T.rex Thursday - How this whole crazy plan got started

This was supposed to be a T.rex Tuesday post, but it ran a little over. So I am deferring to a special T.rex Thursday edition instead. Though we aren't doing too much road tripping right now, I thought it would be a good time to sit down and tell you more about how this whole crazy thing got started. And like any good dinosaur story, it starts with a kid, and an obsession.

I am lucky enough that I am able to work in fields that have fascinated me since childhood. My hobbies closely mirror that good fortune as well. In this case, that dinosaur-obsessed kid was me. There was a point in my childhood that I was certain that I wanted to be a paleontologist. Which is a big enough word that it thrills adults a little bit to hear an eight year old say it.

A cast of Wankel rex, our inspiration in all of this, at the University of California Berkeley Museum of Paleontology.

A cast of Wankel rex, our inspiration in all of this, at the University of California Berkeley Museum of Paleontology.

That might have been the end of the story, but teenage me took over a few years later. Awash in hormones, I had discovered girls, irrational angst, and a lot of other emotional range that makes absolutely zero sense to me today. In that hormone-addled fog, I made a crucial life decision: everything that there was to know about dinosaurs had been discovered. My life’s dream, as it were, was pointless. (Teenagers, right?) So began a decade-long stumble through my formative years that finally and very fortunately ended with my going to work first as a newspaper writer and later entering the railroad field - another thing that I had loved since childhood.

It doesn’t take a whole lot to figure out exactly how wrong I was. This was, mind you, around 1983. A quick timeline of T.rex and dinosaur research opens up a lot of what-ifs that I try to avoid. I’ve made some wrong decisions in my lifetime, but it’ll be hard to get anything more wrong that that. It wasn’t all without merit, though. Along the way, I took up photography as a hobby. That has dovetailed nicely into all of the other things that I have done as well. 

Fast-forward another two decades, and my career had taken me to New York, Chicago, and California. And I was standing there looking at the impressive Tyrannosaurus rex display at the Los Angeles County Natural History Musuem in late 2016, when an idea started to form: how cool would it be to take a road trip, from coast to coast, for the unveiling of the Nation’s rex at the Smithsonian in Washington DC in 2019? Starting from that very musuem, we could chart out a route to see as many as we could - LA, Bozeman, Drumheller, Hill City, Chicago, New York, and finally and triumphantly into DC.  The whole thing, it seemed, would be ripe for a documentary. Road trip, science, exploration, fun.

A few weeks later, I’d charted out a course, worked through several themes and story lines, and charted out the basic framework for ten episodes, plus conceptual design for two follow-up seasons that would let me delve deeper into other dinosaurs and more of the science behind them. As an idea, T.rex Road Trip was born. I would learn later that the name had also been used as a hashtag when MOR 555, the specimen destined to become Nation’s rex, left Musuem of the Rockies in Bozeman to begin its trek to the Smithsonian. Fate, it seemed, was on the side of the idea.

Excitedly, I put together all of my materials and pitched them to a documentary producer friend. We’d traveled together plenty of times before, and I wanted his input. The response was a bit more tepid than I expected. He didn’t think there was a market for it, we didn’t have a landing spot for the show, and he figured audience interest was a pretty narrow niche. I couldn’t argue with the first two points, but I didn’t agree on the last. I saw lots of interest online. But how to reach them? Pulling back, I reconsidered my marquis road trip.

At the time, I was traveling a lot for work, and had the opportunity to visit a number of the museums on my list. Why not re-package T.rex Road Trip as an online blog, and try to reach directly out to the audience I had seen online? Which more or less takes us up to where we are today. Over the past two years, I have visited several museums on two continents, and have taken a LOT of video that still needs to be worked up. I have switched jobs, and am not traveling nearly as far or as often. But I have more projects than I can manage in my spare time. T.rex Road Trip, it seems, will keep me very busy.

So what does the future hold? I have been promising to get video edited and put up on YouTube for a long time. That’s still an intent. And I haven’t quite let go of that two week coast-to-coast road-tripping fantasy. This project is nowhere close to complete, and now I am living in south-central Colorado, literally surrounded by fossil beds and additional material, in directions I haven’t even begun to explore yet. Though it sometimes seems like it falls into neglect behind my job responsibilities, T.rex Road Trip is still going strong. I am thankful for all of you who have joined us so far, and am looking forward to seeing what the future brings.