VERNAL — In his wildest dreams, Glade Allred never thought he'd end up spending his days wondering how to dress a 23-foot Tyrannosaurus rex.
Should he go with the bright red bandana or one in yellow or blue? Would the dinosaur look better in a cowboy hat or a fisherman's cap? Should he hold a giant watermelon or a bottle of ketchup?
"It's always a seasonal dilemma," says Allred with a smile. "But there's no doubt that our T. rex is the best-dressed in the country. He has an outfit for every occasion."
Rex, as Allred calls the green stucco dino, has welcomed visitors to Utah's Dinosaurland for almost 40 years, ever since George Millecam, owner of the now-defunct Dine-a-Ville Motel, welded him together on the west end of U.S. 40.
When the motel closed, Millecam donated Rex and another of his creations — a long-lashed, pink brontosaurus named Dinah — to the city of Vernal. Dinah welcomes tourists on the east end of town, but it's Rex who always steals the show.
Allred, 54, who grew up in Vernal and now works as the city's streets superintendent, remembered a Christmas when somebody put antlers and a red nose on Rex. He approached the city manager after Thanksgiving 18 years ago with an idea. "How about if we start decorating Rex?"
"Over the years, I'd pulled a lot of arrows out of Rex during hunting season so I was pretty familiar with him," says Allred, during a Free Lunch break from another of his other responsibilities: hand-watering 1,200 flower pots that line Vernal's Main Street.
"I joked that we ought to put a couple of animated reindeer or a Santa with his feet kicking, in Rex's jaws," he says. "But that didn't go over too well."
Instead, Allred gave the dinosaur a white beard and Santa hat, placed a giant star in his front claws, lit up his teeth and surrounded him with decorated pine trees. The "abominable T. rex" effect was a huge hit with tourists and locals.
"When Christmas was over," say Allred, "we thought, 'What next?' "
Sitting down at his desk, he came up with a few sketches. For Valentine's Day, Rex could wear red cupid wings and hold a 10-foot bow. For Easter, he could don a set of bunny ears and clench a basket in his jaws.
Using metal, chicken wire and plastic foam, Allred and his crew created almost a dozen holiday outfits, including a pilgrim's hat and enormous turkey drumstick for Thanksgiving and fisherman's hat and fly-fishing rod for lazy summer days.
"He also has a cowboy hat and a barbecue grill, and for the Fourth of July, he has a firecracker with a giant fuse," says Allred. "Then, at Halloween, we cover him with a spiderweb and give him sound effects and a fog machine, so you can see his breath."
Rex's cowboy outfit required that dozens of bandanas be stitched together to make an 18-foot-long neckerchief, with a welder turning out a 100-gallon hat made of metal and mesh.
"We sprayed it with carpet glue and sawdust, so it would resemble straw," says Allred. "I'd have to say that's one of my favorites."
The biggest reward for all this fuss, he says, is giving people something to smile about on the highway, especially during troubled times.
"It's a way to keep morale up," says Allred. "The dinosaur monument being closed (the visitors center is closed for renovation) has had a dramatic effect on tourism. Add that to our high unemployment in Vernal, and there's a lot for people to worry about."
If Rex can help lighten the mood, he says, "then it's all worth it. I get a kick whenever I think about how many photo albums in this country have a picture of Rex."
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