HAYWARD -- Big Mike, a 20-foot-tall fiberglass he-man who stood sentry on north Mission Boulevard for more than 40 years before he was dismantled and trucked off in 2011, is back in town, looking better than he has in years.
But fans will have to go out of their way to see him. He now resides in the driveway of a shop on a side street in Hayward's industrial area, though he is visible from the street.
Bruce Kennedy, owner of Bell Plastics at 2020 National Ave., bought the statue and paid to have him restored.
Big Mike arrived at the shop on a trailer around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, lying on his back, with his bent arms raised toward the sky and his detached head next to his torso. After carting the head down the driveway and placing it atop a crate, workers began loosening the straps holding Mike's torso.
"He looks good!" Kennedy said, adding that it cost "a lot" to restore the statue, but he was vague on details, including where the work had been done or by whom.
Elizabeth Oakes, who works at Bell Plastics, said Big Mike is in much better shape than when she last saw him being dismantled on Mission. Then, his paint was faded, his clothes were sullied with graffiti and one of his legs had a hole in it.
Kennedy's brother, Steve, walked into the driveway as the trailer arrived. "Long time no see!" he greeted Big Mike.
Steve Kennedy said he laughed when he saw the newspaper article about his brother buying the statue, but he wasn't shocked. "You never know what's next" with his brother, he said. "Can you see the classic fire engine back there?"
Bruce Kennedy and his crew didn't appear to have a precise plan on how to get the statue off the trailer and upright. After some consultation, they bolted a board to the bottom of Big Mike's boots and then hoisted the top of his torso with a forklift and straps to a 45-degree angle. Five men propped him up while the straps were taken off, and he was slowly raised and spun around. Two hand-pallet trucks were positioned under the board, and Big Mike was rolled to his new home next to a cargo container.
The job progressed slowly, with workers improvising as they went along. At one point, a battery had to be charged before a scissor lift could raise a worker to reattach Big Mike's head.
"We actually do know how to move things," Bruce Kennedy said.
Mayor Michael Sweeney chuckled when he heard the news about the statue. "It's good that Big Mike is back in Hayward," he said. "People were a little sad when he left."
John Gouveia remembers Big Mike from his early years.
"Big Mike used to be in front of the Tyre Treads warehouse. I remember going there with my dad," said Gouveia, general manager of the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District. "Was he tacky? I was a kid, I didn't know tacky. He was just big. And he just became part of the boulevard."
No one seems to know how Big Mike got his name. "That's just what he was called," Kennedy said. "I could name him John, but people would still call him Big Mike."
The original plan was to place Big Mike in front of Bell Plastics, but Kennedy's insurance company vetoed the plan. And though he's happy for people to come by to look at the statue, he didn't buy it for advertising.
"It's a commonly known thing that I'm crazy. I've always wanted one" of the statues, also known as "Muffler Man" or Paul Bunyan, Kennedy said.
Quite a few Muffler Man statues remain, though not all look the same, he said. "They sometimes used the same body and changed the head. They even had a space man one; they covered up his head and painted it a different color," he said.
Kim Huggett, CEO of the Hayward Chamber of Commerce, wanted to know what Big Mike was going to hold. The statues, with one arm facing upward and one down, have held mufflers, axes, even large brushes.
"We haven't figured that out yet," Kennedy said.