Buck Atom: Space Cowboy Muffler Man.
Buck Atom cradles his rocket and keeps his eyes on Route 66 travelers.

Buck Atom: Space Cowboy Muffler Man

Field review by the editors.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

"It's like taking the past and future and mashing it together," said Mary Beth Babcock of her new Muffler Man, Buck Atom. Unveiled on May 11, 2019, before a crowd of several hundred people including the mayor of Tulsa and Oklahoma's lieutenant governor, Buck is retro in his Muffler Man style, but trailblazing in his gestation and official blessing.

In the shop: Mark Cline and Buck Atom.
In the shop: Mark Cline, Buck Atom, and Buck's original model.

In the past, Muffler Men have been modified, with an odd paint job, or a distinctive accessory, or an occasional weird head. Buck, however, is a new breed. He began in the 1960s as a Muffler Man cowboy in Calgary, Alberta, and ended up bashed and shattered in an Edmonton junkyard. The fragments were brought to Virginia in 2018 and reassembled, Frankenstein-style, by fiberglass artist Mark Cline, who made a mold of the body. This later became the basis of Buck. "They told me he was unusable," said Mark. "But if I can make something from nothing, I can certainly make something from something."

At the same time Mary Beth -- who hadn't even been born during the initial heyday of the Muffler Men -- was opening her Cosmic Curios shop on Route 66 and taking a trip on the Mother Road, using the Roadside America app, she said, to find quirky sights along the way. Seeing Muffler Men on her trip made her want one for her business. She reached out to Joel Baker at American Giants, a company that restores and resells old highway leviathans (They had salvaged the Canadian Muffler Man). Joel planned to lease Mary Beth an existing statue, but when she started talking about her store's cartoon mascot, Buck Atom, he suggested she get in touch with Mark Cline.

Buck Atom: Space Cowboy Muffler Man.
Mary Beth Babcock barely reaches the knee of Buck Atom.

Buck -- to paraphrase the official state proclamation read at his dedication by Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell -- was a cowboy who rodeoed up and down Route 66. In 1953 he was taken aboard an alien spacecraft, and spent the next 66 years zipping above the U.S., apparently at the speed of light, since he never aged. When Buck saw that the Mother Road needed help, he decided that Mary Beth's shop, a 1950s former gas station, was the perfect place to land on Route 66 as a goodwill ambassador.

Mary Beth and Mark Cline put their heads together to create Buck. "I said, 'I can make a statue that looks exactly like your character,'" Mark recalled, but he also knew that he had his new Muffler Man mold. "If you want the iconic Muffler Man roadside look,'" he told Mary Beth, '"there's no reason why I can't marry the two images.'" That was what Mary Beth wanted to hear. "I said 'Yes!'" she remembered. "I always had in mind that Buck should be a form of Muffler Man."

There were some roadblocks along the way. Mary Beth had to abandon her original plan to have Buck's head in bubble space helmet because, as Mark put it, "pretty soon you'd have a whole ecosystem growing in there and you wouldn't be able to see his face." Instead, Mark used a Lexan dome from an old McDonald's playground to create a kind of visor for Buck. "He's back on Earth," Mark reasoned, "so he'd have his helmet open anyway."

Mary Beth Babcock and Buck's leg.
Mary Beth and Buck's leg.

Another difficulty was that Buck had to be built by Mark without any idea of the design and shape of his silver rocketship, which was being built at the same time by Tulsa artist Chris Wollard, and only placed in Buck's hands the day before his unveiling. "I'd never worked that way before," said Mark, "but I was impressed when I finally saw the craftsmanship of that rocket." Mary Beth, who witnessed the final assembly, was relieved when the two artworks fit together perfectly.

Mary Beth said that Buck Atom "bridges the gap between the old and new generations." Her idea came at just the right moment to unite the industry of Joel, the experience (and mold) of Mark, the rocket-building skill of Chris, and the goodwill of her elected officials, who saw nothing wrong in associating their city and state with a 21-foot-tall spaceman wearing a cowboy hat. "This," said Mary Beth, "is the most awesome thing I've ever done in my life."

Buck Atom: Space Cowboy Muffler Man

Buck Atom's Cosmic Curios

Address:
1347 E. 11th St., Tulsa, OK
Directions:
Buck Atom's Cosmic Curios. East side of downtown, on the north side of E. 11th St./Route 66, at the corner of S. Quincy Ave. Buck faces east.
Hours:
Cosmic Curios open M-Sa 10-8, Su 11-5
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Meadow Gold Milk SignMeadow Gold Milk Sign, Tulsa, OK - < 1 mi.
Time Capsule: 1998 Car Buried HereTime Capsule: 1998 Car Buried Here, Tulsa, OK - < 1 mi.
Statue Reading a NewspaperStatue Reading a Newspaper, Tulsa, OK - 1 mi.
In the region:
World's Tallest Gas Pump, Sapulpa, OK - 14 mi.

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