Fans of “The Sopranos” may recall the giant statue of Paul Bunyan that made a cameo appearance in the opening credits of the show. Also known by the far less folkloric sobriquet as the Carpet-Clutching Muffler Man — a name inspired by the rolled-up rug the fiberglass figure balances in his arms — the oversized marketing marvel stands in the gritty shade of the Pulaski Skyway outside Wilson’s Carpet in Jersey City.
Paul is far from alone: At best guess, his extended family numbers 10 or so, not counting the heads and headless figures (there’s a pair of yellow pants outside Wilson’s Carpet as well) that dot the highways and byways. There’s only one female figure, the jaunty Nitro Girl who’s been welcoming customers to Werbany Tire Town in Blackwood since 1965. The 18-foot statue, which suggests a cross between Wonder Woman and Jackie Kennedy, bears aloft a tire rimmed with stars and her name. According to Ed Werbany Jr., whose father bought the giantess for $300, Nitro started out life as a “standard-issue Uniroyal Gal,” a disquieting fiberglass fixture in her own right. Ed hired two artists to transform Nitro into her superheroic self in 2007. The name comes from the fact that Werbany Tires uses nitrogen gas to fill its tires, although this may be a quaint example of urban folklore.
If you decide to make searching out and seeing New Jersey’s roadside giants a way to celebrate the lifting of most COVID-19 mandates, the eponymous Barnacle Bill at Barnacle Bill’s Amusements in Ortley Beach stands tall and proud after being restored from the battering he took during Superstorm Sandy. The brightly painted buccaneer at Golden Galleon Pirate Golf in Ocean City — complete with wooden leg, cutlass, and eye patch — is actually an optional modification of the basic Paul Bunyan. As for the rest, they’re out there: Keep an eye peeled for others looming over the landscape. Better idea: Keep your eyes on the road and let your passengers watch for these retro roadside attractions.