How Big Tex Went from East Texas Santa to State Fair of Texas Greeter
Fair season is under way across East Texas and across the state. One fair that many are looking forward to attending is the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, Texas. There will be the usual rides and games and food. There will be the big game between Texas and Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. We will also be greeted by Big Tex with his signature "Howdy y'all." What's cool about Big Tex is that his start begin in East Texas and he wasn't a cowboy.
The Start of Big Tex
In 1949, Kerens Chamber of Commerce manager Howell Brister proposed to the city council to build a giant Santa to bring tourists to the city. His plan was to build a 50-foot tall Santa that could be seen from Highway 31. Brister had already investigated the cost of building the giant Santa. He then presented his plan to the council where they voted and approved the construction.
Howdy y'all. - Big Tex
The Whole City Came Together for the Project
Howell Brister had measured two men to get the dimensions that were needed to build the Santa then multiplied those by seven. Brister purchased the tubing for Santa's skeleton, Kerens welding students put together the frame, agriculture students used chicken wire for the body and women from the Kerens dress factory made the clothes.
It took about two weeks for the Santa to be finished. Some workers gathered at midnight to assemble him so people would be surprised the following morning. Santa could be seen from Highway 31 but was also about a block away from the train track that ran through town. The train conductor would slow down to let passengers get a look at the Santa. Below is the modern day location of where the Santa stood:
The 50-Foot Santa Didn't Last Long
While the Santa was super popular among Kerens residents and visitors, alike, the Santa quickly diminished in popularity after only two years in place. That's when Brister said the Santa needed to be sold. He went to a West Texas town who were interested in the Santa to do the same purpose for their town, increase tourism. On his way back to Kerens, Brister stopped by the State Fair office in Dallas to make a pitch. Apparently, they liked the idea and mailed a $750 check to the Kerens chamber for the Santa.
Santa was Now Big Tex
After a year of work to turn Santa into a cowboy, including adding the ability to talk, Big Tex debuted at the State Fair of Texas in 1952. Big Tex has seen numerous updates throughout his time as fair greeter. Kerens still proudly touts their city as the birthplace of Big Tex. Just go to the ci.kerens.tx.us and you'll see.
So there you go, Big Tex's humble start as an East Texas Santa to becoming an iconic Texas figure. East Texans can have some pride in knowing it started here when visiting the fair this year and in the future.