DALLAS — A year after the icon went up in smoke, Big Tex proves that you can’t keep a good cowboy down.Fairgoers will get their first live look at the new and improved Big Tex today, the opening of the State Fair of Texas, which runs through Oct. 20 at Fair Park in Dallas. Gates open at 10 a.m.An unveiling that had been scheduled for 2 p.m. today will instead be a “Welcome Back” event after high winds forced fair officials to drop the curtain hiding Big Tex on Thursday afternoon. “I guess this is best described as a premature birth,” State Fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said in a news release Thursday about the early reveal.Big Tex was celebrating his 60th year greeting State Fair guests when tragedy struck the morning of Oct. 19. The culprit? An electrical short inside his right boot.Hours after the fire, witness Ann Godwin, then 71, would recount for the Star-Telegram the horror of watching the gentle giant burn. “When I looked up, there was smoke coming out of the back of his collar,” Godwin said. “I spoke to a woman passing who was looking, too. I said, ‘Looks like Big Tex is hot under the collar over something.’”Godwin returned about 15 minutes later to find a sea of phones and cameras pointed in the same direction.“I looked up and sure enough there was fire at his neck at that time,” Godwin said. “I just started taking pictures. Then it broke out in his fly area. It was a little embarrassing.”By the time the fire was extinguished, Big Tex was Texas Toast — burned beyond recognition. Only his hands, parts of his arms and his Dickies belt buckle remained. (For those nostalgic, curious or just plain morbid, Big Tex’s hands and belt buckle will be on display at a free exhibit called “The Life and Times of Big Tex” in the Hall of State.) A bigger, taller Big TexHis soulless steel frame was carted away and put in storage as State Fair officials contemplated Big Tex’s future. A design team was hired, and construction on a “better, stronger, faster” Big Tex was underway by April.This month, the $500,000 makeover was complete and Big Tex made his way back to Fair Park.“I think people will be very pleased,” Gooding said. “I visited him several times when he was being built. My response has been that they have successfully brought back the Big Tex that we lost last year on the last Friday of the fair.”Big Tex has put on a few pounds since his meltdown, and not because he’s been feasting on Fried Thanksgiving Dinners, one of the new calorie-laden concoctions being served at the fair this year.He’s put on a whopping 19,000 pounds — giving a whole new meaning to Big Tex — and tips the scales at 25,000 pounds.With his new beefy weight class, Big Tex is more self-sufficient. He doesn’t need no stinking guy wires, standing firmly on his own two feet.Ladders rise like bone inside his legs to a platform where computerized mechanics control his every movement — instead of the hydraulic system of previous years. The speakers used for the big man’s greeting of “Howdy, folks! Welcome to the State Fair of Texas” are also now located internally.While some people shrink as they age, Big Tex will stand a little taller in his new Lucchese boots and fire-retardant outfit created by Fort Worth-based Dickies.“We were going in and trying to make him more proportional to a human,” Gooding said. “We tried to stay within the exact same dimensions of the head and, as a result, he ended up being three feet taller.”He’ll now stand 55 feet tall (an eight-stack of Dirk Nowitzkis).But don’t worry: Big Tex will still wave his hand, move his head, and open and close his mouth. The voice of fair seasonHe has some new tricks in his bag, too, but don’t expect to see them just yet because, fragile fairgoer, you’re simply not ready for the change. Gooding said 80 to 90 percent of those the State Fair heard from wanted the new Big Tex to be essentially a clone of the old.“People wanted him to come back the way he left,” Gooding said. “We did take the opportunity to install new movements, but we’re going to wait till next year to roll them out.”This may disappoint the roughly 10 percent of Big Tex radicals who had suggested a new look for the colossal cowboy.“Some of them were really off the wall,” Gooding said. “I think somebody wanted him to come back looking like Matthew McConaughey. They wanted him really buffed up. Some people wanted him to have a female companion.”Sorry, ladies, Big Tex will remain single, but he will sport a new voice.In March, word spread that fair officials had not renewed their contract with Bill Bragg, the voice of Big Tex since 2002. The identity behind the new voice has not been revealed.“You know, I’m not sure I even want to attend this year’s State Fair now, and I’ve attended almost every year since 1974,” one angry Arlington woman posted on the Big Tex Grief Support Group Facebook page, which was created on the day of the fire.“Do I really want to go see what’s beginning to feel like an impostor Big Tex? I knew there would be a different face. But, now a different voice too? It’s too much. Bring back Bill Bragg!”Gooding acknowledged some backlash, “but we also have 111 people who immediately sent in applications to be the new voice. Opportunity knocks but once.”Here’s hoping that the winner is Matthew McConaughey.
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd