One question we hear a lot as we travel around Texas is whether we stay in touch with the people we meet, those whose stories we tell. The answer to that is “mostly,” meaning we stay in touch if they want to stay in touch. Some live a purposefully isolated life and we respect that.
A few of the people we’ve met have gone beyond the “keeping in touch” category. Some of them have become very good friends—people who are a part of your life and whom you can’t imagine not knowing.
One of those was Bill Richardson.
We first met Bill after seeing his unusual art in a small gallery in Wichita Falls in 1992. The exhibit featured a life-size steel saddle, steel chaps, steel spurs, and lots of other “cowboy things” constructed of rusty, discarded metal.
One thing was for sure: someone knew how to use a cutting torch.
Bill lived on an old family ranch near Electra, just west of Wichita Falls. We found him in his barn late one evening making a cactus out of barbed wire. He told us he didn’t sleep much at night and had been known to still be using his torch at sunrise. We told Bill’s story on the show and moved on—but I knew that wouldn’t be the end of it.
You know that feeling when you meet someone and you somehow realize this person is always going to be a part of your life? Well, years later we happened into the Dairy Queen at Electra and there sat Bill consuming a Hungr-Buster. We picked up right where we left off during our last conversation.
“Still making the old cowboy stuff, Bill?” I asked.
“Nope, I’ve moved on. I’m making steel furniture now.”
I had to see that, so we scrapped whatever it was we were heading to do (we do that a lot) and spent the next day and night out at the Richardson place watching Bill make some of the most beautiful steel pieces—beds and nightstands and tables and such—and somewhere in the darkness of that old barn, Bill and I bonded. We both knew we would always be great friends.
Later, my friend surprised me with one of his steel beds, a one-of-a-kind piece with the star of Texas on the headboard and all around the canopy that’s shown in one of my favorite episodes from 1996. On the back of the star, he engraved “The Bob Phillips,” and he told me there would never be another one.
Bill Richardson died in 2013, but the countless unique pieces he created are still being enjoyed by patrons of his art all over Texas—including me.