Oh, the knee bone's connected to the leg bone; the leg bone's connected to the hip bone . . . dem bones, dem bones, dem bones.
How many youngsters dream of making a living off digging up and restoring dinosaur bones, as well as mounting some of them for exhibits? Well, the founders of an Orem firm had that dream and are making it a reality.Western Paleontological Laboratories Inc., 1038 N. Industrial Park Drive, serves museums, private firms and collectors interested in fossilized remains of prehistoric animals, including not only dinosaurs but also fish and early mammals. The lab is only one of two companies in the continental United States that can actually rebuild the skeletons.
So far, the lab has rebuilt some large dinosaur skulls, including those of an Allosaurus and several Triceratops, as well as excavating skeletons of the meat-eating Albertosaurus and the herbivorous Edmontosaurus. In fact, one particular Triceratops skull took the lab 1,640 total hours to uncover and properly mount.
Currently, at least one-half of the firm's business comes from sales of its mounted prehistoric fish, which range in prices from $1 to $2,195. The lab usually sells those wholesale rather than to individuals, though.
The lab began in the summer of 1988 as a small business in co-owner Ron Mjos' garage with both he and Clifford Miles (who then was a preparator for BYU's Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum) mounting specimens for private collectors. The business has since swelled to 10 employees, all of whom have experience in excavating, identifying and preparing the bones.
"One thing that's so unique for the business is that all of us have to be dilettantes," Mjos said. "We all have to have a wide range of skills - like carpentry, geology, modeling and molding."
For the most part, the firm digs its own skeletons from quarries on land it leases in Wyoming during the summers. According to Mjos, that's where most of the lab's non-contract work takes place.
"We'll look at certain areas with certain geologic properties, like areas that were riverbeds, and look there for certain animals."
For example, not only would such an area, which includes claylike soil, contain fish, but it also might contain whole and intact skeletons of animals that habitated near the marsh, such as plant-eating dinosaurs. From there, the firm digs until it finds the animals, and then the real work begins, Mjos said.
"Once a bone is identified, we have to dig around it until we get what's called a pedestal that we can remove. Sometimes getting a proper pedestal takes quite a lot of time since there are other bones around it."
Often, the bones are so brittle that the diggers must incase them in plaster and paper to make them sturdy enough for transportation. Once at the Orem site, the bones are uncovered and often strengthened with chemicals. Sometimes metal shafts must be run through larger bones to keep them intact.
Most skeletons can be assembled in the lab's central site, though larger skeletons, like those of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, would obviously be assembled at its final destination. So far, such a dream job hasn't really materialized, though it's not for lack of wishing, Clifford Miles said.
"We'd dearly love to assemble skeletons like that, but so far we haven't had a call for it. We'll keep wishing though."
At a recent open house, a larger-than-expected crowd showed up to see some of the firm's work. According to Clark Miles, some of that may be attributable to the country's never-ending fascination with the unknown.
"People are fascinated by these huge animals that aren't seen nowadays. It's like fantasy made reality."
The lab currently needs help for its upcoming summer digs. For more information call 226-5530.