Friday, April 15, 2011

Remembering the Sinclair Dinosaurs

Lately, for no particular reason, I've been on a nostalgic kick for vintage Sinclair Dinosaurs. Anyone else remember these as fondly as I do?

Back when seeing anything dinosaur-related was very rare--quite unlike today--the Sinclair stations were very special places.
While riding down Dixie Highway on a trip to visit my cousins in the country, sights like this were always a most anticipated and majestic vision from the backseat of our 1960 Chevy Impala.

These big green Brontosaurs used to grace the rooftops of nearly all the Sinclair gas stations when I was a kid. I specifically looked forward to a ride in our car just so I could see them again. Of course, these were the days when filling up the tank at Sinclair might cost you a whole two dollars and you'd also get a free gift, almost always dinosaur-themed.

Last week
I received a classic 1950s Sinclair Brontosaurus bank for my birthday. Can't tell you how much I love this goofy green piece of plastic. Never had this "giveaway" before, as they were a bit before my time, but I've always wanted one.

Those who say that the good ol' days weren't better, obviously never lived during them.

Apparently, there are a few Sinclair Stations today that continue the tradition of featuring their dinosaur mascot on the lot! They're sleeker, and a bit more paleo-accurate, but it's great to see that some of these guys are still around.

Sinclair was also directly responsible for one of the happiest days of my life.

Imagine being a seven year old dinosaur-obsessed kid riding in the car on a trip to visit your grandmother in Louisville, Ky. and suddenly seeing THIS in a shopping center parking lot!

Almost unbelievably, my dad actually stopped the car so I could scamper out to explore the mighty beasts close up! What an adventure!

By the way, that young fella in the pics isn't me--he's sort of my spiritual brother, and comic book collaborator,
cartoonist extraordinaire, Terry Beatty. That's him in the tan shirt up above, standing in front of the Triceratops, and cuddling up to the baby Brontosaurus which I also got to caress, photographed when the same Dinosaur show invaded Des Moines, Iowa. My own parents didn't have a camera with us on that great day of the Sinclair Dinosaur Traveling Exhibit, but very luckily Terry's dad did. (Thanks for the pics, pal!)

I vividly remember how utterly real the Tyrannosaurus rex seemed, you expected to see him come to jaw-snapping life at any moment. He was easily my favorite from the Sinclair Exhibit, although all of their life-sized ultra-realistic dinosaurs were beautiful and brilliant to behold.

And if you wanted
a photograph of the entire length of the Sinclair Brontosaurus you had to snap it from all the way across the highway. He was over seventy feet long. Absolutely amazing to see in person!

I wonder if these other kids still remember that day and fondly as I do?

One of the cool
perks you got to purchase while visiting the Sinclair Dinosaurs (did I mention the exhibit itself was free?) were these inexpensive waxy dinosaur figures, which you got to make yourself in a molding machine. You can see that my friend Terry is holding the Stegosaurus in one of his photos. I had that one, too, as well as the Tyrannosaurus rex and the Ankylosaurus.

I think they cost about twenty-five cents each, so my mom spoiled me that day. Sure wish I still had these dinosaur toys, but they were rather fragile and sadly began to disintegrate on their own just a couple years later.

Here is an awesome Courier Journal newspaper photograph of the Sinclair Dinosaurs on their trek down the Ohio River toward their Louisville, Ky. destination, where I originally saw them. It's like a scene from a 1950s John Agar movie!

I suppose I should explain that these life-sized dinosaur statues were originally from the Sinclair Oil Company's 1964 World's Fair display. Luckily, the snooty Smithsonian refused to accept them afterward, so they dynamically toured the highways delighting kids all across the nation. For me, it was the greatest thing ever.

the Sinclair dinosaurs were relocated across the country: Ankylosaurus went to the Cleveland Zoo, Corythosaurus to Independence, KS. Stegosaurus ended up at Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, UT, and Struthiomimus at the Milwaukee Museum. Tyrannosaurus rex and Brontosaurus landed in Glen Rose, TX. in 1970 (shown here).

The Triceratops, very happily, found a home in the Louisville Zoo where I visited it often when I was a kid. The whereabouts of the others are unknown.

The following picture
was begging for a story, so I wrote one to fit it in my upcoming novella, The Halloween Legion. This atmospheric, dream-like photo also reminded me of riding in the back seat of the car, after visiting my cousins way out in the sticks of Kentucky, when I was a kid. I stared at the blackened treeline as we drove by, imagining them to be the gigantic silhouettes of dinosaurs.

Trees at night take on just as many fantastic, recognizable shapes as clouds do in the daytime. The glance of our headlights seemed to give the resurrected beasts a spark of hallucinatory animation for a second or two, completely creeping me out. There was an anciently immense willow tree that looked for all the world like Godzilla in profile, complete with his distinctive dorsal spines! It was pure magic.

scene from my opening chapter was purely inspired by the Sinclair gas station rooftop Dinosaurs. I owe them a tremendous lot for positively energizing my imagination in my formative years. Dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals have been a part of me ever since. I even worked among real dinosaur fossils in a museum ten years ago before returning to writing full-time. That was a very happy time.

It all started with the Sinclair Dinosaurs. Because of them, I'm sure The Halloween Legion won't be the last time I put a dinosaur in one of my stories.

The Halloween Legion © Martin Powell. Artwork © Danny Kelly
(Click on the pictures for larger images.)


  1. Great piece, Martin. One minor correction -- the Sinclair dinos were on display in Des Moines -- a good long drive from my home town of Muscatine. Dad was especially considerate to drive me that far to see the big ol' lizards.

  2. Wow! I saw this same display in Bettendorf, Iowa my home town probably at that same time. Terry should have come on up since the Quad Cities were a lot closer than Des Monies. I have photos from it too. Riding one as a matter of fact...

    Scott Beachler

  3. Neat dino memory. I don't live to far from Glen Rose. I remember back in the 90's the mall bringing a robot dinosaur display, and they'd roar from time to time, and move around a bit & I got some photos of that. I still think kids like dinosaurs. I saw one reading about them at my barber shop the other day.

  4. great article. thank you for sharing your memories.

  5. I am so glad I found this! I saw the Sinclair Dinosaur exhibit in Dallas Texas when I was a little girl and have remembered it my whole life. I have taken my own kids to Glen Rose TX to see the dinosaurs and dinosaur tracks, and never knew they were the same ones that were in the original Sinclair exhibit. Wow!!

  6. Very happy to meet another Sinclair Dinosaur kid, Kathy. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  7. My dad work for Sinclair in Independence, Kansas from 1955 - 1972, when it merged w Atlantic Richfield (ARCO). My two brothers and I played with the Sinclair dinosaur toys. We had the plastic dinos, a large and small inflatable one, the soaps, and the waxy figures. My first transistor radio was the Sinclair gas-pump one, a long ways from the iPod, but I still use a transistor for radio around the house and they are great for emergencies! But my modern radio is not as cute the Sinclair one. THANKS FOR THE GREAT MEMORIES!