One of the things we’d do every year at the Houston Astrodome Rodeo was go to the American Hat Factory and pick us out a good straw hat for the summer. Bill George, a great rodeo hand from the previous generation, was from Canadian, Texas (where we were from), and he’d look me and Mont (my brother) up every year we were at the Astrodome. We’d have a beer or two and an enjoyable visit. Bill and his wife owned The American Hat Co. there in Houston.
I was traveling with Russ Baize this particular year and as usual we went out to the factory to pick us out a hat. Oh, and we’d get a heck of a deal on those hats too. Of course it’s been some years since we did that but we were buying good straw hats for $6 that’ll now cost you near $100! I picked through about 20 of the Bangora style and found the best straw hat of the bunch. Russ did the same. I creased mine just right and, dang it looked good! To this day it was the best straw hat I ever had!
We left Houston to ride in Montgomery, AL. Tommy Sheffield, a rodeo clown and bullfighter, and good friend, had an act back in those days where he’d buy a real cheap little hat of some kind and put it on a committee man. His act was about ‘cleaning’ the hat. Of course it was all staged (*usually…but not this night!). The committee man would act like he was mad and he’d chase Tommy around the arena and finally give up the chase. Then Tommy would place the hat on his ‘hat cleaner’; long story short he’d push the lever and a huge explosion would blow the hat up!
Well, I thought….you know it’d be really, really funny if I could get Russ out there in front of the chutes when Tommy did his act and let Tommy get Russ’s new straw hat! I’d already set it up with Tommy. I didn’t think I was going to get it done but just in the nick of time I lured Russ out in front of the chutes as the act started. Coliseum lights were all off and the spotlight was on Tommy, as usual. I’m talking to Russ and his back is turned away from Tommy sneaking up on him. Well, Tommy grabbed Russ’s new hat and took off! Now it’s on!! No! I mean it’s REALLY ON! Russ is NOT faking….he’s as mad as he can possibly be, still in the spotlight chasing Tommy and cussing as loud as he can! All the cowboys are now watching and laughing uncontrollably, as well as the five or six thousand spectators! He finally gave up the chase and just like always Tommy put the hat on his hat cleaner and just like always, BOOM!! Russ’s new hat literally hit the ceiling of the Montgomery, Alabama coliseum, then landed back on the arena floor in about 6 pieces! Russ was threatening to whip me, Tommy and anyone else he could think of. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen!
He cooled off a little….but not much! We rode that night and headed for San Angelo, TX, five of us in my Delta 88 Oldsmobile; Russ, myself, Jack Ward, Jess Knight and John Gloor. We pulled over late in the night to change drivers and took off again. We’d got down the road a few miles and I started looking for my hat; nowhere to be found. I started asking questions only to find out that when we stopped Russ had put my brand new hat right in front of the back tire and peeled out on it when he took off! Well, now I’m the one that’s mad!! I’m telling him to pull over cause I’m fixin’ to whoop his butt! We got out, talked a little trash, cussed each other a little bit then got back in and headed for Angelo! We’re still great friends to this day! That’s the story of “The Best Straw Hat I Ever Had”!