The concrete Tyrannosaurus Rex that stood for decades at 76th Street and Good Hope Road, at Johnson’s Park mini-golf, is about to finally get its makeover.
Chad Covert, who bought the 13,000-pound dino for $11 in 2017 and moved it to his property in Saukville, says restoration work is set to begin and when that’s complete, hopefully by the end of the year, the 16-foot-tall dino will be installed on his land.
“I have been busy building a huge shop/outdoor deck with a grain bin bar and even an Indy car on the roof but I will get the dinosaur up during the fall months,” says Covert, who appears to always have multiple projects going and is a collector of interesting things.
“It’s on my to do list and getting nearer to the top every weekend.”
Johnson’s Park, 7350 N. 76th St., opened in the 1960s, first offering go-karts and later adding miniature golf, bumper cars, batting cages, an arcade, a skating rink and a giant slide.
The dinosaur was built as an obstacle for the miniature golf course, accordion to a columnist by now-retired newspaperman Jim Stingl.
“John Kohlwey worked at Johnson's Park for a few years after finishing high school,” Stingl wrote in 2017. “He and others built the dinosaur in the early 1970s.”
"The scales were actually made one by one,” Kohlwey told Stingl. “The concrete was packed onto the back of a triangular trowel and then was flipped onto the dinosaur."
In 2007, more than a decade after it closed, the park was torn down, leaving the T-Rex an orphan until 2016, when the City of Milwaukee foreclosed on the property and sold the dino at auction. (According to the Department of City Development website, a proposal is pending for the sale of the nearly 10-acre site.)
“I bought it in January of 2017 and I think I was the only one that bid on a 13,000-pound dinosaur that was not structurally sound,” says Covert. “I was the only one brave enough to cut it apart and haul it home with a huge tow truck and two flat beds.”
Covert had tried to buy the T-Rex before, too, but had failed.
“I have been friends with John Johnson, the owner, for a few years prior because I ran the two (car) dealerships right next door to the property that used to be Johnson’s Park,” he says.
“I actually had offered $2,000 at one point and he accepted with intentions of putting in on the dealership lot but John backed out on the deal days before I had it set up to be moved.”
Covert, who is in his late 40s, says he remembers visiting the fun park often and having a great time.
“My father who is 74 also remembers frequenting the park with his brother in his earlier years.”
Now he’s got the dino, in pieces, in his yard and he’s got a plan for it. Watch a recent Facebook live at the site by Old Milwaukee's Adam Levin here:
“I live in a log home in the country with all woods behind me,” he says. “I plan on burying a huge I-beam and setting the dinosaur over it and then having to get inside and start welding until it has some structure.
“Then I will repaint it a little less flashy after redoing the tuckpointing that was ruined in the move.”
Covert says he will do the work himself with some help from his dad and maybe another important figure.
“The original builder of it contacted me and said depending on his health he would come down from LaCrosse to help me make it true to form,” Covert says. “I had a few companies offer to paint it for the recognition they would get but we will see once I get to that point.”
The dino will be placed about an eighth of a mile off the road so it won’t be visible to passersby, as it had been for so many years at the corner of 76th and Good Hope.
But the T-Rex won’t be lonely; it’ll be among other items that Covert has amassed.
“I will buy anything, as my friends and family are well aware of,” Covert says. “I buy buildings and disassemble them, I have bought Indy cars, hundreds of golf carts, etc.
“In the last month I was out to South Dakota and back in a day to pick up some auction wins.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.