Zipping along on I-40 East, I saw the white geodesic ball of Area 66 come into view. “What the…?” escaped my lips as it drew closer.
There was nothing that would have stopped me from exiting the highway to get a look at this nonsense. Besides, my fingers were frozen in my leather gloves in the chilly January air. The temperature hovered in the low 40’s that morning. Warming them up was the perfect excuse for a stop.
It was still early in the morning when I pulled in. The UFO museum inside was not yet open. But I did get to walk around and take in this curious sight.
As I walked around the lot, I wasn’t sure that even if the museum were open that I’d have payed to take a look. But, I love that such places still manage to pull in enough curious customers to exist.
Between you and me, UFO-stuff freaks me out. I think if I ever saw a flying saucer or an alien, I would just die immediately.
One interesting point of note is the Ford Arizona Proving Ground sign at the entrance to Area 66. You can see on Google Maps satellite view that the proving grounds, which now belong to Chrysler, are still an active site. I wonder if Area 66 was once the entrance or if these folks just picked up the sign when Ford moved along? Or… maybe it was aliens.
But before I knew that muffler men were indeed referred to as muffler men, I knew that they existed in a peripheral sense. You see, we have a muffler man Indian here on Long Island. I’d passed the Elmsford, NY Bunyan many times and mini-golfed with a halfwit in Seaside Heights, NJ.
Muffler men have long been a part of my universe. They were simply waiting for me to wake up to them.
Muffler Men – The Same But Different
Now, I’m sharp enough to know that some people think my level of interest and muffler man visitation is a waste of energy. The idea of traveling around and looking at big dumb fiberglass statues that “look the same” as all the other big dumb fiberglass statues I’ve seen before is ridiculous. But who needs that kind of negativity in their lives?
Yes, it’s true that they share the same basic DNA. And yet, these same-old-same-olds do have their own personalities, if you will. Each with little details that set them apart from one another that the uninformed might not be aware of. From accessories like hats, hamburgers, eyelashes and chest hair, the giants do have their own unique flair.
It has also occurred to me that each one is infused with the flavor of their locale. They take on the vibe of their surroundings as they become infused with the landscape, neighborhood, or the personality of the owner.
You hear it all the time, “people are the same everywhere.” Hell, I’ve said it myself and meant it. But that sentiment is both true and false depending on the parameters and nuance you wrap around it. The same is true for big fiberglass people. They’re all the same, but different.
Take a moment to consider the thought process of the person charged with repainting the Uniontown, Pa. muffler man. They looked at his face, squinted their eyes and said “something is missing…”
And then someone somewhere else looked at the Lake George, NY Around the World mini-golf muffler man and said, “Yeah! Him, too! …but only on the right eye.”
Tales of Muffler Men Resurrection
When cruising around if I know a muffler man is close by, even if I’ve previously visited, I will typically stop to see what’s doing.
Over time the overall condition of the giants will change due to wind, sun, storms,… people hitting them with their cars. When you pull up to find one repaired or in better condition then when you last saw it, I’m not gonna lie – it’s kind of exciting. It’s heartwarming when someone loves what you love.
Having passed by the Hancock, Massachusetts giant a few times over the years, I got to witness his resurrection. He’d been suffering from a terrible case of the peels and it was great to see him freshly painted again.
Check out his blue bowtie – now red, nails on fleek, and sporting a fresh baseball cap.
Just look at those beautifully manicured nails!
Elmsford, New York
Another case of a giant who needed some TLC was the Elmsford, New York Bunyan. He stood armless for years. This spring (2021) when I stopped by, I was glad to see he’s got at least one ticket to the gun show again.
Sadly, the green-eyed giant is now starting to peel.
The first time that I pulled up to the House of Doors in Cheshire, Connecticut years ago I was surprised to find nothing more than a pair of muffler pants. Doh!
Saved! The muff was returned to flag holding service!
He too was little more than a pair of muffler pants for a while.
Thankfully, Long Island’s beloved giant was repaired and is back to waving at the traffic in the town of Riverhead, NY.
Muffler Men on the Move
As well-loved as muffler men are, it isn’t surprising that enthusiasts and collectors buy and move the giants from their long-term locations to new locales. Sometimes they move clear across the country.
And then sometimes, they just up and disappear altogether.
The Big White Guy of Massachusetts
This fella, previously referred to colloquially as “Plantation Man” as he stood outside of the Plantation Inn in Chicopee, Massachusetts – was sold at auction and then turned up in nearby Agawam, Mass. He stood there for a short time and is now MIA.
From Mecca to Joshua Tree, California
In 2016, I visited a muffler man who stood in the town of Mecca, California along the Salton Sea.
If you too love muffler men keep scrolling for more photos of the big guys I’ve seen in my travels. Buckle up, there’s a lot to look at!
Say, hello to Stan from Birmingham, Alabama. He’s a gemini and like lifting invisible weights. Hiiiii Stannnnn.
I’ll be honest – there is something a bit creepy about the dead black-eyed stare and drawn on mustache of the Planada, Calfornia muffler man. It’s a wee bit, I dunno,… murdery? I believe this guy may have been sold or moved.
Hope you enjoyed this trip down road trip muffler man memory lane. If you’re interested in finding out about the history of, the latest news, and location maps for muffler men, these sites are excellent resources for more information:
Over the course of a lifetime, can you imagine how many highway exists you will pass and never take? Each of those untaken exits is home to lives lived, history made, untold highs, lows, curiosities, and facies tickled. The split second decision to take or not take an exit can alter the trajectory of a life forevermore.
In one such leap of faith, we hopped off of Route 17 south on an unfamiliar exit just to get off of the highway around Monticello. As we came to a stop at the end of the exit ramp, we were serendipitously greeted by this excellent ZacMax sculpture!
There’s been a pin on my Google map at the location of the Parksville Pharmacy, in the Sullivan County town of Parksville, New York for a long time. I first noticed the old building’s hunter green panels and weathered signage on Instagram. Social media for the win. 😉
Throughout the course of my life, I’m not sure just how many times I’ve passed the ghost town’s exit off of Route 17. And I’m amazed that I never caught a glimpse of the old store. During one of our cold weather drives, we wheeled through what is left of town to finally visit the map star in person.
There was absolutely nothing going on.
Remnants of a former gas station.
I remember gas station lights like this from when I was a kid. Seeing it filled me with a funny sense of longing and… loss? Maybe that isn’t the right word, but whatever the sensation was, I felt it in my belly. In some strange way it almost felt like a broken heart.
My memory transported me back to gas stations of my youth with the ding-ding hose bells, colorful triangle-shaped flags, rotating brand signs, and these melancholy lamps hanging over the pump island.
This spring I took a drive to Scranton, Pennsylvania to visit Steamtown National Historic Site. While I was there, strict COVID protocols limited access to some of the indoor spaces and displays, but I was able to enjoy walking around outside in the train yard.
I’m not what you would call a hardcore railfan but I find the machines interesting nonetheless.
Steam engines make me think of my dad, who was indeed into trains. He’d told me stories about hanging around the train yard as a kid, and I kept that narrative in my mind – making up tales of what that kid-version of him would have thought about what I was looking at as I walked around.
The thing I found most fascinating about the locomotives is how much “life” they seemed to have within them. They exude power and something like a sense of menace. Especially inside the workshop. They looked like sleeping animals that could roar to life at any moment and tear the building from its foundations. But, they instead allowed themselves to be tamed, to be cared for by their handlers. For now.
One of the indoor displays features a cutaway where you can see the inner workings of the engine. Looking at it, I found it a marvel that anyone could figure out the method to the madness of tubes, and chambers and lines to make these beasts go. Fascinating.
Interesting place. Worth the visit.
Dirt graffiti on a rail yard car – Bozo Texino
Apparently like any other subculture, there is a visual language and common mythology among railroad hoboes. There is actually a movie that tries to uncover this very graffiti subject called: “Who is Bozo Texino?”
File Under: There is always something new to learn.