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The Idle American
"Who Hath God Wrought?..."
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 • Posted November 7, 2012

World-class sportswriter Blackie Sherrod described columnist George Dolan thusly: “Before God made George, He broke the mold.” In those few words, Sherrod pegged the late columnist whose 30 years of daily columns in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram are legendary.

Maybe the broken mold was used again later when another inimitable communicator was born. His name is Bob Lewis, but he’s known by that moniker mostly by kinfolks, closest friends and Rotary buddies.

The rest of us know him as Tumbleweed Smith. He’s now in his sixth decade regaling us with rich stories on his daily radio show, The Sound of Texas, and in his weekly newspaper column. His work is featured by dozens of Texas radio stations and newspapers; it invariably makes us smile. On top of that, he—as was Dolan—is a favorite lectern personality throughout the Lone Star State….

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Likenesses common to both Dolan and Smith are many. Suffice it to say both learned much from life’s school called “hard knocks,” but Tumbleweed has impressive academic credentials as well. He holds degrees from Baylor University (BA, English) and the University of Missouri (MA, Journalism), with additional work at Drake University Law School and language study in two foreign countries.

“Every man” fits ‘em both. They both put Overalls ahead of tuxedos.

Lewis, as was Dolan, is a great listener, letting interviewees “tell their stories.”…

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I’ve known Tumbleweed casually—but extremely favorably—for more than four decades. (Once we were scheduled to address the same event on the same night in the same town, but that’s another story.)

It was fun to interview him recently. When I thought we’d finished, he whipped out his recorder and I became the interviewee. Roles were seamlessly reversed!

We joked about the 750 or so words I’d write, and what he’d choose from a half-hour of my rambling to “fit” his 2.5-minute broadcast. (It was Lincoln, wasn’t it, who apologized for writing such a long letter because he didn’t have time to write a short one?) Indeed he “boils it down,” spending about an hour in production for each minute of air time….

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Nearly everything interests him and Susan, his wife of 49 years. She provides technical assistance at speaking engagements and is alongside for travels that measure some two million miles to date on Texas highways and byways. (Put another way, about four round-trips to the moon.)

In 1969, a narrow-minded radio boss in Big Spring gave Tumbleweed the heave-ho, one reason given was disapproval of Tumbleweed’s mustache.

Bob, rich in experience in all areas of radio, had 23 job offers. Instead, he began The Sound of Texas, juggling it with 34 years of teaching at UT-Permian Basin. His instruction—like his radio productions—have garnered more than 120 awards at state, regional and national levels. His walls won’t contain all the recognitions….

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His website (tumbleweedsmith.com) is rich with Texas characters. He’s retired from teaching, but remains active with interviews and speaking engagements. (He and Susan also find time to visit their two sons and four grandsons.)

His more than 11,000 interviews and 1,000+ columns provide fascinating material. A few weeks ago, for example, he interviewed an artist committed to “chicken art.” (Yep, chickens with paint applied to their feet cavort over canvas placed in chicken pens.)

Tumbleweed’s antenna is always on “high alert” for interesting stories, most of which are provided by bona fide characters. A skim of topics includes turtle wrestling, watermelon theft, radio station pranks, oatmeal and egg facials, oil patch humor, bobcat-kissing and air-conditioned hearses. The year of Texas’ 150th birthday, he quit smoking and produced at least one radio program from each of the state’s 254 counties….

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Someone said Tumbleweed sounds like Paul Harvey with a Texas drawl. This causes a big smile on the friendly face of this Big Spring resident. (He’s lived there mostly since his marriage; it’s Susan’s hometown.)

He supplied Harvey with numerous stories over the years, and they all were featured on Paul Harvey News.

Tumbleweed, like a few million more Americans, keenly misses Harvey, a radio giant who may also have been made in a broken mold. Luckily, we still have Tumbleweed Smith, who—molds aside—is cut from the same timber….

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Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Twitter: @donnewbury. Phone: 817-47-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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