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[whitespace] Muffler Man
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Roadside Attractions

These giant statues are often 'borrowed'

By Genevieve Roja

COULD THERE BE any nostalgic item greater than a Big Boy to encapsulate America's badass-ness? And yet, despite its obvious absurdities--the checkered outfit, the pomade-laden wave of hair, the Howdy Doody smile--Big Boy is also a delight, a world's wonder, a bona fide roadside attraction. Perhaps it's our innate fascination with things impossibly but incredibly built by human hands, like the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building. Their mammoth size naturally makes these roadside attractions targets for high school pranksters seeking a riskier challenge than stealing school mascots or igniting fireworks in the middle of the quad. Who wouldn't marvel at a Junipero Serra statue kneeling in the end zone of a football stadium?

Babe's & Lightning Muffler Service
The Alameda, San Jose

A group of high school pranksters once stole the top half of the Paul Bunyan giant stationed close to the street. Manager Kurt Nelson can't remember who the offending high schooler was, but the half was returned. The sign, a concept dreamed up by original owner Babe Royer, was erected along with the business about 50 years ago and towers between 15 and 20 feet. In its entire history, cars have run into the fellow's legs, and its brother, a fellow mountaineer at Willow Street and Vine, burnt down several years ago at the hands of vandals. The sign became a San Jose historical landmark in the '90s, and the sign is posted on a webpage titled "Gallery of Huge Beings." Featured on the website are other lumberjack giants like Babe around the country.

Normandin Chrysler-Plymouth Horse and Buggy
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Normandin Chrysler-Plymouth Jeep
West Capitol Expressway Auto Mall, San Jose

Utter the words "horse and carriage" anywhere in south San Jose and it's guaranteed that someone there will know what you mean. Since July 4, 1969, folks passing the Auto Mall on Capitol Expressway have instantly recognized the Normandin dealership, thanks to the handmade, steel-wheeled, two-seater surrey pulled by a fiberglass horse. Perched on the roof of the office, the horse and carriage--believed to be constructed in 1906--is a product of the Pacific Carriage Company, the company begun by Lon Normandin's grandfather, Amable, in January 1875. The Normandin family had originally sold the carriage to a Willow Glen family, who kept the item in a barn. The Normandins discovered the barn in the early 1950s and purchased back the buggy so that it could be displayed as a symbol of the Normandin dealership.

Inside the dealership office, on the mezzanine floor, is a rubber-wheeled, Babock-brand buggy that was sold from the business outpost on Santa Clara Street. Being inside has its advantages--10 years ago, Halloween night pranksters attempted to steal the outside buggy. And since the buggy is outside, at least once a year Normandin must enlist a maintenance crew to keep the surrey clean, install new fringes on the top and rub down the leather with a lubricating oil. To withstand weather conditions, Normandin protects the top with aluminum.

Old Signs: Silicon Valley's Disappearing Legacy

Sign Language: What historic signs say about our lives, and why action is needed to save the valley's scarce reminders of its commercial past.

Plaque Removal: Metro reporter Genevieve Roja takes a neon-lit journey in search of the valley's oldest and most intriguing signs.

Hand-Painted Wonders: Long before graffiti, brick buildings were a palette for sign painters. Today, they are endangered species.

Strokes of Genius: An interview with octogenarian sign-painter Rey Giese.

Telltale Signs: Close-up looks at the Courtesy Chevrolet and Orchard Supply Hardware landmark signs.

Pooch Politics: Famed cartoonist takes doggie-head sign to heart.

Signs From the Underbelly: Columnist Eric Carlson offers a photographic tour of some of the most interesting signs in San Jose.

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From the April 26-May 2, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.