Moving those tired old bones

by Truck West

CHICAGO, Ill. – Imagine being put on display in 12 countries, at more than 70 venues and having more than seven million people from around the globe come to see you, all during the past 16 years.

Perhaps some day, if you are 67 million years old and are considered to be the largest, most complete and best preserved human specimen ever discovered, you could declare to be as popular as Sue, a T. rex fossil that lays claim to all of the above. Though the original specimen of Sue is housed at its permanent home at the Field Museum in Chicago, Ill., an exact replica of the dinosaur’s 250 bones travels the world giving those who love to channel their inner paleontologist a chance to see the larger-than life piece of history.

The exhibit, called ‘A T. rex Named Sue,’ is currently on display at Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Discovery Centre from Jan. 23 to May 8, which is the display’s 70th home. But how exactly does something so cumbersome get transported from location to location? Lindsay Washburn is the travelling exhibitions manager for the Field Museum in Chicago, and said that the cast of Sue, which measures 42 feet long and 12 feet high at the hips, with the tip of the tail reaching 16 feet, must be separated into seven different sections when transported.

“The exhibition travels in three 53-foot trailers,” Washburn said, “and it’s important that it’s a straight trailer without additional equipment because the crates fill up all three trucks entirely.”

The cast of Sue weighs 3,500 lbs when installed, and once separated into the various sections, they are placed in wooden crates, with the largest being for the exhibit’s 800-lb ribcage. Forty crates are used in total, and weigh in at more than 40,000 lbs once completely packed.

“Often times the hardest part of an installation is fitting the exhibition’s large crates through a venue’s door,” said Washburn. Squeezing a rather sizeable Sue through the door is not the only challenge that comes with moving its 3,500-piece skeleton from one museum to another – time can also be a hurdle overcome.

“It typically loads out immediately after de-installation is completed on Friday, then ships over the weekend and is at its next venue for unloading first thing on Monday morning,” Washburn explained. “With the unpredictability of weather and traffic, it can be difficult to work on a schedule with so little flexibility. If the exhibition’s shipping schedule is off, so is the installation, which can then impact the opening date of the exhibition.”

Washburn commended the crew that moves the exhibit, getting it ready to open by its scheduled date.

She added that with the assortment of museums ‘A T. rex Named Sue’ has visited since 2000, she has learned that when it comes to loading docks, there is no uniform blueprint.

“It’s important that we work closely with our shippers and host venues to make sure we have the proper equipment, such as lift gates, transition plates, palette jacks and forklifts needed to off-load the 40 crates,” said Washburn.

Devoid of its own passport, Sue does require the proper documentation to cross the Canada-US border, such was the case on the journey to Halifax.

“We rely on our shippers to tell us exactly what is needed to pass through customs,” said Washburn. “A dinosaur cast is not a typical shipment, so together we ensure that we have the proper papers filed and commercial invoices created to avoid any delay at the border.”

Washburn said that although trailers are used when transporting ‘A T. rex Named Sue’ within North America, it has been moved to international locations using five sea containers, which can take up to six weeks to reach its destination. This is the second time since 2011 that the exhibit has been on display at the Halifax museum.

“She was such a hit and so beloved by the city, the Discovery Centre decided to bring her back for the next generation of T. rex enthusiasts,” said Washburn. “T. rex has long dominated popular perception of the Age of Dinosaurs, and the exhibit provides Discovery Centre visitors with the rare opportunity to come face-to-face with one of the fiercest predators to have ever inhabited the Earth.”

The next stop for ‘A T. rex Named Sue’ after Halifax, which was moved from Detroit’s Michigan Science Center, will be Santa Barbara, Calif. this May.

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