Joe Sonderman collection

In about 1928, before establishing Bazell Modern Camp in Winslow, Arizona to capitalize on the ever increasing flow of travelers on Route 66, Grover Cleveland Bazell made his living as a lawyer and a newspaper publisher. He had also tried his hand at auto sales with the establishment of a Buick dealership and garage in 1921. AAA lists this facility as an approved garage in the 1927 edition of the Hotel, Garage, and Service Station Directory. After the sale of the property to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Powell in about 1938, the facility underwent extensive renovation and expansion that included the connection of the cabins to create additional rooms. In this configuration, the name changed to Bazell Auto Court. The Directory of Motor Courts and Cottages published by AAA in 1940 gave the facility a cursory entry, “Bazell Auto Court. 75c to $2.00. Public showers. Trailers 50c to $1.”

I am unsure exactly where the obsession began but can pinpoint when it first manifested. It was 2011 and I had accepted a contract to write a book, The Route 66 Encyclopedia. For as long as I can remember there has been a hunger to know the story behind the name, the history of a place. So, it was only natural that I would collect stories about the places and communities along the Route 66 corridor. Judging by the popularity of the book, I am not the only person to have such a fascination.

Well, a few weeks ago I launched a new endeavor, a new series for the Ten Minutes With Jim audio podcast. It is an alphabetical odyssey along Route 66. With the exception of programs where I interview guests, the podcast is now being transformed into a virtual tour of Route 66 from A to Z. To date I have shared the story of Cyrus Avery and Azusa, Californa, the Aztec Hotel and Albuquerque, Avilla, Missouri and Bagdad California as well as a few other fascinating places. And I am still collecting stories.

In late 1960, Steve Dashew established International Fiberglass to create figures for use as promotional pieces to supplement income derived from his primary business, a small boatyard at the port of Los Angeles at San Pedro in California. To promote the new endeavor Dashew hired a sales representative, and had him drive east along Route 66 with a variety of fiberglass animals in various sizes.

The Gemini Giant is one of the more famous examples of the now legendary “muffler men.”

In 1962, the Lumberjack Café on Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona purchased a towering rendition of Paul Bunyan. This statue now stands on the grounds of Northern Arizona University whose sports team uses the Lumberjacks name. American Oil in Las Vegas purchased another copy shortly after this date and indicated to the company that there was a dramatic increase in business after installation. Violet Winslow utilized this recommendation as the basis for an article published in the National Petroleum News. Requests for the Bunyan statue, but with slight variation inundated the company.

To fill orders and defer the expense involved with molds and tooling, Dashew and his staff found creative ways to adapt existing molds such as filling the beard portion with clay to give the finished product a clean-shaven appearance or adding plaster to the chest for a bare chest look. Additionally, he began manufacturing accessories such as axes, space helmets, pistols, and hats to personalize the statues. Ironically, the company never manufactured mufflers, even though many of the statues were later outfitted with these and as a result are now collectively know as muffler men. The identifying feature for all of the figures made utilizing the Paul Bunyan molds were the hands: right palm up and left palm down. Later modifications included arms raised in greeting.

Mohawk Petroleum, a southern California service station chain, ordered several dozen Indians. These were of the bare chest iteration with greeting arms and a headdress. Produced for Phillips Petroleum were 120 cowboys and for Texaco, 300 “Big Friends.” The order from US Rubber for a Miss Uniroyal with bikini and removable dress represented the first major investment in new molds and tooling. The company also supplied Sinclair with dinosaurs and statues for A & W as well as Yogi Bear’s Honey Fried Chicken.

The company manufactured figures until 1972. Dashew then founded a construction company, and a yacht design firm. As a sailor, he set a world speed record under sail.

Numerous statues remain along Route 66. Among the most notable are the Gemini Giant, at the Launching Pad Drive In in Wilmington, Illinois, a Paul Bunyan statue in Atlanta, Illinois relocated from Berwyn, Illinois, and a former Phillips Petroleum cowboy at a car lot in Gallup, New Mexico. Documenting and locating the statues produced by this company became a quest for Gabriel Aldaz. His adventure of discovery on Route 66 and other roads became the subject of a book, Right Palm Up, Left Palm Down: The Log of a Cross Country Scavenger Hunt.

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