Tex Circle lies in front of the Tower
Building. Throughout most of the year, it is landscaped with various
plants and bushes. During the months of September and October, however,
the area changes as it becomes the home to Big Tex, the infamous statue
of the State Fair of Texas.
| Big Tex
Photo courtesy Steve Rainwater
| The story of
Big Tex begins all the way back to 1949 in the little town of Kerens,
located in the northeastern region of Navarro
County. The chamber of commerce was looking for a way to attract
more customers to the downtown area during the Christmas season. Its
leader Howell Brister came up with the idea of making a giant Santa
Claus statue for all to see. The other members liked the notion and
got the local citizens to make it a real a reality. They used pipes,
steel rods, chicken wire, paper mache, rope, and cloth to make for
the project. After building the body, they used the profiles of residents
Ottis Franklin Spurlock and Hardy Mayo as references for the face.
Once all this was completed, the Santa Claus statue was moved to its
spot on Colket Avenue. The figure stood at a height of forty-nine
feet, leading the town to claim that it was the tallest Santa statue
in the world.
Big Tex in Kerens
Photo Courtesy Webmaster, www.kerens.com
| All the effort
paid off. Holiday sales dramatically increased and the town gained
plenty of press attention, even from far away places like Australia.
However, the novelty wore off the second year and the chamber of commerce
decided to sell the statue. Robert L. Thornton, the president of the
State Fair, purchased the statue for 750 dollars with the intention
of using it to help celebrate the Christmas season. He then began
having second thoughts on the matter and decided to turn Santa into
Park Big Tex Circle
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
| Thornton hired
local artist Jack Bridges to conduct the transformation. This included
changing the statue's head, which he did using photos of himself,
Will Rogers, and a rancher named Doc Simmons. Bridges also added a
mischievous wink instead of a regular eye and increased the height
to fifty-two feet.
The first rendition of Big Tex wore a 75-gallon stetson hat and boots
with a size seventy. The H. D. Lee Company, which had its headquarters
based in Kansas, donated a plaid shirt and a pair of jeans. The shirt
required 6,700 yards of thread and 100 yards of cloth while the pants
needed 72 yards of denim. Made out of real leather, the belt had a
length of twenty-five feet. All of this was completed in time for
the 1952 season of the state fair.
Throughout his first venture at the fair, Big Tex had no voice and
officials decided to do something about it the following year. They
gave the statue a hinged jaw which moved, thanks to the installation
of a recipromotor. To magnify the voice, a 75-watt loudspeaker was
places inside his mouth. The person who provided this voice was Al
Jones, the disc jockey for classical music radio station WRR. In addition
to making Big Tex speak, management decided to straighten the the
statue's nose and remove the wink.
In 1955, the H. D. Lee Company provided Big Tex's first change of
clothes. The fair provided a companion named The Champ the following
year. It was a plastic model of a steer, standing twelve feet high
and nineteen feet long. Despite being advertised as Big Tex's new
friend, the two did not spend much time together in public view. The
cowboy spent most of his time alone greeting visitors and getting
the majority of attention. It didn't take long for fair officials
to completely remove the bovine companion.
That same year, radio announcer Jim Lowe became the new voice of Big
Tex and remained at his post for the next thirty-nine years. In 1958,
the statue's paper mache exterior was replaced by fiberglass. This
was followed by the installation of a device that automatically moved
its mouth in accordance to the speaker's voice the following year.
A more modern version of its hat was provided in 1966. During the
year of 1997, Big Tex had a new skeleton installed. Composed of 4,200
feet of steel rods, it gave him a new posture and the ability to wave
at the visitors. Dan Alexander, a local resident who specialized in
singing jingles, became the figure's new voice in 1999.
The turn of the century brought with it the ability for Big Tex to
turn his neck and an upgraded mechanical mouth. A year later, fair
officials held a statewide contest at the Cotton Bowl to determine
who would be Tex's new voice. The winner of the competition was a
man from Houston named Sonny Ray Stolz. Unfortunately, he stayed for
only one season, complaining about unfair treatment from the management.
In 2002, the fair celebrated Big Tex's fiftieth birthday with a large
cake and a AARP membership card. Wrinkles were placed on his face
and hands while gray textures were added to his hair. He also had
someone new to provide his voice. Bill Bragg had previously worked
as a radio announcer, television and film actor, and narrator. He
also founded the National Museum Of Communications in Irving.
While he was providing the voice, everything seemed to be running
smoothly until 2012.
On October 19th of that year, an electrical panel located at the bottom
of Big Tex's right boot started a fire. The blaze worked its way up
the statue in a matter of minutes, completely destroying the clothing,
face, and hat. The incident gained wide attention from the press and
fair officials allowed everyone to know that there would be a new
Big Tex. Although assurances were given, management refused to give
out any details, preferring to keep the reconstruction a secret.
SRO Associates Incorporated and the Texas Scenic Company combined
their efforts to bring back Big Tex at a cost of 500,000 dollars.
They built the new steel structure, which weighed a total 25,000 pounds.
This allowed the 55-foot structure have the capability to resist winds
reaching a hundred miles per hour without support wires. The hands
and face covered with silicone and made out of a fireproof substance
that had fiberglass properties.
On top of the head, there was a large 95-gallon hat made from sculpted
foam over a steel framework and coated with a substance similar to
fiberglass. The new shirt and pants came from Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing
Company in Fort Worth.
Made from 150 yards of material, the shirt featured a 14-foot collar
and 23-foot sleeves. The jeans were made out of one hundred yards
of flame-resistant denim to cover a 27-foot waist. The Lucchese boots
of the statue wore were built in the same way as the hat. The new
edition of Big Tex made his debut on September 26, 2013.
While construction was going on, management refused to renew Bill
Bragg's contract as the voice of Big Tex without giving a clear reason.
Bragg was more than willing to provide his viewpoint on the matter,
resulting in a war of accusations. In the end, the contract was not
extended and someone else was hired for the job. The identity still
remains a mystery.
October 30 , 2016
© Clint Skinner
3.Dallas Morning News Archives
5.Slate, John H. Historic Dallas Parks. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.
8.Winters, Willis Cecil. Fair Park. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.