16 Jun Muffler Man
This morning while cruising around Facebook (my fav thing to do in my bathrobe with a cup o’ Joe) I was overjoyed to discover a post from Los Angeles about vintage signs, which led me to an embedded link to a whopping cool website for other roadside fans like myself, RoadsideAmerica. This website even has an app you can buy for your iphone to clue you into any funky and fun roadside attractions you might find while cruising the highways of America on your summer vacation! Very cool – check it out.
An even more amazing discovery awaited me there – an entire section of the site is devoted to the endearing Muffler Men of America! Little did I know when I painted this Big Guy from the Berkshires, that he was part of a huge national business scheme by a guy named Steve Dashew who created hundreds of these giants. Here’s a snippet of the interview with Steve, but you can also read the whole article.
Steve: We had a variety of figures which we adapted from one mold — such as golfers, cowboys, spacemen, Indians, muffler men, etc. We also built a bunch of different animals such as horses, steers, cows, giant chickens, etc.
RA: How and where did it all start?
Steve: The first figure was a Paul Bunyan, done for the PB Cafe on Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona in about 1962. Most of the statues were derivatives of that one mold — fill in the beard in the mold, or add a new chest for Indians, etc. This was created by a fellow named Bob Prewitt, who owned Prewitt Fiberglass. Bob was a cowboy, and his real love was rodeos. He had a bunch of cowboys working for him between contests.
Anyway, Bob started the business. I bought the business from him in about 1963. At the time I was in the boat business, and was looking for something that we could do when things were slow, as we had some fiberglass skills. Shortly thereafter an old family friend, Violet Winslow, joined me to help promote things in general. We were selling a few figures here and there, one of which went to an American Oil gas station in Las Vegas. Vi got a story in a trade magazine about this installation in which the owner indicated his sales had doubled after installing his Paul Bunyan. That was the start of the “invasion.” We started selling programs to the oil and rubber industry and had fantastic results whenever the figures went up.
RA: These were all fiberglass statues?
Steve: The figures were built from fiberglass, in open molds, and then assembled by fiberglassing the seams together. With the large figures, the guys in the shop would actually crawl into the figures for assembly.
The biggest program was with Texaco — the Big Friend. We had a program with Phillips — the Cowboy. And Miss Uniroyal. We also made figures like 8-foot tall chickens, steers, horses, and a variety of other things for specialty restaurants. We fabricated the Yogis for Yogi Bear’s Honey Fried Chicken, and the A&W Burger Family, etc.
RA: Miss Uniroyal was unusual, the only fiberglass woman in a bikini produced in quantity.
Steve: Those are cool. There were two versions, you know — she came with a dress. You could take off the dress and there was a bikini underneath. Their appearance was always tied to an ad campaign.
RA: And she seemed modeled after a celebrity from the 1960s…
Steve: I think our sculptor had a thing for Jackie Kennedy.