The Lopez herd always included a number of longhorn cows, mixed in with the Angus and Herefords. My dad, Lee, called them the “horned hustlers,” since they were always in the lead, encouraging the rest of the herd to feed and water. After a trip to Austin, Texas, I couldn’t get them out of my head, and aimed for a medley of music, art, history, and Spanish heritage in Maverick. (Maverick is the name of this piece. It is located in the Houston, Texas area.) I began with a background texture of scrap metal and roller chain to replicate carved and tooled leather. My good buddy and musician Ken Raba, who lives just south of Austin, inspired me to add guitar and fiddle cut-outs with a variety of Texas symbols—including the Alamo and Sam Houston. But the horns were the key to the success of this piece. I needed something with a natural taper, and remembered that Russell Umback—whose daughter Erica had been in my grade at school—had left me a pile of bucker teeth. I sliced them like a Slinky and curved them into shape. Before hay balers had been invented, farmers would attach about a dozen eight-foot-long bucker teeth to the front of a tractor bucket, and then skim the bucket across the ground to collect freshly cut hay. Daily feeding of cattle then simply required forking hay from the “bucker piles” onto a flat-bed pulled by a team of horses.
My brother-in-law Stuart likes the old way of doing things, including making bucker piles—and procrastinating about fixing leaking hydraulic lines. The last time I reshaped bucker teeth was when I was a teenager, driving Stuart’s tractor—the tractor with leaky lines, and the bucket that slowly drifted down, down, down. He told me to remember every once in a while to lift the bucket up so the teeth wouldn’t dig into the ground. It’s one of those jobs you can do perfectly 100 times and wrong once—and everybody remembers the once. All of a sudden, I pushed the lever the wrong way and the bucker teeth dug into the ground, bending two or three teeth all the way back. Stuart was as patient with me then as he is now; we took them to the shop, bent them back, welded them, and set off again.