One of the more interesting things I look for on roadtrips as I pass through small communities on back roads is yard art. Funky art and decorations in people’s yards, on their fences, on their houses. People have ingenuity. Some people have junk. But, as the saying goes, “One Man’s Junk is Another Man’s Treasure.”
For me, Yard Art is anything unique and unusual. It could be chain saw art – wood carvings made with chain saws. It could be art made from scrap metal. It could be, like the photo above, a hodge podge of signs, junk or other things. Following are some selections of yard art I have taken over the years. Don’t judge…some of these people love their “collections.” I just love my collection of photos of theirs… Enjoy the virtual ride.
Let’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!
Remnants of those days still hang around even as some artsy companies keep pushing them out to roadside restaurants, garages and filling stations.
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.
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.
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.
The one above has a mustache and a cowboy hat. It is the parking lot attendant for a big casino in Great Falls.
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!!
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).
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.
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)
I also saw one as I drive into Mississippi from Tennessee, without the bags:
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.
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)
There is another one I came across in Hatch, New Mexico
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
There are a number of others around town. Here are a couple of the Santas that hang around Santa Claus, Indiana
Finally, a few other guys I have run into on the road….
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.
We first took a brief zip around Glendive to catch some of the sights…
Glendive, Montana is surrounded by badlands and there have been many finds of dinosaur bones and tracks in the area, thus the signs, museum, etc. We went to Makoshika State Park, which is a nice badlands area. In fact, Makoshika is a Lakota word for “land of bad spirits.”
From Glendive we headed east on I-94 towards North Dakota with a brief stop to get the sign for “Home on the Range”, an unusual sign in the middle of the prairie in North Dakota, east of Beach, ND. It turns out that Home on the Range is a working Catholic-run ranch for boys and girls ages 12-19, especially those that were abused or come from broken families. It helps them readjust and cope. Appears to be a great program.
We continued east until we got to Exit 72, which leads to the Enchanted Highway, one of those AWESOME adventure highways with some unique roadside attractions. I recently did a full blog post just on this highway. Therefore, I will only post a couple of photos here. Please see the blog post for the details on that portion of this trip.
The main attractions are shown below.
After the trip down the Enchanted Highway, we arrived in the small town of Regent, home of the Enchanted Highway museum and gift shop, the Enchanted Castle Hotel and a couple of gas stations. We had hoped to eat lunch there, but nothing was open. And it was a Monday….oh well…
Still hungry, we decided to move on and head south towards Mt. Rushmore. We went west on ND Hwy 21 until we got to Hwy 22 and then went south towards South Dakota. We stayed on Hwy 22 until we got to South Dakota.
We then followed SD Hwy 79 all the way into Newell, South Dakota, which is known as the Sheep Capital of the United States. We meandered into T.J.’s Cafe and Waterin’ Hole in Newell for lunch. It was almost 3 PM so we were quite hungry. This unique diner was what we needed. I loved some of the furnishings, as you can see below.
After a nice lunch and some homemade pie for dessert, we were back on the road heading towards Mount Rushmore. On the way we passed through Sturgis, SD, famed for its annual motorcycle event in August. I had never been here. We passed right by the Full Throttle Saloon, claimed to be the World’s Largest Biker Bar and also famed for its TV Show on TRU-TV, which, but the way, I have never watched.
From Sturgis we booked it down to Keystone and to Mt. Rushmore.
We pulled through Keystone, SD at about 5:10 PM on our way to Mt. Rushmore. As this was the off season, almost everything was closed. We made it to the National Monument after closing time but still with daylight. We were able to get up into the parking lot for free and got some good photos before the sunset.
We were thrilled to be able to see Mt. Rushmore. BY the time we were done it was getting dark. We headed east from there, passed by the Badlands National Park, by Underwood, South Dakota, home of the World’s SMALLEST Biker Bar, and by Wall Drug (which I have visited in the past – see my post from 2005). We also passed by the big dinosaur skeleton being led by a human skeleton near Pioneer Village and could barely make it out as it had gotten dark.
We finally got into Oacoma, SD, our stop for the night. It was another long day, but was lots of fun!! Nothing like a full day of road tripping and seeing the sights and creating the memories!!