Driving Dinos

While driving on the highway, have you ever wondered what is inside the large 18-wheel trucks rolling beside you? Would you expect dinosaurs? Well, how about dinosaur models? In May 2010, trucks headed toward the Milwaukee County Zoo were carrying huge dinosaur models for the Zoo’s summer exhibit Adventure Dinosaur!, sponsored by Lowe’s.

Driving Dinos

A Dilophosaurus dinosaur model is unloaded from a truck for the Milwaukee County Zoo’s 1994 summer dinosaur exhibit. Photo by Mike Nepper

The dinosaurs started their migration from Billings Productions in McKinney, Texas, and traveled hundreds of miles to Milwaukee, Wis. Billings opened in 2003 and is one of the few robotic dinosaur manufacturers in the world. They have 100 dinosaur models. Twenty nine of those models will be on display in Milwaukee. Most of them can move some part of their body, such as the head or foot. This robotic element of the dinosaurs is what Billings refers to as “animatronic.” Some of these are 21-foot-long carnivores such as the Megalosaurus and the Baryonyx. Others are plant eaters, such as the 26-foot-long Barabasaurus, a dinosaur with a long neck like a Brachiosaurus

Don’t forget about the king of all dinosaurs, the 43-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex, which from head to tail is three feet longer than a school bus. No wonder it takes a semi-truck to haul this king.

An unloading team of four to five men travel with the dinosaurs in the trucks. “It’s fun to see everyone’s face and reaction to the dinosaurs coming off the trucks,” said Travis Reid of Billings Productions Inc.  Generally this is because viewers can’t believe how big the dinosaurs are. Sometimes the size of the dinos is a surprise because the models are larger than clients expected. “We delivered to an onsite location once and the business didn’t calculate the dimensions of the Tyrannosaurus to fit into their back door,” Reid said.  “The animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex is about 25 feet tall and 43 feet long. In order to get the T. rex into the building, we had to take the doors off the hinges and even then it barely fit in the opening.”

Driving Dinos

A Tyrannosaurus rex arrives by truck at the Zoo for the 1994 dinosaur exhibit. Photo by Mike Nepper

There wern't any size issues at the Milwaukee County Zoo because the dinosaur exhibit area next to the Small Mammals Building was all open and outdoors. Visitors could follow a trail of T. rex footprints through the Zoo to the exhibit. The footprints were spaced as if a T. rex were walking and began to run (at a speed of 27 miles per hour).  Once inside the exhibit, visitors were in a prehistoric-looking setting with huge-leaved plants and dinosaurs interspersed among the foliage. A dinosaur might raise its head and look up at you. Or it might spit water at you. Or maybe it would roar.

For more, read the April 2010 Alive magazine and Wild Things newsletter.

By Benjamin Wright