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Do You Know the Muffler Man?

1 Oct

I have long been a fan of Muffler Men. Let me be clear about what a Muffler Man is:  a large, fiberglass figure with a steely gaze and chiseled jawline to rival George Clooney’s. It is not a welded sculpture made out of mufflers and discarded car parts. Muffler Men range in size from 18-25 feet tall, and a large number of them got their start holding mufflers in front of car repair shops, hence the name. Here’s an easy visual reference:

Muffler Man:

“Man” made from mufflers:











George Clooney:

Over time, some of the muffler men got tired of shilling car parts and moved on to other businesses, where they were modified to hold many things. One popular variant is the Paul Bunyan (with or without beard) who usually holds an axe. I’m not sure how a giant, scary dude brandishing an axe is an enticement to stop at a business, but this form is very popular and can be found all over the country. I suppose the axe would be preferable to this Bunyan on Route 66 in Illinois, who hides in the bushes holding his giant wiener. I like to call him Perverted Paul.

(There’s a reason JJ is walking away quickly. By the way, my husband is 6′- 4″ tall, which gives you a good idea of scale.)

Probably the most famous Muffler Man on the route is the Gemini Giant.  He guards the front of the Launching Pad restaurant, doing his best to maintain an air of dignity despite being saddled with the unfortunate fashion choice of a comically phallic silver helmet.

I am so infatuated with this handsome devil (I think it’s the helmet) that I used his image for my reward prints and made the first of what will be several paintings of him.

Kickstarter reward screen print

“Big Shoes” – oil painting of Gemini Giant (text on left reads: You know what they say about men with really big feet)

One of the strangest variants of the Muffler Man species has to be this man/rabbit hybrid in Aloha, Oregon. Why a rabbit head? I guess because it’s at a shop called Harvey’s and is a reference to the Jimmy Stewart movie about the giant white rabbit. Or, someone got stoned and decided it would be a great idea to weld a giant rabbit’s head on a man’s body. Either explanation is plausible. I have not seen this one in person but did do a painting based on it several years ago  because it’s just so weird.

Here is the painting, which was created to give to the members of band Wasted Wine as inspiration for a song, which then became “What is it about You”  on the “Tomorrow Shall be as Today” CD – you can buy it here  (and you should – highly recommended CD).

In Amarillo, TX there is a cowboy-themed Muffler Man. Because – by law – everything in Texas is required to be cowboy-themed.

In Flagstaff, there’s a more traditional Bunyan holding an axe. He’s smiling, but there’s a maniacal gleam in his eye that I don’t trust. Psychotic Paul? He’s also larger than the others at nearly 40 feet tall and is rumored to be the original statue on which all the rest were based. Maybe that makes him the more benign Prototype Paul?

If you want to learn more about Muffler Men your next stop should be Roadside America’s exhaustive survey, which covers their history in great detail and provides documentation on their locations.

Future posts will feature other giants found along the route, including a whale, a jackrabbit, a steer, and several chickens.