Kelso: Cosmic tale of the travels of Kinky Friedman’s campaign hat


As they say, what goes around, comes around. And what made the loop this time around was Kinky Friedman’s hat.

We’re not talking about the cowboy hat the Texas humorist, writer, and musician wears on his head, but the huge western hat artwork that decorated the front of a teardrop trailer Kinky’s campaign staff drove all over Texas when he ran for governor in 2006.

How Kinky lost the election beats the heck out of me. He had a great campaign trailer, named the Gov Bug — although the name Hebrew Hummer also was discussed.

“That was a good one, but I think it hit the editing room floor,” said Little Jewford, Kinky’s right-hand man. Then there was that poignant campaign slogan, provided by Willie Nelson: “Criticize him all you want, just don’t circumcise him anymore.”

“Unfortunately, about all I remember is that and the Gov Bug and that it traveled all over Texas,” Kinky said from Hawaii, where he’s getting ready for a tour in Germany.

Our traveling hat story begins in 2005 with Cleve Hattersley of the Austin band Greezy Wheels. Cleve was working for Kinky’s campaign and needed something colorful to promote the effort, something that could tour the state.

So he talked to Austin artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade, who suggested a trailer. Cleve liked the idea. So Wade designed a small trailer decorated with a Kinkyesque mustache, a big cigar (Kinky’s a cigar guy) and the oversized cowboy hat, which measures 8 feet front to back.

After the campaign was over, the trailer was parked in back of Kinky’s campaign headquarters on Ben White Boulevard. Then it disappeared, said Little Jewford, who suspects it was stolen. Allegedly it ended up in a storage unit somewhere in Austin. And when nobody had picked up the contents, they were auctioned off.

Enter a good ol’ boy named Herman, who doesn’t want me to use his last name here. Herman works in law enforcement for the Hays County sheriff’s office. He says that about two years ago a co-worker of his spotted the trailer with the hat in a yard in Wimberley. The guy in Wimberley explained to Herman’s friend that he’d bought the trailer at a storage unit auction in Austin. Herman’s buddy wanted the trailer, so he snapped it up, along with the hat, though he didn’t want the hat.

So he sold the hat to Herman, who stuck it on his flatbed truck, and left it there as he drove all over the place “because it was so dadgum heavy,” he said. “If I’d wanted to move it, I would have needed help. I got a lot of good looks, too. People would take pictures with their phone as I was going down the interstate.”

Jump ahead to last Christmas season. Herman’s dad, Charley, an air conditioning repairman who lives in Lockhart, goes to church with David Torres, who for about 28 years has been making custom western hats for Texas Hatters, these days located in Lockhart.

You might have heard of the place. The late Manny Gammage, considered the Ted Williams of Texas custom hatmakers, started up the store years ago on South Lamar.

Back in church in Lockhart, Charley mentions to David Torres that his son, Herman, has this great big hat that David might want for the hat shop.

“I’m thinking maybe a five- or seven-inch brim hat,” David said. “He said, ‘No, David, it’s the hat that used to be on the back of a truck, and it had a trailer.’”

David sees a photo of the hat. David says bring it on. Charley talks to Herman. And Herman drops by the hat shop to cut a deal.

“So we made a trade with David,” Herman said. “He made me a custom hat and my dad a custom hat, and I gave him the big hat.”

Joel Gammage, Manny Gammage’s grandson and a co-owner of Texas Hatters, is a friend of Bob Wade, the trailer’s and hat’s designer. Joel knows that Wade has been looking for this particular hat, wondering where it went.

So Joel tells David about Wade’s quest, and David gets in touch with Wade. And the hat shop people tell Wade they want him to find a way to display the big hat outside the store.

So Will Larson, an Austin artist who works with Wade, builds a frame for the hat next to the hat store, where it’s now auditioning as a Lockhart tourist attraction.

Wade finds the trail of the big cowboy hat somewhat miraculous, in a Texas way. He says he and Manny Gammage go back to 1976, when a documentary about Wade was produced. Wade points out that Manny appeared in the film.

“In the documentary, he makes me a hat, and I wear it through the rest of the documentary,” Wade said. “So it’s pretty cosmic, pretty cosmic.”


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