Whether you call them quirky, kitschy, or even tacky, at Stuckey’s we sure do love us some good ol’ roadside attractions. And both figuratively and literally, the giant of American road just happens to be the Muffler Man statue or many of his other giant-sized incarnations such as astronauts, cowboys, American Indians, Paul Bunyans and even his female equivalent, Miss Uniroyal, to name a few.
Birth of the Muffler Man
Around 1960, Bob Prewitt created the first of what we now call the “Muffler Man” at his Prewitt Fiberglass Animals shop – a Paul Bunyan holding an oversized axe to promote the Paul Bunyan Cafe, on Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona. In 1963, a boat builder by the name of Steve Dashew bought Prewitt Fiberglass Animals and all of Bob’s molds came along with it. He changed the name to International fiberglass and soon began making a variety of giant-sized statues for an equal variety of businesses, particularly gas stations and muffler shops, hence the name “Muffler Man” because the basic characteristics (such as the right palm up, left palm down position in which the original Bunyan lumberjack figure held his axe) could hold mufflers as well.
Although the characteristics remained the same, there were a number of different fiberglass molds made of the Muffler Man which allowed for a variety of limbs, heads and torsos to be used on different characters that promoted different products. Anything from automotive supplies to food was game. A 15-foot Amish man named “Big Amos” stood over Zinn’s Diner in Denver, Pennsylvania. The Texaco “Big Friends” dotted American roads from sea to shining sea, as the Uniroyal Gal, clad in either a skirt or bikini stood over many tire shops of the time.
These American giants became novelties that were used to make independent businesses stick out more to passing motorists in the early days of two lane highways. When the businesses these roadside colossus’ stood watch over went out of business or were sold, oftentimes they remained, though they were frequently repainted to meet the current business owners needs and represented everything from country bumpkins, cooks and chefs, to soldiers, and sea pirates.
As with many things roadside related, the 1973 oil crisis hit the industry hard as it became problematic to ship oversized figures due to the rising fuel costs. International Fiberglass went out of business in 1976, the molds of these roadside giants lost forever.
Today, at least 200 figures made by International Fiberglass survive across the USA, some being renovated by the Illinois based American Giants or fiberglass artist Mark Cline of Natural Bridge, Virginia. With Muffler Man locations in nearly every state in the continental U.S., you can visit the Roadside America website and check out their Muffler Man map here. In the meantime, here’s a list of some of our favorites that you don’t want to miss:
- Gemini Giant
Located on Route 66 in Wilmington, Illinois is the Gemini Giant. Complete with space helmet and rocket, this Muffler Man astronaut got his name from when he was first created back during the Space Age and NASA’s creation of the Gemini program. This would also explain why he stands guard over “The Launching Pad” restaurant.
- Nitro Girl
One thing’s for sure, the makers of Muffler Men sure did believe in equal rights as evidenced by the 20-feet-tall giantess Uniroyal Gal. With one hand on her hip and the other in the air holding a giant tire, she proved that’s selling tires is not just a man’s job. Unfortunately, not many Uniroyal Gals were made and getting the opportunity to see one today is, indeed, a special treat. So, if you’re in the Blackwood, New Jersey area, stop in and see the rather patriotic Nitro Girl.
- Chicken Boy
Probably the strangest (and, therefore, the most liked) of all Muffler Men is this hybrid with a chicken head and normal Muffler Man body. Sure, it started out as a normal lumberjack Muffler Man, but when a Los Angeles chicken restaurant owner purchased him used, he had a local artist modify the lumberjack’s head to push his famous local fried chicken. However, Chicken Boy almost bought the farm. I say, I say, he almost ran around like a Muffler Man with his chicken head cut off after the owner died in 1984. Lucky for us, he survived and you can see this Island of Dr. Moreau giant standing tall above an art studio on Route 66 in Los Angeles.
- Country Bumpkin
Back to the East Coast and Seaside Heights, New Jersey where you can find a great example of International Fiberglass’ country bumpkin. Although he looks more like Alfred E. Newman of Mad Magazine fame, International Fiberglass dubbed this and other country bumpkin statues “Mortimer Snerd” after the famous ventriloquist doll belonging to Edgar Berman.
There were once two “Half-Wits” (as Roadside America calls them) located in Seaside Heights, but after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Jersey Shore and damaged them both in 2012, one of the Mortimers has now resided nearly 100 miles away in Oaks, Pennsylvania since 2014.
- Viking Giant
Our final favorite on our list is the 20-foot-tall Viking known as Erik, a 20-foot-tall Viking statue who has been watching over Hillcrest High School in Memphis, Tennessee for nearly 50 years. Originally made for the Viking Carpet chain, Erik was placed on the roof of “the Home of the Vikings” after he was donated sometime between 1969 and 1971 by the Shuler family, who sold Viking Carpet and were big supporters of Hillcrest High. Erik used to actually speak through a hidden speaker system, often telling the kids of Hillcrest “Good morning” on their way in to school and “Good evening” on their way out via the assistant principal; however, due to budget cuts in the 80s, the Viking went silent as the school fell into disrepair. After the school became a charter school and was given over half a million dollars for repairs, Eric was given a new coat of paint and new supports, too! Who knows? Maybe if you stop by to pay him a visit, he’ll say “Good morning!” to you, too.
Why you’re out gallivanting around the country in search of the Muffler Man of your dreams, don’t forget to stop by one of your nearest Stuckey’s locations and grab yourself one of those other icons of the American road – the Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll – or some of the other fine pecan candies we offer. While you’re there, don’t forget to pick up some souvenirs for the folks back home, too.
What’s that? You say you suffer from megalophobia – or the fear of large objects? Don’t worry! It’s no big deal. You can still enjoy a delicious Stuckey’s pecan roll or grab yourself one of our coffee mugs, t-shirts, or other Stuckey’s merchandise to sport around in the comfort of your own home. Even on the information highway, every stop is a Stuckey’s stop.
Whether your next road trip is by car or by rail, it’s not really a road trip without taking Stuckey’s along. From our world famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls to our mouthwatering Hunkey Dorey, Stuckey’s has all the road trips snacks you’ll need to get you where you’re going.
For all of the pecany good treats and cool merch you’ll need for your next big road adventure, browse our online store now!
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