ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – As the 2023 State Fair of Texas kicks off, let’s take a trip down memory lane to when the iconic Big Tex visited the Key City.
The giant cowboy statue, standing more than 50 feet tall, has been a beloved symbol of Texas since 1952, greeting state fair attendees with a timeless ‘Howdy’ wave. While most people have seen it on display at the fair in Dallas, some West Texans had the opportunity to visit it on the campus of Abilene Christian University (ACU), which was then known as Abilene Christian College.
In 1955, Big Tex left the fairgrounds for the second time in history to attend ACU’s homecoming. One of the founding members of the Galaxy fraternity, Harold Waggoner (Class of 1960), shared that they searched for ways to differentiate their newly found club, according to a feature article written by Robin Saylor.
“Soon after becoming chartered as an official ACC social club, we began discussing what our entry in the Homecoming display contest would be. We had just elected Gene Coleman (‘ 58) president, and his suggestion was that we bring Big Tex from his home at the Texas State Fair in Dallas to the ACC campus. We Galaxy members were overwhelmed by the enormity of this suggestion. But Gene was a Dallas resident, and he knew the right people and had the audacity to approach them and the diplomacy to get their approval,” Waggoner recalled.
Coleman and his colleague, Glenn Wiggins (Class of 1958), traveled to Dallas to meet with Mayor Robert L. Thornton, who helped bring their idea to life. After three years of welcoming guests, Big Tex was disassembled and transported to Abilene. The skeleton was carried by train cars, while several tractor-trailers transported other parts, such as the 70-gallon cowboy hat and size 70 boots.
Big Tex stood over the Hardin Administration Building and Sewell Auditorium for five days, sharing an iconic piece of Texas pride with those in the Big Country.
Coleman shared in a 2012 interview that the Galaxy charter class raised the money for the transportation, which cost about $650. According to a CPI Inflation Calculator, that would equal approximately $7,419 in 2023.
“We received donations in Dallas and lots of discounts,” Coleman said. “The trucks charged us a minimum amount, and the trains didn’t charge us. They saw this was going to be a good thing that would take place.”
The students were not able to cover the cost of transporting Big Tex back home. Fortunately, the Board of Trustees covered the cost of transporting Big Tex back home after his visit attracted positive publicity.
The iconic giant cowboy statue that was displayed in Abilene is no longer the same one that stands today due to an electrical malfunction that caused a fire in 2012. The current Big Tex was unveiled in 2013 and weighs 25,000 pounds, standing at an additional three feet in height compared to the previous statue.