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Muffler Men: Roadside Giants Of The '60s Who Still Watch Over Us

Icons | June 11, 2021

A Muffler Man With a muffler. Source: (Pinterest).

On roads across the United States and Canada, fiberglass giants keep watch over the landscape. One of them, named Dave, watches Salem Street in Groveland, Massachusetts. The 14 foot-tall fiberglass giant is a shorter specimen; most of his brethren are as tall as a giraffe at 25 feet tall. Dave wields an axe, and is one of a tribe of lumberjacks, cowboys, and Indians, but they all became the Muffler Men, as the first ones that the people at Roadside America spotted held mufflers. There are more than 250 of them but some of them are falling into disrepair, losing body parts. Once highways began to divert motorists off of the smaller American byways, businesses needed another way to catch people’s attention so they could stay in business; some used neon signs, some used promotional displays, and others relied on the larger-than-life creations like the Muffler Men. Other fiberglass giants which may or may not be human pop up on roadsides across America, sometimes designed for chains; for example, tigers promote Enco and Humble, cowboys promote Phillips Petroleum, and a Dinosaur promotes Sinclair Oil, but can also be found on mini-golf courses.

The Chincoteague Viking who looks a little different from the mold. Source: (Wikimedia Commons).

They Have A Distinct Look

The Muffler Men have a specific style which can be identified not only by their size, but by their bodies: they have one hand facing downward and one facing upward, their bodies tilt forward, they have square jaws, and big clunky shoes. Muffler Men were created using open plaster molds, and then they were constructed of polyester resin and fiberglass on steel frames, with the seams fiberglasssed together. The challenge was then transporting them, and the companies had to contend with zoning requirements, because not everyone wants a giant man looming over their neighborhood.

In Rocky Mount, NC, A lumberjack who looks like the original. Source: (Wikipedia).

The Origins Of The Muffler Men

The Muffler Men were created by Bob Prewitt in 1962, after he had started a fiberglass sculpting business. Prewitt had been hired to sculpt a lumberjack for a restaurant, but the sculptor was having a difficult time making the statue hold the ax, as the sculptor had only created the left hand, and its fingers were curled, so a different right hand needed to be designed. Prewitt hired Richard Ellis, who was still in art school at the time, to help sculpt fiberglass animals, and then asked Ellis to complete the Muffler Man, creating a hand which could hold the ax. That first Muffler Man, the lumberjack, found its way to loom over a restaurant in Prescott, Arizona, where he remained until the restaurant closed. 

The Gemini Giant in Illinois. Source: (Wikipedia).

Starting A New Chapter In Their Lives

That original Muffler Man was eventually moved to the Northern Arizona University campus when the Paul Bunyan Restaurant he stood in front of went out of business. Often when a business closed, the Muffler Man was sold, repainted, and relocated to become different characters, starting a new life as a Viking, a sports mascot, or a sea pirate, among others. 

Muffler Man on a pedestal in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Source: (Wikimedia Commons).

Changing With The Times

In 1963, Steve Dashew, who had been building boats, and needed something to do when business was slow, purchased Prewitt Fiberglass, renaming it International Fiberglass. The mold for the original Paul Bunyan figure still existed when Dashew purchased the company, and so he was able to reproduce the figure maintaining the original basic characteristics. The reproductions had some variations, including different heads, limbs, and torsos, creating variant characters, depending on the product being sold. In Lancaster, PA, there is a 15 foot Amish man standing over a diner and a Uniroyal Gal in a skirt or a bikini. Some of the Muffler Men change over time as well. There is a Muffler Man in Escondido California who is called the Joor Muffler Man and he does stand outside a muffler shop. He has seasonal wardrobes, dressing as Santa in December and sporting a large pumpkin at Thanksgiving. With the pandemic, some Muffler Men also obeyed mask orders.

With the 1973 oil crisis, business declined, and International Fiberglass was sold and permanently closed in 1976; the original molds were destroyed.

Tags: 1960s | Muffler Man

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Linda Speckhals

Writer

When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.