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Big Tex 101: 10 Strange Facts About The Tall Cowboy

Big Tex, the beloved State Fair of Texas icon, returns to Fair Park on Friday. (If you’ve been under a rock lately, the big guy burned down last October in spectacular fashion, attracting national headlines.)

Before Big Tex makes his triumphant return, we’re offering a daily online look at All Things Big Tex until Friday.

In today's edition of Big Tex 101, we take a look at some odd odds and ends.

Let’s admit it: Big Tex is an odd duck. He has a colorful history, too. Let’s take a look back at some of the more unusual things that have happened to him.

Impress your friends with this trivia:

1. He’s been everywhere. Big Tex loves to travel. Soon after his debut, Big Tex hit the road. He accompanied the Dallas Jaycees to a national convention in Minneapolis in 1953. In 1955, Big Tex oversaw the 50th annual homecoming celebration at Abilene Christian College.  “Whoever thought we’d see old Tex standing in the West Texas wind,” one man told The Dallas Morning News

2. He had a papier-mache head! Big Tex initially had a head made of papier-mache, which often got wet in the rain. In October 1957, the papier-mache on his hat began peeling. A giant handkerchief covered his baldspot.

3. In 1962, a star is born: Big Tex is featured in “State Fair” with Pat Boone and Ann-Margret.

4. In 1965, Big Tex declined a request to attend the Royal Easter Show in Australia.

5. October 1970: Big Tex’s new shirt was stolen from the back of a pick-up truck. The fair offered a $100 award, but it was never returned. H.D. Lee Co. said it would make a new shirt as quickly as possible, but the fair patches an old shirt just in case.

6. September 1977: Big Tex marks his 25th birthday with a facelift and a new faint gold tooth courtesy of Jack Bridges, his creator.

7. October 1985: Big Tex gets a friend. Joining Big Tex is a new, wired-up robot version that measures 10 feet tall. Fairgoers were skeptical. “Looks stoned to me,” one fairgoer told The News. He can gesture and move his eyes. It takes the mini-Tex 22 seconds to move from a standing to a sitting position.

8. In 1993, the original Big Tex head was auctioned off. Wayne Smith buys it. Last winter, he displayed it on the roof of his University Park home, and dressed him up as Santa Claus – Big Tex was a Santa back in 1949.

9. 2001: Big Tex gets angry. The voice of Big Tex, Sonny Ray Stolz, resigned angrily, saying he was paid only $3,750 for working in a cramped booth and was subjected to sarcasm and humiliated by a supervisor. "The man who portrays the voice of Big Tex gets no respect," Stolz said.

10. March 2013: The fair fires Tex. The State Fair of Texas dismissed Bill Bragg, the longtime voice of Big Tex, in part because he didn't adhere to the terms of his contract. The fair was concerned over how far he was taking the Big Tex persona outside of the fair. But Bragg says he always received permission to speak at charity events. "It's the saddest day of my life," Bragg told The News. "I'm broken-hearted. … It's just the most important thing, the thing that I'm most proud of, is gone." Bragg tried to get his job back, but the fair announced over the summer that it had found a new voice for Big Tex. 

Sources: State Fair of Texas; The Dallas Morning News archives; KERA research.

Can’t get enough about Big Tex? Here are links to previous installments of Big Tex 101:

Look Back At State Fair Of Texas Icon's Early Years

Look At His New Digs, Even Though State Fair Security Said: 'No Pics'

Kerens, Birthplace Of Big Tex, Is Mighty Proud Of Local Boy Done Good

Relive His Fiery Demise And Watch These Quirky Video Tributes

Check Out The Cowboy’s Duds Through The Years

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.