What does a giant rooster from Tehachapi, a Bob’s Big Boy statue and Bakersfield’s Big Indian have in common? Aside from being fiberglass, they are all possible because of a man who needed to see about a horse.
In 1961, a California horse trailer manufacturer named Bob Prewitt was looking for a way to showcase a model of a horse in his latest trailer. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 4, 1962, he explained that he needed to find a cheaper and sturdier alternative to the papier-mâché horses he considered purchasing. He came up with the idea of creating a horse out of fiberglass.
He commissioned Gladys Brown Edwards to create a life-sized sculpture of what he called a “perfect quarter horse” to use as a mold. Prewitt’s fiberglass horse business caught on almost instantly and he started to sell more horses than trailers. He decided to create additional animal molds as well.
As fate would have it, Prewitt received an order in 1962 from the Paul Bunyan Cafe on Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona, for a giant-sized Paul Bunyan. In an interview with the Foothills Sun-Gazette in 2004, the then-92-year-old Prewitt recalled that his Paul Bunyan creations started appearing in other business in the early 1960s and that he almost got himself into a heap of trouble due to the fact that Paul Bunyan was still under copyright protection.
In 1963, Prewitt sold several of his molds, including those for the rooster and Bob’s Big Boy, to Steve Dashew, a fiberglass boat builder located in Venice, California. Dashew was looking for a way to make money during the off season, and this is where the story of Bakersfield’s Indian on the Circle begins.
Dashew realized that he could create a multitude of models out of the Bunyan mold. His new business, the International Fiberglass Company, started churning out the 14- to 25-foot giant men. Customers could choose from Paul Bunyan, golfers, Indians, spacemen and cowboys to name a few. The company assured potential customers that these three-dimensional attractions would increase their profits or their money back.
Around 1965, the Barnes family of Bakersfield invested in one of Dashew’s creations. Looking for ways to further promote their Big O Tires business, the Barnes purchased the giant Indian for $1,400. Ken Barnes recalled to The Bakersfield Californian on June 11, 2013, that, “We brought that there as an attention-getter.”
Located near Garces Circle, the statue became a popular attraction and Barnes further recalled that he often had to remove arrows that were shot at it.
When the Barnes family sold their business in 1972, there was a bit of mystery surrounding the fate of the statue. But its disappearance from the circle may not be so mysterious after all. On July 14, 1976, Bakersfield passed a new sign ordinance that affected many of the large billboards around town and included a provision that all statues must be restricted to no larger than life-size. The Sept. 4, 1976 Californian pointed out that this included the Big O Tires Indian.
The statue had a couple of homes after it was removed, including a stint as the mascot for the Standard Middle School Warriors.
Fifty-three years later, this piece of Americana continues to call Bakersfield its home. Now located at Ethel’s Old Corral Café, it is the only remaining Indian “muffler man” (a name given to the statues in the 1990s) in California and one of 18 nationwide.