he picked them up off their backs in an empty lot after the closing of their stores in the 80’s. His Big Johns no longer hold their grocery bags but he still has them in storage. I hope to one day learn more of the story behind these giant grocery clerks and find out exactly how many were made, perhaps there are more that still exist that we have not found yet. Although often confused with muffler men these guys are a breed all of their own and along with what is known as the Beach Guy they tower over their muffler man friends. Recently Roadside America did a story on me and mentioned “my rules” of what constitutes a muffler man sighting or not. I don’t count my Big John sightings as muffler man because they were made by a different company. IMG_6883However I do count Uniroyal Gals and the smaller bunyans because they were made by International Fiberglass. I bend the rules a bit for copies of muffler men if they are exact because although not made by I.F. they still look like muffler men, for example Mark Cline’s soda jerks all get a # on my list. Special thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for the use of her picture of the Farnham collection in Ungar, WV that includes the former Benton, IL Big John.

#42 Caguas, Puerto Rico M Man


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.

#29 Atlanta, GA M Man


IMG_6397 IMG_6360Hands down this is one of the finest Bunyans I have seen out there. Every so often you find an owner that has either refurbished or taken amazing care of their m man and the Bunyan at George Boyd and Sons Tire Company is a very good example of that. He is located just north of the Atlanta airport and has stood here since at least 1997 and probably a few years before that. At this point in my muffler man hobby I still wasn’t going in to every business and getting the background story. Allot of the information I write about my early muffler men sightings I have learned since or have gone back for a second visit.

On this morning I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to go inside and ask a few questions so this guys history is still on my to do list. I’m not sure where he came from originally and roadside america surprisingly sheds very little light on this guy so I’ll have to blog again sometime in the future or come back and edit this one. He is in amazing condition and there’s only a few bunyans out there that are in this good of shape. I also noticed that his eyes are painted blue which is a bit strange but sure makes him unique! Also once again you will notice the cut or mold marks on his legs, I am noticing more and more that all bunyans have these cut marks below their knees. One day I will have an answer as to why that is.


#24 North Platte, NB M Man (Fort Cody)


North Platte, the county seat of Lincoln County is the home to about 24,000 and happens to be the home to Bailey Yard, one of Union Pacific’s large railroad yards. It also has some interesting museums and history but my attention was centered on an attraction just off of the interstate, Fort Cody. In 1963 the Henline family opened the first Fort Cody on the western end of North Platte on highway 30 and it stood until 1968 when it was moved to it’s present location along I-80. It was moved to coincide with the new interstate being put in and has been drawing travelers off the road ever since. It is now in second generation ownership and is known for it’s old western museum, Buffalo Bills wild west miniature show, large gift shop and fort and stockade, and of course a muffler man. As far as muffler men go this is one of the stars or famous one’s out there. Hundreds of visitors each year stand next to him in the stockade behind the fort for their picture, so he is no stranger to Facebook, flicker and google image searches.

Ft Cody Indian 1970's
I was fortunate to visit on a day when owner Chuck Henline was in and was able to visit with him a bit and talk about the his muffler man out back. As muffler men often do, this one holds a few secrets and has a very interesting history. One thing I noticed right away was that he’s actually not an indian at all! Although International Fiberglass made indian versions of muffler men, Fort Cody happened to come across the service man model and turned him into an indian to meet their needs. Chuck told the story how in 1970 a gas station across the street was either going out a business or getting rid of some extra’s and had their muffler man taken down and was laying on the lot. Chuck’s dad walked across the street and a price of $100 was agreed on for the sale. Chuck remember’s helping haul the giant across the street and they set him up in the stockade in the back and painted him to look like an Indian. He has braids and a cloth around his waist (which is always blowing to the side) and has been repaired and repainted many times since that day in 1970. Interestingly this is one of the muffler men that the guys at Roadside America came across on their travels in the late 80’s or early 90’s and it was featured in their article in the Smithsonian. I’m not sure if the gas station that the M man came from was a phillips 66 but he is one of the rare bow tie wearing versions if you look closely at the indian paint at the top of his shirt. Fort Cody is proud of their muffler man and rightly so and he will continue to greet visitors for many years to come. Thanks to Brian Butko and his blog about the books he has written http://www.brianbutko.wordpress.com for sharing the picture of the Fort Cody Indian taken shortly after arriving at the fort.


What are Muffler Men?


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.


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.   

The Half Wit


Kansas City Half Wit IF addThe 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

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 Snerdadvertise 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.