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PA's Muffler Man Sculptures: A Slice of Kitsch Roadside Americana

I always relish the opportunity to see a real life muffler man in action. These giant sculptures are treasures of Roadside Americana, and the Inside Scoop Ice Cream Shop in Coopersburg, PA, Lehigh County, pleasantly surprised me with the addition of a classic muffler man. These giant fiberglass "men" are scattered across the country and measure anywhere from 18-25 feet tall, so they are pretty much impossible to miss. They were built by International Fiberglass, which was based out of Venice Beach, California, primarily in the 1960s through the early 1970s. They initially worked on boats, but in the slow seasons, they expanded to doing these sculptures with their skill in fiberglass. With the oil crisis in the 70s and the growth of the highway system, the statues fell out of favor, and the remaining numbers began to dwindle. In the 90s, interest was rekindled in these sculptures by one of our favorite websites, www.roadsideamerica.com and a worldwide search took place to catalog the remaining sculptures, save ones that had fallen into disrepair, were abandoned, or were discarded. 

The figures are often adorned in all sorts of outfits, such as food servers, cowboys, mechanics, Paul Bunyan, and more, with one decorated to look like a giant rabbit, and another made to look like Star Trek's Spock. There were a number of customizable options, such as arms in different positions, and more. While most of these muffler men have similar features, since they were mostly made from the same blow mold, they are often carrying all sorts of different implements, such as mufflers, ice cream scoopers, shovels, axes, and more.

Six of these remain in Pennsylvania, including at the Cadet Restaurant in Kittanning (a cowboy holding a burger), Mr. Tire in Uniontown (a Paul Bunyan figure factory model), Lugnutz Tire in Greensburg (originally a Paul Bunyan factory model, and now a Pittsburgh Steeler) Scottyland Campground in Rockwood (Uncle Sam ensemble, originally wore a kilt), Arnold's Family Fun Center in Oaks, and the newest installation in the state, at Coopersburg's Inside Scoop (Soda Jerk). 

There are several other large fiberglass figures, including the Pied Piper of the Lincoln Highway, and several Amish themed ones near Lancaster, including the Hershey Farm and Restaurant, and which are cool, but I am not sure if they are from the same manufacturer or origin story to have them classified as Muffler Men nor are they as tall as the examples that we mentioned earlier. They are still neat kitsch to see though. 

Due to the immense size of these structures to move and transport, their fiberglass construction, and their placement along roadsides where it takes just one careless driver to take them out, the odds of these structures surviving for decades in a roadside setting are very low. It takes a special kind of dedication to maintain Muffler Men sculptures, and that dedication should earn positive attention from everyone. 
The cowboy burger man at the Cadet Restaurant in Kittanning was out of commission for a few years after it had been hit in a car accident. 

Arnold's Family Fun Center in Oaks rescued their Muffler Man from Seaside Heights, New Jersey, following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The rescue effort required serious restoration work.
Coopersburg's Inside Scoop is an ice cream place that has continually expanded with homemade ice cream and a sprawling complex at the edge of the Southern Lehigh Living Memorial Park, which is a hub for local Little League Baseball, festivals, and more. Naturally, this is the perfect place to build an ice cream shop. Their complex has continually grown, and they have added a decent amount of Roadside Americana and kitsch to their cool location, including a new, custom made Muffler Man that was produced from a mold of an original Muffler Man that sat in pieces in a junkyard in Canada. "Giant Chip" is an impressive work of art and it is impossible to not drive down 309 and not notice him, beckoning you to pick up some ice cream. 

If you are reading this and you are from one of these businesses, thank you for your dedication. If you are not one of these businesses and you have the means to rescue one of these sculptures, please do so. They are obviously great for advertising, considering the fact that this is one of the only times you will hear us talk about random tire shops and auto repair shops on a travel page like ours. If you are in the hospitality business like the Inside Scoop is, the Cadet Family Restaurant, Scottyland Campground, or Arnold's Family Fun Center, you are sure to bring yourself attention from outside your region with the addition of one of these giants. For more PA roadside Americana and oddities, check out this list of our favorites. 

1 comment :

  1. I have never seen one of these giants in the flesh-- I mean, fiberglass-- but believe them to be an important part of the early '60s.

    Long may they stand, and thanks to all the folks who keep them so!


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