In 2018 I will feature a random (yet alphabetical) selection of photos I have taken from my nearly 20 years of back roads travel in the United States and Canada. I may even throw in a few random shots from other trips to Japan, Mexico and the Philippines. My theme is called America’s Back Roads: A Grab Bag of Places in Pictures.
Union Pacific Railroad Museum – Council Bluffs, Iowa
If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon. My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, will be available in late April or early May 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.
During the month of April I am participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge has each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays. My blog is number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts will take you across the back roads of America to many unique what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016
The G Towns
Across this great country there are dozens of giant Muffler Men, Big Johns and Uniroyal Gals. In the 1960s these advertised Mufflers, Tires, etc. Nowadays they can be seen at state borders, at tourist spots or advertising cafes (see Blackfoot, ID in my A to Z Challenge posts as an example). I have written a post all about these giants HERE. Then there are folks like Glenn Goode (who passed away in March 2015). Known as the Fiberglass Man because of his collection of these giants, he was in the fiberglass and sandblasting business for over 44 years. On his property on Walnut Bend Road, Gainesville, he had five big fiberglass people . See my full post about his unique site in the middle of nowhere HERE.
Back in 2007 I ventured west to Washington with my son for some shows with Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours. Along the way we visited a number of states and places. One of the more unique stops along the way was in the town of Gothenburg, Nebraska. This town is apparently one of only two Gothenburgs in the entire world, the other being the famed city in Sweden. Gothenburg is probably most well known as the home of the Pony Express in Nebraska. The town has become somewhat of a tourist attraction with the Pony Express building and also the Sod House Museum, which is just off of Interstate 80 at exit 211 to the left as you go into Gothenburg. The Sod House Museum was dedicated to the settlers of this area who initially built their homes out of sod. Also at the Sod House museum are two barbed wire sculptures including an Indian and a Buffalo. Both have well over 4 miles of barbed wire in the work. See my write up about this 2007 visit HERE.
Guthrie, Kentucky is located at the junction of US Highway 79 and US Highway 41 near the Tennessee Border. I ventured through here on my way to Memphis and the Blues Highway in the fall of 2014 (see a couple of other A to Z Challenge towns in earlier posts including Alligator, MS and Brownsville, TN from this same trip. Paris, TN and Paris, TX will also be included in my P Towns post.). Guthrie has its own version of a Pink Elephant (different from the one I posted about in DeForest, WI in my D Towns post). They also have a pink sunglass wearing giant cow. You can see full details of this visit and more photos HERE.
Gregory, South Dakota
Gregory, South Dakota is another town along the Oyate Trail. South Dakota is the pheasant capital of the U.S. and this area of the Oyate Trail is one of the centers of the pheasant hunting world (and, in Gregory there is also a Gorilla or two….). Apparently Gregory is “The Ground-zero of Pheasantdom” according to Fortune Magazine in 1992. You can read more about my visit to Gregory and see some photos of old movie theaters, interesting bars, etc., in my 2013 Oyate Trail post, which can be seen HERE.
Galata, Montana is one of two Montana and US Highway 2 Hi-Line towns I am including in this G Town post. Located about 23 miles east of Shelby, Montana, Galata is practically a ghost town. But the 1960s era neon sign advertising the Motel Galata is a classic. Definitely something worth looking for on a roadtrip across northern Montana.
On the eastern end of Montana on US Highway 2 is the town of Glasgow, Montana. A town of about 3000, it is a colorful place with all sorts of dinosaur lore. As one proceeds west on US Hwy 2 out of Glasgow, you will see dinosaurs up on the hillside. These and the other animals and sculptures (as well as the dino at the Hangar Bar) are all creations of artist Buck Samuelson, who offers them for sale. Read more about US Highway 2, the Hi-Line Drive across northern Montana HERE.
There are apparently 21 places in America named Glasgow that range from a tiny town in Fallen Timber County, Pennsylvania, which has 63 inhabitants, to Glasgow, Kentucky the largest of them all with a population of just over 14,000. As a Kentucky resident, I have visited many of the towns and Glasgow is unique because of its cultural depth with an amazing old Theatre and its many wall murals. Founded in 1799 by a group of Revolutionary War veterans, Glasgow boasts historic homes and buildings, the South Central Kentucky Cultural Center, downtown walking/driving tours, Barren River Lake State Resort Park and Brigadoon State Nature Preserve. The town sits at the intersection of US Highway 68 and US Highway 31.
Montana is a huge state and so it is not a surprise that this post has three G Towns. I would be remiss if I didn’t include Gardiner, Montana, which is situated in Southwest Montana, at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The town is nestled in breath taking Paradise Valley, with the Yellowstone River running right through town. The Roosevelt Arch is the most famous structure in Gardiner. This Yellowstone Entrance, Gateway or Arch was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt on 24 April 1903. The arch is visible two miles north of Gardiner on US Highway 89. See more about my 2014 trip down Montana’s US 89 and Yellowstone HERE.
In June 2013 I made my way to Rexburg, ID and passed through Wyoming on my way to Yellowstone National Park. (I noted the Montana entrance above). On this particular trip I found my through Gillette, WY on my way to Cody and Yellowstone. Gillette is home of a few nice murals, an artist walk with a number of unique sculptures that change each year and then there is the Rockpile Museum. This Campbell County Museum focuses on general, regional, and local history with an emphasis on the culture and people of Campbell County. It was opened in 1974 at the site of the historic natural rockpile, which has been a piece of Gillette history since the 1890s. See my full report about Gillette and the drive to Cody and on to Yellowstone HERE.
The town of Granbury, Texas, south of Fort Worth, is a fun place to visit, filled with history, an old fashioned courthouse square surrounded by unique shops and some good places to eat (especially Babe’s Chicken!!). It is home to the Nutt House Hotel (crazy name eh?). Not too far down the road is the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, an amazing drive thru Wildlife Park in Glen Rose, TX (another G Town!) The current facility has grown to 1700 acres and has over 1000 animals, with 50 species of native and non-native animals, including Cheetah, Rhinoceros, Giraffe, various African antelope varieties, Zebras, Ostriches and Rheas, among many others. You can see dozens of photos of the park and also more on Granbury in my 2012 post HERE.
Grand Forks, North Dakota (Honorable Mention)
Grand Forks is another US Highway 2 town also cut through by Interstate 29. I mention it here because of its famed Smiley Water Tower, one of three or four in the US (note the Adair, IA Smiley in my A Towns post). This tower has the Smiley above and on the other side of the water tower is a Winking Smiley. You can see more photos of it and also see more about my 2014 US Highway 2 drive through North Dakota HERE.
Gravel Switch, Kentucky (Honorable mention)
With a unique name for a place, the small village of Gravel Switch, KY. grew up around a gravel quarry on a spur line of the L&N railroad around 1870. There is not much there now but a small Amish school, a Post Office, a bank and a few houses. Not far from Gravel Switch is perhaps the most famous place in the area…Penn’s Store. According to its website, “Penn’s Store is the oldest country store in America being run continuously by the same family. It has been in the Penn family since 1850.” There is a nice writeup about it here. I drove through there on a trip to Elizabethtown, KY in February 2013. See the entire post HERE.
Gilboa, Ohio (Honorable mention)
On one of my trips back to Kentucky from Canada in 2008, I drove through the community of Gilboa, OH. Thy had a humongous steer statue and also a unique restaurant/bar called Stinky’s Country Well. Had to include Gilboa for these reasons. The town is on US Highway 224 west of Findlay, OH.
Georgetown, Texas (Honorable mention)
Finally, on Interstate 35 north of Austin lies the historic town of Georgetown, Texas. I have had a couple of opportunities to visit there in the past few years and it is a unique place. The town features some of the best Victorian architecture in the state of Texas. And then, there is the story of “Three-Legged Willie” (Robert M. Williamson), the beloved Texas patriot, Ranger, lawyer, judge, newspaper editor, and Williamson County’s namesake. Known affectionately as Three-legged Willie due to the wooden leg he used following an illness when he was 15. His right leg drew up at the knee and could not support him. Thereafter, he wore a wooden leg, leaving his useless foot extended behind him. A lawyer at 19, he fought with the cavalry at the Battle of San Jacinto. An enthusiastic supporter of Texas statehood, he named one of his sons Annexus.
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
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.