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Last updated: Tue. Jan. 18, 2011 - 11:44 am EDT

Cowboy on mural not Chuck Norris

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Even with heavy clouds, the glare from the sun made the 50-foot-high mural on the Petroleum Traders Corp. building on Pointe Inverness Way seem a little fuzzy.

It was meant to be that way, says Michael Himes, president of the company, the guy who commissioned the gigantic mural last summer. It was meant to look as though one is looking at it through a haze.

That fuzziness, though, has caused some people zipping by on Illinois Road at 45 mph to glance up and assume that the painting is none other than Chuck Norris, the karate expert and kick-’em-in-the-head action star from the TV show “Walker, Texas Ranger” and numerous jungle fighting movies. Norris, if you haven’t heard (I must admit I hadn’t) has developed quite a mystique in the past few years.

For example, Chuck Norris’ tears, it is said, cure cancer – but Norris has never cried. Norris has counted to infinity – twice. Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas to bed, and death once had a near-Chuck-Norris experience.

I studied the mural for a few seconds, and then walked unannounced into Petroleum Traders, unsure whom to talk to but hoping someone would know something about the painting. Himes was kind enough to see me, even though I showed up unannounced.

I had looked at the mural, I told him, and though it bears some resemblance to pictures of Norris – a guy with a cowboy hat and a beard – it was pretty clear to me it wasn’t Norris.

“Thank you,” Himes said.

Himes has apparently heard a little bit of the Chuck Norris stuff. His daughter, he said, told him all the girls at school thought it was so cool that he had a picture of Chuck Norris on his building, but he hadn’t heard all these other Chuck Norris stories, about how Norris has already been to Mars, which is why there is no life there.

So let’s settle it once and for all. Chuck Norris, who has been dead for 20 years but doesn’t know it because death is afraid to tell him, is not on the wall of the Petroleum Traders building.

The work is a carefully thought-out mural meant to be aesthetic, clean, distinctive and not busy, Himes said.

At one point Himes considered putting a big electronic sign on the building and making some money selling ads. But no, he thought. A mural would be better. In art magazines Himes had seen the works of a muralist named Daan Hoekstra, who lives in Sonora, Mexico, and he liked his work, so he commissioned him to produce the mural.

It took several months to decide exactly what should go on the side of the building.

“We’re in the oil patch,” Himes said, but he dismissed the idea of a painting of oil rigs. Everyone would have something to say about it.

Himes wanted an iconic image, monochromatic, very non-billboard. “I didn’t want an L.A. poster,” he said. “This is not L.A.”

So ultimately the image of a cowboy emerged.

It fits, Himes said. Fort Wayne is actually countrified, he said. We grow corn and tomatoes, we listen to country music and go to Willie Nelson concerts. “The truth is, we do want our babies to grow up to be cowboys,” Himes said. “Fort Wayne does embrace cowboys.”

So that’s a cowboy on the side of the building, not Chuck Norris, and it’s way too big for even Chuck Norris to try to kick in the side of the head.

Frank Gray has held positions as reporter and editor at The Journal Gazette since 1982 and has been writing a column on local topics since 1998. His column is published on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at

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