Monday, May 10, 2010

My Town Monday: A Muffler Man in Escondido, CA

My friend and critique partner, Kelly Hayes, has been bitten by the bloggng bug! In fact, I'm starting to wonder if she might not get her own blog going one of these days! in the meantime, she's back today with a My Town Monday post on Muffler Men. So, uh, Kelly, take it away!

If you’ve been on an American road trip in the last few decades you’ve probably seen one. And if your town has one you’ll know instantly what I’m talking about. They stand about 20 ft high and they’re made out of fiberglass. They might sport a full beard, a worker’s cap or a cowboy hat. They might be an Indian, a lumberjack, or, strangely, an Alfred E. Neumann lookalike called the Happy Halfwit. But the one characteristic they all share is that they were made to hold something in their hands: A muffler, a tire, a golf club, a pitchfork, even a giant hotdog.

Muffler Men were created in the sixties by International Fiberglass of Venice, CA. The company took a Paul Bunyan mold originally used for a PB café on Route 66 in Flagstaff, AZ in about 1962 and turned it into a unique roadside industry. The business grew and the company turned out chickens, steers, horses, and even a woman, Miss Uniroyal. Looking suspiciously like Jackie O, these female versions of the original wore bikinis, and some even came with a removable dress. So much for equal rights.

Sadly, over the years, hundreds of Muffler Men have been destroyed, but many still stand proudly, if a little intensely, on roadsides across America.

Escondido, the town where I live, has an M-man. He stands proudly on his concrete block on the corner of Juniper and Valley Parkway, where he has served as the mascot of Joor Muffler Service for the last forty years. He’s a pretty traditional model, with a white shirt, a pencil mustache, and the ubiquitous lantern jaw. At Christmastime he sports a Santa suit and dresses as a pumpkin for Halloween. I’ve heard that he was being fitted for a Hawaiian shirt, but I’ve never seen it. Although he’s been the victim of a few pranks over the years, we here in Escondido generally appreciate him.

While many people have tampered with the original models, adding pirate gear, Viking helmets, welder’s masks, etc., there have also been recent mutations made by fiberglass companies. One example is a Frankenstein’s monster at a Burbank miniature golf course. Call me a purist, but I prefer the originals. They’re giant souvenirs of a bygone era, one where business owners had to be creative to attract customers. They remind us of a time when chain stores were a rarity and most American towns still had plenty of individual flare.

If you want to do a little Muffler Man spotting yourself, a good website to check out is Who knows, you might just see one of these fiberglass giants on your next road trip.

Please check out posts by the other My Town Monday participants by clicking here. And thank you, Kelly! Very interesting!

p.s. The photos are from the roadside america website


Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

I have never even HEARD of this. I can't wait to find my own now!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

How cool! You see a lot of these guys in the North Woods of Wisconsin, too.

Charles Gramlich said...

THere's one of those muffler men right near the house where we lived when my son was growing up. I always feel a fondness when I pass it.

Teresa said...

Very cool post. My brother and I used to look for those muffler men when we were on family road trips in the 1960s.

Barrie said...

I'm embarrassed to say I've never noticed a Muffler Man. And I don't even live that far from Kelly! Next time I'm in Escondido, I'll be looking for that Muffler Man!

Alyssa Goodnight said...

There used to be a Paul Bunyan one block down from my grandmother's house in Tucson, AZ. He was quite impressive.