When I started writing this article, my intent was to review and describe Restaurantosaurus, the counter service eatery located in Dinoland U.S.A at the Animal Kingdom. However, the more I got into the piece, the more I realized you can’t write about the restaurant without discussing the backstory of Dinoland. You see, the two are united in a pseudo-history that Disney created to add realism to the area. It would be difficult to tell the story of one without telling the story of the other. So what you will receive over the next two days is a linear account of both Dinoland and Restaurantosaurus and how they grew together over time. I also might take a side trip or two in order to cover other bits of Disney history semi-related to the area.
In 1946, a rustic fishing lodge could be found along U.S. Highway 498 in Diggs County, somewhere in the heartland of America. Nestled in a grove of trees, this spot provided local and visiting anglers a place to relax and tell tall tales about the one that got away. Nearby, a gas station own by an elderly couple, Chester and Hester, provided the basic necessities of travel.
In 1947, an amateur fossil-hunter found a few old bones near the lodge. He took them to some of his paleontologist friends who verified their authenticity. Realizing the importance of the find, the group banded together and purchased the lodge and much of the surrounding land. This was the humble beginnings of what would eventually become the Dino Institute.
Professors and grad students soon took up residence here and created a makeshift dormitory. Needing a place to eat, a cafeteria was added within the old lodge. Since research programs are always looking for funding and grants are hard to come by, the students decided to open their cafeteria to the public and make a few additional bucks to help subsidize their various digs. Not being too particular about what to call their eatery, they simply erected a large sign on the roof that said “RESTAURANT.”
At the same time, the students also opened up a small, walk-up counter where motorists could purchase an ice-cream cone, cookies, and a refreshing beverage. They called this location Dino-Bite.
College students being college students, monkeyshines and mischief began to ensue shortly after their arrival. It soon became the fad to add the suffix “osaurus” to signs throughout the lodge.
Of course, pranks must be “topped” and one particularly mischievous young man decided to add a huge “osaurus” to the “RESTAURANT” sign to the delight of his classmates – and the name stuck.
As word of the dinosaur find spread, tourists began to stop by to see what all of the hubbub was about. They would visit the dig site, known as the Boneyard, then head over to the lodge to see what else they could learn.
Since money was tight, it was not possible to build a proper tourist information center, so the professors and grad students opened their home and created a makeshift visitor’s center within the lodge. Now the travelers could stop by and receive a proper education as to what was going on in Diggs County.
As more and more relics were unearthed, the paleontologists displayed them on the walls and shelves of the lodge. Eventually, the visitor’s center was transformed into a mini-museum. Many of these early artifacts can still be seen today.
When the lodge grew too small to house all of the dinosaur bones, a tent was erected on Chester and Hester’s land and some of the larger creature’s skeletons were displayed fully assembled. This exhibit was called Dinosaur Jubilee. Nearby was the Fossil Preparation Lab where one of the paleontologists could be seen cleaning debris and dirt from recent finds. The map (below) shows the various sites.
On the walls of the lodge-museum are numerous pictures of team members, unearthing new discoveries.
Also found on a wall in the lodge’s main room is a portrait of Clarence P. Wilkerson. This gentleman believed in the project and was a major benefactor.
As the needs of the dig site grew, so did the needs of the support facility. First to be added was a Quonset hut. Erected adjacent to the lodge, this structure would serve as the maintenance bay for the various field vehicles.
Inside the Quonset hut you can still see engine parts, tools, hubcaps, and other automobile paraphernalia. Also, take a look at the walls. The imaginative mechanics have used their greasy hands to create some rather creative dinosaurs.
It seems our mechanic is also a sculptor. He created this dinosaur out of wrenches, nuts, bolts, and other metal odds and ends found in the garage.
Our artistic mechanic also has a sense of humor as can be seen on this wall sketch. In case you can’t read the small print the dinosaur says “Hey Harry, Have you got somethin’ for my U-joints….”
Notice the cans of oil on one of the shelves. The brand is Sinclair. This is the same brand of gasoline that Chester and Hester sell at their service station.
Sinclair is a real oil and refining company that was established in 1916 by Harry F. Sinclair. Its distinctive green dinosaur silhouette (brontosaurus) logo was a fixture on U.S. highways for many years.
Sinclair sponsored a dinosaur exhibit at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair. The exhibit pointed out the supposed relationship of petroleum deposits and dinosaurs. The display included a two-ton animated model of a brontosaurus – an early and crude AudioAnimatronics.
At the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Sinclair sponsored another dinosaur exhibit. “Dinoland” featured life-size reproductions of nine different dinosaurs.
Of course Walt Disney was also at the New York World’s Fair with his own dinosaur attraction. On “Magic Skyway,” guests road in Ford convertibles (the humble beginnings of the PeopleMover) and progressed in time from the day of the dinosaur to the modern era. After the fair, the AudioAnimatronics dinosaurs were moved to Disneyland and installed along the route of the Disneyland-Santa Fe Railroad.
The names “Sinclair” and “Disney” were united in 1991 with a joint venture by Michael Jacobs Productions, Jim Henson Productions, and Walt Disney Television. A TV show titled “Dinosaurs” premiered and ran for four seasons. The comedy revolved around a group of anthropomorphic dinosaurs whose last name just happened to be Sinclair.
Back at Restaurantosaurus, we find a tribute to Walt and his dinosaurs. First, there are several sketches from “The Rite of Spring” section of his movie Fantasia. Put to the music of Igor Stravinsky, this piece chronicles the rise and fall of dinosaurs. If you’ll notice, the title “Concert Feature” can be seen on the two sketches. This was the working title for Fantasia.
Nearby, a photograph of Walt, surrounded by his AudioAnimatronics dinosaurs, can be seen.
With more and more finds being discovered every day, the research facility continued to grow. However, money was still in short supply. To expand the facility again, semi-permanent tents were constructed next to the Quonset hut. The lower walls of these structures are built of wood while the upper sections are made of canvas.
This latest addition was used for auxiliary storage. Inside you’ll find provisions and camping gear as well as bones and other fossils excavated at the nearby Boneyard.
You will also find another student prank in this room – a classic. Over one of the doors is a bucket of water just waiting to find a target. Some poor, unsuspecting sole is going to get drenched.
As time marched on, the lodge became the first home of the Dino Institute which was formed to help promote this site and encourage a better understanding of paleontologists and dinosaurs. In addition, classroom studies became available to students for the first time. A sign of this can be seen on a flag hanging on one of the walls.
Hoping to generate cash for the struggling Institute, the trustees hired Dr. Helen Marsh sometime in the early 70’s. Dr. Marsh had a reputation of rescuing cash-strapped museums and bringing them back from the brink of disaster. Within days of her arrival at the Dino Institute, she purchased Chrono-Teck Inc which had recently lost its government grant. Six months later, she announced to a stunned scientific community that her company had invented the “Time Rover,” a vehicle that could travel back in time.
Things changed dramatically for the Dino Institute after this invention was announced. Now scientists could visit the prehistoric world for themselves. In addition, it brought the Institute prestige and funding to build a state-of-the-art facility to assist in research and house classrooms. The “new” Dino Institute was dedicated on April 22, 1978.
Dr. Marsh, calls the skeletal remains of dinosaurs, “quaint exhibits.” She also claims that this “bare bones” approach is about to become extinct. Capitalizing on this ideology, she insists that tours to the Cretaceous period be offered to non-professionals to help subsidize the costs of the new facility.
However, her announcement did not set well with the World Paleontological Society. Its president, Dr. Vladimur Borontsky, cautioned that thorough testing be conducted before the general public be allowed to ride. Dr. Marsh brushed these comments aside and stated, “Our staff has taken the ‘rover’ through an extensive ‘test-and-adjust’ phase and they all say the same thing. ‘It’s fast, it’s a blast, and it’s in the past.’”
Dr. Marsh’s superior attitude has become contagious and most of the others working in the main building are intent on maintaining a “dignified” decorum. On the other hand, the professors and grad students of the lodge realize that the unearthing of fossils will continue to be a wonderful source of knowledge and they’ve retained their down-home sense of humor. This is evident by the many pranks and shenanigans perpetrated in the lodge and around town. Their carefree attitude greatly distresses Dr. Marsh and the Institute leaders, but there is little they can do about it.
Meanwhile, Chester and Hester could see others getting rich while their profits had only risen mildly with the influx of tourists. Determined to cash in on the area’s new found wealth, they started selling souvenirs as well as gas. It wasn’t long before their tacky merchandise was raking in more money than the gas they sold, so they converted the entire service station into a large shop called “Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures.”
As profits started to grow, Chester and Hester decided to build a small amusement park across the street from their souvenir shop. Since their land bordered the main highway, this would be the perfect spot to attract passing tourist aiming for the Boneyard and the Dino Institute. However, this expansion would also require the removal of the Dinosaur Jubilee and the Fossil Preparation Lab which had been erected to showcase full-sized dinosaurs.
Fortunately, no hard feelings ensued with the forced removal of the exhibit. In fact, the students even paid homage to this entrepreneurial couple by hanging their photograph in the lodge.
That’s it for Part One of my Dinoland/Restaurantosaurus article. Check back tomorrow for the conclusion.
The previous post in this blog was Tomorrowland Speedway - Magic Kingdom.
The next post in this blog is A History of Dinoland U.S.A. and Restaurantosaurus - Part Two.