Dinosaur 'Boneheads': One Man's Search For T. Rex When Richard Polsky turned 50, he decided to chase a childhood dream: to hunt for dinosaurs. In his new book, Boneheads, Polsky explores what it's like to be a commercial fossil hunter in the Badlands of South Dakota.
NPR logo

Dinosaur 'Boneheads': One Man's Search For T. Rex

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/135024274/135087131" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Dinosaur 'Boneheads': One Man's Search For T. Rex

Dinosaur 'Boneheads': One Man's Search For T. Rex

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/135024274/135087131" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, host:

Now, let's meet a man named Richard Polsky. He was closing in on 50 when he decided it was time to chase his childhood dream. Sure, he was a successful art dealer and author, but what he really wanted to do was hunt for dinosaurs - and not just any dinosaur, the king, the beast, the Tyrannosaurus Rex. He set off for the Badlands of South Dakota, and in his new book, "Boneheads: My Search for T. Rex," he talks about his fellow dinosaur hunters, the Boneheads.

Mr. RICHARD POLSKY (Author, "Boneheads: My Search for T. Rex"): Right, right. Actually, the title comes from a pair of T. Rex-hunting twins, Stan and Steve Sacrison. There have been approximately 45 T. Rexes found in the history of the world. They're responsible for having found three of them.

But their characters - one sleeps in his car, the other's a gravedigger by day - and they're known in the trade by the Bonehead brothers 'cause they're goofballs. And, you know, I had such a crazy time with them because the leader of the group was this guy Bob Dietrich, who calls himself the Fossil King. And I didn't know who was crazier, these guys for coming up with this stuff or me for going along with it.

GREENE: There's a passage in your book when you're describing chatting with one them. I wonder if you could turn to page 148.

Mr. POLSKY: Sure.

GREENE: You're meeting Steve, I think. He's one of the twins, the crazy twins.

Mr. POLSKY: Yeah, one of the...

GREENE: ...you were talking...

Mr. POLSKY: ...one of the Bonehead brothers.

GREENE: OK. Yeah, read that paragraph for me if you can.

Mr. POLSKY: (Reading) Then Steve yawned and his tobacco-stained teeth made me cringe. So did the words he spoke next. You think you've got what it takes to find a T. Rex? Let me tell you; it's not that easy. You're not going to find anything. You people come out here from parts unknown and think you can take our dinosaurs.

GREENE: Is that what they call a warm welcome in the Badlands of South Dakota?

Mr. POLSKY: Well, you know, they had mixed feelings about seeing me. You got to understand, we're talking about commercial dinosaur hunters. These are not professors with Ph.D.s at big universities. These are guys that survive by their wits, and in order to find dinosaurs, you have to go on a land that belongs to private ranchers.

So, the few paleontologists - that is to say, the commercial diggers, who get permission - they sign contracts, they cut the ranchers in - they're not keen about giving you their secrets, letting you know their locations where the dinosaurs are.

GREENE: Tell me about a day in the field. What's it like out there actually doing the digging? I mean, are you guys standing over a hole with shovels and chatting? What exactly is going on?

Mr. POLSKY: Well, it's not what you think. A lot of people are confused about what these guys do because they all saw the movie "Jurassic Park." Do you remember at the beginning of the movie there's a scene where they're out in the field and Laura Dern and I forgot the other guy, her paleontologist boyfriend, they're digging. They come across a perfectly articulated skeleton. They take what looks like a paintbrush, swipe away a little sand. And, again, there's this beautiful dinosaur stretched out before him.

GREENE: I suppose days are not usually that perfect out in the field in real life?

Mr. POLSKY: It's not like that, no, no. This is hard work. It's usually 90 degrees out during the summer. It's hot, you're perspiring, you're dirty, and it's just so rare that you see something that's worth taking back. So, when they're out in the field, you waste a lot of time, where you come across bone. Then you have to identify it. And if you decide, oh, it's just a fossil turtle shell or something like that, you move on.

It's a real treasure hunt. It's like winning the lottery when you score a T. Rex.

GREENE: You wrote in the book about the ups and downs, thinking you discovered things. In the end, you, arguably, were part of a discovery of part of a T. Rex, and actually, Richard Polsky, they named this T. Rex after you.

Mr. POLSKY: Well, again, this is, you know, this is partly true. Bob Dietrich did uncover something. I was with him when he uncovered it. And in the T. Rex world, when you find a dinosaur, you have the honor of naming it after anyone you want, and he wants to name this piece that he found Little Richard.

GREENE: After you.

Mr. POLSKY: After me.

GREENE: Maybe you're going to be the more famous Little Richard someday.

Mr. POLSKY: One can only hope.

GREENE: Well, did you find your dream?

Mr. POLSKY: Well, it was certainly a great adventure. It was a real window into the life and lifestyle of what these people do. So, on that level it was thrilling and I felt really sad when I left these guys. And these guys were just so excited to be part of this. It was vindication that someone finally wrote about their side of things.

Most books on dinosaurs are scientific. They're written by Ph.D.s and quite frankly they're boring. This really told a story, told their story. And on that level, I was grateful I connected with them and ultimately did feel like I was part of it.

GREENE: Richard Polsky is the author of the new book, "Boneheads: My Search for T. Rex." Richard, enjoy your next hunt. Thank you for being here.

Mr. POLSKY: Thanks a lot.

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.