ELKHART — Scotty always had a smile on his face, even after he had to stand out in the open for more than 50 winters and summers.
He was a fiberglass statue some locals thought looked like Paul Bunyan, and he stood about 20 feet tall right outside of the former Palmer Ace Hardware, inviting people into the store off Cassopolis Street in Elkhart. The statue was a pale, bearded man with broad shoulders, wearing a beanie and a short-sleeved shirt.
The store and statue’s owner, Brad Jones, said people took to calling him Scotty because he wore the logo of Scotts, a lawn care product manufacturer, over his right breast.
“It was something which you could see outside of the store, that people can see as a landmark,” Jones said. “You want something to bring (customers) in.”
But then one day, Scotty wasn’t there anymore.
After being open for more than 50 years, Palmer Ace Hardware closed down Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011. The economic downturn took a bite out of the store’s business, and newer “box stores” — such as Menards and Lowe’s — also started to draw its customers away.
Originally, the plan was to bring Scotty along on Jones’ next business venture. So he gave the statue a place to stay by his home in Elkhart, but the visit was short-lived.
“I think my wife didn’t want it in the front yard.” Jones said.
It would have also taken a lot of money to move the statue again, so Jones started looking for a buyer. That’s when mobile home parts supplier Red Oak Trading Company in Coebourn, Va., came biting at the offer.
All in all, Jones sold the statue to them for about $5,000. He couldn’t say how much the Virginia company paid to transport Scotty more than 510 miles away, but the fiberglass giant beamed his last smile at Elkhart from the back of a flatbed truck out of the city July 2011.
Scotty isn’t the only one of his kind in the country. In fact, there are more than 200 fiberglass statues like Scotty in South America, North America and Canada, according to RoadsideAmerica.com, a website that documents offbeat roadside attractions.
The website took to naming them “Muffler Men,” because the first ones their researchers saw carried mufflers in their hands.
A California company called International Fiberglass first made these statues in the thousands in the ‘60s and ‘70s, according to Smithsonian.com. While there were fiberglass statues of women as well, the Muffler Men were mostly made to represent the “quintessential American man.” They were dressed as loggers, football players, cowboys, soldiers and astronauts. The purpose of these men and women figures was to help sell mufflers and tires.
Even though Elkhart might never see the return of its lonely giant, a map on RoadsideAmerica.com shows that you can still find Muffler Men close by in Toto, Ind., and Cassopolis, Mich.
And in Virginia, Scotty is still flashing the world a big smile.