Roadside Distractions

Roadside oddities that catch our attention and then fade into our rearview mirror.

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A Dinosaur With No Name

Matt Cooley / Cool Patch Pumpkins

A dinosaur skeleton created by Modesto artist Allen Clark can be seen off the I-80 in Dixon at Cool Patch Pumpkins.

Matt Cooley / Cool Patch Pumpkins

Towering above a patch of pumpkins is a 14-foot-tall skeleton of prehistoric proportion. Cool Patch Pumpkins in Dixon, Calif. off the I-80 is home to a skeleton that resembles a brontosaurus – the neck and tail are composed of Caterpillar tractor tracks with car springs for ribs and dual oil pans for its head. At night, this hand-built behemoth lights up like a giant holiday ornament.

Matt Cooley, one of the owners of the pumpkin patch, originally intended the dinosaur to be a seasonal treat, but he sees the value of leaving it in place year round.

“During Christmas, we thought it would be fun to light it up,” Cooley says. “We set it on a timer so when it gets dark – it’s dark for about six hours every night – and I just said ‘well, let’s just leave it on.’ It looks cool from the freeway so we just left it on.”

Scarlett Kingsley, a graduate student at UC Davis, travels past the dinosaur almost daily.

She works with the Student Academic Success Department. After a late night of teaching, she says the bright yellow lights make the dinosaur  look like it’s breathing fire.

0531coolpatchnightdinoThe brontosaurus Cool Patch Pumpkins owner Matt Cooley bought from Modesto artist Allen Clark can light up at night. Once plugged in, it can also have its legs appear to be moving. Photo courtesy of Matt Cooley.
 
“It’s impressive because it’s a big, white brontosaurus-looking dinosaur out in the middle of nowhere,” Kingsley says. “Doesn’t look like it belongs there.”

Kingsley says she is no stranger to roadside oddities having once lived in Nevada. The dinosaur marks the halfway point in her flat drive to and from work.

“I look forward to seeing it everyday when I drive to work,” Kingsley says. “If it was to go somewhere else, I would be sad.”

Modesto artist Allen Clark is the creator behind the brontosaurus and multiple other dinosaur skeletons. He had no space to hold all of his projects, so he lowered his price tag for a dino from $15,000 to $5,000.

Matt Cooley wanted to fill Cool Patch Pumpkins with several of Clark’s works but only the brontosaurus was left after the prices went down.

“I wanted to buy a whole bunch of them,” Cooley says. “I think it would be cool ‘cause I have a place to display them. This poor guy, he made them, and he didn’t even have a place to put ‘em.” 

 

The Artosaurus Project

 

When Allen Clark was younger, he worked on a farm with his father. This is where he nurtured the creative ability to make something out of nothing.

Clark had the idea of building dinosaurs from scrap metal after seeing another artist in the early ‘80s create a dinosaur from spare parts. He believed his own dinosaurs would be of higher quality.

“His was really cool, but it wasn’t something to scale,” Clark says. “It looked OK but it wasn’t quite like the detail that I put into mine.”

Although the artist didn’t actually construct a skeleton for 10 years, He thinks his timing was great.  His first dinosaur debuted about a year before the 1993 “Jurassic Park” film. Clark claims he was no imitator.

He says it took about 13 hours to create his first small-scale model of a tyrannosaurus-rex that he calls an artosaurus. He says this original sculpture was not as thorough as his later pieces.

“It wasn’t to scale; details were wrong,” Clark says. “Kids pointed out that it was incorrect.”

He wanted every project after his artosaurus to be built to scale with attention to detail.

His next major attempt was a tyrannosaurus rex that took about 30 hours to complete.

0531clarktrexAllen Clark's tyrannosaurus rex was his second major project following his artosaurus. The t-rex was designed to be full-scale model with attention to detail. Photo courtesy of Allen Clark.

Cooley’s brontosaurus required about 50 hours of work. Clarks says he had to cut up and rebuild the brontosaurus several times so that it could stand. His final idea was to use a rolling base so that it would support itself.

All Cooley would have to do is plug in the dinosaur and it would appear that the dinosaur was walking.

Neither Cooley nor Clark have named the brontosaurus.

Clark says he has hundreds of drawings for future projects, including a barbershop quartet, in which automated dinosaurs would sing. He considers the artosaurus, the t-rex and Cool Patch Pumpkin’s brontosaurus to be his three main works.

He uses worn-out tractor parts for his skeletons because their malleable nature makes it easy to add detail. But because old tractors are now considered gross polluters, it’s harder for him to get the parts he needs.

“I always wish that I’d been born 10 years sooner,” Clark says. “Technology has really put me out of business.”

He believes quality over quantity will be enough to get him back into the dinosaur-building business once he finishes a sabbatical year of camping. His dream is to build a dino-themed amusement park, complete with waterslides and a racetrack.

“This is something original and really creative and I think people are really gonna like it once they see it,” he says.

Back at Cool Patch Pumpkins, Cooley says another reason why he wanted the dinosaur on his property was because of fond memories of ‘Dixie the Dinosaur,’ the previous ruler of the Dixon roads.

Hailing at 50-feet tall and 71-feet long, Dixie was a brachiosaurus that still outranks the Cool Patch’s dino, which is a mere 14-feet tall and 35-feet long.

Brachiosauruses are a larger, taller species not to be confused with the brontosaurus, which was reinstated last year as its own genus after years of belief that there was not enough difference between them and apatosauruses, another long-neck variety.

Dixie resided in Dixon and stood near a cigarette shop until she was moved to Benicia in 1996. Once moved there, she was renamed Benny for obvious reasons.

Benny, née Dixie, was moved to a private area only to be destroyed during a wildfire in 2008. Cooley was motivated to continue the trend of keeping a dinosaur in Dixon.

0531dixiegooglescreenshotP'Dixie the Dinosaur,' once found on the I-80, has since moved around to Benicia where she was renamed Benny, then to a private residential area. It was burned after a wildfire. Google Earth pic of remains.

The no-name dinosaur can be viewed from the freeway anytime you are driving near Dixon on I-80. Cool Patch Pumpkins was closed for the season but has reopened.