Driving in America wouldn’t be nearly as wild and wonderful without roadside attractions to distract us. And sometimes the getting there is half the fun—as in the barrage of signs and billboards that lead the unwary to tourist traps known as South of the Border and Wall Drug.
Since we built the interstate highway system in the 1950s, car trips have gotten a bit duller, but Route 66 and the remains of the Lincoln Highway are still out there, as are the Old Weird America (to steal Greil Marcus’ memorable phrase) stopovers, often advertised with the world’s biggest whatever-it-is.
The sad thing is that with everybody buried in their cellphones, these wacky tributes to human ingenuity may have lost their pulling power. Here are a few of our favorites:
World’s Biggest Beagle! This is in Cottonwood, Idaho. The place is technically the Dog Bark Park Inn, and it’s only got one room. A chainsaw artist created it, and the oddball dog park attached to it.
Joey Ramone Place! This lower Manhattan tribute to the late Ramone (who was actually from Queens) is the most stolen street sign in New York—purloined four times in seven years.
Burma Shave! These shaving-cream signs (up from 1927 to 1966) are gone now, but they sure kept motorists entertained for decades with their clever wordplay. Here’s a favorite: “Within this vale of toil and sin/Your head goes bald/But not your chin/Use Burma-Shave.”
World’s Largest Frying Pan! According to Thrillist, there are actually six huge frying pans scattered across America—and they all claim to be the biggest one. We’re going with Brandon, Iowa’s entry, which was built in 2004 and is 14 feet tall, weighs more than 1,000 pounds, and can cook up 528 eggs.
Wall Drug and South of the Border! If you find yourself on Interstate 95, taking the coastal route, you’ll know you’re nearing South Carolina because of the bazillions of South of the Border signs. Can’t miss ‘em! The attraction is where 95 meets U.S. 301/501 in Dillon, South Carolina. The Mexican theme (the bandido/mascot is named “Pedro”)—thousands of miles from Mexico!—is enabled by the fact that it’s just south of the North Carolina border.
First timers may be disappointed that South of the Border is little more than a gas station/restaurant complex with an amusement park and a tacky souvenir shop. I mean, after that buildup.
Wall Drug, in out-of-the-way Wall, South Dakota, ensnares travelers along Interstate 90. The big attractions are five cent coffee and “free water.” At least it’s cold. Unlike South of the Border, which is a true roadside attraction, Wall Drug (the principal employer in town) is a huge tourist mall taking up most of the downtown. Some 20,000 visit on a hot summer day.
Giant Turtle! Since this is an auto-themed website, we’re thrilled to report that the world’s largest man-made turtle, in Dunseith, North Dakota, is fabricated from 2,000 recycled wheel rims.
Paul Bunyon with Giant Hot Dog! An alternative name for this 1960s guy is Muffler Man, but he adds his genial presence to the town of Atlanta, Illinois. Apparently he was moved from nearby Cicero, Illinois, after Bunyon’s hot dog restaurant closed. Yes, I know that it’s usually spelled “Bunyan,” but the name was altered to avoid copyright problems.
There are many variants on the Paul Bunyan figure, and they’re called “muffler men” because sometimes he’s holding a muffler instead of a hot dog. The four muffler men remaining on Route 66 include Chicken Boy and the Gemini Giant.
Giant Tire! As a car writer I’ve passed the giant Uniroyal tire dozens of times on the road from the airport into Detroit. And I’ve certainly noticed that it had gotten seedy, then spiffed up. The tire was built by Uniroyal to advertise the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and served as a ferris wheel there (the Shah of Iran, Jackie Kennedy and Telly Savalas were passengers). The 12-ton fiberglass sign was brought to Michigan’s Interstate 94 (between the Southfield Freeway interchange and Outer Drive overpass) in 1966. It’s between 80 and 83 feet high—reports conflict.
Michelin bought Uniroyal in 1990, and beginning in 1994 renovated the tire, including a new hubcap and neon lighting for the Uniroyal lettering. The comical 11-foot nail (promoting a new puncture-resistant tire, added in 1998) was removed during further renovation in 2003 ($1 million was spent!).
As an addendum, and since we’d already reported on people stealing the Joey Ramone sign in New York, I wondered idly how often London’s “Abbey Road” sign was stolen. According to this site, “The signs on Abbey Road in London, England were often stolen by Beatles fans until the city council mounted them on buildings.” Really, that deterred determined thieves?
If you've read this far, here's a bonus: A funny road sign video!