Eric Aasen, KERA’s new digital news editor, spent five years covering the State Fair for The Dallas Morning News – and, for the past year, he had exclusive access to Big Tex’s reconstruction. His series of stories about the process started in the Morning News today and will run through the weekend.
Our definitive Big Texpert has rounded up a few key facts about the towering cowboy:
Big Tex has a big butt. Well, it’s a normal-sized rear now. In the past, he didn’t have much of one. Why? His body acts as a trailer – he's laid down when he’s driven to Big Tex Circle, and then a crane lifts him up into place. In the past, a big rear would have dragged against the ground -- which would been painful , ripping up his body. The new Big Tex still acts as a trailer – designers just made room for a larger posterior. Some workers joked he has a Kim Kardashian-type rear. Actually, it was based on dimensions of muscular male dancers.
Big Tex has a soft spot in his heart for San Antonio. That’s where he was built. Two companies were involved in his reconstruction – SRO Associates, a production company in Boerne, on the edge of Texas Hill Country; and Texas Scenic Company, a San Antonio group that installs curtains and stages for auditoriums across the country. SRO built the exterior – the face, the hands, the boots and the hat. Texas Scenic Company built the steel structure and helped program his movements.
Big Tex had a code name: Fried Chicken. The fair required secrecy -- and the companies obeyed. They never mentioned “Big Tex” during conversations, on phone calls or in emails. Documents and engineering paperwork all contained “Fried Chicken.”
Fly him in? Errol McKoy, the State Fair president, had grand plans for Big Tex’s arrival. He wanted Big Tex placed underneath a silo and flown in by helicopter to Big Tex Circle, where fairgoers would be eagerly waiting to see him installed. It was determined that this was too expensive – and also too risky.
Privacy required. While the State Fair wanted Big Tex built in Texas, it didn’t want Big Tex built in Dallas-Fort Worth. Fair officials didn’t want people snooping on the big guy – and they didn’t want pictures leaking out. In other parts of the state, Big Tex could fly under the radar. Big Tex’s head, hats and boots were built in an old airplane hangar nestled among ranches where horses roam.
American steel was used for the big guy’s internal structure. He gained a lot of weight during offseason – ballooning to 25,000 pounds so that he could be freestanding. He used to only weigh 6,000 pounds.
Big Tex’s face is made of silicone skin, which makes him seem more lifelike. It feels like chicken skin. Silicone can withstand the sun and heat. Before the fire, his face was made of fiberglass. And when he debuted in 1952, he was made of papier-mache. The silicone also stretches across his face and wraps around his mouth, making him seem more lifelike.
A real jaw. Big Tex no longer has a Howdy Doody-type mouth. He has a real jaw – the jaw moves from below the ears, allowing a more natural look.
Fancy boots. Big Tex’s new boots are getting a lot of buzz. They feature bluebonnets, the Texas flag and the Texas state capitol. They are based on Lucchese boots from the 1940s. The boots were hand-painted – lots of details, which took a lot of time.
Big Tex Mex? Some are saying that Big Tex looks darker. That was not the designers’ intent. They say his skin tone matches the color in pictures before he burned down.