Monday, June 28, 2010


While the following true story has little to do with the construction underway at the Quarry Visitor Center, it is worth recounting because of its insight as to how things sometimes work in the government. It is part of the oral history of the Quarry Visitor Center, told to me by Jim Adams and the late Tobe Wilkins, the two gentlemen who prepared most of the bones now visible on the quarry face. It’s a fitting remembrance of the crane as it heads off to recycling Valhalla.

As we discussed in the previous blog, the crane weighs 28,000 pounds and is capable of carrying 8,000 pounds. It was part of the Quarry Visitor when it was built in 1957/1958 and served the important function of a platform to move overburden from high on the quarry face to ground level. There was just one slight problem.

When installed, the crane was not powered. It was raised and lowered by pulling on ropes. That was bad enough when empty, but things got worse when it was carrying a full load of overburden. Lowering it in such conditions caused the plastic braking mechanism to heat up from friction, expand, and prevent further lowering of the basket. The only thing to do was hang there for 10 minutes or so until the plastic cooled down, shrunk, and lowering could begin again. Maybe you would be lucky and get to the ground only having to stop once.

After suffering several years of this nonsense, the Monument appealed to the regional office to get the crane powered. Unfortunately, the inexplicable response was something to the effect that “The National Park Service is not in competition with the private sector in having powered cranes.” The funding request was denied. Tobe and Jim just kept on excavating, heating the plastic brakes, and spending time suspended with a load of overburden 20 feet off the ground.

One day while waiting for the brakes to cool, a visitor in the Quarry Visitor Center struck up a conversation with Jim and Tobe, asking them what exactly they were doing suspended above the ground. They explained the situation and the denied request. The visitor shook his head and left. A month or so later a memo arrived from the regional office announcing that funding had become available to motorize the crane. Turns out the visitor Jim and Tobe had chatted with was a congressional staff aid.

Photo courtesy of Dinosaur National Monument.

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