The logistics behind moving a Tyrannosaurus Rex named Sue
In the summer of 1884, Canadian geologist Joseph Tyrell and his team were looking for coal in the Red Deer River valley of Alberta when they stumbled upon a 70-million-year-old dinosaur skull; the first of its meat-eating species ever found. It was just a few kilometers from where the Royal Tyrell Dinosaur Museum of Palaeontology now stands in Drumheller, Alberta.
After carefully removing the fossil from its resting place, they tried to figure out how they were going to transport the massive fossil out of the valley. After all, they had arrived by canoe on the Red River and the skull was too big and too heavy to make the return trip that way. They carefully packed it and placed it on a buckboard – the only option available. Joseph’s group took great pains to preserve the integrity of their find as they made their way to Calgary – a painstaking, week-long, 150 kilometer journey. From there it was shipped to Ottawa by rail to the National Museum of Natural Sciences.
Fast forward more than 130 years and, thankfully, the logistics required to move massive dinosaur exhibits across Canada have improved significantly since Tyrell’s time.
Introducing a T. Rex Named Sue
The legendary Tyrannosaurus Rex has long captivated public interest, and Sue is the most famous T. rex of all! At 12.8 m (42 feet) long and 3.66 m (12 feet) tall at the hips, this T. rex inspires as much awe today as she did 67 million years ago.
Sue was uncovered in South Dakota in 1990 by palaeontologist Sue Hendrickson. After ownership disputes were settled, the fossil was auctioned at Sotheby’s in October, 1997 for $8.4 million (USD), the highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur fossil. Sue is now a permanent feature at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.
The discovery of Sue ranks as one of the most important fossil finds ever, with tremendous educational value for scientists and the general public. With its extraordinarily powerful jaws and massive serrated steak-knife like teeth, T. rex is one of the largest flesh-eaters to have ever inhabited the Earth, and the T. rex still dominates popular perceptions of the Age of Dinosaurs.
The ‘A T. rex Named Sue’ dinosaur exhibit includes an exact replica of the original fossil. She’s quite a traveler, having been packed, transported, and re-assembled in 70 different locations around the world since 2000.
In mid-January of this year, the ‘A T. rex Named Sue’ exhibit was transported from Detroit’s Michigan Science Center to the Discovery Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a return engagement. Sue’s last visit there was in 2011.
The cross-border move involved 40 crates (some as large as a garden shed) shipped via three tractor trailers. To facilitate the move, cross-border customs paperwork had to be in order for the three trucks (provided by Keltic Transportation of New Brunswick, Canada) to pass together without delay.
The shipment, weighing in at 19,133 kgs (42,181 lbs.) took a total of three days to complete from pick up in Detroit to unload in Halifax. Streets near the Discovery Centre first had to be cleared of snow and a tilt-loader was used to offload the crates.
Under the watchful eyes of a technician from Sue’s home base at the Field Museum in Chicago, the Halifax Discovery Centre team assembled Sue with a scaffolding system and a beam lift with chainfall. The scaffold was built in place and Sue went up around it; then the scaffold system was taken down. Sue has 250 fully articulating sections and her rib cage alone weighs over 360 kg (800lbs). Sue herself was put together in a day and a half, and the associated exhibits took about two and a half more days to install.
All in all, the move was smooth, but it also had its challenges.
“It’s not every day you get to move a 20,000 kg dinosaur exhibit,” observes Eric Dewey, President and CEO, Schenker of Canada Ltd. “It takes careful planning and execution to ensure that the logistics surrounding special projects like these are managed flawlessly.”
Not only did the planning and execution have to be managed properly, but the cross-border paperwork had to be in order as well.
“We’ve worked with Schenker on a couple of big project moves like Sue,” says Jeff McCarron, Director of Exhibits, Halifax Discovery Centre. “They understand that travelling exhibits like these are always one-of-a-kind – they take very careful planning and usually have special handling requirements.
“Our organization’s not-for-profit status and the nature of internationally touring exhibitions require very specific customs paperwork. Having a competent logistics team like Schenker’s is an enormous asset and helps us rest easy during what can be a stressful moving event,” adds Jeff.
What’s next for the “A T. rex Named Sue” dinosaur exhibit?
“This is the first time shipping the exhibit with Schenker and, based on the success of this delivery, we will be using them to ship Sue to her next destination which is the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, California, in May, 2016,” adds Lindsay Washburn, Traveling Exhibitions Manager, The Field Museum, Chicago. “Sue should prove to be an absolute thrill for children of all ages there as well.”