DALLAS (AP) — The new Big Tex made his debut Thursday afternoon, a year after the towering cowboy that's an icon of the State Fair of Texas was destroyed in a blaze.
The new Big Tex is supposed to look similar to the old one, though at 55-feet tall, he is 3 feet taller. And unlike the figure that was destroyed last year, he has a fire-suppression system.
The big reveal of the new Big Tex had been set for Friday, the opening day of the fair. But fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said officials decided to move up the unveiling to Thursday after winds started ripping the lightweight curtains surrounding him.
"We decided that although we wanted to keep it a secret, we needed to go ahead and drop it," Gooding said.
With the unveil coming a day before the fair's start, only fair workers and members of the media were there to see him in person Thursday.
An electrical short two days before the end of last year's fair caused the blaze that destroyed the old Big Tex.
Big Tex wears a red-white-and-blue shirt featuring stars and a 95-gallon hat. A giant belt buckle adorns his blue jeans and his boots feature American and Texas flags and the state Capitol.
Fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said Big Tex's footwear are replicas of Lucchese boots from the 1940s that were part of a series featuring designs for each state.
"I love it. I think he looks great," Stephanie Szatan said after pausing to snap a picture of the revamped cowboy. "I'm glad he's back."
Szatan, whose family owns food stands at the fair, noted his appearance has evolved over the years anyway.
Melissa Polk, who works with a resort company that has a booth at the fair, said she was still trying to get used to his new face.
"It's neat-looking, but you're so accustomed to something," she said.
About an hour before the fair announced that the reveal would be moved up a day, television helicopters hovering above Big Tex offered a sneak peek of his cowboy hat-topped head and shoulders, but Gooding said that didn't play into the fair's decision to move up the unveiling.
The fair still plans a ceremony featuring Big Tex on Friday afternoon, she said, but it will be a "welcome back" instead of an unveiling. She also said Big Tex won't talk until Friday. He has a new voice this year following a contract dispute with the man who provided his voice previously.
The new person providing the voice was chosen from among 111 applicants and is from the Dallas area, Gooding said. That person's name will remain a mystery, she said.
She also said his voice will be both live and recorded, which will allow him to speak longer. She said only the live voice has been used for the last several years after the technology used for the recording broke.
This will mark the 61st year that Big Tex has presided over the state fair. After last year's fire, the beloved cowboy was hauled from the grounds on a flatbed truck in a procession resembling a funeral.
Big Tex was built in 1949 as a giant Santa Claus for a Christmas celebration in Kerens, 60 miles south of Dallas. Intrigued by the idea of a towering cowboy, the State Fair of Texas paid $750 for the structure, which debuted as Big Tex in 1952.
An exhibition at this year's fair will spotlight Big Tex's history and a 20-minute video will show the rebuilding of Big Tex.
State Fair of Texas, www.bigtex.com