“Rocks to Racing” exhibit

Earlier this week I mentioned in my Twitter feed that I’ve been working 20-hour days. In fact, last night was the first time in almost 2 weeks I’ve gotten to bed before 3:00 am. The reason was that we were trying to complete a new exhibit, “Rocks to Racing”. There’s always a rush for the exhibits department to complete everything before an opening, but this one was hard on me because I was building several display models. The really tough one was a life-size model of the Ordovician nautiloid Cameroceras, which I only completed a few hours before the opening reception. The photo above doesn’t really do justice to its size…

The model is just over 3 meters long, and weighs perhaps 30 pounds. It includes roughly 80 square feet of 0.5-inch sheet styrofoam, about 3.5 gallons of patching plaster, and 352 flanged washers, among other hardware. It’s by far the largest model I’ve ever built, and I’ve learned a lot about model construction in the process (in case I ever need to build another giant nautiloid). Incidentally, this is not a particularly large example of Cameroceras; some published estimates indicate they could have reached 6 meters in length.

About a quarter of the exhibit is dedicated to the Ordovician Period, with the remainder talking about the connections between geology, moonshine and auto racing. This is why I’ve been collecting so much material in Kentucky, Iowa, and Indiana over the last couple of years.

I have several other models in this exhibit, including a colony of the bryozoan Heterotrypa and the nautiloid Isorthoceras sociale:

We’ve had a shortage of cases lately, as a lot of our exhibit materials are out on loan to another museum. My longtime volunteer Mike Morriss owns a cabinet construction business, Imageworks, and to help us out he designed and built this beautiful case and donated it to the museum:

“Rocks to Racing” will be open until November 3, and I encourage you to stop by the museum for a tour.


Incidentally, and acknowledging the significance of big numbers that are multiples of 10, this is my 500th post on “Updates”, over a period of about 4.5 years. I have to admit, when I started writing I didn’t really expect it would last this long!

This entry was posted in Invertebrate Paleontology, Museums. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Rocks to Racing” exhibit

  1. Mike says:

    What, you get to sleep? I did not know we are allowed to sleep.
    Does everyone know about this sleep thing? I am always the last to know 🙂

    Joking aside, your models look really cool. Do you have a photo
    of it not covered up on the cone? Look, I am asking for you to do more work.
    All of them are are full of motion. They look really cool.

    By the way, did you see this on the Florida guys.
    Josh was happy. He feels like he knows some Paleo celebs 🙂
    It has made front page on Yahoo for 3 days now.
    Here is the link:

    I have some new ideas for displays and drawings for those that we did, but
    figured I would let you get this exhibit get finished first.
    I will get with you when I can on them. If your not catching up on that thing called sleep.


  2. Tony Edger says:

    Congratulations on your 500th posting, a great milestone for a great blog.

  3. Markus says:

    Very nice models Alton! I´ve also sculpted several models of nautiloids, especially orthocones, including Cameroceras. This particular model was mainly inspired by the BBC giant orthocone. You can see some photos as well as some pictures from the sculpting process here:


    Now I would make some anatomical details in a different way, I would for example don´t sculpt a “hood” anymore. I have also sculpted two belemnites for the museum at Tübingen, and am also working on ammonites as well. But my personal favourite would be a giant orthocone. I would also make it from styrofoam, but probably coverd with paperclay, as you can easily sand the surface or add additional details without getting any cracks in the surface, and it´s very durable yet light-weight. It would be very nice if you could show some “making-of” photos of your model.

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