This presentation is part of the Are We There Yet: Preservation of Roadside Architecture and Attractions, April 10-12, 2018, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Jennifer Carpenter: Good afternoon. Last presentation. I think it’s the great foresight of our symposium planners that we started with the New York World’s Fair, and that’s where we will end this afternoon a little bit as well. I also have a small little prop.
Visitors parking their cars at the 1964 and ’65 New York World’s Fair, could likely recite the Sinclair Oil slogan, which was, “Drive with care, and buy Sinclair.” The company, founded in 1916 by Harry F. Sinclair following a successful investment in Oklahoma’s early oil boom, owned thousands of gas stations across the United States, each adorned with a green brontosaurus logo. Sinclair trademarked the reptilian symbol in 1932, and Dino quickly became the face of the company’s marketing efforts. If for some reason a fair goer had not yet fueled up the Sinclair way, he or she would be able to do so upon exit at one of two special service stations erected in the World’s Fair parking lot.
What these World’s Fair visitors may not have known, however, was exactly why Sinclair is interested in dinosaurs. The company’s contribution to the international extravaganza was Dinoland, a 34,418 square foot, realistic and authentic recreation of life-size dinosaurs, and the prehistoric world in which they lived. According to Sinclair, dinosaurs dramatized the age and quality of the crude oils from which Sinclair petroleum products are made. In other words, a dinosaur mascot was a natural choice for a fossil fuel company, as it reminded customers of the precious resources fueling their cars. A less altruistic reason, perhaps, was the logo’s appeal to children, who would beg their parents to stop at the gas station with the giant, but gentle mascot.
Today at Dinosaur Valley in Glen Rose, Texas, Dinosaur Valley State Park, excuse me, in Glen Rose, Texas, excited children and adults implore their parents to let them visit the park’s own reptilian residents, Bronto and Rex, before continuing on to view fossilized tracks in the riverbed. What these 21st century families may not realize is that the two dinosaurs greeting them in Glen Rose welcomed New York’s World’s Fair visitors 50 years earlier.
So how did two oversized reptiles, artifacts from one of the United States’ most significant cultural events of the mid-20th century, end up in one of Texas’ smallest counties? Encompassing 646 acres of Flushing Meadows, Corona Park, and Queens, the 1964 and ’65 World’s Fair introduced visitors to new world cultures, foods, and high-tech innovations in the spirit of peace through understanding. The site had hosted the 1939 and ’40 World’s Fair, but this second international exposition would be unlike its predecessor, and indeed, unlike all previous exhibitions.
Headed by New York’s master builder, Robert Moses, the event lacked an official International Bureau of Exhibitions endorsement, which led several leading nations to decline invitations to participate. So instead, Moses turned to American corporations to fill exhibit pavilions and foot the bills, and they responded in force. Companies such as Ford, Kodak, and RCA spent thousands of dollars on exhibits, rides, and activities to showcase the latest cutting edge technologies. The Space Age was in full swing, and fairgoers waited in long lines to take in dazzling displays of technology and industry promising a bright future.
General Motors’ Futurama exhibit forecasted gleaming, modern metropolises. Bell Telephone introduced a video conferencing prototype. IBM showcased thinking computers, and there were jet packs. Innovation merged with nostalgia in attractions produced by Walt Disney, whose early versions of It’s a Small World, and a lifelike speaking Abraham Lincoln in the State of Illinois pavilion helped him perfect his animatronic technology.
Juxtaposed against the science of the future was a science about the past: paleontology. One of the fair’s most popular attractions was Sinclair Oil’s Dinoland. Inspired by the company’s recognizable brontosaurus logo, this life-sized display of ancient reptiles and antediluvian settings captured the imaginations of kids and adults alike. Fairgoers came face to face with the ferocious beasts of the past. The exhibit also allowed Sinclair to tout its geological expertise, and multimillion-dollar research facilities, which the company hoped would make visitors of driving age more inclined to purchase Sinclair Oil products for their cars.
The 1964 and ’65 World’s Fair was not the first to display life-sized dinosaurs. London’s 1852 Crystal Palace exhibition featured a reconstructed dinosaur model. Sinclair’s reptiles debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 and ’34, traveled to Dallas for the 1936 Texas Centennial, and were a popular attraction at the 1939 and ’40 World Fair. A new, updated set was desired for 1964, incorporating the latest in paleontological research with some models incorporating moving parts for added believability. Crafting one life-sized dinosaur would be a challenge for any artist, but Sinclair ordered nine for its exhibit. It turned to a seasoned sculptor to ensure its primordial creatures would impress the general public and professional scientists.
Dinoland featured the work of Louis Paul Jonas, a Hungarian-born taxidermist and sculptor who was known for his meticulous attention to detail. Jones immigrated to the United States in 1906 to work with his brothers in a Colorado taxidermy shop. At age 18, while on a trip to New York City, he met famed taxidermist and conservationist Carl Ackley, and became his assistant. Jonas later launched his own business from an abandoned railroad station turned studio in Mahopac, New York. Jones built large-scale habitat groups and wildlife displays for museums as well as small animal figurines. It mattered little whether Jones had actually seen the animal in the wild.
So by the time of the World’s Fair, Jonas’ decades of experience made him the top choice for the Sinclair Oil assignment, and true to form, he wanted to get it right working with renowned paleontologists. But still, it took three years and over 15 assistants to create and complete this prehistoric commission. Working out of a much larger studio in Claverack, New York, the Jonas team sketched each dinosaur before crafting one tenth scale clay models. Transparencies of the models were projected onto a wall, and then sketched. A plywood frame came next, which was wrapped with wire mesh and filled out with burlap and plaster. This basic form was then covered with modeling clay to give the dinosaurs their face and skin detail. The clay, once dry, was cut into large pieces, and a plaster mold created for each section. A polyester and fiberglass resin was sprayed and painted into the molds to create shell pieces which, once dry, were bolted onto a lightweight steel frame. Seams were smoothed and sanded, followed by a thorough paint job. Jonas’ dinosaurs were more lifelike than their predecessors, as new materials like fiberglass allowed for subtle touches like skin texture. Still, the sheer size was amazing. Jonas estimated that his brontosaurus weighed 5,000 pounds.
Once Jonas’ team completed its work, 30,000 locals showed up to give the larger than life sculptures a proper sendoff. From Claverack, the dinosaurs floated 125 miles down the Hudson River on barges, arriving in New York City to equal fanfare in October of 1963. The Dinoland sculptures ranged in size, from six feet long to 70 feet long, and each was carefully installed in a Mesozoic Era landscape featuring lush greenery, running water features, and a raging volcano.
Dinoland merged education and entertainment using Sinclair’s interest in dinosaurs to demonstrate the company’s commitment to scientific research and to create brand loyalty. At Dinoland, men, women, and children transported themselves back in time, marveled at the scale of a pre-human world, and perhaps even took home a small, plastic bronto of their own as a souvenir. Those who visited the fair as children still recall their excitement watching their mini bronto take shape.
This is from Ann Yeager, of Bronxville, New York. “My most visceral memory, and it is very strong, is that of the Sinclair dinosaur machine, where you put coins in. I think it was 50 cents and the green goop came down the pipes and was pressed between two halves of a dinosaur mold through the glass right in front of you. Then it came out of the bottom like in any vending machine, still slightly warm. The green plastic smell was fabulous. I kept the dinosaur for many years, mostly hoping to capture that smell, a cross between new car and gasoline.” I mean, could there have been any better souvenir from a petroleum company.
At Dinoland, Sinclair asserted its scientific and industrial aptitude. It also laid claim to such expertise by funding research in the field of paleontology, further reinforcing the link between Sinclair Oil and dinosaurs. Excavations in Wyoming and Colorado in the early ’30s received Sinclair Oil money, but it was one such funded expedition in the small agricultural community of Glen Rose, Texas that helped Roland T. Bird capture the discovery of a lifetime.
Bird, a field explorer for the American Museum of Natural History in New York, traveled the country looking for fossils and bones for the institution. Acting on a tip he received from a clerk in New Mexico, Bird pointed his car east, and arrived in Glen Rose in November of 1938. Much to his delight, right in front of the county courthouse was a perfectly preserved theropod track. Bird inquired as to the track’s origin, and learned that such things were taken for granted in the community. Glen Rose’s tracks date from the Cretaceous period, 113,000,000 years ago, when roaming dinosaurs left footprints in calcium-rich mud. The mud hardened, and preserved the shape of their feet and claws. Layers of dirt and sediment covered up the tracks, which were slowly revealed by area rivers through millennia of erosion.
Now, Glen Rose is the county seat of Somervell County. It’s 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth. It’s primarily an agricultural community, and in the 1920s, it experienced a small boom in popularity thanks to the discovery of artesian mineral wells, so it became something of a health resort. Hoping to capitalize on this tourism boom and in sync with the national Good Roads Movement, the county began to improve its roads and water crossings. Highway 68 received a concrete and steel bridge in 1923, so by the time Roland T. Bird arrived, area thoroughfares were above average, and easily navigable in his trusty Buick.
After meeting local farmer and landowner Jim Riles, Bird asked to see track locations on his property, but Riles did not share Bird’s enthusiasm. Previously, the farmer had cut a few tracks out of the riverbed, hoping to sell them for profit, but the amount of work involved did not bear the expected returns. Riles described to Bird the types of tracks he had seen over the years; most had been three-toed specimens, like the one Bird encountered at the county courthouse. However, Riles claimed to have seen tracks from a different shape, much larger, but they were now buried under deep silt and gravel. As Bird began to investigate, he came across two trails of three-toed tracks, which he hoped to excavate for his museum’s new Jurassic Hall display. But after digging into a nearby pothole, Bird uncovered something even he could not believe: sauropod tracks. These tracks were larger, rounder, and had four toes instead of three. He was beside himself.
Finding sauropod tracks was a hugely significant event at the time. Paleontologists of the period debated whether or not an animal like a brontosaurus could even move on land, hypothesizing instead such creatures lived in the ocean. So Bird made sure to cast as many plaster casts as he could of these prints, and ship them back east, sharing his news with his colleagues and the local media. Word spread quickly throughout Glen Rose, and reached major cities. The Dallas Morning News published an article on the discovery in November of 1938.
Bird returned to Texas for additional work in the spring of 1940, this time funded partially by Texas’ statewide Paleontological Survey, a WPA project, and partially by Sinclair Oil. He hired a crew of young men to build cofferdams and to clean mud and silt from the exposed tracks. The project generated a lot of interest with many residents visiting the site to watch the action. For three months, the men exposed more and more dinosaur footprints. Bird had promised tracks to a number of institutions: the University of Texas at Austin, Southern Methodist University, Brooklyn College, and the Smithsonian. The slab delivered to Bird’s own museum was 28 feet long. Satisfied he had secured some of the best-fossilized footprints he had ever seen, Bird wrapped up the project in July of 1940.
As big city outsiders and professionals began to show up in Glen Rose in search of tracks, locals began to reassess the value of their long taken for granted resource. Riles had not charged Bird access to his property, but other landowners capitalized, charging access to view tracks on their parcels. Some sold fossils at times out of necessity, to supplement their incomes. Vandalism became a concern too, as word spread about the community’s prehistoric relics. Still, the community wanted to promote its dinosaur discoveries by developing the track sites into tourist destinations. Such a move would help boost the local economy, and reap the benefits of a post-World War II America that now had time and money to road trip.
Bird’s excavations brought Glen Rose to the American public through magazine articles, museum displays, and collections. By 1963, travel writer Ed Sires desired that the American public come to Glen Rose, “for there was nothing else like seeing the tracks in situ. I’ve seen both Austin’s and New York’s excellent exhibits. At both, you are quite aware that is what they are: exhibits. Not so with these footsteps. You need pretend nothing. You know where you stand, and where they walked. It is that knowing, and looking, that shakes your earth and turns your sky old. What will Glen Rose do with its dinosaur valley?”
The Somervell County Historical Society and Chamber of Commerce developed a dinosaur trail for motoring tourists. US Congressman Bob Poage of Waco proposed a national scenic parkway. Such interventions would bring travelers, but they did little to protect the track sites themselves. So in May of 1966, the Whitaker family took the first step, offering the Chamber of Commerce a purchase offer on their 347 acres with the intent that the land be bought by a private entity and then donated to the state. The Texas legislature created Dinosaur Valley State Park the following spring, but it came with no funding. As time on the purchase option nearly ran out, everything fell into place. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, or TPWD, signed a contract for the land in September of 1968.
By the time Dinosaur Valley State Park became a reality, the New York World’s Fair was four years in the past, and few of its structures were intended to last beyond the event, though some pavilions and attractions were reassembled in new locations. Hoping to prolong the popularity of its display and to continue advertising, Sinclair took its reptiles on the road. T-Rex, brontosaurus and their pals toured the nation, setting up in mall parking lots. Families unable to visit the fair at least had a chance to visit one of its captivating displays.
The Sinclair Dinosaur Tour stopped in Fort Worth in September of ’66, and the Glen Rose Chamber of Commerce set up an information booth there, handing out copies of its dinosaur hunting licenses, eager to increase visitation to the town and to garner support for their new and proposed state park. Seeing the large lizards in person, chamber representatives wished to secure them at the end of their national tour, believing they would be a really valuable addition to the park. Texas governor Preston Smith echoed this petition, in written form and on a radio program in March 1970.
His timing was much better; the spring before, a merger between Sinclair Oil and the Atlantic Richfield Company, or ARCO, forced the green brontosaurus logo into retirement. Sinclair didn’t need its life-sized dinosaurs anymore, and the governor’s request for the popular, prehistoric statues, along with several others, filled ARCO company mailboxes.
TPWD officials met with the governor’s office in May, where they learned that the agency, thanks to the governor’s efforts, would indeed receive two dinosaur models for its still in development park. And Tuesday, July 14th, 1970, marked one of the more interesting days in our agency’s history, for it was the day that dinosaurs returned to Glen Rose. Park superintendent Lester Galbraith and staff, having no experience installing such large sculptures, did their best to welcome the creatures, but unfortunately, T-Rex’s tail cracked when the sculpture’s lower half took an unexpected tumble.
Louis Paul Jonas flew to Glen Rose the next month to repair the tail, surely happy his most recognized pieces would not go unforeseen in storage after all. ARCO Company representatives were pleased, too. The dinosaur donation made a good press release, and they could write it off as a gift on their tax returns. The company requested from TPWD a formal receipt totaling $94,344.
Dinosaur Valley State Park opened to the public on October 2nd, 1970. Governor Smith arrived to formally accept the dinosaur models, and Roland T. Bird arrived, returning to Glen Rose for the first time since his dig, a discovery that set everything into motion 30 years earlier. The ribbon cutting brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, state officials, oil company executives, paleontologists, and local boosters, who all gathered with a crowd of 500 in the shadow of the park’s new prehistoric beasts. And during the early days of Dinosaur Valley State Park, Rex and Bronto were really the only features greeting visitors on their way to the tracks. Decidedly, the most unusual residents of the Texas State Parks System, the pair tested park staff from the beginning with their special maintenance needs.
Louis Paul Jonas Studios returned in 1974 to complete $10,000 worth of general repairs, including joint realignment and exterior refinishing.
Two years later, T-Rex’s troublesome tail once again needed work, and TPWD staff used Bondo, a fiberglass automotive product to repair the damage. They had to guess at the correct paint colors to use. By 1984 the brontosaurus tail was now showing significant deterioration, and T-Rex had 18 fewer teeth. Both dinos had warping seams, and cracks in their skin, and this more extensive work totaled $19,000. More recently, Rex has a new coat of paint as of 2015, but Bronto’s 2010 color has faded, a job estimated to cost $30,000. Rex and Bronto are a big draw for the area’s dinosaur based tourism industry, which in 2012 brought in $23,000,000.
Marrying a long-standing public fascination with dinosaurs throughout the United States, some dinosaur theme parks capitalize on a certain kitsch. Virginia’s Dinosaur Land, their beasts were created about the same time as the Sinclair Oil dinosaurs, but these weathered models delight visitors with fantastic scenes of dino-on-dino violence. Other bonus displays of huge, enormous beasts introduce an element of fantasy.
So even in Texas and beyond, dinosaurs remain an undeniably popular roadside attraction, and Dinosaur Valley State Park’s beasts share in this appeal. The figures themselves are this unique combination of art, advertising, entertainment, education, and nostalgia. Rex and Bronto add an element of fun to our park, but scientific analysis of the site’s world-class, priceless, prehistoric resources remains an interpretive priority. Static exhibits and ranger-led tours of the track sites teach basic paleontological concepts and emphasize the educational value of the site. Such explanations do not always satisfy visitor’s curiosity, however, as the tracks regularly prompt questions from those whose religious faith offers a different viewpoint. Some proponents of creationism, or intelligent design, assert that dinosaurs and humans lived contemporaneously. Oddly shaped depressions in the local riverbeds can appear to lend support to such claims, though scientists dispute the idea.
The area’s cache of dinosaur tracks attracted Carl Evan Baugh, a self-proclaimed dinosaur discoverer and televangelist, to the area, and in 1984 he founded the Creation Evidence Museum of Texas, located two miles from the state park. In Glen Rose, entertainment and education, science and religion, two pairs of seemingly contradictory interests, literally exist side by side.
No matter your persuasion regarding geological time, public perceptions of dinosaurs are derived from figures like Rex and Bronto, who help young and old alike picture a long-ago world. Admittedly, the duo is a well-researched and intentioned projection, but Dinosaur Valley State Park’s unofficial hosts are more than an Instagram-worthy selfie backdrop. Now over 50 years of age, they’re eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. They’re vitally important to the local economy, as they attract millions of visitors and their dollars to a relatively small, but growing Texas community, and frame discussions about science and faith. It is fitting that two dinosaurs purchased with Sinclair Oil money continue to welcome motoring tourists to Dinosaur Valley State Park, just as they greeted World’s Fair goers in New York City several decades earlier.
Yet, Rex and Bronto, Texas State Parks’ most anomalous residents, pose significant preservation and interpretive challenges. The maintenance of life-sized ancient beasts, now historic in their own right, the juxtaposition of roadside kitsch along scientific inquiry, and the continuing debate between evolution and creationism. Thank you.
And fun fact, can you go back to the last slide? The little boy is my husband.
Speaker 1: Okay. Questions.
Speaker 2: We have something in common. Seeing that I’m talking about dinosaurs tomorrow, I’m curious, what system was used for the paint coats, for the new painting that was done in 2010 and 2015?
Jennifer Carpenter: Actually, I don’t know, I believe we contracted out that work, but we do have our agent that we have an interpretive staff, we have a curatorial staff, and they typically handle those restoration projects. I’m here to do the research, but yeah, we typically will work with conservationists or other people that are recognized for that type of work, and we’ll contract that out and have them come to the site.
Speaker 3: As an original fairgoer I certainly remember these. Question is do you know what happened to the other figures?
Jennifer Carpenter: Yes. Most of them have new homes. There were nine originally, and I have in my notes … there’s one in Houston that’s outside of a science museum, there’s one I believe in a national park, I think in Colorado, the stegosaurus. So they’ve all kind of had these post-Sinclair lives, educational uses mostly, but they’re still really compelling, kinda kitschy figures that draw in kids and parents.
Speaker 1: I’m thinking they need a reunion.
Jennifer Carpenter: On the barge.
Speaker 1:Do we have any more questions?
Speaker 4: I just have a comment. You know, you talked about creationists being side by side. I know the Cabazon dinosaurs that … do you know of the Cabazon dinosaurs? They were bought by a creationist group, they’re out in Palm Springs, right outside of Palm Springs, and so you have to go through their creationist story before you can go see the dinosaurs.
Jennifer Carpenter: Okay, interesting.
Jennifer Carpenter is a Preservation, Research, and Outreach Specialist with Texas State Parks’ Historic Sites and Structures Program. She earned a Master’s degree in Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland, where she investigated New Deal-era experiments with rammed earth construction, and received a B.A. in History from Wake Forest University. She regularly presents about the Civilian Conservation Corps and Texas State Parks and is researching how other work programs impacted park development. Her previous experience includes positions with the Raleigh Historic Development Commission and the curatorial offices of the Supreme Court of the United States and U.S. Treasury Department.