In Episode 205, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger go on a hunt for the 160-foot Vermontasaurus at the Post Mills Airport in Thetford, Vermont. Born in 2010 from the rubble of fallen buildings, the giant beast is the brainchild of hot air balloon pilot Brian Boland, who joins us on this Jurassic adventure. The Vermontasaurus faced extinction not once, but twice, yet still stands lurking by the runway of the airport. Welcome to Vermont’s Jurassic Park! Note: This episode is dedicated in memory of Brian Boland who died in a balloning accident on July 15, 2021.
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RAY: What was that?!
JEFF: It sounds like a monster! We must be getting close!
RAY: We’re driving through the small town of Thetford, Vermont, right on the eastern edge of the state. It’s wooded and rural. Not too many houses. It’s a small town.
JEFF: Ray, what do you call a blind dinosaur?
RAY: Oh no… dad jokes? Is that what we’ve come to?
JEFF: What do you get when you cross a dinosaur with a pig?
JEFF: Jurrasic Pork!
RAY: There must be a better way to pass the drive time, Jeff.
JEFF: Like I said before. We’re getting close. We’re almost at our destination: the Post Mills Airport.
RAY: Are we taking a plane somewhere?
JEFF: No, we’re looking for a prehistoric monster that lives here. One unique to the Green Mountain State. We’re on the hunt for the Vermontasaurus.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to Episode 205 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about 15 minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We’re a community of legend seekers who love finding and sharing the strange tales that make New England unique. We appreciate your help. Please subscribe to the podcast, because it’s free, and please consider posting a review for us on Apple podcasts. It takes just a second and helps other find us.
JEFF: You should also download our free New England Legends smartphone app. It links you to every location we’ve ever covered. And checkout the New England Legends super-secret Facebook group—now over 4,000 members strong. There are a bunch of us in there sharing these local legends, sharing funny memes, and connecting with each other.
RAY: Before we go looking for dinosaurs, we want to take just a minute to thank our patreon patrons. For years now, this group has been the backbone of our show. They help with hosting costs, production and marketing costs, and all of the extra things we do to keep this community growing. For just $3 bucks per month they get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. If you can help, please head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
JEFF: Okay… if I were to ask: What’s the greatest dinosaur movie of all time we would say in unison.
RAY/JEFF: Jurassic Park.
JEFF: Of course! Who can forget the 1993 classic film?
JURASSIC_TRAILER: There it is. Welcome to Jurassic Park. We have made a living biological attraction so astounding that they’ll capture the imagination of the entire planet.
RAY: A classic movie franchise created by Stephen Spielberg, that examines the exploits of fictional eccentric billionaire John Hammond…
JEFF: Played by Richard Attenborough.
RAY: Hammond buys an entire island, extracts some ancient dinosaur DNA, and begins to genetically recreate herds of dinosaurs. The idea is to sell tickets so people can come see these ancient monsters from millions of years ago…. What could go wrong?!
JEFF: What could go wrong indeed. If you’ve seen any of the movies, we get to see exactly what can go wrong. The reason I brought up Jurassic Park, is because I’m afraid this same story may be playing out right now in this small Vermont town. This is the place where an eccentric local man has brought dinosaurs back from extinction.
RAY: Weird. Okay, I can see Post Mills airport coming up on the right. The airport is basically an airstrip for small planes and other aircraft.
JEFF: Okay, we’ll pull in right over here… and… OH MY GOD…
RAY: What in the world is THAT! It’s huge! It’s a monster! It’s over 160 feet long, it’s tall, and it’s made of… it looks like countless pieces of wood. It’s a giant wooden dinosaur right next to the runway!
JEFF: THAT is the Vermontasaurus! To find out how it got here… let’s travel back to 2008.
RAY: It’s March of 2008 and there’s been a lot of Vermont snow falling on the wooden museum building located at the Post Mills Airport. Too much snow.
[COLLAPSING WOODEN BUILDING]
RAY: So much snow that the building collapses. Thankfully, the museum was closed, and no one is hurt. But still there’s a mess of broken wood.
JEFF: Meanwhile, more than 9,000 miles away in New Zealand, the owner of the building, Brian Boland, lies in a hospital bed. Boland is a hot air balloon pilot and a pioneer in experimental balloons. Anyway, he’d just suffered injuries after falling off a cliff, and he’s pretty loopy on medication. When he takes the phone call, he’s assured that they’ve covered the museum building with a tarp, and there’s no need to cut his trip short by months just to tend to this. Boland tells his employees that once spring comes, to take down the structure and put the wood into two piles. Any wood that can be salvaged should go into one pile. And anything that’s completely shattered can go in the other.
RAY: It’s May when Brian Boland returns to Post Mills Airport. Pretty quickly, he has the museum building rebuilt.
[HAMMER, SAWING, CONSTRUCTION]
RAY: But when he’s finished, it’s November, and there’s now a big pile of wood sitting by the runway from the old museum. A pile of wood that sits there for over a year. A pile of wood that looks almost like… almost like some kind of giant beast. Locals figured he would have a big community bonfire. That’s when Boland says…
BRIAN: That’s not a burn pile, those are dinosaur bones.
JEFF: At this point, let’s bring in Brian.
BRIAN: I’m Brian Boland. I built the Vermontasaurus. But I built it with the help from a lot of friends.
JEFF: You claimed those were dinosaur bones and not wood scraps, what happens next?
BRIAN: Word got out real quick that Brian’s gonna build an enormous dinosaur… And the Valley News picked up on it and said, “What’s with this dinosaur thing?” And I said, “Well, I’ve got all this scrap wood, and we’re going to build this dinosaur.”
RAY: Brian not only had the scrap wood from his old collapsed museum building, he also had a bunch of wood from the old Post Mills mill building that had been torn down. When they heard about Brian’s project they delivered their scraps. And now the wood pile is three times larger than it once was. The plan is to build a 120—foot wooden dinosaur.
BRIAN: We’re going to make a ten-day project out of it, and I’m going to try and get a whole bunch of volunteers because it’s going to be a really dynamic, quick effort.
JEFF: So the Valley News runs a story. They ask if there’s an architectural plan for this project.
RAY: There isn’t.
JEFF: They ask if he has some kind of drawing or anything to go by.
BRIAN: I backed up and I looked up on this beam in the living room, and my son, when he was in high school, he was kind of an artist, and he built this brontosaurus—that’s the big, long, horizontal dinosaur—out of chicken wire. So the chicken wire kind of represented the outer shape of the dinosaur. It was very accurate. So I said, “I’m looking at a model of the dinosaur right now.”
JEFF: So the model or plan, if you can call it that, is his son’s school project that had been sitting on a shelf for years. So the Valley News runs a picture of the brontosaurus model, and some quotes from Brian on what he’s planning to do.
RAY: Brian figures a handful of people will show up as a goof to help out. What he didn’t expect was over 100 people coming to be a part of this project.
JEFF: It’s June 3rd 2010 when construction begins.
[HAMMERING AND NAILS]
JEFF: Brian had a huge tree that had fallen on his property, so he cut the trunk into four giant logs that were buried into the ground to form the legs. After that, though, there aren’t any formal plans or blueprints. But there are rules.
BRIAN: So the rules were, you weren’t allowed to measure anything. You had to go to the scrap wood pile, and you’d look and you’d grab a board that you would envision fitting in someplace, and then the boards could not be put in level—they had to be on an angle, and you couldn’t have them actually vertical, plum. And if somebody put a board someplace and you didn’t like the look of it, you couldn’t remove their board, but you could embellish it and build over it.
RAY: With rules like that, construction moves quickly. 100 people grabbing a piece of wood and hammering into place at some angle, you can imagine how quickly this process moves along.
[HAMMERING AND NAILS]
RAY: This goes on for days. A giant creature quickly takes shape.
JEFF: Brian has a fire truck in his collection with an aerial ladder, so they use that to help with construction. Another volunteer shows up with a telephone company cherry picker truck, so that’s used to get to the higher sections. Right on schedule the project comes together in only ten days. It’s huge! It’s incredible! That’s when a man pulls his car up to it, steps out, sees this thing it in all its splendor, and he says, “Oh my God, it’s a Vermontasaurus!” The name sticks. Fast. Most folks love it… Buuuuut… there is a problem.
BRIAN: Suddenly, there was one neighbor that knew the buttons to push. And he called the town and complained and he called this Vermont Act 250 group.
JEFF: There’s always ONE neighbor, isn’t there?
RAY: So true. The Vermont Act 250 group, for those who don’t know, is a law enacted in 1970 designed to keep Vermont rural and beautiful. It limits billboards, development of buildings, and things like that. The complaining phone call to the town was a little more straight forward. The neighbor complained that Brian didn’t file a building permit.
JEFF: Brian’s argument back was a simple one: What are you talking about? This isn’t a building. No one is going to live in it! It’s not a building, it’s art. Still… authorities need to get involved, and suddenly this giant wooden dinosaur is in danger of going extinct in its first weeks of existence.
BRIAN: It was done! At the ten-day mark. We had the state fire marshal came and looked at it, the state structural engineer. Probably the structural engineer was the only person who had a sensible approach to the whole thing. We were going to have picnic tables under it and a couple of barbeque grills mounted on posts, and he was like, “Woah, you can’t have the public under this thing. It looks a bit abstract, and how is it really held together, and who built it. And I said, “Well, we had five-year-olds and grandpas and everybody working on it. And he said, “Oh my God! You’ve got to get a structural engineer to sign it off as being safe, otherwise kind of cordon it off.
RAY: So Brian put some webbed fencing around the legs of the dinosaur so no one could get underneath the thing. Meanwhile, some pretty cool things start happening with this giant wooden structure.
JEFF: Like what?
RAY: Like all of the crazy shadows and sunlight that move under and around the structure as the sun moves throughout the day shining through gaps in the wood. Or the way birds quickly see this thing as a perfect place to build a nest.
JEFF: And in order to try and keep people out from underneath, and to protect himself, Brian posts a hand-written note by the dinosaur. It’s dated July 7th, 2010. It reads: Please feel free to stand back and feast on the Vermontasaurus, Just don’t go under it or we’ll have to tear it down. I’ll be fined or I’ll go to prison… or who knows what the authorities will do. Thank you very much, have a great day. Brian Boland.
RAY: Once the state and town make their inspections, and the Vermontasaurus is ruled a piece of art, the giant wooden beast seems safe… at least for now. A year passes. It’s late August of 2011, and the Vermontasaurus is once again facing potential extinction. This time not from a complaining neighbor or from a state bureaucrat, but from Mother Nature.
RAY: What’s left of Hurricane Irene passes through Vermont with high winds and dumping a lot of water. The following morning, the Vermontasaurus is sagging in the belly… big time. The idea of taking the wood apart and rebuilding it seems too daunting. So the plan is to embellish it. Build around the sagging belly.
BRIAN: There was a guy down in Plainfield, New Hampshire, that had just taken down and old gray barn, and he ran an ad, he was looking for somebody who could possibly use this demolition wood. And the wood was all shattered and everything else. And I went down and looked at it and I said, “Dinosaur bones.”
[HAMMERING AND NAILS]
JEFF: Filling in the belly area with the new wood also solves the problem the state has with anybody going underneath the thing. Now that’s it’s built down to the ground, you can’t anyway. The Vermontasaurus is here to stay. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Though the Vermontasaurus is the largest wooden beast on the property, it’s not alone anymore. There are a series of five other smaller wooden dinosaurs that have been constructed over the past decade.
BRIAN: The weird thing about this whole thing is people keep coming to see it. I walk out at four o’clock in the morning to get the newspaper in front of the airport. And I’ll look over and there’ll be a car there at four in the morning with headlights beaming on this thing, and people out taking photographs of the dinosaur.
JEFF: The Vermontasaurus. It almost sounds like a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor. Today the giant structure has plenty of bird’s nests in it, ivy is growing up the legs and body, and now it’s 160 feet in length. It’s bigger than it ever was.
RAY: Some of the smaller dinosaurs have made their way into local parades, another was built as a school fundraiser, and Brian even built one that could go out on nearby Lake Fairlee. So now there’s a version of a wooden dinosaur trolling the shores of the lake.
JEFF: I’m just waiting for some fuzzy pictures of the thing taken from the other side of the lake to give rise to our next legend.
RAY: That COULD happen.
JEFF: There’s now a total of six dinosaurs on the property. This community art project made from the scrap of fallen buildings, has endured for over a decade and turned into a roadside oddity and attraction with the Vermontasaurus as its centerpiece. Today we can think of the Post Mills airport as Vermont’s… Jurassic Park.
JEFF: We had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Boland on Wednesday evening, July 14th, 2021. The following morning, Brian died in a hot air balloon accident. In addition to being the mastermind behind the Vermontasaurus, he logged over 11,000 hours of balloon flight. We thought the best way to honor this great New England character was to proceed with this story, let you hear his voice, and maybe take a tiny bit of comfort knowing that Brian died doing what he loved. He was 77 years old.
RAY: Thank you, Brian, for being so generous with your time and for giving New England the Vermontasaurus and another great story to share.
JEFF: Ray and I would like to dedicate this episode in his memory. God speed, Brian.