DALLAS (AP) – Big Tex might have burned down, but he lives on in our hearts and minds – and in Wayne Smith’s driveway.
There Tex was on Halloween, sitting on a trailer bed, his 6-foot head grinning, his friendly eyes sparkling.
All that was missing was his folksy voice saying, “Howdy, folks!” Oh, and the rest of his body.
It’s a head that will turn heads considering that the charismatic cowpoke caught on fire last month at the State Fair of Texas.
Smith has Big Tex’s original noggin.
The head was on Big Tex in 1952, when the 52-foot-tall cowboy made his debut at the State Fair. But the head, made of papier-mâché and chicken wire, wasn’t sturdy enough. And fair officials thought his visage looked a tad evil.
So it was off with his head. Fair officials traded in his pate for a more youthful, spiffier model with a friendlier, and stronger, face.
The old head sat in storage at the State Fair for decades. In 1993, Smith bought it at an auction.
Is Smith crazy in the head to have Big Tex’s head?
“Smart or crazy, I haven’t figured out which,” Smith said. “I tell people and they think I’m crazy. My family thought I was crazy. Maybe I am a little bit.”
Ever since the big guy went up in flames on Oct. 19, just a few days before the State Fair ended, anything related to Big Tex has been hot.
Big Tex memorabilia sold out quickly on the fairgrounds. Big Tex mementos have been selling on eBay.
Dallas-Fire Rescue officials say the cause of the fire was an unspecified electrical short in the wiring in a junction box near Big Tex. The fire traveled quickly through one of his boots, then up his body, consuming his hat, head and most of his clothing. All that remained was his charred steel structure, his hands and sleeves.
State Fair officials vow that Big Tex will be rebuilt for next year’s fair and will look similar to how he appeared before he caught on fire. The fair said Wednesday that it will be constructing a new head.
No one quite knows how long the original head was on Big Tex. The head was too big for State Fair offices, so it was auctioned off.
Smith said he paid $1,700 for the head. It was in sorry shape, falling apart and hatless. There was no skull – peer into his head and you can still see the chicken wire, along with the wood and metal pieces supporting it.
Smith restored Big Tex with papier-mâché and plaster. He made a black-and-white striped top hat.
Smith, 50, who once had an antique store called Wayne’s World, likes collecting “cool and unusual stuff” from Dallas’ past.
And Big Tex might be Texas’ most recognizable figure.
“I had always loved the fair, I had always loved Big Tex,” he said. “As a child I felt like he was taller than any building in downtown Dallas. It was awe-inspiring, just that somebody had the genius and the ability to build something like that.”
He was sad to hear that Big Tex went up in flames but glad that he was the one who saved the original head.
“There’s a little bit of pride in that, a matter of fact, quite a bit of pride,” Smith said. “I’d be lying if I told you there wasn’t. He really belongs to everybody.”
These days, Big Tex’s crown spends most of his days alone in a barn on a ranch near Sulphur Springs. There’s not enough room for him in Smith’s home.
But his friends know that he has him. So when Big Tex caught on fire, Smith’s phone started ringing. He happened to be on the ranch.
Smith went to the barn to check on his Big Tex, whom he calls “Old Boy.”
He told him: “I hope that they’ll bring you back.”
This week, Smith escorted the head to his University Park home for a photo shoot. On the highway, drivers slowed down to stare at the face. Some whipped out their smartphones to snap pictures.
This winter, Smith hopes to place a Santa hat on Big Tex’s head and place him on top of his house – a tribute to Big Tex’s beginnings as the world’s largest Santa Claus in Kerens, Texas, before the fair bought him.
But Big Tex didn’t have much to say Wednesday. The auction didn’t include a sound system.
Smith stood in front of Big Tex and lowered his voice, attempting to mimic his folksy greeting.
“Howwwwdy, folks,” Smith bellowed. “This is Big Tex.”
He groaned. It wasn’t anywhere near the way Big Tex sounds at the fair.
“Ahh,” Smith said. “That was sad. If I were still drinking, it would be better.”
Behind him, Big Tex was all smiles, too.
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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