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Texas Tales | It’s time ole Tex gets a little attention.

It’s time ole Tex gets a little attention. Not THAT Tex, the other one.

          Every fall, when the State Fair of Texas begins its October run in Dallas, hundreds of thousands of visitors hear the 57-foot-tall Big Tex’s recorded voice booming out his famous “How-dee, I’m Big Tex….” Yet for all the attention he gets, he only has to show up during the fair. And, well, he looks like a drugstore cowboy, not a waddy who dang sure knows which end of a cow gets up first.

          But 377 miles to the northwest stands another tall cowpoke in Canyon who in the awareness of most Texans is as anonymous as a Yellow Dog Democrat at a Tea Party rally – Tex Randall.

          Living up to Lone Star cow poke cliché, Tex is tall and thin. Gazing westward with a smile on his lips, one hand on his hip, and the other holding a spur, he’s 47 feet tall in his boots and looks pretty fit for a feller weighing in at 7 tons.

          Tex is a Baby Boomer, “born” in 1959 when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower occupied the White House and most Americans were content to “Leave it to Beaver.” The terrible drought that had dried out the Panhandle earlier that decade had ended two years before and the economy galloped along like a well-trained quarter horse. With their business going well, the owners of Wheeler’s Western Store in Canyon thought nothing of building a giant cowboy outside their store on U.S. 60. He was an advertisement that a lot of people would see and from a long way off at that.

          Built of rebar, pipe and steel mesh, Tex tipped the figurative scales at 8,000 pounds even before his stucco exterior went on. That was added after he was raised up. In addition to a stout frame, his adopted “parents” saddled him with a surname honoring his home county, Randall.

          Since the word “cowboy” (initially it was “cow boy” or “cow-boy”) was first coined, popular culture has portrayed the drover’s life as idyllic. But the truth doesn’t always match the Hollywood image. As any old hand with rope burn scars will attest, cowboying in the Panhandle ain’t the easiest job in the West. Truth is, Tex has had a hard life. He’s been rehabilitated more times than the most besotted bar fly, if for vastly different reasons.

          With only a three-strand barbed wire fence between the High Plains  and the North Pole, the wind can blow strong and cold in the winter. And in the spring and summer, the wind blows strong and hot. Too, there’s the occasional tornado.

          As long as Levi Strauss had a blue jean factory in Amarillo, the firm kept Tex supplied with his size X to the 4th power  jeans. An awning company provided the 127 yards of 31-inch wide cloth used to make his Western-style shirt.

          But the relentless Panhandle wind made it hard to keep Tex looking spiffy. First the clothing began to look worn. Then, over time, the wind turned his raiment to rags.

          Accordingly, Tex got a makeover. Wheeler hired someone to give him a set of plaster jeans along with a permanent shirt that would never need to see starch or iron. Of course, no self-respecting cowboy would be seen in public without a big belt buckle, boots with spurs, bandana and hat, all added in plaster. The jeans got a coat of blue paint, with the boots painted brown, the bandana red and the hat and shirt white.

          Unfortunately, fancy duds offer no protection from vehicular accidents. In 1988, a truck crashed into Tex. That necessitated further rehabilitation. Alas, Tex once again looks like he’s seen better days. While any true Texan is embarrassed to be caught out in brand new, unfaded jeans, Tex’s jeans look like Salvation Army rejects.

          Things got so bad that the Society for Commercial Archeology added Tex to its top-10 list of most endangered roadside attractions.

          While Tex may look like just another dusty drover who stayed until  closing time at Amarillo’s Crystal Pistol watering hole, he is well respected.

          “Everyone has a fond memory or story about [Tex]” says Canyon Main Street director Evelyn Ecker. “He goes hand in hand with not only the people of Canyon, but the surrounding area. He is a regional icon.”

          Like other strong, silent types, he’s attracted pretty gals. Last May, a photography team for Sports Illustrated and three professional models visited Canyon on the QT for a photo shoot with Tex. When the magazine’s annual swim suit issue hit the newsstands, to the embarrassment of some of the more straight-laced Panhandle residents, it contained an image of Tex and a babe in the latest swimwear.

Happily, plans are afoot to do Tex up right, for once and for all. As soon as funding is available, he will be restored and become the centerpiece of a new highway rest stop built and maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation. The area will feature an information kiosk, restrooms and green space. Finally, Tex will have a comfortable home on the range.

Texas Tales | Country Line Magazine

Mike Cox