Readers of this blog will not be surprised that I am fascinated by weird shit on the side of the road. I mean, I planned an entire vacation around it when I decided to drive Route 66 end to end. One of the spectacles I am most in love with right now are the Muffler Men statues.
Now, you have seen a few of these pictures in previous posts because I included them in the Route 66 posts when I happened upon them while on that vacation. Once I started driving all over Los Angeles looking for more, I knew I was going to write a specific post on the concept, though, and I didn’t want to leave any of them out. That way, should anyone ever want to point back to this post in the future there is a comprehensive set of all of the Muffler Men I have photographed to date in one place. Think of it as the starting point for another one of my silly quests.
So, what are they? This is my brief overview I give at parties, and is in no way to be considered accurate fact, lol. If you want facts, maybe visit the Wikipedia site devoted to them or the magnificent reference site at Roadside America. Back in the 60s, a Venice, CA company by the name of International Fiberglass started making these 18-25 foot tall statues and selling them for advertising. At the time, much of the country was traveled by two lane highways and having a giant statue next to your business would attract people driving by to your place. The molds for the statues were basically the same, and their hands are often positioned to hold something such as a muffler in their hands. (This is part of the appeal for me as I think it is hilarious to see the hands holding something they were clearly not made to hold, such as a hot dog.) Slight alterations to their heads or paint jobs were the real differentiating factor. They are most commonly in the form of lumberjacks, Paul Bunyan, cowboys, generic “Dude” and the Uniroyal Gal. Sometimes they are called mutants when they have been modified beyond the standard molds. Advertising in this way has since gone out of fashion, but many of the Muffler Men can still be spotted, often on their third or fourth owners from when they were originally purchased.
I’d thought I start with showing you the statues I have photographed that are on the Ten Most Famous Muffler Men list. Number one on the list is actually my favorite, because when you think of weird stuff on the side of the road, you naturally think of Paul Bunyan with a chicken head.
Chicken Boy lives on a roof in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles. If you happen to be so lucky as to find street parking, he peers at you through the trees.
Try not to look at that right before you fall asleep. It’s just a tad on the creepy side.
The second Muffler Man on the list is the Gemini Giant, which is outside of Chicago in Wilmington, Illinois, a town along Route 66. The giant is often cited as being the most photographed of all the Muffler Men, which makes sense. I mean, who doesn’t want a photo of a giant in a space suit holding a rocket?
Isn’t he magnificent?!
I have also been lucky enough to see number three on the list, Tall Paul Bunyan. Tall Paul once used to sling hot dogs for Bunyan’s in Cicero, IL, but has since been moved to Atlanta, IL along Route 66. The day I visited it was raining, which just added to the allure of the big creep!
His hands are so awkward in how he is holding the hot dog! It is really part of his menacing charm. There is a little bit of controversy in categorizing Tall Paul as a Paul Bunyan statue, as people that classify such things feel as if Paul Bunyan must have a beard, but I feel like an exception should be made here given he was originally at a hot dog stand named after him.
The last Muffler Man I have seen from the top ten list is Malibu’s own La Salsa Man. La Salsa Man used to sell hamburgers, but somewhere along the way, he became a mustachioed Latino and his hamburger was split in half to form his Sombrero. His tony, beach side real estate gives him a fabulous view of the California coastline. On the day I visited, his shop appeated to be empty, however, which leaves me a little worried a developer will tear him down to build something else. See the La Salsa Man while you still can.
Although not in the top ten, I have seen several other Muffler Men, as I insist on stopping any time one comes into view. They are all in varying stages of disrepair depending on the owner. This one, on the campus of NAU in Arizona is in great condition.
My other non-California stop also happens to be the only cowboy I have seen to date. This one is known as the 2nd Amendment Cowboy near Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. It annoys me they used the statue to make a political statement, but I suppose it was inevitable.
Another personal annoyance is when the statues are displayed in a way where I can’t see their whole body or in situations where the owners have piled on a lot of other kitsch. This Paul Bunyan in Mentone, CA is a perfect example. Where are his legs?! And why does he have both a baseball bat and an inn sign?!
While I would love to know the backstory for each and every Muffler Man, sometimes that is not possible. I do plan to stop and see any I can find while I am on my travels, so hopefully there are more to come. In the meantime, I end this post with the remaining statues in the LA area, of which I can only tell you one more story. The race car driver used to be a golfer at the Dominguez Hills Golf Course. Porsche purchased the land and promptly built a track on it. I was a little worried that the statue would be lost as a result, but Porsche changed his clothes and left him up as a beacon to all those that pass by on the freeway. While I don’t recommend actually pulling over on the freeway to take pictures, sometimes you have no choice and a girl has to do what she has to do in an effort to catch all the Muffler Men.