HENNESSEY, Okla. (KFOR) – Walk around the inside of Jay Riaz’s new Howdy’s Travel Plaza on OK Highway 81 and he might brag about all the pop flavors he carries.
“We have 130,” he smiles.
He also put in a full kitchen and a host of amenities for truckers.
But the one thing people notice about this place is what Jay is most proud of: an enormous cowboy hat, just installed, and perched beside his parking lot.
“We wanted to do something different,” he says.
“Something to turn peoples’ heads right,” queries a first-time guest?
“Of course,” he replies.
It’s the largest in Oklahoma (also the heaviest), may be the second largest in the world at 24 feet by 32 feet (12,600 pounds), and the project of a lifetime for welders Mark Henry and Cameron Bonham.
“They said they wanted a big, giant cowboy hat,” recalls Henry. “We discussed it and I admitted I had never built a big hat. Jay said, ‘I’ve never seen one so that puts us in the same boat’.”
When the owners of Howdy’s approached Henry’s Welding with an idea for a really big cowboy hat, Henry himself had all the right answers.
He took three large, surplus oil tanks, one for the center and two for the curved sides.
Then he welded them all together.
Henry estimates, “I think we burnt up at least a hundred pounds of rod on it.”
Building a ‘10.000 gallon hat’ didn’t come with any known measurements.
“We ain’t that smart,” laughs Henry.
They didn’t create any new hat size except to make sure it was plainly visible from the highway.
Cameron Bonham expects, “People with drive up and down this highway and I’ll be able to say I had a part in it, so that’s really cool.”
Like an actual hat, the structure is expected to provide good shade.
Jay Riaz is planning to put picnic tabled beneath his new hat and to build a small dog park around it.
“The whole idea,” he says, “is to create something where people can get together.
This new roadside structure might be the very definition of the old saying, ‘all hat, no cattle’ but that sits just fine with its makers and its owner.
“I love it,” Jay gushes.
“It was a heck of a project,” seconds Henry.
Like any good hat, it serves its purpose.
There’s another saying about cowboy hats, too: never mess with another man’s hat.
That shouldn’t be much of a problem in this case.
It’s too big to go anywhere but here.
“We didn’t build a Stetson,” smiles Henry. “We build a Resistol.”
A little internet research led us to a big cowboy hat in a Seattle, Washington park, and also constructed for a travel stop in 1954.
That hat, made of fiberglass is slightly wider, but lighter.
On Saturday, February 25, Howdy’s Travel Plaza hosts its grand opening with a Noon ribbon cutting and dedication of the big hat.
Great State is sponsored by WEOKIE Credit Union