In the Land of Giants: An Orbit Day Trip to The Farnham Colossi

large statue of man carrying grocery bags with animal-friendly messages
The great grocer in the sky. One of many enormous figures at The Farnham Colossi in Unger, WV.

If one is ever to meet a giant in real life, let it be like this. Big John greets every new visitor with a friendly smile. John’s big arms spread out to cradle four old-school brown paper sacks brimming with groceries. If that wasn’t enough, the great grocer is animal lover, to boot—we know this from the pro-pets messages printed on the shopping bags and his apron’s message Never eat anyone who had a mother.

At thirty feet tall (just guessing here) Big John is a fiberglass cast statue/advertisement for a retailer that we’ll assume no longer requires his services. The problem isn’t John—he’s in excellent shape. The large form is remarkably free of cracks or dings and the paint job—including that text on the bags and apron—is crisp and detailed.

"muffler man" painted like a lumberjack
Lumberjack muffler man

Colossus is not a word we generally hear in its plural form. Heck, we don’t even use the noun that much; its adjective gets most of the attention. Encountering a single giant is a rare enough occasion, how often does one experience two? or three?

Keep going. Unger, West Virginia has a tiny human population—I’ll bet it numbers in the hundreds—but when it comes to giants, that’s another story.

Unger, an unincorporated rural community just one mile from (regular) Virginia’s northernmost point, likely has the most per-capita giants in the country. They all live on the grounds of an old farmhouse along Winchester Grade Road. Collectively, they’re known as The Farnham Colossi.

large statues of "muffler man" holding muffer, beach man, and bikini lady
King Midas, muffler man (and friends)

The colossi come in many forms—human and otherwise—that spread around three sides of the property. There’s a giant apple painted with a faded mural of apple-harvesting, a colorful crab poised high in the sky, Yogi Bear’s supporting players, and a soaring pterodactyl that flies above a purple barn.

Mister Fifteen Hamburger Man, a rotund chef proudly hoisting a burger, stands in a large lawn with a circular ring of cast concrete statuary. Behind him is a mini roller coaster with one set of cars containing The Simpsons family, another a set of carnival clown game figures.

large statue of painted apple and smaller dog statue
Big apple / faithful friend

The whole thing’s a gas, but the attraction for many will be the exquisite pair of muffler men at Farnham. One is a legit muffler-holding mechanic with a Midas crown, the other appears in full lumberjack flannel, beard, and toque (but no Paul Bunyan axe).

Uniroyal Gal is the Mr. Pibb to Muffler Man’s more name-brand Dr. Pepper. She’s here too, wearing an electric purple bikini and go-go boots. Uniroyal Gal left the tire on the car, this time.

large statue of woman in purple bikini
Uniroyal Gal [photo: Kirsten Ervin]

Both Atlas Obscura and Roadside America have very fine entries on the history of The Farnham Colossi and the couple who seated them all here together, so we’ll not repeat those basic facts.

What we will say is that this part roadside attraction, part open-air museum of the dying history of the highway is a lovely place to visit when one finds him- or herself in the greater Berkeley Springs/Winchester/Cacapon State Park area of West Virginia’s eastern panhandle. Where else can one so easily walk among giants?

section of painted roller coaster cars with clown heads on them
Clown cars / bobblehead Santa
large statue of chef holding a hamburger
Big burger chef [photo: Kirsten Ervin]
large statue of man in sunglasses and swim trunks holding a can of beer
Beach dude [photo: Kirsten Ervin]
statues of characters from "The Yogi Bear Show" in front yard
Yogi Bear has a posse [photo: Kirsten Ervin]
large statue of crab
Sky crab
statue of pterodactyl on tall pole
The colossi are pterrific! Pterodactyl
large statue of Santa Clause toppled on his back
Santa down! [photo: Kirsten Ervin]

Muffler Man: Mr. Tire, Uniontown

the muffler man of Mr. Tire, Uniontown, PA

King of the skyline: Mr. Tire muffler man, Uniontown

On a week that belongs to the ladies*, it would seem a strange choice–even callous, confrontational, “aggro”–to run with a testosterone-fueled post like one focused on the Mr. Tire Muffler Man, but hear this blogger out.

There we were–Mrs. The Orbit and her fella–heading to Our Nation’s Capital to defend Democracy. You’re welcome. But with a few extra ticks on the clock and taking any excuse to avoid the turnpike, we opted for the slightly longer trajectory via Rt. 51 and had a chance to check in with Mr. Tire himself in his home base in Uniontown.

detail of the muffler man of Mr. Tire, Uniontown, PA

No one suggests Muffler Man has tiny hands

The picture of male virility, Muffler Man isn’t fooling around. Mr. Tire stands much larger than life [he’s around 30 feet tall, not including his stone pedestal]–biceps tensing the short sleeves of his work shirt, steely eyes on an emotionless face, close-cropped Just For Men facial hair, and a brimless cap that says “I was a lumberjack in a previous life; now I’m a tire guy.”

Muffler Man possesses all the classic qualities–or, at least, fantasy stereotypes–we’re led to believe men were, you know, back when America was “great”. He’s tall, dark, strong, and silent; a man of action who’s ready to put his giant hands to work. This seems all the more appropriate in the first hazy rays of the new dawn of America.

detail of the muffler man of Mr. Tire, Uniontown, PA

NOT like. Muffler Man’s thumb ain’t up.

Muffler Man isn’t the kind of guy who stays up all night sniping petty insults on the computer Internet. No, most days he pulls a double with an evening appointment to look under Mrs. Tire’s hood, make sure the engine’s still purring, and maybe check out her tailpipe. If he does his job, she’ll be leaving in the morning as a satisfied customer.

This working man ain’t the high-tech type–you can call him at the phone on the wall or catch him at the bar after his shift. Muffler Man doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, he’d rather deflate all eighteen wheels than tell a lie. Liars don’t last long in Mr. Tire’s town.

the muffler man of Mr. Tire, Uniontown, PA

Recently, we’ve heard a whole lot about our new “tough guy”-in-chief and the “forgotten men” he speaks for. That whole notion can seem both a little absurd and totally apropos in the face of millions of protesters–a majority of them women of every imaginable demographic–filling cities across the country (and the world) last Saturday. Maybe it’s time for some of those tough guys to finally learn something from the ladies–and even from Muffler Man. Stand up, shut up, roll up your sleeves and get to work doing the right thing.


Getting there: Mr. Tire is at 350 Pittsburgh Street, Uniontown. If you come down Rt. 51, just keep going straight and you definitely can’t miss it.

Related: Muffler Man: The Cadet CowboyPittsburgh Orbit, May 22, 2016.


* Let’s hope it’s actually a month, a year, or time going forward, but that remains to be seen.

Muffler Man: The Cadet Cowboy

looking up at the giant fiberglass cowboy known as "Sam", Cadet Restaurant, Kittanning, PA

“Sam”, Cadet Restaurant’s giant hamburger-slinging cowboy/muffler man, Kittanning

He’s broad-shouldered, with a square jaw and steely gaze, and he’s bare-handing a burger the size of a doberman en route just for you. Yes, in crisp white shirt and trousers, black boots, and one enormous cowboy hat cocked just so, Big Sam, the resident burger-slinging cowboy/muffler man of The Cadet Restaurant is the waiter of your dreams…or maybe your nightmares.

At 30 feet tall (we’re taking the Cadet’s word on this–but it seems reasonable), Big Sam is, quite literally, head-and-shoulders above the peak of the Cadet Restaurant’s roof. In an era when the neighboring Sheetz signage (and every other modern highway adjunct) is visible from space, it doesn’t seem like Sam could possibly stand out from the other roadside noise. But he’s got a couple things all those other places can only dream of: class and style.

Exterior of the Cadet Restaurant with giant fiberglass cowboy holding a hamburger, Kittanning, PA

Cadet Restaurant, Kittanning

Though there’s absolutely nothing automobile-related about Big Sam (aside from the Cadet’s previous life as a drive-in) he falls into the broad category of giant “muffler men”. Roadside America has a great detailed repository of muffler man info, but the short version is that the original fiberglass mold was built in the early ’60s for a huge Paul Bunyan advertising a restaurant in Flagstaff, Arizona. The arms are positioned as so to hold the famous lumberjack’s big axe.

The same mold was repurposed over the next dozen years for generic working men, Indians, the “happy halfwit”, and, yes, cowboys. Many muffler shops took advantage of both the striking figure and the fixed hand shapes to cradle exhaust systems, hence the nickname.

Side view of giant fiberglass cowboy, Cadet Restaurant, Kittanning, PA

It may get a thumbs-down from Big Sam, but Cadet’s food is qualified to satisfy

Cadet’s history page tells us that Sam was purchased at the Chicago Restaurant Show for $3,900 in 1962 and details a great story of tragedy and redemption for the big guy:

One foggy morning on September 29, 1990, an unsuspecting Ford Bronco pulled into the path of a fully loaded coal truck traveling from Indiana. The Bronco was catapulted into Sam leaving him in shambles for years to come.

Despite many attempts, no one would take on the task of repair. We would find his hat or burger on top of a local school’s flagpole and other various locations. Luckily, we had our own team of students that were always kind enough to locate and extract the missing pieces.

It was over 12 years before our customers were able to help us finally piece him back together. Dave Bish, stepped up and asked if he could try, and try he did. What a beautiful job! He was back on his feet in 2002. It took a full day, a crane and many volunteers.

Cadet restaurant placemat advertisement proclaiming "Home of the 'Poor Boy'"

And what of the food at the Cadet? As diners go, it’s top-notch. The menu features the expected array of greasy breakfasts and burgers/sandwiches/deep-fried platters for lunch and dinner. A handmade sign on wall proclaims the “Poorboy burger” (a double patty with all the fixins) and roast beef as house specialties. This blogger’s only real quibble was a lack of Polish food on the menu [every Pittsburgh-area diner should have pierogies, haluski, and potato pancakes!]–but even Big Sam can’t provide everything.

The Orbit went all Craig Claiborne with repeat visits to the Cadet. On the way up, we had a fantastically Sam-sized blueberry pancake. It’s sort of the yin to Pamela’s crepe-style yang–thick as a book* and large as the plate, but hot, fluffy, and tasty. On the return trip, it was a thoroughly-satisfying chicken biscuit dinner for lunch with a mind-melting piece of rhubarb pie for dessert.

Needless to say, the Cadet is Orbit-approved and recommended. Stop by the next time you’re headed north and give ol’ Sam the hi-de-ho.

rear view of giant fiberglass cowboy, Cadet Restaurant, Kittanning, PA

Big Sam keeping watch over Rt. 422 outside Kittanning

Getting there: Cadet Restaurant is on Route 422-East, just off Route 28 outside Kittanning. Note: you have to awkwardly go through the next-door Sheetz to get there, but you can’t miss it.


* Thick like a paperback novel–not, you know, the dictionary.

The McKeesport Muffler Man

Figure of a man created from steel parts on wall of Mars Builders Supply, McKeesport, PA

The McKeesport Muffler Man

While not technically a “muffler man” in the strictest of roadside America senses, the figure that adorns a brick wall of Mars Wholesale Supply in McKeesport appears to have actually been fabricated out of mufflers (OK, probably loose duct work or other stray sheet metal the crew had laying around).

Regardless, his characteristic stance with one hand up to stabilize an invisible object, the other down to carry its load looks awfully familiar.  This guy has a similar steely take-no-prisoners look in his squinting eyes and is a commanding presence on the traffic of Walnut Street (Rt. 148) as it leaves town.  “Come in,” Muffler Man seems to say, “I’ll bet you could use some nice joint compound right about now.”

While it may be fanciful to imagine Home Depot’s staff having the freedom to rend macho muffler men or lovely ladies of lumber, we can always hope.  They’re losing out on a lot of blogger dollars!