Origin of the Species (Part 1)
The story of the early fiberglass giants, and who built them.
An interview with Steve Dashew, former president of International Fiberglass, the original makers of the Muffler Men.
RA: Okay, we're ready for the truth. Tell us about the Muffler Men!
Steve: These characters -- and many others -- were made by a company called International Fiberglass, which I owned and ran during the mid 1960s until around 1974. They were sold as attention getters for retail stores.
Our main business was working with the large oil and tire companies and restaurant chains for nationwide programs. For example, we built a series of Phillips Petroleum cowboys, Texaco Big Friends, and US Rubber Miss Uniroyals. We also did ENCO and Humble tigers, and Sinclair Dinosaurs.
We had a variety of figures which we adapted from one mold -- such as golfers, cowboys, spacemen, Indians, muffler men, etc. We also built a bunch of different animals such as horses, steers, cows, giant chickens, etc.
RA: How and where did it all start?
Steve: The first figure was a Paul Bunyan, done for the PB Cafe on Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona in about 1962. Most of the statues were derivatives of that one mold -- fill in the beard in the mold, or add a new chest for Indians, etc.
This was created by a fellow named Bob Prewitt, who owned Prewitt Fiberglass. Bob was a cowboy, and his real love was rodeos. He had a bunch of cowboys working for him between contests.
Anyway, Bob started the business.
I bought the business from him in about 1963. At the time I was in the boat business, and was looking for something that we could do when things were slow, as we had some fiberglass skills.
Shortly thereafter an old family friend, Violet Winslow, joined me to help promote things in general. We were selling a few figures here and there, one of which went to an American Oil gas station in Las Vegas. Vi got a story in a trade magazine about this installation in which the owner indicated his sales had doubled after installing his Paul Bunyan.
That was the start of the "invasion." We started selling programs to the oil and rubber industry and had fantastic results whenever the figures went up.
RA: These were all fiberglass statues?
Steve: The figures were built from fiberglass, in open molds, and then assembled by fiberglassing the seams together. With the large figures, the guys in the shop would actually crawl into the figures for assembly.
The biggest program was with Texaco -- the Big Friend. We had a program with Phillips -- the Cowboy. And Miss Uniroyal. We also made figures like 8-foot tall chickens, steers, horses, and a variety of other things for specialty restaurants. We fabricated the Yogis for Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken, and the A&W Burger Family, etc.
RA: Miss Uniroyal was unusual, the only fiberglass woman in a bikini produced in quantity.
Steve: Those are cool. There were two versions, you know -- she came with a dress. You could take off the dress and there was a bikini underneath. Their appearance was always tied to an ad campaign.
RA: And she seemed modeled after a celebrity from the 1960s...
Steve: I think our sculptor had a thing for Jackie Kennedy.