This restored Mail Pouch Tobacco wall ad in Ford City, Pennsylvania sure is a looker. Clearly a lot of love and care went in to making it vibrant once again. There is so much detail on the packaging – it’s just lovely.
It warms my heart to see projects that commit to caring for such local landmarks, particularly in times and places where money is tight. Without a doubt there are many people who might counter and say that money could be better spent elsewhere. And maybe they’re right. I don’t know. Quality of life does have some variables beyond the survival basics.
My point of view is colored by being a stranger to these communities. But I suspect that there are generations of people for whom this type of image will be weaved throughout their memories even if unwittingly. In my opinion, it is this type of visual energy that adds a pinch of spice to the unique flavor of a neighborhood. They become a touchstone.
The place in which I live is the land of homogenization. And while it is very “nice” and keeps property values high, there is a grave boringness attached to it. One of the key missing ingredients is largely nostalgia. Strip mall, mcmansion, chain store, strip mall, mcmansion, chain store; repeat ad nauseum. We live in the prettiest ugly neighborhoods. And I bought into this ideal wholeheartedly.
My road trips largely center around seeing Americana such as this Mail Pouch sign. What doesn’t get captured in any of the photographs that document my stops, is a sense of longing that I don’t quite understand, which draws me to such places. I find it challenging to articulate what this search is. It is a strange marriage of melancholy and joy.
Visit the Mail Pouch Tobacco Sign in Ford City, Pennsylvania
Over the last 5 or 6 years there have been several occasions when I’d been traveling and thought, “oh, well, while I’m in the neighborhood I’ll just swing by,” in reference to the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Though I was closer to the city than I would have been at home, each and every time that I’d considered and even worked towards that pit stop, something derailed my loose plans. I never made it.
In the summer of 2021, I decided to drive out to the museum specifically. Unfortunately the universe decided that it wasn’t a good idea and left me stranded in a gas station waiting for a tow and I never got there.
Life is mysterious and unfolds in its own time. The fickle hand of fate gave me a shove in the fall of 2022. I finally made it to Cincinnati where I got to tour the beautiful collection at the American Sign Museum.
The signs are buzzing, clicking, ticking, chasing, blinking, spinning, humming feast for the eyes and ears. As a lover of this type of advertising, a wave of nostalgia washed over me as I took in the Americana gems. That nostalgia wasn’t necessarily directly for the objects but for a place in time or a version of myself. Maybe even a feeling that is hard to come by, like innocence, true wonder, an unburdened mind, or what can now be identified as unbridled possibility.
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:
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.