Fiberglass Giants Part I – The Muffler Men and Such

DeForestWILet’s face it, Americans love those quirky roadside attractions!  We all know it and its time to admit it. As far back as the 1930s they have been around.  But it was the 1960s and 1970s that really got the roadside things going as people traveled Route 66 and other US Highways.  The quirky and offbeat were the drawing cards…the highways were our Disneylands!

SeymourWI3Remnants of those days still hang around even as some artsy companies keep pushing them out to roadside restaurants, garages and filling stations.

The Old Muffler Man - (photo courtesy Roadside America - used with permission)
The Old Muffler Man – (photo courtesy Roadside America – used with permission) This one known as the Joor Muffler Man in Escondido, CA

One of the most iconic of the roadside tchotchkes were the Muffler Men, those roadside giants holding Mufflers and axes and other things. I remember them well from my youthful 1960s living in Albuquerque.  There are now websites that are totally devoted to them (such as the American Giants website with great, professionally produced documentary-style videos made by Joel Baker and his team) and then my favorite site on the web Roadside America, which has a huge section about them including a detailed and fascinating (and well-researched!) history of these guys.

Roadside America's Interactive Muffler Man Map (used by permission - click map to go to the actual interactive map)
Roadside America’s Interactive Muffler Man Map (used by permission – click map to go to the actual interactive map)

Like many travelers, a few years ago I figured there were only one kind of muffler man.  But, as I have traveled across this country, I have run into a few of them and their derivatives as well as some that were mistaken as muffler men.  Once again, the genius team at Roadside America has even gone to the trouble to create a glossary to identify the myriad variety.

MufflerManID
Muffler Man Identifier – click to go to the actual Roadside America page. (used by permission)

So, as I drive the back roads of America, I am always on the look out for these friends of the freeways and heroes of the highways.  I am nowhere close to have come across the dozens and dozens of them, but I have certainly stumbled on a few and even have enjoyed the variety of them as shown in this post.

Cowboy Muffler Man - Big John in Great Falls, Montana
Cowboy Muffler Man – Big John in Great Falls, Montana (originally designed for Phillips 66)

The one above has a mustache and a cowboy hat. It is the parking lot attendant for a big casino in Great Falls.

Paul Bunyan in Wentzville, MO advertising that No Job is Too Big
Paul Bunyan in Wentzville, MO advertising that No Job is Too Big
Big Indian in Bemidji, MN in front of a souvenir shop
Big Indian in Bemidji, MN in front of a souvenir shop

So, what is the history.  I suggest you read the entire story HERE.  But, in a nutshell, it was Steve Dashell’s company, “International Fiberglass, that turned out thousands of commercial statues in the 1960s and 70s. International Fiberglass took a single statue mold created for a cafe and parlayed it into a roadside industry.”  It turns out that International Fiberglass also created the green Sinclair Dino’s (many are still around) and some ESSO Tigers (remember those?).  His first fiberglass giant was built in 1962 for a restaurant in Flagstaff, AZ.  It was a Paul Bunyan looking Lumberjack.  I am a graduate of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and, if I am not mistaken, that same Paul Bunyan now sits on the NAU Campus as does one other. (see the story here)  Unfortunately, during my time at NAU I never took any photos of them….humph!!

NAU Lumberjack - copyright Roadside America
NAU Lumberjack – copyright Roadside America

Dashell’s company made some basic molds and then were able to use them to create a variety of styles.  Some were made for Texaco, some for Uniroyal (a Female statue).

Uni-royal Gal - this one is now in a pose out front of Norma's Cafe in Blackfoot, ID
Uniroyal Gal – this one is now in a pose out front of Martha’s Cafe in Blackfoot, ID

There are a few collectors out there and so they sometimes appear in out of the way places.  Perhaps the most well known collector is Glen Goode in Gainesville, TX. (see RA Article Here).  I visited Glen’s place in 2012.  He has the BIG THREE including a Uniroyal Gal, a Muffler Man and a couple of Big Johns.

Glen Goode's Big People
Glen Goode’s Big People in Gainesville, TX
Sumoflam at Glen Goode's Big People in
Sumoflam at Glen Goode’s Big People in Gainesville, TX (November 2012)
Smiling Big John at Glen Goode's
Smiling Big John at Glen Goode’s
Big Tex Muffler Man smiles too
Big Tex Muffler Man smiles too

The Big Johns were made by a company in or around Cape Girardeau, MO in the late 1960s and 1970s.  I have come across one of the originals in Metropolis, IL, with grocery sacks and all.  It stands nearly 30 feet tall.  Unfortunately, he is outshined by the 12 foot tall BRONZE Superman in Metropolis (added here for fun)

Big John with Grocery Bags in Metropolis, IL
Big John with Grocery Bags in Metropolis, IL
Sumoflam and the 12 foot tall bronze Superman in Metropolis (not fiberglass, but a neighbor to Big John)
Sumoflam and the 12 foot tall bronze Superman in Metropolis (not fiberglass, but a neighbor to Big John)

I also saw one as I drive into Mississippi from Tennessee, without the bags:

This Big John welcomes you to Mississippi with open arms.  (June 2014)
This Big John welcomes you to Mississippi with open arms. (June 2014)

I also came across a “deconstructed Big John” at a place in St. Louis.  The legs were on display in the front and the upper torso sat in the backyard…with the original checkered shirt.

Big John Legs in St. Louis
Big John Legs in St. Louis
Big John Torso sits alone in the back yard in St. Louis
Big John Torso sits alone in the back yard in St. Louis

Of course, I have run into a few more in my travels.  There is a beer toting one in Sturgis, SD standing guard outside of the Full Throttle Saloon (yes, the one from the TV Show in 2013)

Muffler Man with mug of beer in Sturgis, SD.
Muffler Man with mug of beer in Sturgis, SD.

There is another one I came across in Hatch, New Mexico

Muffler Man in Hatch, NM
Muffler Man in Hatch, NM

While in Hatch I also came across another iconic fiberglass family…also created by International Fiberglass in 1963 when A&W introduced four choices of hamburgers and their corresponding Burger Family members: Papa Burger, Mama Burger, Baby Burger, and Teen Burger.  There aren’t many of these around.  I looked for the one in Hillsboro, Oregon in 2012 and couldn’t find it.  I was thrilled to see this one in Hatch, NM.

A&W Family in Hatch, NM
A&W Family in Hatch, NM

But the Muffler Men, Big John and Uniroyal Gal are not the only big fiberglass folk out there.  Ironwood, MI is home to the “World’s Tallest Indian Statue”, a 50 foot Hiawatha that was built in Minneapolis in 1964, transported to Ironwood.  It is huge and can be seen towering above town at the end of main street.

Hiawatha stands proud at the end of the road in Ironwood, MI
Hiawatha stands proud at the end of the road in Ironwood, MI
Hiawatha side view
Hiawatha side view
Hiawatha Stands 50 feet tall in Ironwood, MI
Hiawatha Stands 50 feet tall in Ironwood, MI

Another big fiberglass creation is the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN.  Added by Creative Displays (which later became F.A.S.T) in 1978.  At 55.5 feet tall, he is a tad larger than Hiawatha.

Jolly Green Giant in Black Earth, MN
Jolly Green Giant in Black Earth, MN

Not nearly as large, but yet another roadside icon that continues on throughout the U.S. is the Big Boy statue.  Actually, there are a couple of them.

Big Boy statue in the West can be seen at Bob's and JB's
Big Boy statue in the West can be seen at Bob’s and JB’s

As a young boy in Albuquerque, the Bob’s Big Boy was always a treat. We saw him in many places.  These Big Boy statues were another creation of International Fiberglass.  Many of them are gone now (there is even a site dedicated to Big Boy Graveyards).  Nowadays in Kentucky there is Frisch’s Big Boy, which is headquartered in Cincinnati (the original Bob’s started near Detroit in Warren, MI).  They have a different looking brother to the original.

Sumoflam with Big Boy at Frisch's in Richond, KY
Sumoflam with Big Boy at Frisch’s in Richmond, KY

Speaking of fiberglass burger guys, Seymour , WI proudly claims to be the home of the original hamburger and has erected a 12 foot fiberglass statue of “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen, the supposed inventor. (there are claims by other towns)

Hamburger Charlie statue in Seymour, WI
Hamburger Charlie statue in Seymour, WI
Hamburger Charlie's dignified face
Hamburger Charlie’s dignified face

The town of Santa Claus, IN has a number of fiberglass statues of Santa, but the biggest and oldest (built in 1935) was made of cement.

Santa Claus stands 12 feet tall on a hill in Santa Claus, IN.
Santa Claus stands 12 feet tall on a hill in Santa Claus, IN.

There are a number of others around town.  Here are a couple of the Santas that hang around Santa Claus, Indiana

A Cranky Santa, stands about 9 feet tall
A Cranky Santa, stands about 9 feet tall, Santa Claus, IN
A resting Santa, about 6 feet tall, Santa Claus, IN
A resting Santa, about 6 feet tall, Santa Claus, IN

Finally, a few other guys I have run into on the road….

A fiberglass Uncle Sam in Hatch, NM
A fiberglass Uncle Sam in Hatch, NM
A 10 foot tall fiberglass pizza guy in Tennessee
A 10 foot tall fiberglass pizza guy in Tennessee
a Big Paul Bunyan in northern Wisconsin
A Big Paul Bunyan in northern Wisconsin

And this ends Part I of my Fiberglass Giants.  Part II will feature a few animals and birds.  Part II will cover some giant fish and other oddities.

 

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A few sites in Southeast Idaho – Idaho Falls and Blackfoot

Potato Museum - Blackfoot
Potato Museum – Blackfoot

While in Rexburg for the last week of March and the first week of April, I had the opportunity to take a couple of trips south to Blackfoot and Idaho Falls, where I was able to catch a few of the interesting sites in the area.  I even caught an amazing quarrel between a Canadian goose and a couple of seagulls.

Idaho Falls

The waterfalls on the Snake River called Idaho Falls
The waterfalls on the Snake River.  Idaho Falls, as they are called, were once rapids on the Snake

Idaho Falls is a nice little town at the base of the foothills with the Snake River running through the middle of town.  It is currently the largest city in Southeastern Idaho with a population of nearly 57,000 and a metro population of a little over 136,000.  Like Rexburg, it has a large LDS (Mormon) population and a large temple.

Carved Wooden Indian - by Peter Toth
Carved Wooden Indian              (Nov. 1980) – by Peter Toth

One of my trip highlights was being able to see the large Indian wood carving by Hungarian-born and American immigrant sculptor Peter Toth.  Over the years Toth has created at least one of these huge statues (all different) for each state in the United States.  All of them collectively (at least 74 are documented) are known as the “Whispering Giants”.  I hope to be able to begin my quest to visit many more over the years.  Many of the Whispering Giants can been here.

Located in North Tourist Park, one of over 70 from around the US
Located in North Tourist Park, one of over 70 from around the US.  This one is just over 27 feet tall

The Indian depicted above is a combination of tribes native to Idaho. This sculpture was  the 37th state in the series. As with all of his works, Toth did the work free of charge with supplies and materials donated by local businesses. The local Chamber of Commerce hosted the dedication program. Governor John V. Evans accepted and dedicated the sculpture.

Wild West Designs
Wild West Designs

Ironically, just north of the Whispering Giant is a unique shop called Wild West Designs Antler Art.  They have many interesting home furnishings inside, but it was the unique wooden carvings outside that caught my eye!!

Giant Bear with Fish
Giant Bear with Fish

The giant bear above adorns a place in the front of the shop.  This wooden grizzly is about 16 feet tall.

Cute "Welcome" Bear
Cute “Welcome” Bear
Bear chasing a Trapper
Bear chasing a Trapper

Further into town I came across a piece of nostalgia in Scotty’s Hamburgers.  This iconic drive-in has been around Idaho Falls since the 1960s.

Scotty's Hamburgers - Old Americana
Scotty’s Hamburgers – Nostalgic 1960s Drive-In

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to eat there since they were closed on Sunday and that was my day to drive thru town.

Idaho Falls Temple of the LDS Church
Idaho Falls Temple of the LDS Church

Like Rexburg, the crown jewel for Idaho Falls is the large LDS Temple.  Dedicated in September 1945 it was the first LDS temple in Idaho and is one of the older LDS temples, currently the 8th oldest in operation (see entire chronology here).  It was the only temple dedicated between 1927 and 1955.  Originally, it did not have an angel Moroni on top.  This was added by helicopter in September 1983.

Snake River in Idaho Falls
Snake River in Idaho Falls

The area around the temple is a beautiful riverine green space — a haven for relaxation and ducks, geese and seagulls.

Snake River in Idaho Falls
Snake River in Idaho Falls

As I drive around looking at the wonderful river sights, I came across some folks feeding the birds…it was a virtual crowd of ducks and geese and seagulls.  I was quite amazed to see them all congregated together fighting over the morsels of bread coming their way.

Gathering of the Birds
Gathering of the Birds
Solitary Seagull waiting for a quick grab at some bread
Solitary Seagull waiting for a quick grab at some bread
A proud goose
A proud goose

But, the real excitement came when a goose got a big piece of a baguette and was then attacked by a couple of hungry seagulls.  I had never seen anything like this so I had the camera on fast snap to get the following sequence of shots.

DSC_4962
Fighting over bread – the beginning

DSC_4963 DSC_4964 DSC_4965

Fighting over bread - the goose wins
Fighting over bread – the goose wins

It was really something watching this 2 minute battle for the bread!!

Old Bonneville Restaurant
Old Bonneville Restaurant

Idaho Falls still has a number of nostalgic locations.   The Bonneville, an old Chinese restaurant, appears to be closed now, but the sign remains.  I love old neon signs like these.  This one is especially classy with the dot on the I being a star.

Yummy House Chinese Foood
Yummy House Chinese Food

And who can resist the Yummy House?  I had to, they were closed.

Approaching Wolverine Creek Wind Farm, near Iona, ID
Approaching Wolverine Creek Wind Farm, near Iona, ID

As I typically do, if I see a Wind Farm, I tend to go there.  I am so excited to see natural energy in action and the wind farms are always like a giant flower garden blooming out of the ground.  The Wolverine Creek Wind Farm is housed in the foothills west of Idaho Falls, in the town of Iona.  There are 43 turbines, which can be seen from Rexburg on a clear day.  This site produces about 64.5 Mw of power.

Turbines from the Wolverine Creek Wind Farm
Turbines from the Wolverine Creek Wind Farm
Another view of the turbines
Another view of the turbines

Blackfoot, Idaho

Blackfoot, Idaho
Blackfoot, Idaho

I was excited for the chance to get to Blackfoot, Idaho so that I could visit the famous Idaho Potato Museum. So, on a trip to Pocatello, accompanied by a business partner from Rexburg, we stopped in Blackfoot on the way home for a quick look see.

Idaho Potato Museum
Idaho Potato Museum, Blackfoot, Idaho

When we arrived it appeared to be snowing, but I actually think it was potato flakes falling from the sky to welcome me!!

Sumoflam at the Potato Museum
Sumoflam at the Potato Museum
Sumoflam and Giant Potato
Sumoflam and Giant Potato – must be potato flakes and not snow!!

Like other similar museums have visited in the past (like the Mustard Museum in Wisconsin, the JELLO museum in New York, the SPAM Museum in Wisconsin…to name a few), the focus of this museum was a certain food, in this case, the potato.  During the visit I learned a great deal about potato farming in Idaho, I learned that Sweet Potatoes are not related to a potato and I saw the Guinness Certified “World’s Largest Potato Chip”, which is housed in the museum and was created by Pringle’s in June 1991.

History of the Potato
History of the Idaho Potato
Sumoflam with a Potato Picking Bag
Sumoflam with a Potato Picking Bag
a Sample Potato T-Shirt
a Sample Potato T-Shirt
World's Largest Potato Chip - 23" x 14.5"
World’s Largest Potato Chip – 23″ x 14.5″ – equivalent of 80 regular Pringle’s Chips

For fun, we took a drive around the small town to see another giant, a few murals and finally get a lunch at one of the oldest drive-ins (and eat ins) in town.

Giant Waitress
Giant Waitress at Martha’s Cafe in Blackfoot, Idaho

This former Uniroyal Gal (there are still of a few of these around the country) turned waitress adorns the front entrance to Martha’s Cafe. She has gone through a couple of changes.  She was formerly blonde (in 2011) and actually held a plate (see photos on this blog).

Mural at Eastern Idaho State Fairgrounds
Mural at Eastern Idaho State Fairgrounds

As with many of my town visits around the country, I also take a liking to wall art and murals.  I found a whole set of murals on the side of the wall near the fairgrounds.

Fairgrounds Wall Mural
Fairgrounds Wall Mural – Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural - Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural – Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural - Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural – Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural - Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural – Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural - Blackfoot, Idaho
Fairgrounds Wall Mural – Blackfoot, Idaho

We also spotted a couple of other older wall murals in town

Salt Lake Mural near Tent and Awning Shop - Blackfoot, Idaho
Salt Lake Mural near Tent and Awning Shop – Blackfoot, Idaho
Are We There Yet? Mural near Tent and Awning Shop - Blackfoot, Idaho
Are We There Yet? Mural near Tent and Awning Shop – Blackfoot, Idaho

Finally, we stopped at a great place for lunch.  I had a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich and almost ordered a Rice Krispy Treat Milk Shake!!

Rupe's Burgers
Rupe’s Burgers – Blackfoot, Idaho

Rupe’s Burgers is like so many other lat 60s/early 70s drive-in diners.  Great greasy not good for you food…and lots of it.  This one opened in 1962 as an A & W Root Beer.  It was open thru 1978 when the Rupe family sold it.  The place became R & B’s thru 1986 and then went out of business.  In 1987 the Rupe family bought it back.  The place seats about 100 inside and has room for 20 cars outside.

Marilyn Monroe in a Potato Sack
Marilyn Monroe in a Potato Sack

I finished off a couple of different visits and after a two and a half week stay in Idaho, it was time to get back on the road home to Kentucky!!

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Some REAL Giants – Glen Goode’s Big People, Gainesville, TX

On a recent trip home from Texas in November 2012,  we made our way through Gainesville.  While there, we decided to take a small diversion to go see Glen Goode’s Big People, some large fiberglass statues on the side of the road.

Glen Goode’s from the Road
Glen Goode’s Big People
Glen Goode’s Big People
Glen Goode’s Big People

Glen Goode’s Big People

 

Glen Goode’s Big People, near Gainesville, TX

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