Tex is a Baby Boomer, “born” in 1959 when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
occupied the White House and most Americans were content to “Leave
it to Beaver.” The terrible drought that had dried out the
Panhandle earlier that decade had ended two years before and
the economy galloped along like a well-trained quarter horse. With
their business going well, the owners of Wheeler’s Western Store
thought nothing of building a giant cowboy outside their store on
U.S. 60. He was an advertisement that a lot of people would see
and from a long way off at that.
Built of rebar, pipe and steel mesh, Tex tipped the figurative scales
at 8,000 pounds even before his stucco exterior went on. That was
added after he was raised up. In addition to a stout frame, his
adopted “parents” saddled him with a surname honoring his home county,
Since the word “cowboy” (initially it was "cow boy" or "cow-boy")
was first coined, popular culture has portrayed the drover’s life
as idyllic. But the truth doesn’t always match the Hollywood image.
As any old hand with rope burn scars will attest, cowboying in the
Panhandle ain’t the easiest job in the West. Truth is, Tex has
had a hard life. He’s been rehabilitated more times than the most
besotted bar fly, if for vastly different reasons.
With only a three-strand barbed wire fence between the High Plains
and the North Pole, the wind can blow strong and cold in the winter.
And in the spring and summer, the wind blows strong and hot. Too,
there's the occasional tornado.
As long as Levi Strauss had a blue jean factory in Amarillo,
the firm kept Tex supplied with his size X to the 4th power jeans.
An awning company provided the 127 yards of 31-inch wide cloth used
to make his Western-style shirt.
But the relentless Panhandle
wind made it hard to keep Tex looking spiffy. First the clothing
began to look worn. Then, over time, the wind turned his raiment
Accordingly, Tex got a makeover. Wheeler hired someone to give him
a set of plaster jeans along with a permanent shirt that would never
need to see starch or iron. Of course, no self-respecting cowboy
would be seen in public without a big belt buckle, boots with spurs,
bandana and hat, all added in plaster. The jeans got a coat of blue
paint, with the boots painted brown, the bandana red and the hat
and shirt white.
Unfortunately, fancy duds offer no protection from vehicular accidents.
In 1988, a truck crashed into Tex. That necessitated further rehabilitation.
Alas, Tex once again looks like he's seen better days. While any
true Texan is embarrassed to be caught out in brand new, unfaded
jeans, Tex’s jeans look like Salvation Army rejects.
Things got so bad that the Society for Commercial Archeology added
Tex to its top-10 list of most endangered roadside attractions.
While Tex may look like just another dusty drover who stayed until
closing time at Amarillo's
Crystal Pistol watering hole, he is well respected.
“Everyone has a fond memory or story about [Tex]” says Canyon
Street director Evelyn Ecker. “He goes hand in hand with not only
the people of Canyon,
but the surrounding area. He is a regional icon.”
Like other strong, silent types, he’s attracted pretty gals. Last
May, a photography team for Sports Illustrated and three professional
models visited Canyon
on the QT for a photo shoot with Tex. When the magazine’s annual
swim suit issue hit the newsstands, to the embarrassment of some
of the more straight-laced Panhandle
residents, it contained an image of Tex and a babe in the latest
Happily, plans are afoot to do Tex up right, for once and for all.
As soon as funding is available, he will be restored and become
the centerpiece of a new highway rest stop built and maintained
by the Texas Department of Transportation. The area will feature
an information kiosk, restrooms and green space. Finally, Tex will
have a comfortable home on the range.
© Mike Cox
- October 22, 2015 Column
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