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.
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.
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.