You don’t get to be 145 million years old without collecting your share of schmutz. But even after all those dinosaur bones have been dusted off, assembled and displayed in the ROM’s airy, glass-and-steel Michael Lee-Chin Crystal wing, they still require an occasional polish. It’s not the most arduous task, but it does make one hell of a racket.
The cause of all the noise is a red scissor lift, which, on a recent Friday morning, Myles Zarowny angled into the dinosaur gallery. As one of the ROM’s senior preparators, Zarowny has cared for the museum’s exhibits for the last eight years. Now, he’s come to spiff up Gordo, a 27-metre-long, four-and-a-half-metre-high Barosaurus, and the largest dinosaur on display in Canada.
Given Gordo’s height, the scissor lift makes good sense. Less expected, however, is the 25-litre vacuum cleaner that Zarowny then drags into the gallery. “You imagined a feather duster, right?” he asks. The vacuum has been retrofitted so that air blasts out of its five-metre hose; as cleaning devices go, it seems anything but delicate. “These fossils are millions of years old,” Zarowny says. “They’re resilient.”
And so Zarowny jacks himself up to Gordo’s disproportionately puny head and cranks the air. Dust particles scatter out of teeth and vertebrae; the neck proves especially grubby. A ladder is sufﬁcient to reach Gordo’s hips and body, although a juvenile sauropod must be scooted out of the way lest it be knocked over by the apparatus. The torso bones are particularly treacherous cleaning ground. Zarowny says, “I’ve clocked myself in the head on them pretty good.”
Gordo gets dusted off every three to six months, always in the morning, usually broken up over three sessions: head and neck one day, torso another, tail a third. The ROM’s preparators don’t stress over the schedule too much: “The dust might be a protective layer for the bones,” Zarowny admits. Also, it’s a dinosaur. “You don’t want these fossils looking all shiny and new.” They’ll then return an hour or so later to Swiffer up the settled dust and gather any items kids might have tucked into the installation. Pens, sandwiches and chocolate-bar wrappers are common, and Zarowny once found a small, rubber dino inside—a gift, he thinks, to big brother Gordo. It now sits on his worktable in the museum’s basement.
Cleaning Gordo has other perks, too, as Zarowny says he’s (mostly) conquered his fear of heights. Still, the job is not without its shortcomings. “I’m less inclined to go home and vacuum now,” Zarowny says. “But at least I don’t have hordes of children rushing through my house.”
45: Number of years Gordo the Barosaurus’ bones remained, scattered and unrecorded, in the ROM’s collection room. The dino was discovered in September 2007; many “skeleton in the closet” jokes ensued.
182 kg: Weight of Gordo’s hind leg, his largest single bone. It also happens to be mildly radioactive (but don’t worry—not enough to harm the kiddies).
15,000 kg: Amount Gordo would have weighed when he roamed the earth, roughly equivalent to three elephants.