Sunday, July 15, 2007

Florida Dinosaur

As we prepare for the Wood Family Southern Routes BBQ Tour later this summer, I look back on my first road trips, and I remember how much I hated long drives as a kid.

Back then, the only vacations we took were our yearly drives from Dunedin to Tallahassee along US 19. The trip wound through congested towns that slowly gave way to rural west coast Florida in a northwestern arc that led us to where my aunt and uncle lived. Some years we joined them for Thanksgiving, others we visited for Christmas. And while I loved seeing my family I just couldn't stand being cooped up in a car for five hours. My mom tried to help me endure those trips, weighing me down with newly purchased books that would occupy my time. I tried to lose myself in the Encyclopedia Brown mystery books she'd buy. And yet the seemingly endless miles of boredom drove me nuts.

I do remember one highlight, though: the giant dinosaur at Spring Hill, near Weeki Wachee. A 1969 postcard from my collection offers useful description: "The only Dinosaur Station of its kind in the world. Overall Length 110 feet; Main body 34 feet High; Head 48 feet high." I loved that highway dinosaur (as well as a smaller one nearby). Once I saw it, I forgot my boredom and simply marveled at the huge beast.

Today the station remains open, though as an independent auto repair garage. And these days my family will often drive five hours before lunch on some of our road trips. I am delighted that my daughter has survived her early years as a passenger, because I remember vividly how much she dreaded those trips. Now every once in a while she'll express a yearning to hit the pavement and see how far we can go. One day we'll return to Spring Hill and photograph a roadside icon that, for me, started it all.

Learn More

November 10, 2003, St. Petersburg Times, Real Florida: Monster Garage: "Used to be that U.S. 19 in Hernando County was dark, dark as midnight in the country. Even on U.S. 19, a guy could lean up against a gas pump, look up and see the Milky Way if there were no car headlights heading his way. And if a fellow wanted, he could look back at the dinosaur. Its eyes glowed in the dark."

May 3, 2007, St. Petersburg Times, Kitschy, Maybe, but Sights Say Home: "For those tooling north on U.S. 19, the big concrete dinosaur that now houses Harold's Auto Center meant that Weeki Wachee Springs was coming up soon. 'We knew we were almost to the mermaids when we saw the dinosaur,' said 52-year-old Roberta Reese of Brooksville. 'We lived in Largo, and my grandparents used to take us to see them all the time. I got really excited when I saw that dinosaur.'"

1 comment:

Joel said...

You might be interested to learn that is not the only dinosaur in Florida. Back in 1999 I was drving on some back roads about 15 miles outside of Brooksville in Hernando County and came across a large headless dinosaur beside the road. Rumur has it the man fell off his ladder while building the huge beast and was killed, so there it sits beside the road. Would be interesting to find out what the real story is on it. Anyone have any information?