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.

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The Phillips 66 Cowboy

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In the mid 1960s Phillips 66 petroleum initiated an ad campaign around the slogan “Go with Phillips 66… the gasoline that won the west”.  Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 1.23.38 AM Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 1.24.00 AMThe ads featured images of cowboys along with some snappy copy that talked about Phillips’ “down home hospitality and service”, as well as their gasoline’s performance, which they claimed  “gave you more gallop per gallon”. Motoring at this time was still a major recreational activity for most Americans and Phillips effectively used  cowboy imagery  to symbolize  the “freedom of driving on the open road”. Much like the American cowboy who had rode west  and tamed the wilderness, Phillips aligned itself with the cowboy mystique, aiding adventurous 1960s travelers as they made their way westward.

As we all know a number of muffler men were put to use in conjunction with this campaign.  I’m not sure if International Fiberglass created a special version of the muffler man for Phillips or not, but we do know that a standard Phillips 66 cowboy had a hat and rolled up shirt sleeves… sporting Phillips 66 logos on their breast pockets as well as on the front of the cowboy hat. In some shots one can see cowboys wearing a holster and six shooter, there has been some Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 1.23.15 AMspeculation that some also carried rifles, but I have yet to see an example of this. Through my research I’ve come across a number of vintage images of various Phillips 66 cowboys, all of which are long gone. Luckily for us a few of these muffler men ended up on promotional postcards created by the proprietors of these stations. One of the nicer ones I’ve seen was used to promote Vaughn’s  Phillips 66 Station located on Highway 20 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. I have no idea whatever happened to this muffler man, but it’s a great example of roadside vernacular especially with that huge mutant head located on the roof. Another Iowa cowboy can be seen on this postcard from the Landmark Truck Stop and Restaurant, located in Williamsburg. This restaurant is still in operation today Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 1.22.40 AMbut unfortunately the cowboy is long gone.  Locals referred to him simply as “Phil” – he must have had some impact because as you can see he even made his way onto their matchbooks! There is also a well documented Phillips 66 cowboy Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 1.21.57 AMwhich was located in a station next to the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas in the mid 60s. Gabriel Aldaz devoted a whole chapter in his book “Right Palm Up, Left Palm Down” on his attempt to find this particular cowboy , unfortunately he was unsuccessful in obtaining any relevant information about his current whereabouts.

 

Another great source for vintage Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 1.22.22 AMPhillips 66 cowboy imagery can be seen in newspaper articles from the period. I’m guessing if the town was small enough having a 20′ tall fiberglass statue erected on main street was something worth reporting.  One can see this in this blurry newspaper article from Conroe, TX. I also uncovered this press photo from St Petersburg, Florida. This is a particularly good shot in that one can see this cowboy’s holster and gun clearly as well as the rolling base. The little kid holding his arms up is also pretty funny. He’s identified on the back of the photo as “Little Donnie Brown” age 3… his father ran the Phillips 66 station located coincidentally on 66 Street North. (I noticed that this photo refers to these cowboys as part of a “touring promotional attraction” so perhaps some of these moved around from site to site? ) Article by Roger Bywater

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 1.21.06 AMEditors Note: It seems most cowboy versions left today were at one time Phillips 66 Cowboys. Many have lost their hats and are mistaken for the service man version when in fact they were once Phillips 66 cowboys. The cowboy hat was made from a simple mold they made at International Fiberglass and because it’s so thin and fiberglass becomes brittle over time they often crack and fall apart and are long outlived by the cowboy. Very few left today still have their six shooters on their belt. These were often the first items to “walk off” and I only know of 3 that still have their six shooters. As Roger mentioned, it has been reported that they also carried rifles although I have yet to see a vintage picture of this. A few hold rifles today and when talking to Marvin Hawk who used to own a cowboy m man in Roseville, IL he stated that when he got his IMG_0322muffler man from a western store in Monmouth he was wearing a cowboy hat and holding a rifle. Some cowboys still are standing on the platform patented by Steve Dashew like the cowboy at the top of this article in Wendell, ID. This would support the idea that these cowboys did move around from gas station to gas station as part of a ongoing promotion by Phillips 66. I have heard it said that the area reps were less then excited about these muffler men as moving them about from site to site was not a “fun activity”. Today very few if any still wear their original stickers but if you look closely at the cowboy in Wendell you can still make out the outline of a Phillips 66 sticker and a time gone by.

Special thanks to Roger Bywater for his contribution to this blog. All pictures used with permission from a private collection. 

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.