DALLAS (AP) — Big Tex, the metal cowboy whose slow drawl of "Howdy, folks!" made him an icon of the State Fair of Texas for 60 years, was destroyed Friday when flames engulfed his 52-foot-tall frame.
Some material that made up Big Tex's hands and sleeves could still be seen as firefighters gathered around the scorched area. This year's fair, which closes Sunday and had been celebrating the towering structure's birthday, went on despite the fire — just as Big Tex would want it.
"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.'"
The cowboy always was easy to spot, with his 75-gallon hat and 50-pound belt buckle.
Gooding said she didn't know what caused the fire, but noted that electrical controls move Big Tex's mouth and head. A Dallas fire spokesman didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Bill Bragg, the voice of Big Tex who read scripts from a nearby trailer while the giant cowboy's mouth moved, said someone came in and told him the structure was on fire. He stepped outside the trailer and watched Big Tex burn.
"It was a quick end," said Bragg, who is a radio engineer outside the three weeks a year that he works at the fair.
Several Big Tex backers say he will return next year, including Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who tweeted that the icon would be rebuilt "bigger and better for the 21st Century."
"My job is safe and secure," said Bragg, who has been the man behind Big Tex for 11 years. "They're telling me, 'Take the rest of the day off and we'll see you next year.'"
Big Tex's hands, boots and face were made of Fiberglas, Gooding said. Most of his clothing was provided by a Fort Worth retailer. Gooding said the steel structure that held all the material will be evaluated, and a new one will be built if necessary.
The structure was removed later 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 and taken away in almost a funeral-like procession.
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 and then watched for about 15 minutes as the giant cowboy burned.
"I couldn't believe it," Hill said.
No one was injured in the fire, Gooding said.
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.