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With prospective customers milling around the fence for the afternoon opening, Friday morning wasn’t the time for one of Brandon Arnold’s top performers to have a wardrobe malfunction.

Then again, getting a tree-trunk-sized leg zipped onto the body of an animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex was a lot easier than waking up a hung-over rock star.

The handful of howling meat-eaters was too big to fit through the cargo doors of the University of Montana's Adams Center, so Missoulians got an unexpected outdoor preview of the Jurassic Quest dinosaur show that runs Friday though Sunday. The traveling museum and amusement display puts on 47 shows a year all over the country.

“It looks super-cool out here,” Arnold said as he struggled with the zipper. “Usually everything’s indoors and you see a ceiling overhead instead of real sky.”

That was certainly the opinion of a rope-line of toddlers who came over from the ASUM Daycare next door to see what all the fuss was about.

Several of them roared back at the T-rexes, while others wondered if they might be considered prey species.

“They’re as big as my house,” said 5-year-old Kate Banville. “And they sound like tigers.”

“We have to keep reminding them that they’re just robots and that dinosaurs are extinct,” said preschool staff member Libby Schneiter. “But this is a great idea. My 19-month-old is pretty stoked about coming to see them.”

***

Inside the Adams Center, another 40 moving dinosaurs stomped around in habitat displays covering the Montana Grizzlies’ basketball court. In the south annex wings, a large merchandise display and several inflatable bounce-houses were set up.

Arnold said the show travels in five semitrailer loads, with a crew of 25 full-time workers. At each stop, he hires another 20 or 30 people, along with a small fleet of forklifts and loaders to move displays around.

“We’ve been called the dino-circus before,” Arnold said, adding it was a definite improvement to work with monsters that didn’t need to be fed or cleaned up after.

“My dad came up with the idea,” he said. “He saw an iPad display of animatronic dinosaurs and said, ‘We ought to get a bunch and start a traveling show.’ I said, 'Yeah – let’s do it.' Dad had a business selling car audio gear, and he knew all about booking venues and marketing. It’s a family business.”

Ticket-buying families can wander at will through the indoor displays, as well as dig for fossils, try on dinosaur suits and ride galloping saddle-dinosaurs.

The show ran Friday from 3 to 8 p.m. and opens again Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets cost from $13 to $22.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.