I Hear Your Muffled Cry…
Cheshire & Norwich
I bet you didn’t know that giant roadside (usually) men have a cult following. These giant roadside man sculptures are called “Muffler Men” in this world because, apparently, the first giant roadside men all held mufflers.
Muffler Men are more transient than you’d think. At present (2023), Connecticut features only two Muffler Men. For a decade (2008-2019), we had three… but the third was never displayed. I’m sure there were others in the past, but I can’t write about what I don’t know.
Just kidding. I do that all the time, both here and professionally. Enough confession, let’s get to Connecticut’s Muffler Men!
Paul Bunyan Muffler Man
West Johnson Avenue, Cheshire
Because the community of Muffler Man obsessed weirdos exists, I now know that Cheshire’s Paul Bunyan Muffler Man at The House of Doors has a whole story.
Okay, the story itself isn’t exciting, but the fact that people keep track of this stuff is fascinating to me – says the guy writing about the guys who keep track of such things. I’m fully self-aware, don’t worry.
From Roadside America, the premier source for all things Muffler Men.
The town of Cheshire enforces a law that no sign can be more than seven feet high, and most signs in town seem cut from an identical mold with knob-topped bedposts on either side and a Georgian sunburst “window” on top.
When the lumber business that is now the House of Doors put a 26-foot-tall Paul Bunyan muffler man on their front lawn in the early 1980s the town was up in arms, so the Sirois brothers, who own the business, replaced the axe with an American flag. “You can build a flagpole as high as you want and the town can’t do anything about it,” they told us.
The muffler man, they proudly claim, is now “an official landmark.”
Since those early conflicts, and in the wake of the Muffler Man’s very important role in a post-9/11 world, the flagpole gambit seems to have been dropped, with no ill effect on the big guy.
But he was holding a flag during my 2019 drive-by visit, and seemed to be in great shape. The House of Doors in Cheshire is at 540 W. Johnson Avenue and Roadside America deems it, “worth a detour.”
Big George Muffler Man
Now, many of you are saying, “Hey, I pass a House of Doors” at the end of route 11 in Salem!” and you’d be correct. Same owner, same passion for Muffler Men. I really hope this URL never changes, as the fact that Muffler Man Fans have chronicled the life and times and travels of both House of Doors Muffler Men is just… awesome.
This one is named “Big George,” (for reasons below) and he was initially documented at a motorcycle shop in St. George, Utah in 1997. Then his cross-country travels began…
Went to make my yearly pilgrimage to see the Muffler Man in St. George, Utah. HE’S MISSING! The motorcycle shop became a car stereo outlet, and subsequently they painted over the word “motorcycle” and left him with only “St. George” printed on his shirt. Last year as I visited there was a “for sale” sign on the property and the car stereo shop looked defunct. Well…that’s confirmed…and our muffler man is no longer there.
There’s a hole in this guy’s history for several years, but he was purchased and stood in Bridger, then Billings, Montana for a while. After his stint in Big Sky Country, he was sold to Connecticut’s House of Doors guy and shipped to Cheshire to join his brother above.
Yet, he was never meant to stand in our fair state.
I stopped to see the Bunyan at the House of Doors yesterday and, just on a lark, I went in to ask about the “other” Muffler Man reportedly purchased by the owner for his other store. A sales rep took me outside to see the Muffler Man awaiting repairs, and a zoning variance, to be installed at the other House of Doors location in Salem.
This guy needs some TLC ASAP. It was a rare find, a Muffler Man flat on his back, waiting for his moment in the sun. I felt like I got a backstage pass!
I initially found Muffler Man No. 2 in 2016, still lying in the grass behind the building, but this year he was missing! Turns out they’ve taken him from the grass and put him on a trailer on the far side of the House of Doors. Is he gonna be restored?
I didn’t see sleeping Paul Bunyan House of Doors Muffler Man # 2 during my 2019 drive-by. There was a massive kid birthday party crowd at the trampoline park in the same complex. It turns out that I didn’t see Big George because he had been sold and moved again!
Off to Bache, Oklahoma at Griffeth Hot Rods. There, he was finally stood up properly after his 10+ year nap in the weeds in Cheshire. Crazy, right? (Supposedly, there was an effort to bring him back to Utah, but that didn’t pan out. And he didn’t last too long in Oklahoma either.
The Bunyan that was in Bache, Oklahoma, was sold in September and moved to his new home: Driven Towing and Recovery in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He still has his original platform under his feet, and stands just outside of the office, easily visible from the highway.
Okay, let’s be done with this guy. Unless he returns to Connecticut for some reason, I no longer care about him. This was more just another case of me finding joy in calling attention to dudes online who are obsessed with something weirder than CTMQ.
Cowboy Muffler Man
385 W Main Street, Norwich
This 22-foot behemoth, nicknamed Big Bob, has resided in Norwich forever – since the 1960’s! He stood tall at an old Norwich amusement park(?) for twenty years until that place closed. Big Bob was sold to the owners of a store across town called Surplus Unlimited, and he has stood in the same strip mall since the 1980’s.
He’s always been patriotic, holding an American flag ever since moving to the strip mall. Surplus Unlimited is still going strong, selling close-out merchandise and furniture to southeastern Connecticut residents. Big Bob is the business’s symbol, as he’s painted on trucks, featured in ads, and is prominent on their website (in 2023).
Speaking of their website, two claims are made there that contradict what I gleaned from Roadside America above:
People love our 30 foot cowboy (also known as Muffler Man) as he greets costumers entering our store, just as he did many years ago at a gas station in New London.
Hold up. He just grew 8 feet and has an entirely different origin story (gas station vs. amusement park) and childhood home (New London vs. Norwich). Hm. I guess we’ll never know.
Or will we…
The statue used to be on the other side of town, on the corner of Central Avenue, in the Greenville section of Norwich, and was owned by a fellow named Alex Cohen. He had the statue in front of a building that was originally a trolley or bus terminal, and during the early 1960s (I think) he used to have a place that was all set up for teenagers, with amusements etc. But the city closed him down, and later he used it as a junk shop.
My word, these Muffler Man followers are nuts! I guess that is fairly definitive. The Surplus Unlimited owners grew up around here and always admired Big Bob, so when their friend Alex Cohen passed away, they bought the big guy and stood him in front of their then small business.
Over the years, idiot kids accessed the nearby roof and tried to kick him over into the parking lot. They were fortunately unsuccessful, and the business attached steel cables to Big Bob to prevent his death.
He looked to be in good shape when I visited which is pretty amazing for a 60-year-old fiberglass statue. I see no reason why he won’t outlast all of us, but one never knows.
One just never knows…