by Christopher Martin

Arts 'n' crafts with car parts!


We were taken in by their cobbled-together innocence. Little did we know they only wanted our gas card numbers.

Dan and I have probably spent more time thinking about Meineke Discount Muffler's muffler man and dog than anyone else alive, including the guy who made them. I had come across a mention of the sculptures on the Roadside America website some time ago and added them to my list of Rhode Island objects to track down. Not long afterwards Dan, Dave, and I searched them out on our original road trip from Providence to Westerly on September 18, 1999.

We found them at a Meineke Discount Muffler shop at 591 Elmwood Avenue in Providence, and they were just as you would imagine them to be—a man and dog made of parts from old exhaust systems. They were wedged between a chain link fence and one of those mobile signs with the detachable plastic letters, looking out at Elmwood and Adelaide Avenues. They weren't much to look at, but we were pleased to see them nevertheless. Later, in an article for Quahog's Attractions section, I would embellish upon our pleasure, just a touch:

When we first beheld these objects, we were amused by the whimsical nature of the figures. Despite the ravages that wind and rain had wrought upon their metal bodies, we were touched by the obvious love with which their creator had fashioned them from unwanted, cast off, post-consumer debris. To think of the time and the resources—the acetylene, the paint used for the muffler man's happy-go-lucky grin, the sweat, and the honest-to-gosh divine inspiration—why, it almost caused us to weep with joy.

Indeed. But that's the kind of thing you tend to write when you want to elevate the banal and make it seem extraordinary in the eyes of others. I continued:

The coveralled fellow inside the shop didn't know who had created the sculptures, nor how long they had been at their post, gazing out at the Elmwood Avenue traffic. However, he gave us permission to move them from behind their chain-link fence for additional photos (the pictures you see here are only a few of those that we took). Mysteriously, the ones of us dancing naked around the figures, offering up sacrifices of winter vegetables and back issues of TV Guide, never returned from the processor.

Okay, obviously I went way overboard there. In truth, the muffler man and dog were never going to be a major draw. Dan knew it, and tried to argue against including them on our site. I liked them, though, and thought they deserved a chance. Doesn't everyone like to root for the underdog? Admittedly however, there really wasn't much to say about them, which is why I allowed myself to really camp it up in the original article.

We planned to return at some point to take more pictures. We had some great ideas, most of which involved inappropriate touching, but there were a few G-rated options, as well: pictures of us playing frisbee with the dog, Dave being chased by the dog, me and the muffler man checking out the centerfold of Auto Parts Monthly, the dog playing dead. Yeah, those pictures would have rocked.

But it was not to be, for Dan, Dave, and I never got around to revisiting the place as a team. When I went by for a visit in February 2002, the muffler man was lying on the ground, looking noticeably rustier, his foot broken, one arm thrown across the back of his faithful companion. A further visit in May revealed that the man was gone altogether. Only the tailpipe mongrel remained, staring out from inside his fence, as though waiting for his departed master to return. By December he was gone, too; junked, vandalized, or stolen by neighborhood kids looking for something to mess with.

Ah well. As Springsteen once growled, "Everything dies, baby, that's a fact." I can still preserve the memory of man and dog here on this website for future generations. He may have been made from junk, but hey, he was fun. Kinda. And now I, and you, can give directions based on where the muffler man and dog used to be.

Johnston resident Christopher Martin is the curator of the website you are reading now. He categorically denies reports that the muffler man and dog are hidden in his basement.

This article last edited September 26, 2006

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