Tucson Oddity: Hot rod shop's lumberjack

2009-06-08T00:00:00Z Tucson Oddity: Hot rod shop's lumberjackBy Brian J. Pedersen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A Paul Bunyan-like statue has a fittingly prominent place on the Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff.

After all, the school's mascot is the Lumberjack.

But on the corner of Glenn Street and North Stone Avenue in Tucson? What's the significance of having a statue there of a burly, bearded man holding an ax?

Chalk it up to the quirkiness of the late Leo Toia, who in 1964 picked up the 20-foot-tall fiberglass conversation piece while attending a trade show in San Francisco, daughter-in-law Madonna Toia said.

"He brought it down on a flatbed truck, along with a cow, horse and a rooster," said Toia, who along with her husband, Don, owns Don's Hot Rod Shop, 2811 N. Stone Ave. Don's is in the building that also housed Leo's Auto Supply until 1994.

Leo Toia, who died in 1988 at the age of 77, first opened a gas station on the property in 1947. He then started carrying auto parts, then seat covers, and eventually moved on to operating a muffler shop and a sporting goods store heavy on hunting and fishing equipment.

"We've called it Leo's shopping complex," Madonna said.

Considering the property on the northwest corner of Stone and Glenn to this day continues to house a number of wide-ranging businesses — in addition to the hot rod shop there's a carwash, and soon a party-supply store will join the list — having them all protected by Paul Bunyan just seems to work.

The oversized mountain man also brings out the kooks, Madonna said.

The lumberjack statue has been the target of many vandalism and theft attempts. He's been shot, his ax has been stolen, and once when he was dressed up for Christmas, part of his Santa suit was set on fire.

Even before the big fella was planted into the ground, an attempt was made to pilfer him.

"When he was still on the trailer in the yard, some fraternity kids tried to steal it," Madonna said. "They had chains wrapped around his leg, and it must have been tied to their bumper, because the bumper was left in the parking lot."

Nowadays, attempts on his life aren't as prevalent as requests to adorn the statue with different accouterments, Madonna said.

Besides temporarily trading in his ax for either a candy cane or an American flag, the lumberjack has been dressed up like a member of ZZ Top for a local radio contest, and recently he was subjected to an unflattering costume for a children's birthday party, Madonna said.

"Some lady wanted to know if she could dress him up, so I've got a picture of him wearing a little pink tutu," she said.

Got an oddity?

Is there something you've noticed while driving through Tucson that has piqued your curiosity to the point that you wish you could find out more about it?

Drop us a line, and we'll look into it.

Call Brian J. Pedersen at 573-4224 or send an e-mail to bjp@azstarnet.com.

Contact reporter Brian J. Pedersen at 573-4224 or bjp@azstarnet.com.

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