Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Transporting Mammoths and Mastodons to St. Louis

2, December 2011
An artist's rendering of what baby mammoth Lyuba might have looked like while alive. Illustration by Velizar Simeonovski copyright the Field Museum.

The movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles was released almost exactly twenty-four years ago in 1987, which documents the struggles that Neal Page and Del Griffith face as they try to go home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. As weather, flight cancellations, and other disasters occur, the two are forced to adapt their original travel plans and work together in order to get home. I have personally not seen the movie, but the title and plot particularly speak to me this fall in relation to our newest exhibition at the Missouri History Museum—Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age. Before Mammoths and Mastodons came to the Missouri History Museum, it was exhibited at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center in Anchorage, Alaska, which is about 3,700 miles away from St. Louis by car. The landscape between the two museums is not easily traversed, as there are few major cities, often-treacherous weather conditions to contend with, and few modes of transportation options between the two. Therefore, it was little surprise to me that transporting the exhibition to our museum would be a major planning feat. In total, we had two 53-foot trucks filled with artifact crates and eight 53-foot trucks filled with exhibit components traveling to MHM from Anchorage. All together, the exhibition shipped to MHM by planes, trains, boats, and trucks to make it safely to our dock. The artifacts traveled by plane and truck, while the exhibit components traveled by train, boat, and trucks. The artifacts were the first to arrive, as they traveled mostly by plane. A plane was the ideal mode of transportation for the artifacts because it was the quickest and safest way to transport them from Anchorage to St. Louis. The exhibit component trucks were the next to arrive. We planned on staggering the deliveries over two days to ensure that we would not be delayed with our installation should the components be stalled by bad weather. As luck would have it, the weather was great between the two cities, so we actually had all of the components arrive a couple of days early! In the museum world, having things arrive early is not always a good thing. During this time, we were also trying to install The Civil War in Missouri, which had its own set of delivery dates for artifacts and components. With Mammoths and Mastodons arriving early, I had to coordinate with the project manager and registrar working on The Civil War in Missouri to ensure that we could both get our work done. Like Neal Page and Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, we had to adapt our original plans to make it all work. After Mammoths and Mastodons closes in April, we’ll be sending the show to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, a mere 420 miles away. While our transportation plan will probably still be complicated, I know it will be a lot easier to ship the exhibit to Huntsville than it was to get it here from Anchorage! —Diane Riley, Project Manager and Exhibit Designer for Mammoths and Mastodons