FOR MANY PEOPLE, IT BEGINS with the first sighting of an enormous man blocking out the sun, sculpted from fiberglass, often holding a muffler or a tool, looming on the side of a road. After road trippers see one, the quest for other such roadside attractions often ignites. The giant who started my own hunt was named Jacques. Towering above the cars driving towards the ferry in Marblehead, Ohio, Jacques is a rescued sculpture that once hawked sandwiches in front of a restaurant. Though he was used to advertise the food service industry, Jacques is a relative of other fiberglass sculptures known as muffler men.
“The muffler man is such an iconic roadside attraction,” says Seth Hardmeyer, an over-the-road truck driver who’s visited hundreds of roadside statues across 37 states since 2006, including 40-50 muffler men. “The allure is that they were once very common, with a population of something like over 2,000 around the country, and now only a handful remain in each state.”