Tex Randall, Big Texan
In 1959 Tex Randall began life as what was then called "Texas' Biggest Texan" -- and he was.
The 47-foot-tall slouching cowboy was built of cement and steel by William "Harry" Wheeler, a high school shop teacher, for Wheeler's Western Store on US 60. The store -- which despite its name was not owned by Harry Wheeler -- sold Western clothing, so the seven-ton cowboy was outfitted with a real Western-style shirt and an enormous pair of Levi's jeans, courtesy of a local tent and awning shop. The galoot's lanky frame was supported by an ingenious network of steel struts and cables, anchoring him to the ground.
Decades passed. The Texas Dept. of Transportation rerouted US 60 through an underpass, cutting off Wheeler's drive-by traffic and driving the Western Store out of business. Panhandle winds shredded the cowboy's canvas duds. A semi crashed into his left boot, and the cigarette was shot out of his right hand.
Local leaders rallied for a "Save the Cowboy" campaign in 1987. The no-longer-fashionable cigarette was replaced with a spur. The cowboy was given a new face with a mustache, a new set of painted-on clothes -- and a new name, "Tex Randall," in honor of his home in Randall County.
More decades passed. Panhandle winds again ravaged Tex, sandblasting away large portions of his skin and clothes. His fiberglass fingers crumbled. A local businessman bought the cowboy but gave up when he learned it would cost $50,000 to move him. Local boosters mounted an internet fundraising campaign, but the amount needed to save Tex seemed beyond their reach. Time appeared to have run out for the big cowboy.
Then an unlikely hero rode to the rescue: the formerly villainous Texas Dept. of Transportation, which in late 2013 set aside almost $300,000 to turn the land around Tex's boots into a park. Keith Brown, chairman of the Canyon Main Street Program, raised enough money to "re-skin" the statue (Tex even made a cameo appearance in the 2015 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue). Repairs began in the summer of 2015, and the new Tex -- who will look more 1959 than 1987 -- should be unveiled on July 4, 2016.
Although no longer the "Biggest Texan" -- that would be Sam Houston -- Tex Randall has lassoed the hearts of his hometown and his namesake state. "He's an icon; he's something we can be proud of," said Keith. And despite Tex's battered appearance, the cowboy has been studied by engineers and found to be perfectly capable of handling yet another makeover. The shop teacher built him right. "He's stood in this part of the country for over 50 years without blowing over," said Keith. "He's not going to."
Our photos were taken before the abandoned Western Store next to Tex was demolished in preparation for the park.