PAMPA, Texas. Duane Dunham hasn’t had a day off in two weeks, but the twenty-two-year-old native of Hereford in Deaf Smith County isn’t complaining. “It’s great to be workin’ agin,” he says in his flat, uninflected drawl. “My pappy thought the good times were all gone, but I guess they’re back.”
Blue ribbon Nauga appears on Johnny Carson show in the 60s
Dunham comes from a long-line of “naugaboys,” trained horsemen who herd naugas across the Texas Panhandle to railheads where they are loaded on ventilated boxcars and shipped to the stockyards of Chicago. The family trade nearly died in the 80s after naugas were over-harvested to make covered sofas and chairs, but changing tastes among homeowners have allowed the nauga to thrive again.
“You got a turquoise maverick straying off over there.”
“It was sad there for awhile,” says Leland Embree of the University of North Texas Extension Service. “A way of life was dying, and I was afraid my kids would never see a nauga in the wild.”
Where that nauga ended up.
The nauga is a polyvinyl-skinned animal whose hide was used extensively in the production of home furnishings in the 60s and 70s. Once near extinction levels, the squat, horned monster that willingly sheds its skin to fill manufacturer’s orders is now so numerous that rural counties here say they make take herd-thinning measures to prevent the re-emergence of hot, squeaky couch surfaces in government buildings and public health facilities.
“The Particles of White Naugahyde,” a play about the once-endangered substance.
Along with its use by interior decorators, the nauga gave birth to a hard-bitten, tough-as-nails culture of the naugaboy, celebrated in story, song, and TV serials. “For awhile there every kid wanted to grow up to be a naugaboy,” says cultural historian Clifford Couillard. “Then they found out that chiropractors get to feel up girls for money, and they lost interest.”
Texas nauga farmers are protected from foreign competition by tariffs that keep prices on hides from Brazil too high for them to compete in domestic markets, a victory that is credited to the skills of Joe Don Wayne Gillig, the only registered lobbyist in Washington, D.C. with four names. “The nauga represents everything that’s great about America,” Gillig says to this reporter as he checks his Rolex watch for an appointment at the Department of Commerce. “It’s practical, it’s fake, and it’ll stick to a girl’s thighs in hot weather.”