‘The Nation’s T. rex’ is en route to Washington’s most-visited museum

Kathy Wankel of Angela, Mont., was on a family hike when she spotted the bit of bone sticking out of the dirt. It would become, as she called it, a "mega-find" and her namesake as the Wankel T. rex. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

 

Meet “Big Mike” — a bronze replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Big Mike lives in front of the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University in Bozeman, and is named after the school’s former president, Michael P. Malone.


(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Big Mike is based on “the Wankel T. rex,” which was discovered just before Labor Day in 1988 by Montana rancher Kathy Wankel. She’d been hiking with her husband in a rugged section of a federal wildlife refuge when she saw something — “like just a corner of an envelope sticking out.” It was an arm that belonged to one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever unearthed.

Here is an old photo of Museum of the Rockies paleontologist Jack Horner at the excavation site of the Wankel T. rex, which was estimated to have weighed 6 to 7 tons before dying in a riverbed near the eventual site of Fort Peck Reservoir:

(Courtesy of the Museum of the Rockies.)
(Courtesy of the Museum of the Rockies.)

Here is Kathy Wankel chatting with elementary school students beneath the bronze replica of her namesake fossil:


(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post.)

The fossil has lived at the Museum of the Rockies since it was unearthed.

Because it was found on federal land, it belongs to the Army Corps of Engineers.

And because the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History doesn’t have a real Tyrannosaurus rex (read here about the one that got away), the Army Corps is loaning the Wankel T. rex to the museum on the Mall for the next 50 years.

It will replace this life-size replica of “Stan,” a T. rex that was found in South Dakota in the 1980s:


(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

The agreement was signed in June, though the official transfer of the unmounted specimen was delayed until spring by the government shutdown.

Last week, scientists and other officials from the Army Corps, the Museum of the Rockies and the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum inspected, documented and packed each bone in Bozeman.

Just how do you prepare a dinosaur for a cross-country road trip? Very carefully.

Here is a piece by Post TV ‘s Lee Powell on the Washington-bound T. rex:

How do you prepare a 65-million-year-old T.rex for travel? The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana is making sure every bone has its place as the Wankel T.rex heads for Washington, D.C. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

Here, Kirk Johnson (center), the Natural History Museum’s director, and Matthew Carrano (right), the musem’s “curator of dinosauria,” look over the fossilized left upper jaw bone, right lower jaw bone and arm:


(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

The Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum — the world’s second-most-visited museum behind the Louvre — is giving the Wankel T. rex a new name: The Nation’s T. rex.

To get the the Nation’s T. rex to the nation’s capitol, the Smithsonian called FedEx.

No, really.


(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Here are the T. rex crates before they were loaded onto the truck for the 2,000-plus-mile journey to Washington:


(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Here is a video by Post TV’s Lee Powell on the 53-foot semi, which is being driven by a husband and wife team:

The Wankel T.rex is moving from Montana to Washington, D.C. in a 53-foot long semi driven by a husband and wife. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

Before the bones left Bozeman, though, there was a celebration for a very old friend.

Here are the Wankels waving during the parade down Main Street:


(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post.)

Here is another Lee Powell piece, on how Bozeman sent off one of Montana’s oldest, most famous residents:

Bozeman, Montana is losing one of its most famous residents, so a big sendoff is in order. For the next 50 years, the Wankel T.rex will be the Nation's T.rex at the Smithsonian and the most viewed T.rex ever. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

The dinosaur formerly known as the Wankel T. rex is scheduled to arrive at the Natural History Museum early Tuesday morning.

The seal on the truck will be broken, and the crates will be unloaded and inspected.

And then, at 10 a.m., in an exhibition space just off the National Museum of Natural History rotunda, the public can watch as Smithsonian scientists and other staff members begin to work with the bones.

They’ll be cleaned, repaired, reinforced and otherwise on view until National Fossil Day on Oct. 15, after which the bones will be shipped to Toronto, where the mount is being made.

Eventually, the Nation’s T. rex will stand as the centerpiece of the museum’s dinosaur hall, which is closing April 28 for a five-year, $48 million makeover.

J. Freedom du Lac is the editor of The Post's general assignment news desk. He was previously a Local enterprise reporter and, before that, the paper’s pop music critic.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read

local

local

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Next Story
Hamil R. Harris · April 11, 2014