The towering legends of the “Muffler Men”

Joel Baker is a giant hunter. He travels around the country in search of the towering guards who watch over small businesses. It’s a mission that began over ten years ago, when he became infatuated with a family of fiberglass figures known collectively as the “Muffler Men”.

“I think it’s because I’ve never heard of them,” he said. “They were larger than life. They were such huge things that it was very hard to miss them, and yet no one knew about them or cared about them, and I think that intrigued me.”

Examples of “muffler men” – 20-foot-tall fiberglass statues that served as advertisements, and a strange kind of American totem.

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In the 1960s, these 20-foot figures were considered the pinnacle of outdoor advertising. The companies purchased figures from a California company, International Fiberglass, which had acquired a mold for Paul Bunyan’s character. It can be modified to promote all kinds of organizations, with different versions of the arms to fit the giant sleeve.

The giant that currently watches Lauterbach Tire & Auto Service in Springfield, Illinois, was one of Bunyan’s early designs. He’s been teleported back and forth to various locations, has survived being decapitated by a tornado, and appeared in local radio ads.

Joel Baker points to an early version of the Muffler Man that now stands outside Lauterbach Tire & Auto Service in Springfield, Illinois.

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According to co-owner Mark Lauterbach, he remains a pillar of the community to this day: “No one knows where we are until we say: Hey, look for the giant.” “They say, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, I know exactly where you are,'” he said.

The Giants were originally intended to draw attention to local businesses. But they have since become attractions in their own right, thanks to the fan community that has gathered around the site America is on the wayside. “Every giant has their own personal story, right? And it varies a lot,” Baker said. “Arms fall off, heads get stolen or go missing, and a lot of times people will take pictures and Roadside America will update their site.”

The site coined the term “Muffler Men” after noticing that some companies had replaced Bunyan’s ax with a muffler. But the figurines have been modified to hold just about anything, like giant gadgets, birthday cakes, barbecue tools, tires, and even rockets. A map chronicling sightings of an entire extended family.

There might be a muffler guy near you!

America is on the wayside

Some consider giant Vikings to be part of the character group, as well as Uniroyal Tire Girls.

These giant figures include women and Vikings.

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In the 1970s, Fiberglass International stopped making numbers. The madness has subsided. Several giants were knocked down and thrown aside. It is believed that there are only a few hundred left.

But every now and then a muffler man appears. “That’s my favorite part of all of this,” Baker said, “finding something that’s missing.” “I took pictures of a giant in a city in 1984, and what happened to that? That’s what I love to do.”

Baker and his friends start a side business to track down, collect and recover characters and document their quest on their YouTube channel American Giants. Today, restored statues in good condition can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

Michael Younkin, who helps restore the fiberglass giants, with reporter Connor Knighton.

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The team is currently working to preserve the legacy of these characters. They recently created a small Museum of Giants in Atlanta, Illinois, just a short distance from the giant “Sausage Man”.

hot dog-muffler-man-atlanta-illinois.jpg
Muffler Man Hot Dog in Atlanta, Illinois.

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“It’s a really shame to have giants where nobody can see them. These are designed to be outside where the public can enjoy them and visit them and take their pictures,” Baker said.

If only statues could speak. They’ve seen it all – unflinching witnesses to decades of road trip history, and offering countless smiles to help go the miles.

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The story was produced by Aria Shavelson. Edited by Mike Levine and Carol Ross.

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