A Tyrannosaurus rex discovered by a Montana fossil hunter near Ekalaka is one of the main attractions at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s new Dinosaur Hall, which opens to the public Saturday.
Bob Curry of Baker discovered the fossil and named it Thomas the T. rex, after his brother Tom, who lives in Billings. The brothers grew up in Baker and spent a lot of time hunting fossils together, but when Bob found the T. rex in 2003, Tom was working as an electrician in Seattle.
When Bob told his brother what he had named the find, Tom said he didn’t get it at first.
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘Thomas? Why would he name it Thomas?’” When it finally dawned on him, Tom said, “I came up right out of the chair. It was amazing.”
Thomas the T. rex will soon be amazing visitors to the Los Angeles museum. It is part of what the museum describes as the “stunning centerpiece” of the new Dinosaur Hall, an exhibit that illustrates the growth series of the T. rex.
Besides Thomas, considered a young adult, the exhibit features two other Montana T. rexes, a baby and a juvenile, found in the 1960s near Jordan. Those were discovered by Harley Garbani, a legendary amateur paleontologist who died earlier this year.
Bob Curry said he discovered Thomas the T. rex after Mike Lohof, who had found some fossils on his ranch east of Ekalaka, invited Curry out to do some more exploring. Curry did, and soon made his startling find.
He said he saw the fossils protruding from the face of a butte, and he knew right away that he was looking at part of a femur and “a busted-up metatarsal.” He also knew that most of Lohof’s ranch was owned by the Bureau of Land Management, so he pulled out his GPS device and quickly determined that the fossils were on BLM land.
Without touching the site, he called Frances “Frankie” Jackson, an acquaintance of his who is an assistant research professor of paleontology and geology at Montana State University in Bozeman.
Jackson called Luis Chiappe, curator of the L.A. museum’s Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, with whom she’d worked on digs in Patagonia, China and various places in the United States.
She and Chiappe led the team that uncovered the T. rex on Lohof’s ranch, working during the summers of 2003, ’04 and ’05. What they ended up with, Chiappe said in a telephone interview, was “a very beautiful specimen” that is about two-thirds complete.
The museum says on its website that Thomas is among the five most complete T. rex specimens on earth, but Chiappe hedged a bit on that, saying it probably ranks among the top 10. The 34-foot-long creature was thought to have been 17 years old and weighed about 7,000 pounds when it died some 66 million years ago.
Chiappe said the museum’s new Dinosaur Hall opened with a gala “dino ball” for members last Saturday and has been open for members-only viewing this week. It will open to the public Saturday.
So far, he said, the new hall has been “incredibly popular. Everybody loves it.” It has 14,000 square feet of exhibit space and includes a wide variety of dinosaur fossils in addition to the centerpiece that features Thomas the T. rex.
Bob Curry said he and his brother went to L.A. and saw the nearly complete jaw of Thomas a few years ago, but they won’t be able to get down this week for opening ceremonies. He said they hope to go there this fall.
Bob Curry has been working as a teacher in Nevada for the past couple of years, after retiring from a 27-year career as a teacher in Baker. He is home for the summer, visiting family and friends.
He said he first learned about dinosaurs from Marshall Lambert, his high school science teacher in Ekalaka, who later became the curator of the Carter County Museum there. Lambert found many of the dinosaur fossils displayed at the museum.
Chiappe has also donated some specimens to the museum in Ekalaka and said he looks forward to returning to the area.
“I would like to work again in Montana. ... People are fantastic. I really enjoy working there,” he said.
Contact Ed Kemmick at email@example.com or 657-1293.