Midtown Raleigh News

North Raleigh’s ‘Big Man’ a roadside attraction for decades

Bradsher Landscape Supply's "Big Man" is one of the last of a race of giant statues that first appeared on American roadsides in the 1960s.
Bradsher Landscape Supply's "Big Man" is one of the last of a race of giant statues that first appeared on American roadsides in the 1960s. ccampbell@newsobserver.com

At the end of a dusty, potholed industrial road off Capital Boulevard, a lone figure in blue overalls stands guard over piles of gravel and stacks of brick.

“Big Man” is a 22-foot-tall fiberglass lumberjack statue, and he’s been the mascot for the Bradsher family’s business for the past 30 years. He’s become a Raleigh landmark, and he’s among the last of a race of advertising giants known as “muffler men” built in the 1960s.

An online database of offbeat attractions, RoadsideAmerica.com, maintains a database mapping the surviving muffler men – dubbed that because many of them held mufflers to promote auto repair shops. The map shows 10 in North Carolina, with Big Man’s closest relatives in Wilson and Rocky Mount.

Vera Bradsher, who owns Bradsher Landscape Supply with her husband, says Big Man is the familiar face her customers always look for. “He’s just part of the family,” she said.

The Bradshers adopted Big Man in the early 1980s, spotting him at a liquidation sale for a decorator’s store on Capital Boulevard near downtown. Bradsher says she was actually the lowest bid for the statue – known then as the “Giant Decorator” – but her business was the only bidder able to hire a crane and get him off a rooftop.

Big Man made the journey up U.S. 401 to the Bradshers’ “you pick” farm, located on U.S. 401 near where Wake Tech’s northern campus is now. For decades, his brawny arms beckoned drivers to stop in for fresh produce.

“He held a big sign for a long time, until a city ordinance said that he couldn’t hold a sign anymore,” Bradsher recalled.

The bearded giant has held up over the years, surviving both a tornado and an attack by teenage vandals.

“We had a twister come through, and it blew his head off,” Bradsher said. A few years later, high school students stole his arm as a souvenir but later returned the purloined appendage.

“The community knew that it should go back to the rightful owner,” Bradsher said.

Big Man is a bit harder to find these days. The Bradshers sold their farm in 2006 to make way for a new subdivision, and the muffler man moved to their landscape supply yard near the intersection of Capital and Interstate 540.

He’s no longer visible from main roads, but thanks to the Roadside America site, he still gets plenty of visitors. “Once every other week, we get a customer or maybe just somebody who’s looking for him, and they take a picture,” Bradsher said.

And the landscape supply employees work hard to keep Big Man looking sharp for the cameras.

“We change his clothes every couple of years” with a fresh coat of paint, Bradsher said.