There's another place to see dinosaurs in LA County besides Exposition Park: the Raymond Alf Museum at the Webb Schools in Claremont, an intimate museum dedicated to fossils discovered by kids. For almost 80 years, Webb students have been contributing to paleontology, thanks to an ambitious track star who came to the school in 1929 and wound up taking Webb students on field trips that unearthed over 70,000 fossils.
Raymond Manfred Alf was born in 1905 in Canton, China, and lived there with his missionary parents until he was 11. The Alf family relocated to Nebraska, and by the late 1920's, Alf was a prominent sprinter who almost qualified for the Olympics.
According to Don Lofgren, director of the museum and Alf's biographer, Alf came to run for a Los Angeles track club in 1929, but after the track season, needed a job. He had taught math before, and took a tutoring position at the Webb boarding school for boys in then-rural Claremont. Alf soon became a full time biology teacher.
In the mid-1930's, Alf happened upon a fossil horse jaw at a photo shop in Claremont Village, and the clerk told him it came from Barstow. Alf arranged a field trip for a few boys from the school in 1935. In the summer of 1936, Alf was leading a trip to Barstow, and the headmaster's son, Bill Webb, found a skull. As it turned out, the skull was from an undiscovered Miocene-age peccary, Dyseohys fricki.
Thus cemented the tradition Alf called "The Peccary Trips." From 1936 to 1976, Alf took students to fossil sites around the US, including museum board member Dick Lynas, who graduated from Webb in 1955, and went on a Peccary Trip in 1953.
(Raymond Alf and the Chevy Suburban he drove on Peccary Trips. Courtesy the Webb Schools)
"It was a six week trip in a Chevrolet Suburban with no air conditioning, with hot plastic seats, and all the kids would be sliding around in the heat. We'd go to Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota," remembers Lynas, who found two Brontothere skulls in Nebraska. Brontotheres belong to the same order as the rhinoceros, lived in the late Eocene era, and had two large horns protruding from their snouts. Lynas says that the ranch they prospected for fossils at in Nebraska was so "littered with bone, you couldn't walk in a straight line without stepping on something."
Other notable exhibits include the skull of Purussaurus, a forty foot long crocodilian from Brazil; a skeletal cast of an Amphicyon (sometimes called a "bear-dog") mounted above the only known footprints belonging to the species, and "Baby Joe," the young Parasaurolophus discovered by Webb senior Kevin Terris in 2009.
Much of "Baby Joe's" skeleton is still encased in rock, to avoid breaking. Credit: Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Lofgren notes that the Alf museum's dinosaur fossils are mostly discovered in other states, and that Southern California contains far more mammals than dinosaur fossils in its rocks. Today, the Alf Museum's collection numbers about 165,ooo specimens from around the world. 95 percent of them were found by students, says Lofgren.
The Museum began in the basement of the school library, which was also Alf's classroom. By 1968, the basement was overflowing with bones, and it was then that the building that currently houses the Museum was built and has since been accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, making it the only such museum on a high school campus. Alf, who died in 1999 at age 93, lived on the Webb campus for almost 70 years.
The Raymond M. Alf Museum is located at 1175 W Baseline Rd, Claremont CA 91711, and is open 8am-4pm Monday-Friday.