With school about to start, that means that fall is around the corner (sure, we all know better, but, hey, we can dream, can’t we?), and with fall around the corner, that means that it will soon be time for the State Fair of Texas.
You’re probably thinking to yourself: “Gee, I’d sure like to go to the State Fair this year, but I fear that I may spontaneously combust, and I really hate it when that happens.”
I’m referring, of course, to the misfortune that befell Big Tex last year. It’s really not funny, but there was just something very surreal about those photos of the giant cowboy with a stiff smile on his face and flames shooting all around his head.
It just so happened that when the 60-year-old icon fell victim to an electrical fire on the morning of Friday, Oct. 19, I wasn’t very far away. I was on the 11th floor of the Frank Crowley building near downtown Dallas, in the office of Russell Wilson, head of Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins’ Conviction Integrity Unit.
As we were talking, Wilson happened to glance down at his cell phone.
“Big Texas is on fire!” he said, incredulously.
He then held up the phone to show me an image of, well, Big Tex on fire. Stiff smile, big flames.
But people of vision – like the ones behind the 1970s television series The Six Million Dollar Man – knew that an even more awesome Big Tex could be built.
“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology… Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”
Well, maybe not faster, since Big Tex pretty much just stands there for 24 days straight and speaks with the speed paint dries. But the point is, in the almost 10 months since the Big Fire, Big Texas has been rebuilt.
Which brings me to my point, in case any of you are planning a trip to the State Fair this year.
There will be a grand unveiling of the new Big Tex at 2 p.m. on the fair’s opening day – Friday, Sept. 27.
Though he will be put in place by a crane days before that, he will be kept under wraps.
Sue Gooding, senior vice president of communications for the State Fair, said that, in years past, teachers have brought their students to the fair grounds during the week prior to the State Fair’s opening so that they could watch crews putting the giant cowboy in place.
With a new Big Tex this year, she said, organizers feared that the fairgrounds would be such a madhouse that vendors and exhibitors would have a hard time getting in to set up for opening day.
Security would have to be hired, and streets blocked off.
Big Tex would be end up being a Big Hassle.
The welcoming cowpoke is not the only thing new since the fire, Gooding said.
The 10-foot mound known as Big Tex Circle has a new design, with a wraparound concrete bench. The Circle will feature “time panels” that commemorate the six decades that Big Tex has been a fixture at the Fair.
The Hall of State will include interactive exhibits paying homage to Big Tex, including “a very large Big Tex head” and giant boots for photo ops. There will also be a corral made out of Big Tex’s belt.
As for Big Tex himself, he will have new clothes designed by Dickies and a new voice. He will be 55 feet tall – 3 feet taller than before – and will be 25,000 pounds heavier.
That’s what happens when you start frying things like butter, cookie dough and PB&J sandwiches. One day you’re slim and trim; the next, you’ve packed on 25,000 pounds.
But, seriously, the reason Big Tex is so much heavier is because he will be free-standing. No more guy wires.
“All of the mechanics, the wiring – everything – will be in a vault beneath him,” said Gooding. That includes the speakers, which used to be on the exterior.
And there’s another very important added feature for the new Big Tex: A fire suppression system.
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