Muffler men are an iconic piece of 1960s Americana. Sadly, there are less than 200 of these giant fiberglass statues still around today. This makes the sculptures that remain on Route 66 typically a must-see stop. However, understanding the history of the Flagstaff muffler men is a challenge! This is because the statues moved around the city or acquired damaged a few times.
International Fiberglass Company
Until recently, information was minimal about the Muffler Men fiberglass statues. As interest grew, history lovers looked into the giants’ production at the International Fiberglass Company, located in Venice, California. Steve Dashew founded the company in 1963. During their run, International Fiberglass produced thousands of giant statues of animals, objects, and people. The shop closed its doors in 1974.
Bob Prewitt was another fiberglass creator. He owned Prewitt Fiberglass Animals. Interestingly enough, Bob worked for Steve for some time. Steve purchased many molds from Bob, including the 20-foot tall Paul Bunyan mold sculpted in either 1960 or 1961 by Bill Swan.
One curious aspect of the 14-foot fiberglass statues is how few still exist. Some believe that the International Fiberglass company produced the 14-foot tall Giant Men only before they acquired the larger molds. Another possibility is that the smaller statues were merely created as a less expensive alternative. Regardless, fewer smaller statues were created and the larger giants always sold better. One estimate claims that there are less than 20 of these particular statues today.
Why the Name “Muffler Men?”
In 1997, Roadside America recognized the contribution of Muffler Men to Americana. Thus, they started diligently documenting their whereabouts across the country. Additionally, the organization labeled the statues as “Muffler Men.” This is due to the fact that some held mufflers and that the statues were popular with the auto industry.
Nonetheless, we now know that International Fiberglass simply called them “Giant Men.” In fact, the original statues held axes, not mufflers. However, today the term Muffler Man still remains.
Muffler Men Hand Position
The most common Muffler Men all have the same stance. Their arms are bent at the elbows with one hand facing up and the other hand facing down. This offered the owner the option to place something in his hands. Typically, objects included a wrench, muffler, or an ax.
Flagstaff Muffler Men
Around 1963, International Fiberglass made and sold Louie the Lumberjack to the Paul Bunyan Café on Milton Road. Legend has it that this was the very first muffler man to roll off the assembly line in 1962. Later, when the establishment became The Lumberjack Cafe, a second fiberglass statue was purchased.
In 1973, when the restaurant changed hands and its name to Granny’s Closet, the Zanzucchi family donated the two identical lumberjack statues to Northern Arizona University (NAU). The family, supporters of NAU Athletics, knew the Louies would serve as fantastic symbols of school spirit for the community. However, they decided to keep the smaller, wooden Louie to stand as an eye-catching landmark to stand outside their business.
Upon receiving the gifted mascots, NAU placed the first statue outside Lawrence Walkup Skydome and the second one inside the sports dome.
In September 2018, the indoor stadium underwent renovations, and the historic statue was placed outside. Mistakingly assuming the outdoor location near Facility Services was safe and secure, Louie the Lumberjack statue was vandalized, resulting in its beheading.
Police speculate that the crime took place sometime between September 21 and October 12, most likely as a homecoming prank. There is no other information about the vandalism. Unfortunately, without the original head, the statue cannot be repaired. In retrospect, although the lumberjack was big and cumbersome, many have stated that not properly securing the historic statue during the renovations was “boneheaded.”
Route 66 Louie
Today, along Arizona Route 66, travelers can still see the 10-foot “Little Louie” in downtown Flagstaff. Made from wood and restored by local builder Wally Baird in 2009, it sits next to the old Granny’s Closet restaurant, which closed in late 2016. Baird shared that he placed a time capsule in Louie’s back over 20 years ago.
Upon closing, just about everything was put up for auction or cleared out. However, the family saved the bright red antique tractor and the lumberjack statue. Sadly, the tractor has now disappeared from the platform. In 2017, local reports stated the Museum Club would host Louie. Nevertheless, travelers will still find the wooden lumberjack statue directly on Arizona Route 66 Flagstaff in the parking lot of the former Granny’s Closet.
Have any questions about Flagstaff’s Muffler Men? Feel free to reach out in the comments section below.