Montana State University

Wankel T. rex heads to Washington, D.C.

April 11, 2014 -- By Evelyn Boswell

The Wankel T. rex, loaded inside this FedEx truck, left Bozeman April 11 for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. In the foreground is “Big Mike,” a bronze cast of the 65-million-year-old skeleton discovered in 1988. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).

The Wankel T. rex, loaded inside this FedEx truck, left Bozeman April 11 for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. In the foreground is “Big Mike,” a bronze cast of the 65-million-year-old skeleton discovered in 1988. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).    High-Res Available

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BOZEMAN –  The Wankel T. rex is now on the road to Washington, D.C., where it’s expected to attract more visitors than any other Tyrannosaurus rex fossil in the world at the National Museum of Natural History.

 On loan to the Smithsonian Institution for 50 years, the 65-million-year old skeleton left Bozeman shortly after 2 p.m. Friday, April 11, in 16 crates in a customized FedEx truck. It will arrive at the Smithsonian sometime before Tuesday, April 15, when another round of celebratory activities will begin.

“This is a really great day for the Museum of the Rockies,” Shelley McKamey, executive director of Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies, said during the send-off celebration at the museum.

“It’s really exciting for us,” said Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History Kirk Johnson.

It was also an emotional day for McKamey, who was part of the crew that excavated the skeleton in 1989 and 1990, and for Kathy Wankel of Angela, who discovered the fossil in 1988 near the Fort Peck Reservoir in northeast Montana.

“It’s been such an amazing experience for our entire family,” Wankel said.

Besides meeting incredible people and building relationships with paleontologists and staff at the Museum of the Rockies, Wankel said she is making new friends at the Smithsonian. She also praised MSU paleontologist Jack Horner for the “fantastic” research he conducted over the past 25 years on the dinosaur that was 18 years old when it died violently.

Wankel said she was sad to see the skeleton leave, but she was excited that so many people will be able to visit it in Washington, D.C. The skeleton will be the centerpiece of a new paleontology exhibit scheduled to open in 2019 in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. It’s predicted that at least 7 million people a year will view the Wankel T. rex – one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossils in the world. And since many of those visitors are tourists, they won’t be the same 7 million every year.

Wankel, McKamey, Horner and Johnson were four of six dignitaries who spoke during the 30-minute farewell ceremony at the MOR’s Hager Auditorium. Others were Pat Leiggi, crew chief when the dinosaur was excavated and now administrative director of paleontology and director of exhibits at the MOR; and Darin McMurry, assistant operations project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Horner, Leiggi and McKamey were joined on stage by some of the others who worked on the field crew that excavated the dinosaur. They included Wankel, her husband Tom, and their children Lee, Rock and Whitney. Others were Bob Harmon, Carrie Ancell and Matt Smith.

A caravan accompanied the Wankel T. rex as it left the Museum of the Rockies and rode through downtown Bozeman.  Finally on its own, the FedEx truck headed east toward Washington, D.C.

The image of a dinosaur and a slogan announced its cargo.

 “Delivering History: the Nation’s T. rex,” it said.  

Widespread coverage followed from the national and international media. Here is a sampling: 

National Public Radio: “A T. Rex Treks to Washington for a Shot at Fame” 

Washington Post: “T. rex to Arrive in D.C. on Tuesday” 

BBC News: “How to move a T. rex dinosaur across the U.S.”  

LA Times: “Rare T. rex rests its bones at Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History” 

Christian Science Monitor: “Nearly complete T. rex skeleton to join Smithsonian collection

CBS News: “T. rex arrives in Washington

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu