When KFDX TV in Wichita Falls, Texas went on the air 60 years ago this year, all programs were black and white, the local commercials were all live and you had to fiddle and adjust your knobs to even get a viewable picture.
In that first year it is no surprise Nat Fleming, who is always quick with a good joke, found success in his own variety show.
From those early TV days to the thousands of custom fit cowboy hats sold AT THE Cowlot Nat Fleming has truly shown his Spirit of Texoma.
Nat Fleming says, "I just missed the horse and buggy days by a few years, I really did. I was born in 1921."
Nat Fleming got his first taste talking to the public and entertaining in 1947 as a rodeo announcer.
He had already begun a career in radio when KFDX first hit the airwaves in 1953.
Nat: "They'd except anything in the World that was live. That's why they invited me out. I was what they called a live version."
Nat says his invitation to Channel 3 came from President and General Manager Darrold Cannon, Sr. 60 years ago.
Tawana: "Very few people had TV's back then, very few."
Nat: "They would meet in someone's house."
That's why Nat's Mom would walk nearly a mile to his brother's house to catch the show each night.
Nat: "I was very aware of that and right at the end it just came out, I said "bye Mom" and I ended all the shows that way."
There was really something for everyone on the Nat Fleming Show, good laughs and live music.
Nat: "I always tell people I had the best band to ever hit this area, I could say that because I didn't play an instrument."
Nat says the show was pure country and offered a stage where just about anything could happen.
Nat: "None of it was planned, as far as we were concerned...this fell in place that fell in place. I've had the opportunity of meeting a lot of people and I appreciate that more than anything."
He also very much appreciates how television helped him get his family's store open for business.
Nat: "They let people know where it was, what it was and it was the greatest little stores in the whole World and if you didn't believe it you could ask any of us."
Tawana: "I was riding barrells and a couple of friends of mine came over the Wichita Falls for the weekend and I needed a new pair of jeans and I stopped in to get a new pair of jeans and he didn't have any that fit me they were too long...and everything...but he was in such need for the money he sold them anyway...laughing... and I was dumb enough to buy them I guess."
She's been telling that story ever since they met in 1952.
The couple would go on to put just the right crease in quite a few cowboy hats in their over fifty years of serving customers at the Cowlot.
Over all those decades hundreds of cowboys and friends would hang their hats from rafters there and generations to come will be able to enjoy Nat's hats at the Museum of North Texas History not too far from where the Cowlot once stood.
The spirit he put into his business and TV show still stands too, a cowboy spirit that fits Texoma so well, just like his hats and boots did for nearly 92 years now.
Nat is a member of the Texas Bootfitters Hall of Fame.
He always voiced his own ads and can still recite his commericial to this day.
Nat: "I'm Nat Fleming from the Cowlot. Did you ever look at an old boys hat and wonder where he got it and why? Did you ever look at his boots and wonder where he got them and why? I am kind of glad by looking you can tell if it came from the cowlot."
The store offered Nat far more than a career in western wear, it's where he fell in love with his wife Tawana.Type your paragraph here.
The Cow Lot, made famous by founder Fleming, was in operation
54 years before closing in December 2006.Fleming, who retired to
his farm in Clay County between Petrolia and Byers, said the original
portion of the building was constructed in 1952."Melvin Bills,
who lived nearby, built it and rented it to me for $100 a month,
" Fleming recalled. "It was 24-by-48-feet …the original building.
I bought it from Mr. and Mrs. Bills not many years later. We were
there 54-1/2 years."Fleming said he is still sentimental about the
old building — and especially the weather-worn sign (originally neon) that has stood out front for years.Those who have traveled East Scott, especially during the highway's heyday, may remember that it towered between the building and the roadway. The sign featured a smiling, bow-legged cowboy with his hands in his pockets. A sign over his cowboy hat read "The Cow Lot." An arrow pointed toward his boots, and underneath it boasted "Everything in Western Wear.""I kept the sign," Fleming said. "I'm going to put it up at our barn just like it was at the store. We're going to move it in the next few days. I wouldn't take for that old sign."He also stressed that he misses all of the loyal customers he made over the years."I really do miss the people. I looked forward to seeing them. Since we fit hard-to-fit feet, people drove in from a long ways. And we were known for creasing hats. I was the sorriest at creasing, but I was blessed with good people."Many rodeo fans also will remember that Fleming was a rodeo announcer, too, for 50 years."My first rodeo was at Post, Texas. I announced all over the Southwest," he said.Fleming collected old hats from cowboys and businessmen over the decades — and the number reached 511 when the doors closed. The hats were donated by ranchers, roustabouts, rodeo cowboys, oil barons and farmers when they stopped at the Western wear store to buy a new one.A 2006 article in the Times Record News said the collection included hats from city father Joe Bridwell, ranchers Bryant Edwards, Joe Parker, Carter McGregor, Bucky Wharton (Waggoner Ranch), as well as cowboy movie star Gene Autry.The collection of hats was donated by Fleming and his wife Tawana to the Museum of North Texas History."The museum is putting in a Western room that the hats will be in," Fleming said. "It (room) will be so nice."Business Editor Lee Anderson may be reached from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at (940) 763-7533, or by e-mail at andersonl(at)TimesRecordNews.com
The best fit: Nat Fleming helped make Western music a hit
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