If you take a road trip in any part of America, sooner or later you will see a giant statue on the side of the road, either a cowboy or an American Indian Chef for example. Some of them are already like half a century old and are falling apart, but there is one man who gathered his friends, now tracks the statues down and brings them back to life!
Joel Baker, a television audio technician during a day, who is America’s leading restorer of fiberglas made in the 1960-s is now working on repairing the old statues that start to get ruined with age. One of his first works was Chief Bagnell, a 7 meter colossus which stood around 45 years outside Two Bit Town and now is kind of abandoned tourist attraction in Lake Ozark. With the help of his three friends, he spent three months on scraping off the old paint and fixing the cracks. The hobby which Baker started five years ago – tracking down the statues made by California based boat building firm tuned into special mission – to track, save and repair them.
The company started the business from the first order of one of the restaurants in Arizona – a giant model of Paul Bunyan. After that the orders for pirates, cowboys, and other models arrived promoting everything, from tyres to golf courses, spreading the statues all over across America.
Besides the male sculptures there were also around 20 female models, or so called Uniroyal Gals, produced by Uniroyal tyre company in 1966, some of them dressed in bikinis, while the others wearing skirts and t shirts. Even though that such female models might not be appropriate now, they still represent the old period and no wonder that most of the Muffler Men were white and male.
Though for Baker and his fellows the Muffler Men symbolize the road culture, with the help of such giant sculptures the passing by trucks were going much deeper in the history.
The founder is considered to be James V Lafferty, who designed a six storey elephant in the south of Atlantic City, New Jersey which was supposed to attract property buyers and visitors. The sculpture stands even now, managing to survive even the hurricane of 2012.
One of the first examples of giant architecture was the Nehi soft drink advertisement – the world’s largest bottle, where was a service station, a grocery shop and also a living space. Even though it burned down in 1936, the area on the map is still known as The Bottle.
Traders have always relied on the picture as the main tool of advertisement. Which is actually true. It was too hard to attract attention of the cars when they drove 50 mph, that was the moment when the giant sculptures appeared. Many of people associate the giants with childhood memories, the first road trip and a lunch in the restaurant where the Muffler Men stood. But in the same way as the car industry gave birth to the idea of giants, it also took it away, once the car industry went up. This was the time, when many of the service shops had to stop as the efficient cars no longer needed stops in small towns and just kept going.
Nevertheless, these giant sculptures do attract attention now, and cars stop to make the pictures, so whatever goal was in 1960s it is working even now. So the job of Joel Baker is really astonishing. Now, he is working on the a giant war chef with his colleagues to bring him back to the Lake Ozark this summer.
“There’s a pull to these giants,” he says. “That’s why they were made – to attract attention. And it worked.”