Big brothersAtlanta, Springfield and Wilmington, IL

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

International Fiberglass’s midcentury giants are scattered around the country, and the Muffer Man diaspora certainly includes Route 66, as well. But the fiberglass beefcakes along Illinois’s diagonal streth of Route 66 an extra-special breed. These men are called simply the “Brothers,” and most of them have unusual variants of the standard Muffler Man “physique.”

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

First up is this rather bizarre guy, currently located in Atlanta, IL. It seems a little random that he’s holding a hot dog rather than the standard muffler (though in my experience, Muffler Men almost never hold actual mufflers these days), but his origin story makes everything clear. You see, this guy, named “Tall Paul,” originally stood outside Bunyon’s* hot dog stand in the Chicago suburb of Cicero. When he was originally commissioned in 1966, the owner of Bunyon’s had him outfitted with a custom fiberglass frank instead of a muffler. After Bunyon’s closed its doors in 2002, Tall Paul was sent “downstream” along Route 66 to the town of Atlanta, where he’s housed on long-term loan. While he looks handsome here in Atlanta, I still wish I could see him in situ in Cicero, amidst his Chicago-dog brethren.

* Bunyon’s, as in Paul Bunyan, except it was purposefully misspelled to avoid any possible trademark infringement.

Muffler Men sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Next are the fraternal fiberglass twins of the capital city of Springfield. The guy on the left, who admittedly is not right on Route 66 (but not far off of it), is a former Carpet Viking in new garb. And on the right, just a block or two off of the Mother Road, is the Lauterbach Tire Man, now newly re-capitated after a 2006 tornado quite literally blew his head off.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And then there’s the mutant masterpiece of Illinois 66, a particularly odd and endangered specimen known as the Gemini Giant.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This guy stands sentry outside the now-defunct Launcing Pad Drive-in in the town of Wilmington. When he was commissioned in 1965, the owners of the Launching Pad capitalized on the Space Race fad of the era, and customized their guy with an astronaut helmet and handheld rocket. Even his name, devised by a local schoolgirl, referenced the Gemini space program. The result is not only one of the most unusual muffler men, but also one of the most recognized Route 66 landmarks.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The empty Launching Pad property and the Gemini Giant are both currently for sale—they went up for auction just this April, but failed to meet the reserve price. Despite an uncertain future, the town of Wilmington appears to be committed to preserving the Gemini Giant. I certainly hope so—if any of the Brothers were to disappear from Route 66, they’d leave some awfully big shoes to fill.

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