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A History of Dinoland U.S.A. and Restaurantosaurus - Part One

Jack Spence Header


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.


Highway Sign

Fishing Lodge

Gas Station


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.”


Restaurant Sign


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.


Dino Bites


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.


osaruus suffix

osaruus suffix

osaruus suffix

osaruus suffix


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.


Restaurantosaurus Sign


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.


The Boneyard

The Boneyard

The Boneyard

The Boneyard


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.


Lodge Museum

Lodge Museum

Lodge Museum


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.


Dinosaur Jubilee

Dinosaur Jubilee

Dinoland U.S.A. Map


On the walls of the lodge-museum are numerous pictures of team members, unearthing new discoveries.


Museum Photographs

Museum Photographs

Museum Photographs


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.


Clarence P. Wilkerson


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.


Quonset hut

Quonset hut

Quonset hut


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.


Car Engine

Auto Tools

Hubcaps

Grease Dinosaur

Grease Dinosaur


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.


Metal Dinosaur


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….”


Dinosaur Cartoon


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 Oil

Chester & Hester Gas 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 Advertisement


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.


Sinclair at the Fair

Sinclair at the Fair


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.


Magic Skyway

Magic Skyway


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.


Sinclair TV Show


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.


Concert Feature

Concert Feature


Nearby, a photograph of Walt, surrounded by his AudioAnimatronics dinosaurs, can be seen.


Photo of Walt Disney


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.


Tents


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.


Tent Interior

Tent Interior

Tent Interior

Tent Interior


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.


Bucket of Water over the Door


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.


Dino Institute Flag


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.


Dr. Marsh

Dr. Marsh


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.


Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dino Institute


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.


Tme Travel


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.”


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.


Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama


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.


Photo of Chester and Hester


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.

Comments (18)

Isaac:

Jack, your in-depth look at Dinoland U.S.A. that you wrote a while back led me and my family to look a little deeper into the area during our last trip to Disney and we loved it! It ended up being one of the highlights of our trip! Thanks so much for all of your awesome writing.

Josh:

hey Jack
If there is one thing I love about Disney the most, it is the history behind all of the different attractions and specialized areas of the parks. I love the Dinosaur ride as well as spending a little bit of time seeing Chester and Hester. can't wait for part 2 and as always keep up the great work.

Carolyn:

And this is why Disney parks are so much better than other theme parks...Attention to detail. Will look at Dinoland in a whole new light when we return at Christmas! Great article!

Erin Miller:

I never cease to be amazed by Disney's detailed backstories. I never knew any of the backstory of Restaurantasaurus or DinoLand. I had a vague sense of what might be going on there, but your blog really increases my enjoyment of the area. There are so many details I want to check out next time we are in Animal Kingdom!

Nancy:

Sinclair puts that nickle in.
Puts that magic nickle in.
Only Sinclair Gasoline has
Nickle, nickle, nickle.

Marianela:

Great article as always Jack!
One of our favorites restaurantes in Animal Kingdom is Restaurantosaurus...even we have "our area" we always find a table in the Camping part. Even that I take notice of the different areas, and that where we always sat down was a storage, I never see complete story.

Thanks for remind me to slow down and smell the roses...

Bonnie Lorenzetti:

Hi Jack,
You never cease to amaze me with the details of Disney and every aspect. I way too often don't pay attention to all the details Disney has put into it's parks. I know I love coming back again and again and this is probably one of the big reasons that I just didn't realize until know (thanks to your blogs). Again, thank you for all the time and energy you put into these. It so makes our hum drum lives away from Disney more bearable until we can get ourselves back down for another fix. LOL
Bonnie

J Hunt:

Loved this. We spent a day at AK this past weekend and our kids love this area (we do too) - so much cool stuff to experience. One of our favorite places to relax and eat as well. Thanks Jack.

Shelley:

Once again, we've learned something new from your very informative articles! In all the years we've been going to AK, we've never visited Restaurantosaurus. You've inspired us to explore it on our next trip! We do have one question for you though. Below the paragraph where you talk about the Dinosaur Jubilee, you have 2 pictures that show a tent-like structure with dinosaur bones and other things on exhibit. Is this place still there and where is it located? We are dumbfounded at how much we've missed in Dinoland!

Jack's Answer:

Dinosaur Jubilee was part of the original Dinoland. It only existed for a couple of years and was removed to make room for Chester & Hester's DinoRama.

Angelo Alomar:

Jack,

Thank you so much for writing this! We were just there this past weekend! I love the back story for Dinoland USA! It explains so much!!! At a point I thought it was out of place but, reading this has opened up my eyes! I can't wait to go back!

Thank you!

Mad Capn Bob:

I remember the Dinosaur Jubilee fondly. But let us not forgot, this is the very place that has given us one of reggae's greatest songs (no, *really*), "Diggin' in Dinoland"

Hello,
I'm a Dinoland fan for prime evil whirl. lol. I have done "Dinosaurs" 2-3 times and I really don't like it. My mom does. But anyway in my opinion i think they should revamp Dinosaur with a new look and ride and perhaps a lot of people would consider it a lot more. I think it's one of those unfavored rides.

Nathaniel Powe:

Hello Jack,

Once again youhave made my day! I'm still waiting on your book. I think a good book would be one about all of these little known Disney Park Storylines. I have a question that you may be able to answer...does the number "498" on the U.S. Highway 498 Diggs County sign hold any significance?

"The Disney Fanatic"

Jayne:

We were there the week it opened and Restaurantosaurus was the first in park place at which we ate. My kids loved it.

And in my scrapbook I have "Countdown to Extinction" instead of Dinosaur. It's neat to watch how things grow and change.

Dan:

Jack,

Great article. I seem to love this part of DAK more than most people I know. The restaurant is a great place to relax and people watch - free soda refills! Also, I need to poke around a little more, as I've yet to see the tool sculpture.

- Dan

Dan:

Also, I love that it's on a road called 498 - the opening date of DAK!

Another great blog Jack! I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Dan

Annie:

Hi Jack,

I love reading you blog. Thank you for all the entertaining information. While visiting AK last fall, my husband and I were about to go on the dinosaur and found that it was closed. Later in the day it reopened and we noticed that the ride was much slower and some of the dinosaurs did not jump out such as the one when you get your picture taken. My question is has the ride changed to be like that now?

Annie

Jack's Answer:

The honest answer is, "I don't know." But it is certainly possible.

I know that in the attraction "The Seas with Nemo and Friends," the shark Chum use to pop out toward the ride vehicles further than he does now. But he had to be scaled back because his movement was scaring children. So I do know that Disney alters rides when necessary.

I don't ride Dinosaur to often because the movement upsets my stomach, so I'm not really an expert on it. But personally, I don't think this ride has been altered.

Sorry I couldn't be of more help.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 1, 2012 7:54 AM.

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.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.