#52 Crystal Lake, IL – Service Man

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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

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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.

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.

Big John

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.