DALLAS –– Big Tex has 171 days to rise from the ashes.
The State Fair of Texas begins on Sept. 27 and the icon that welcomes folks to Fair Park with a hearty 'Howdy' will make his comeback, complete with fire retardant clothing and a fire suppression system, said Sue Gooding, State Fair spokeswoman.
On the final weekend of last year's annual fair, an electrical short in Big Tex's right boot sparked a quick-moving fire that engulfed the 52-foot figure in a matter of minutes. Since then, the fair has solicited donations from fairgoers to help offset the estimated $500,000 cost. As of Tuesday, the Fair had raised $48,258, Gooding said.
Donations were required because Tex was only insured for about a third of its total cost.
In February, Fair officials issued a 3-D representation of Big Tex's new hand. On Tuesday, designers revealed a digital rendering of the making of Big Tex's head. Concerned fairgoers need not worry –– judging from the rendering, the new and improved Tex looks very much like his old self.
"It's really fascinating," Gooding said. "There will be more to release as they go in and define his features. They've done a remarkable job of capturing Big Tex."
The fair is working with Fort Worth-based clothing manufacturer Dickies to design Tex's clothing. Even if the fire wouldn't have happened, Gooding says Tex gets new Dickies duds every third year and he was due for a change. The fair would not release the name of the company contracted to rebirth the State Fair icon as to not to be inundated with calls and media requests. It's imperative they finish before the Fair begins, she said.
The new Big Tex put on some weight: he'll be equipped with a new sound system along with the anti-fire and safety features, complete with an internal stabilization system to help him withstand the Texas wind, Gooding said.
Because Fair Park is a historical landmark, the State Fair leases the grounds from the city each year. As such, the redesign must be approved by the Landmark Commission to ensure the new Tex won't damage his place on Big Tex Circle, Gooding said. The commission discussed the redesign last month and again Tuesday.
"They've been very receptive to the preliminary drawing," Gooding said.
As for the voice of Big Tex, the fair is taking demo tapes but is not holding an open audition, Gooding said. In late March, officials decided not to renew the fair's contract with Billy Bragg, the voice of Big Tex for the past 11 years.
The fair has not decided if Tex will be voiced live each day. Officials plan to decide on the new voice in late May.