The story of Akron’s stegosaurus

As you drive on Highway 12 north into the town of Akron in northwest Iowa, you’ll spot a large stegosaurus painted green, red, and white. It was built by Dr. Sterling Stewart and Robert Shockley, both professors at Western Iowa Tech in Sioux City, Iowa back in the late 1970s. 

Does the Stegosaurus have a name?

Yes, the stegosaurus that sits on the roadside south of Akron, Iowa is named “Warty Willy.”

How old is Warty Willy the Stegosaurus?

Warty Willy was created in the workshop at Western Iowa Tech in Sioux City, Iowa starting in 1976. His first appearance in the local newspaper showed up on Feb 5, 1978, in the Sioux City Journal. The paper featured a half-page article with photos, including a photo of Stewart and Shockley working on Warty Willy’s head, which was not even attached to the body at the time.

stegosaurus of Akron, Iowa.
The stegosaurus of Akron sits along Highway 12 south of Akron, Iowa. There’s parking nearby and its just a short walk out to the stegosaurus.

How big is the stegosaurus of Akron?

From head to toe, the stegosaurus is 31 feet long, 11 feet high, and up to 10 feet wide. Because of the steel frame, he weighs almost 2,500 pounds.

Why did they build Warty Willy?

According to Stewart, “Two years ago (stated in 1978) we were looking for a project to help teach our students the concepts of mechanical engineering, so Shockley and I dreamed up the idea of a giant mechanical dinosaur.” Quoted from the Sioux City Journal, 05 Feb 1978.

They estimate that 19,000 hours of work were spent on building the dinosaur, mostly during evenings and weekends in the workshop at Western Iowa Tech.

I’ve heard that the stegosaurus once walked, is that correct?

Yes, in fact, two legs could extend at a time to help the dinosaur walk either forward or backward. In addition, his eyes would flash, his head could swivel, and he could wag his tail. To top things off, he could open his mouth, stick out his tongue and spit water.

stegosaurus of Akron, Iowa.
The eyes are light up at night!

What is Warty Willy the Stegosaurus build off?

The frame was built of steel and aluminum that was donated by several local companies. The steel feet were covered with donated rubber. It was powered by a GM 8-horsepower gas engine. Perhaps most amazing was that the dinosaur was built with no blueprints or formal plans. Instead, they improvised and created solutions as they went along. According to Shockley, (21 Aug 1986, Sioux City Journal) “everything is handmade. We’ve used pieces of girdles, we’ve used hair dryers and tire pumps.”

When was Warty Willy first featured in the public?

After 10 years of work, Warty Willy made his first public appearance as entry number 31 at the Greater Siouxland Fair and Rodeo Parade in South Sioux City in August of 1986. Willy walked himself down Dakota Avenue, with Dr. Sterling Stewart riding on his back. As he walked the parade route, the dinosaur was surrounded by a pack of Girl Scouts carrying signs, “Dinosaur lovers unite” and “Warty Willy for president.” At this event, it proclaimed that Warty Willy was the first full-size walking dinosaur replica in the world.

Following the parade debut, Warty then made appearances at numerous elementary schools. In 1987, Warty also made a trip to New Orleans and was the feature that kicked off the parade for the American Rental Association convention.

stegosaurus of Akron, Iowa.

Where is the Warty Willy now? and why here?

Warty Willy now resides at this address: 410 Norka Dr, Akron, IA 51001 which is just south of Akron, Iowa. As to why he’s parked here – that is a mystery to me. I’ve been unable to find out when or why Warty retired to this location. Perhaps someone from Akron, Iowa will have some insight and drop us a note.

stegosaurus of Akron, Iowa.

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