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Discovery Digs to Dino Displays – Digging for Dinosaur Bones in Central Montana

Dino Dig Zone

Dino Dig Zone

Montana has a reputation for dinosaur discoveries. With Red Oxx factory located nearly smack dab in the middle of dinosaur country, the herd got curious about visiting and even doing some dino digging of their own after being approached to build a custom dinosaur bones cleaning shelter. During one lovely weekend this summer CEO Jim Markel took the Red Oxx herd and went digging for bones.

Big Bones Means Big Workrooms – Red Oxx Measures Up

Through the years we have seen some pretty interesting ideas come into our Design Studio and the team from Dino Lab had one of the strangest. Digging the fossils out of the ground is only a small yet vital part of the process required to reassemble the bones. Setting about making the largest custom container we have yet to build required a bit of collaboration with Nate Murphy, owner of the Lab. Nate is a bit of an autodidact in the realm of paleontology. His adventures have taken him from the plains of Montana to the other side of the world in search of fossils. Along the way he’s made significant fossil discoveries.

The bones need to be stabilized and cleaned before they can make their public appearance; that process is tedious and a bit messy. For most of the smaller fossils a sand blasting cabinet is sufficient to handle the process. But lately Nate’s been digging up some massive finds right here in Montana. Some so large that they won’t fit into a conventional sandblasting cabinet. Nate’s idea was to create a dust-proof room out of clear poly vinyl using a PVC pipe frame. This created approximately eighty square feet of working space. This "tent" work room would then be pressurized and the worker inside would wear one of those sandblasting suits with a fresh air supply.

With the reopening of the Red Oxx custom shop we have been inundated with all forms of modifications and custom projects. Whether it is one piece of several hundred branded units we now have the capacity in the new factory to deal with a wide scope of projects. With Nate supplying the frame made of PVC we set his contraption up in the shop and Lacey proceeded to bring his vision to life. The new soda blasting tent was everything the Dino Lab was looking for and we were stoked to be contributing to the preservation of dinosaurs. The Judith River Dinosaur Institute is the field operating branch of the Lab. They conduct digs in the summer with students and novices looking to get their hands dirty. With a world class dig site just two hours north of the factory it was time to load up the Red Oxx crew for our first company camp out.

Camp Red Oxx

With a crew like ours I get the impression that I could drop them on the dark side of the moon and they would find light and shelter without much fuss. I’ve noticed this affect during several of our company events. Simply give them a rough plan and they take charge and carry it out beyond my expectations. So it was with little surprise that when the crew rolled into camp it wasn’t long before the place looked squared away. Out came the toys and we had a game of giant Frisbee going full tilt.

Since this is a semi-permanent campsite Nate had a cook tent with a grill and three burner stove already in place. Dropping some cast iron skillets onto the flames it was time to get the crew fed in high style. After our repast it was story time around the fire with Nate regaling the team on the finer points of Stegosaurus. With a light rain creeping in it was time to turn in with the light patter raindrops on the canvas.

With the dawn came a cool crispness of late summer and the promise of a cloudless sky and a torpid sun. It’s hard to find a better place on the planet than late summer on the high plains of Montana. Whether it’s the back forty of a ranch or a lake in the Beartooths you are rewarded with glimpses of a primal land. Though the hand of man has made its mark here it is a tenuous hold at best easy to see just how quickly it will revert back to the great empty. This is without a doubt the true dividend to making our home out here on what is left of the western frontier.

Cooking in the field is a challenge and in some cases an exercise in futility. This year at Overland Expo we dealt with some terrible winds gusting up to fifty miles an hour. So the extent of the cooking at that event was limited to some bacon that took almost two hours to cook. Three lousy slices and a cold bagel made for a bit of a grumpy crew. Cast iron cooking when your flame stays lit is hard to beat in the great outdoors. The frittata was pushing two and half inches in thickness and the flavor was straight out of a Louis L’Amour novel, complete with cowboy coffee.

Gambling for Dinosaurs – Raising the Stakes (or Bones, Rather)

Digging for dinosaurs is a tedious and exacting process which requires attention to detail and a light touch. All qualities that I lack in large supply while baking in the sun and suffering from a terminal case of ADD.

It’s also a bit like gambling, as you keep hoping to strike pay dirt and the minute you take a break the person next to you finds something mildly interesting. So you start at it again in with renewed vigor only to come up snake eyes.

Finally around midday I could take no more and had to take a break. Stretching out with my trusty hound I quickly fell asleep and found more dinosaurs in my daydreams than on the plot of ground I was excavating. The rest of the team was having more luck with their scratchings and getting to help with the casting of a large specimen. Pecking away for the late afternoon I was rewarded with a sore back and parched throat. Time to go back to camp and get the cook fire going.

Digging for fossils and the time required to expertly remove them is now self-evident. I had always wondered why it seemed to take forever for the Museum of the Rockies to get things on display. With field work only being a part of the process it was now time for the bones to be cleaned and stabilized back at the lab. It takes a special kind of nerd to see this process through from beginning to end. While not exactly on the bucket list of things I was pining to do, it was a great weekend with my crew.

I think I’m more suited to some underwater archaeology involving gold bars and cannons.

Cheers,

Jim Markel

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