Hayward, CA: Land of the GIANTS!

There are giants in Northern California, and I’m not talking about the giant California redwoods. In an industrial area of Hayward, California there is a refuge of sorts for these giants that once  seemingly dominated the land. While there are only a handful left, a few of the lucky ones have found a haven in the Bay Area town.

Known as Muffler Men collectively, the first to find sanctuary at Hayward’s Bell Plastics was 20-foot-tall Big Mike in October of 2011. Mike was a refugee of the town’s Morris Car Wash. He was one of the lucky ones to find a home in the lot of Bruce Kennedy’s Bell Plastics. Thousands of giant fiberglass men, women, and dinosaurs were churned out in the 60s and early 70s. Today, it is estimated that less than 200 of these iconic pieces of Americana remain.

Big Mike

The first Muffler Man was apparently created in 1962, when a man named Bob Prewitt created a giant Paul Bunyon statue for the Paul Bunyon Cafe on Route 66. His company, Prewitt Fiberglass was bought out by Steve Dashew the following year, and rechristened International Fibreglass. The giants were originally only to be a side venture, but soon became practically the whole business.

Not all of the Muffler Men were used to promote muffler businesses. The original Paul Bunyon carried an axe. Big Mike is said to have originally held a large scrub brush, which has since been lost to time. Others have held large food items (hamburgers, hot dogs), tires, and one in Illinois even holds a small rocket ship. Although Big Mike is, not all Muffler Men are Bunyon-shaped…or even men. Once the concept took off, International Plastics created other giants. There were firemen, cowboys, Native Americans, Vikings, and even some animals. One of International Fiberglass’ artists fancied Jackie Kennedy and sculpted what has become known as the Uniroyal Gals, the female version of the Muffler Men in Jackie O’s likeness..

Fix-It joined Big Mike in 2013. Since then, a literal menagerie of giant, obsolete advertising fixtures has come to call Bell Plastics “home.”

An amputee miner stands near one of two 7-foot-tall bowtie and chef’s hat-wearing dachshund heads from the long-gone, legendary Bay Area Doggie Diner chain.

Dinosaurs in various states of repair, a minion, and a psychedelic cow are among the many wild things on display that have been saved from a landfill. There is even a Bob’s Big Boy statue that looks primed for a new paint job on display.

An Uncle Sam, Mardi Gras reveler, and a Demon head can be found here as well. Big Mike has actually been known to wear the Demon Head around Halloween time.

Other Muffler Men and some assorted “cousins” can be found at Bell Plastics as well. Santa Claus greets visitors out in front. There is a giant cowboy, a giant fireman, and there is even Hollywood, the Happy Halfwit. Hollywood looks very much like MAD Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman, but was officially labeled “Mortimer Snerd” on the International Fiberglass order forms.

I had seen photos of a bikini clad Uniroyal Gal at Bell Plastics, but she was no where to be seen. I did see, however, what looked like a Uniroyal Gal mold propped up against one wall. Could she be inside of it? Is Bell Plastics manufacturing molds to possibly re-create these amazing ginormous creatures?

In fact, there were several mold-like pieces laying around when I visited.

There were also incomplete body parts.

Bell Plastics welcomes visitors on the yard during business hours. T-shirts, coloring books, and other swell swag can be purchased in the office or online.

You can also read more about Big Mike and his buddies on the company’s website. At Bell Plastics, it truly is a land of the giants.

Bell Plastics
2020 National Ave.
Haywards, CA 94545
(510) 784-1111

Babe: San Jose’s lonely Muffler Man

Just 27 miles south of Hayward in downtown San Jose, just down the street from the SAP Center (Home of the San Jose Sharks), stands a lonely giant .

Babe, the 22-foot tall Muffler Man really is a muffler man. He holds a bright red muffler and is standing in front of Babe’s Mufflers. Babe has been a long-time resident. Although he stands there day after day, ready to work, there are subtle and not-so-subtle signs of age and wear on ol’ Babe. There are cracks at some of his finger joints, scratches and nicks on his pants, and more than his share of dirt and bird poop on his shoulders, head and out-stretched arms.

But Babe is one of the lucky ones. He hasn’t been deemed obsolete and relegated to the scrap yard. Instead, he gets to do the job he was always meant to do–stand there proudly, letting passersby know where great muffler service can be found. For a guy on the job 24-hours a day for the last 50+ years, Babe doesn’t appear to be ready for retirement any time soon.

Babe’s Mufflers
808 The Alameda
San Jose, CA 95126
(408) 294-8092

To experience some roadside attractions in Washington state, click HERE.


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