Mark Cline and Soda Jerks

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Mark Cline and Enchanted Castle Studios is just a perfect example of why I throughly enjoy my hobby of tracking muffler men because you never know what your going to find. When I say tracking I really mean it, finding and photographing a muffler man is one thing but tracking down his story, history and former locations is where the real challenge and fun begins. And the story of the soda jerk has had my interest from early on in my hobby with muffler men. I guess I could have called Mark up right away but it was fun to try to figure it out on my own first. In the end (after the first episode came out) I finally wrote Mark and got the complete and very detailed story on how soda jerks came into existence. IMG_7145I’ve mentioned before that International Fiberglass came out with a second shorter version of the lumberjack a few years after meeting large success with the original. They were hoping that a shorter version and lower price tag would attract more business but interestingly the shorter lumberjacks were not all that successful and they stopped making them after a few years. I’m not sure how many hit the street but today there are more then 15 that are still scattered across America. One of these guys was shipped back in the 60’s to the Buccannan, Va area where by the mid 90’s it was standing at a lawn mower repair business. When that business shut it’s doors the muffler man was picked up by a twin restaurant chain named Spanky’s and Macado’s. 3Sometime after, Mark spotted the lumberjack, borrowed it and made a mold from it. Mark is an artist from VA that started creating all manner of huge fiberglass objects at the age of 19 when he started his own monster museum. These days it goes by the name of Enchanted Castle Studios and he continues to build a plethora of creatures, sculptures and objects for many different clients. The man is incredibly talented and driven and loves what he does. After making a mold from the muffler man, Spanky wanted the original lumberjack turned into a rock star to resemble the english singer George Michael and attract the youth. So Mark went to work modifying the head, beard, adding a microphone, leather jacket and even boots. The modified m man was then trucked off to a new restaurant in Lynchburg. Hold on this is where it gets interesting, his stay there was brief and the business soon closed it’s doors. At this point Spanky wanted the muffler man returned to a lumberjack so it could stand at a new business he had opened in Elkins, WV called “Lumberjacks”, sound familiar? Picture 5Another artist did the transformation back to lumberjack status and the giant was moved to Elkins. That business also didn’t last long and somehow the muffler man ended up back at Mark’s studios missing his feet and in need of repair. This is where Debra Jane Seltzer’s muffler man feet picture starts to make sense. Mark replaced the missing feet and the giant went back out into circulation and Mark lost track of it. So today it is anyone’s guess where the muffler man that fathered soda jerks is Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 4.46.17 PMlocated and the mystery still remains. Stay with me here…we’re not done! Now with a mold cast Mark created the “first” soda jerk. He decided that a beard was the last thing a soda jerk should have, wouldn’t want all those whiskers ending up in the ice cream float so he shaved it off and made a smooth chin over it. This is where the soda jerk head was born, it is in fact a modified bunyan head from the original. Interestingly before modifying the head mold into what it is today he made one original Bunyan head with the beard. That head used to adorn a 20+ foot Battle Mech. Today the giant is in pieces with the head still wearing his star goggles. Meanwhile the first jerk went to the “Star City Diner in downtown Roanoke 5at the corner of S Jefferson and Campbell in what used to be the old Hardees building. It was during this time that pictures of it started showing up on roadside america. After the restaurant went out of business Mark got the jerk back and loaned it to some friends that were running a small novelty store called “That’s It” pictures of it surfaced on roadside america during it’s time there as well. After a brief stint the Jerk went back to Mark and was stored at his studio for a few years. Around 2005 Mark took the Jerk to a trade show in Atlanta and a man from Panama bought him. So that is the story of the soda jerk, it’s head and how he came to be. Interestingly the original muffler man is MIA. Mark however is not and still Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 11.08.40 PMcontinues to turn out his creations as well as muffler man/soda jerks from time to time. He makes two versions of them, the other being a cowboy. So after all that, true to muffler man style we are left with one missing giant and the first soda jerk is in Panama. It is never a dull story with these guys…

I want to thank Mark Cline for taking the time to dig all this information from his memory and sharing it with me, for the use of his pictures to help tell this story and most of all for adding to this world things that make us take a second look and smile. A documentary about mark is currently in the making, help fund this amazing look at his life and work!

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#46 Macon, IL – Soda Jerk

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IMG_9551This blog happens to be coming out appropriately right after the release of the first episode of American Giants that covers this soda jerk found in Macon, IL. I have created a slightly confusing situation by referring to this muffler man as both the Macon and Decatur soda jerk. There is only one and he is actually in the small town of Macon which is just south of the much larger town of Decatur. As I mentioned in the episode, he stands in the middle of a field along highway 51 and the business he apparently was ordered for stands empty and unfinished behind him. He has been standing here holding his ice cream for a few years now and it is unknown what will become of him. He is defiantly one of Mark Cline’s creations made from the mold he cast from a 15 ft muffler man. Mark continues to make soda jerks and cowboys, all variations of the original lumberjack from International Fiberglass. This one has one hand down at his side and the other in standard muffler man configuration. The soda jerk found in Derby, NY was made about the same time as this one and is almost an exact copy except that one is holding a burger as well. Check out the blog on Mark Cline for allot more information on him and these soda jerks.

#38 Hatch, NM Soda Jerk

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While visiting the muffler man in Hatch New Mexico I was in for a real surprise when I walked inside to talk to the lady in the office. By now she is fairly used to the visitor simply there to see Teako Nunn’s collection of fiberglass figures and there is information scattered around the room you can read about his various pieces.IMG_7557 IMG_7559

While chatting with her she casually mentioned the other muffler man they had and asked if I had seen it? I had no idea they had a second m man on sight and she took me out back to see what turned out to be a soda jerk! The history of the soda jerk is sketchy at best and tracking this guys roots has left me with more questions then answers. Shortly after Roadside America started their muffler man campaign dozens of tips were flooding in from across the country with muffler man sightings and one tip showed up in March of 1998 from Roanoke, VA. It described a tall fiberglass giant with a square jaw holding an ice

cream cone standing about two blocks from the town center at a small cafe. I believe this is the first time the Soda Jerk came on the scene and how he was made and got there is still a mystery, at least to me.  By 2000 he had been moved to Natural Bridge and stood on highway 11 at an ice cream stand called “That’s It”. The next time he showed up was in 2004 and by this time he had been 4captured by the artist Mark Cline and stood at his “Enchanted Castle Studios” in Natural Bridge. I have yet to make my way to Virginia on a muffler man trip so I have not met Mark yet and when I do hopefully I can get more of a scoop on his ice cream guy. (npi) Mark is a artist and entertainer who is inspired by science fiction films and his work is featured in the first episode of American Giants. Mark makes large foam and fiberglass figures for attractions and his work has slowly been expanding across the states. He has made hundreds of creatures and dinosaurs and also seems to provide a home for other fiberglass figures that he has not made. Years ago he got his hands on a 15ft muffler man version and made a mold from it. Since then he has been making his own version of muffler men that we call soda jerks. He smoothed out the chin for the new models but not before making one copy of the original Bunyan head. Years ago it adorned one of Marks creations, a 20+ foot tall battle mech. Today just the head, helmet, shoulders and the star goggles are left. IMG_9557The soda jerk however had a brighter future and Mark went on to make copies of it and eventually started selling them on e-bay. I know of 3 so far, my #43 sighting in Decatur, IL (white shirt blue pants and arm to the side) another one in Derby, NY at the Super Freeze ice cream store and finally this one in Hatch. I had heard about Mark by the time of my visit to hatch and figured this was one of his creations since the original Roanoke soda jerk had a left hand that faced down and this new arrival had an ice cream in his right hand and a burger in his left! Mark also has made a cowboy variation that stands north of Cincinnati. The reason all of this counts as a muffler man sighting is because somewhere somehow in the Roanoke soda jerk’s history he came from international fiberglass. His mold is a copy of the shorter bunyan that international fiberglass made although he has a different head then the bunyans. Since my visit to hatch the soda jerk has been moved outside by the road for others to see and enjoy.

#23 Sutter Creek, CA M Man

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About the time I felt I had a pretty good grip on what was and what was not a muffler man I started seeing these guys. Yet another mystery in the history of the International Fiberglass muffler man saga. Roadside America when starting to document muffler men also started running into these guys. Although they look similar they are a totally different mould and size and when I first started to see them I questioned if they were muffler men at all. IMG_8733That question was put to rest on my #23 sighting in Sutter Creek, CA just north of Jackson. I had been working for the week in Sacramento and got some free time to take a drive out in the country to the east and see this guy.  Roadside America had not reported a sighting since 2005 so I wasn’t sure if he would still be there or not. I found him in good shape and holding some nice balloons to to announce the opening of the thrift store he stood at. He also bore the name of the store on the back of his shirt.This came as a bit of a surprise since for years the business had been a equipment rental store I believe. I still have yet to do my homework on this one and contact the owner. At the time I was there the owner was renting the building to the thrift store people and he allowed the M Man to stay. From my understanding this guy has been in the area since the 60’s and always has been with the same owner.

I have yet to find out if this mould was built by Bob Prewitt or International fiberglass but any doubt about him being a muffler man was put to rest when I noticed the “International Fiberglass” raised letters on his leg. It’s not the exact same logo that appear on the larger muffler men but IF all the same. IMG_8738So for some reason IF started selling not just the standard 22 ft muffler men but these smaller versions as well that are actually a completely different mould. I have heard they are around 15ft high but have yet to measure one to be sure. They also really don’t have a name to separate them from their taller counterparts and both models are called muffler men. For the most part they are the same idea, a lumberjack holding an axe with most often a red shirt and blue pants with suspender buttons on the pants. However these shorter versions often have a hat that looks more like a jungle pith helmet then something Paul Bunyan would wear. They also came without a hat but if one is wearing a hat it is always this same hat. As with the other Bunyans the pant legs come to the top of the boots and the shoes are similar. These versions are more rare then the taller ones and although I have yet to do an official count I would guess there are only around 20 of these left standing today, perhaps less.

Interestingly International Fiberglass made another version of muffler man based on this mould and it is known today as a soda jerk. IMG_7550The original stood in Roanoke VA for years before being purchased by an artist named Mark Clien who runs Enchanted Castle Studios and builds and modifies hundreds of fiberglass animals and figures. Mark made a mould from the original soda jerk which held an ice cream and hamburger and today he occasionally sells them on e-bay. His copies can be found in OH, IL and CA. Hopefully in the future I can meet Mark and get the scoop on his soda jerk and also a muffler man head he has floating around his studio.