A sad day in Texas.
DALLAS (AP) — The man who provides the voice for Big Tex, the giant cowboy at the State Fair of Texas, was greeting people with his usual "Howdy, folks!" in a slow drawl Friday when someone rushed into his trailer to tell him the towering fair icon was on fire.
"It moved quickly," Bill Bragg said of the fire that engulfed the 52-foot-tall structure, leaving not much more than its charred metal frame behind. "It was a quick end."
This year's fair was supposed to be a celebration for Big Tex, marking his 60th birthday. Instead, the beloved cowboy was hauled from the grounds on a flatbed truck two days before the end of the fair in a procession resembling a funeral.
"It's sad to see this happen, but it's lucky no one was injured or killed," said Mike Blucher of Dallas, who was at the fair with his wife, Linda.
The fire brought a temporary end to a piece of Texas culture.
The cowboy with the 75-gallon hat and 50-pound belt buckle always was easy to spot and served as a popular meeting place for people coming to the fair or attending the annual Texas-Oklahoma football game at the nearby Cotton Bowl. But all that remained by noon Friday were hands and shirt leaves on a burned skeleton.
"Big Tex is a symbol of everything the state fair stands for," fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said. "Big Tex is where my parents told me, 'If you get lost, meet at Big Tex.'"
Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Joel Lavender said Friday afternoon that the cause of the blaze had not been determined.
Some dispatchers took a playful approach to reporting the blaze. "Got a rather tall cowboy with all his clothes burned off," one said. "Howdy, folks, it's hot," another said.
Fair officials and city leaders quickly called for the return of Big Tex, vowing to rebuild the structure. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings tweeted that the cowboy would become "bigger and better for the 21st Century."
Big Tex's hands, boots and face were made of Fiberglas, Gooding said. The clothing that burned had been provided last year by a Fort Worth company, she said.
Gooding speculated that the fire could have started in mechanical workings at the base of the structure and that the metal skeleton "served as a chimney." The skeleton will be evaluated, and a new one will be built if necessary, she said.
Stanley Hill, who supervises a food stand that has been located near the structure for 18 years, said he noticed smoke coming from Big Tex's neck area. That quickly turned into a blaze that engulfed the structure's fabric covering.
"Once it started burning, it was gone," Hill said.
The structure was removed Friday in essentially the same way workers put it up every year — with a crane that slowly lowers it. Only this time, the steel skeleton was covered with a tarp.
Big Tex was actually built in 1949 as a giant Santa Claus for a Christmas celebration in Kerens, 60 miles south of Dallas. Intrigued by the idea of a towering cowboy, the State Fair paid $750 for the structure, which debuted as Big Tex in 1952.
Big Tex is inextricably linked to the State Fair. The State Fair website is www.bigtex.com, and visitors to the site see their cursor turn into an image of Big Tex's head, clad in a cowboy hat. The fair's Twitter account features the cowboy's image as well.
"You know somebody's a true Texan if you say 'Big Tex' and they don't look at you like you're weird," Gooding said.
Perhaps no one is closer to the giant cowboy than Bragg, who has served as the voice of Big Tex the last 11 years. Working inside a trailer a few yards from the base of the structure, the 65-year-old radio engineer reads from a script while his voice makes Big Tex's mouth move automatically.
As the crane moved into position to remove his old friend, Bragg was philosophical, saying he'd already been told he would be welcoming people to the fair in the same fashion next year.
"My job is safe and secure," he said. "They're telling me, 'Take the rest of the day off and we'll see you next year.'"
Associated Press writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.
Big Tex destroyed by fire!
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- at October 20, 2012, 06:25:15
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- Awww that is a part of history and very sad chilly. I hope it was not a deliberate fire set. Keep us posted once the cause of the fire has been determined which prolly will take weeks.
Omg imakin that is scary. Is this ride at the Texas Stare Fair too? 300 feet up is awful high to walk people down. Hope everyone gets down safely.
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- Feelin froggy
- at October 20, 2012, 17:23:37
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- at October 22, 2012, 15:06:19
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- Here's a more extensive news story which explains how Tex came into our lives, and how he went out. Also how he will return. You can see the article online with photos, video, and other tidbits and related stories online: http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/state-fair-of-texas/headlines/20121019-state-fair-of-texas-icon-big-tex-goes-up-in-flames.ece
by ERIC AASEN Staff Writer email@example.com
Published: 19 October 2012 10:43 AM
Big Tex, the beloved 52-foot-tall cowboy who’s watched over the State Fair of Texas for decades, caught on fire Friday morning and was quickly burnt to a crisp.
He was 60.
Big Tex is toast. The tallest talking Texan will no longer say “Hoooowwwdeee, fooolllllks!” at this year’s fair, which ends Sunday. But State Fair officials say the icon will be rebuilt in time for next year.
Hundreds gathered in Big Tex Circle to watch the big guy go up in flames. Many stood in tears. Others snapped pictures with their smartphones, spreading the news online as quickly as the fire spread up Big Tex. They reminisced about the good-lookin’ folksy fair mascot who first arrived at Fair Park in 1952.
No one was injured.
State Fair officials say the fire was caused by an electrical short that started in his right boot. Flames and smoke shot up his body, which acted as a chimney, said Sue Gooding, a State Fair spokeswoman.
Gooding happened to walk by Big Tex when the fire started around 10:15 a.m. She spotted white smoke emerging from his collar.
“I didn’t know Big Tex smoked,” a fairgoer was overheard saying.
He doesn’t. Firefighters were sent to Fair Park by an unusual report from a Dallas Fire-Rescue dispatcher over the radio: “Got a rather tall cowboy with all his clothes burned off.”
“Big Tex was done in about 10 minutes,” said Allen Ferrell, who was visiting the fair with a church group from North Richland Hills.
The fire consumed Big Tex’s 75-gallon hat. It ate off his fiberglass face, which once flashed perfectly straight teeth. It burned through his boots, his five-pocket denim jeans and his 23-foot-long belt.
All that remained were his charred three-ton steel skeleton and his hands, sleeves, belt buckle and bits of burnt clothing.
Late Friday morning, fairgoers and fair workers, some of whom have worked at the fair for decades, stared up at the frame, swapping stories and sharing memories.
For decades, parents told their kids that if they were lost to “meet up at Big Tex.” For generations, families have snapped pictures in front of Big Tex.
Christi Erpillo’s family has operated the Dock restaurant at the fair since the ’60s. When she heard that Big Tex was on fire, she raced over to Big Tex Circle. When she saw him in flames, she started to cry.
“We have lost a friend,” Erpillo said. “We’ve lost a member of the family. … He is one of us. We’ve lost our leader.”
Shortly before noon Friday, Bill Bragg, the voice of Big Tex since 2002, picked up his cellphone and said in a drained voice: “This is Big Tex.”
The voice of Big Tex is never recorded, so Bragg works 12-hour days in a trailer near Big Tex, alternating between 30 minutes of announcements and 30-minute breaks.
On Friday morning, Bragg was announcing, reading from a script, not paying attention to Big Tex. Then he looked up and saw the flames. He turned off the audio equipment and left the trailer.
“I could not believe my eyes,” Bragg said. “It was sadness and shock. We were all just hoping that it would be a bad dream and we’d wake up and everything would be OK.”
Tears rolled down his cheeks as he watched Big Tex burn.
“He went down talking,” Bragg said.
Bragg tried to find a bright side. “It’s a new beginning,” he said. “Because we’re going to build him back bigger and better than ever.”
Fair officials said that Big Tex will be back in time for the 2013 fair, a sentiment echoed by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who rushed to the fairgrounds after he heard about the fire to “pay my respects to Big Tex.”
Before Big Tex was Big Tex, he was Santa Claus, born in 1949 in the town of Kerens in Navarro County. The town created the world’s largest Santa Claus to help draw Christmas shoppers.
In 1951, the State Fair bought the Santa from Kerens for $750 and used the framework to transform him into who he is today. In 1952, he was unveiled to the fair crowds.
Like certain older Texans, he’s undergone countless nips and tucks through the years. In 1997, his innards were replaced with a steel frame.
But he had always maintained his rugged good looks. Until Friday.
Soon after the fire, barricades were placed around Big Tex Circle, preventing fairgoers from getting too close. Police officers stood guard. Many in the crowd said it looked and felt like a crime scene.
A crane arrived and lowered Big Tex to the ground around lunchtime. His charred remains were placed on flatbed trucks. A huge piece of canvas was placed over him.
There were a few tears — and plenty of camera phones to capture the scene.
“I’m getting all of this,” one woman said. Her eyes were wet. “It’s like he’s in a body bag.”
As Big Tex rolled by, fairgoers clapped. Some waved goodbye to the beloved cowboy.
Around 1:15 p.m., the barricades were taken down and fairgoers flooded Big Tex Circle. A bouquet of red carnations and baby’s breath was placed at the base of Big Tex.
Many fairgoers took pictures of their family members in front of where Big Tex used to stand.
When Anna Hall of Midlothian was a girl, her mother, Lisa Fordinal, took her picture at Big Tex. On Friday afternoon, Fordinal took pictures of Hall with her 10-month-old son, Eli.
This was Eli’s first fair. Big Tex may not be around, but that wasn’t going to stop the family from their photo tradition.
“It’s empty,” Hall said. “When you’ve come here your whole life, and he’s gone, the fair is missing something.”
Big Tex may be gone for now, but life went on at the fair. In Big Tex Circle, fairgoers lined up for corny dogs. Not too far away, people ate curly fries and onion rings. In front of the Hall of State, boys and girls dressed in cowboy hats and boots danced to country music.
And just steps from where the burned hulk of Big Tex used to be, fairgoers gawked at brand-new cars at the Auto Show.
During a car presentation, a fitting song blared:
“Happy trails to you, until we meet again …”
Staff writer Christina Rosales contributed to this report.
Milestones in the life of ‘Big Tex’
1949: Erected as a 52-foot-tall “Santa Claus” on Nov. 10, 1949, in Kerens to bolster the town’s Christmas shopping.
1950: Transported 60 miles to Dallas and sold to the State Fair of Texas for $750.
1952: Transformed and unveiled as a giant cowboy named “Big Tex” (above) and made its debut in late October as the official symbol of the State Fair of Texas.
1953: Speaks for the first time. Over the years, six men have provided the voice for Big Tex, saying “Howdy, folks!” about 60 times a day during the fair.
1997: Original body was rebuilt on a cage-like frame made of 4,200 feet of steel rods.
2000: Upgraded with body movements, waving to fairgoers as they passed by on their way to the midway.
2002: Turns 50, gets an all-new wardrobe and a new voice.
2012: Destroyed in fire. Fair officials vow to rebuild icon for 2013.
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