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The story of the early fiberglass giants, and who built them.
Part 2: Interview with Steve Dashew
RA: We've heard of Muffler Men today selling for $15-20k, though most owners won't part with them for any price. How much did they cost in the 1960s?
Steve: I think in big quantities they were around $1,000. Individually about $1,800 to $2,800, depending on detail and accessories.
RA: Was there much competition in the humanoid colossus field?
Steve: As I recall, we had no competition for the big men. There was an outfit in Wisconsin [Creative Displays, Sparta, WI, an ancestor of F.A.S.T.] that made some smaller stuff, and they had a 20' or so cow and steer (which we did not have). The Wisconsin guys were making big cows and steers -- I don't think they did any PBs or related, at least not while we were in the business.
There was another shop in San Diego. But with the exception of Bob's Big Boys, both places were selling individual orders, not national accounts.
RA: What kind of restrictions -- size, transport -- did you have to consider when designing a big guy?
Steve: Size -- nothing special. In the case of the original Paul Bunyan (I think about 20 feet) that's what the order was for. The molds were then made, and eventually out came all the cousins.
Shipping was always a problem as they were light and bulky. This was in the bad old days of the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission), who of course regulated things for the trucking industry's benefit -- not consumers. One morning we woke up to find the truckers had snuck in a 400% price increase on our freight and unless we could ship ourselves, we were out of business. That got us into the trucking business (what a pain) and using gypsy (read illegal non icc carriers). The latter resulted in all sorts of problems later on.
Zoning was an issue in some areas. There were always big zoning fights. The town or neighborhood would be up in arms, and it would generate all this great publicity.
The biggest fight I recall was about the "Malibu Man" a hamburger chef on 101 in the high rent district of Malibu. Not sure how he got snuck in, but it did raise a lot of hackles (actually, when the call came in for this prospect, I told the salesman to make sure he closed the deal, as it was right next door to the apartment of an ex-girlfriend and I thought she'd appreciate the remembrance). This statue is still in the same place after 30+ years, only now he is serving Mexican cuisine, and still looking very trim.
RA: Did the large companies place any restrictions on how the statues might be displayed?
Steve: As part of our sales program, to make the statues easy to transport, we developed a tilting trailer. My first patent! This made the figures easy to move about for the area rep and easy to set up. But today these would be considered way too dangerous. Because of the need for support, most figures were tied off to the main sign poles or flag poles. The issue was to get them in front of the biggest traffic flow, preferably on the corner of an intersection.
RA: Did the big companies have exclusive rights to their respective characters?
Steve: We almost always developed our own figures for the companies, rather than adapting their logos. Miss Uniroyal was our own development. However, we only sold them to US Tire. Same with the big friend.
Our dinosaur, for example, which we did sell to Sinclair, was also sold to miniature golf courses as it was not their exact dino. However, if they'd have purchased a bunch of them, and asked for an exclusive, we'd' have been happy to oblige.
"I told the salesman to make sure he closed the deal, as it was right next door to the apartment of an ex-girlfriend."