How to Clean a T-Rex

Armed with a feather duster and a shop vac, two museum pros keep PIT’s dinosaur presentable for travelers

By Elise Gomez

Published December 14, 2018

Read Time: 2 mins


(Photos and video by Beth Hollerich)

For the last 17 years, a near life-size plastic cast of one of the planet’s largest and most fearsome carnivores has watched over the millions of travelers passing through the airside terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport.

With all that traffic, PIT’s Tyrannosaurus Rex is bound to attract its share of dust bunnies.

Even at 15 feet high and 38 feet long, it doesn’t take high tech to tidy up this dinosaur. All that is required is a 10-foot ladder, a feather duster, a shop vacuum and two professionals from Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.

Dan Pickering, a scientific preparator at the museum for more than 20 years, stands on the ladder, dusting each skeleton bone from head to toe. That bit of housework takes him about 35 minutes to complete.

Calder Dudgeon, an exhibits technician who has been with the museum for seven years, kneels at the base of the display with a shop vacuum to suck up the money that travelers throw into the exhibit as donations to the museum.

“We find some interesting items in the exhibit from foreign currency, business cards and children’s toys,” Pickering said. “Someone even dropped in their wedding band as they pointed at the exhibit!” (The ring was retrieved and returned to an anxious spouse.)

The museum, one of the four Carnegie institutions in Pittsburgh, is among the top natural history museums in the country. The T-Rex skeleton is a Museum of the Rockies specimen cast purchased by the Carnegie in 1997 and erected in the museum’s entrance hall.

The actual T-Rex skeleton, the world’s first fossil of the most famous dinosaur, remains on display in the museum’s Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibition.

“The scientist who coined the name Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1905 chose our specimen to bear that name for all time. It’s the gold standard by which all other T-Rex specimens are judged,” said Matthew Lamanna, assistant curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

“I am very happy to have this T-Rex greet me every time I return home to Pittsburgh — from an expedition, scientific conference, holiday travel, whatever,” Lamanna said. “One of the things I love the most about my job is how much pride and interest Pittsburghers have in dinosaurs, and to me, the Airport Rex is emblematic of that.”

Dinosaur displays are quite popular in airports. Among the others:

  • A 33-foot-long Yanchuanosaurus dinosaur skeleton greets travelers in the Atrium of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • Toronto’s Pearson International Airport sports an Allosaurus dinosaur
  • A Brachiosaurus dinosaur stands tall at Chicago O’Hare International Airport


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