If you’re driving along N.C. 581 on the outskirts of Pikeville, you might be startled by gigantic dinosaurs standing in a field. Take a closer look and you’ll see huge insects, too.
No, you’re not in one of the “Jurassic Park” or “Jurassic World” movies. And you’re not seeing things.
The dinosaurs and bugs are metal creations thought up by Ben Benton Jr. and built by him and employees at his business, Benton and Sons. He calls them his metal creatures.
Benton said he started making the giant dinosaurs about six years ago as a way for customers to easily find his business. It grew from there.
“Every time we get slow here, I try to keep everybody busy without laying them off,” he said. “So we made one, then another. Now we have five out in our front field.”
Benton said the very first one was an aluminum Tyrannosaurus Rex, 18 feet tall. It’s hollow blocks welded together.
The other four are a stegosaurus, an apotosaurus, a brachiosaurus with the long neck and a dilophosaurus, which sat downtown for a while.
“After a year, they like to switch them out downtown, so we brought it back home,” Benton said. “I like the big dinosaurs because they’re supposed to be life-sized.”
Benton has been making the smaller bugs and things for about three years.
“I made up some when a machine here was broken and we were testing it,” he said.
You’ll find butterflies, monkeys, pigs, lobsters, dragonflies, mosquitoes, house flies, spiders, scorpions, frogs, praying mantises and even pigs.
“We made a turkey for somebody who was retiring from Goldsboro Milling Co. after 43 years of service,” Benton said. “It weighed 210 pounds, a very heavy turkey.
“There’s a fellow we sold a pig to one time and the pig was more than any man wants to tote. He put it in his yard. He lives in a very rural area. The guy said he came home one day and saw that his pig had moved. It had been picked up and moved about three feet and turned in the opposite direction. He drove a shaft into the ground and welded it around the base of the pig so the next time someone came back to get the pig, he’d have his job cut out for him.”
Benton has also made some smaller dinosaurs.
Some of the more unusual creatures he’s made include a peacock, a llama and a giant mosquito.
“Somebody somewhere down toward the coast said they had the biggest mosquitoes of anywhere and he wanted to put a big skeeter out there in front of his store at the coast,” Benton said.
Creating dinosaurs, insects or any creature is like working a puzzle, Benton said.
“If you were to go to the hobby shop and buy a balsa wood 3D puzzle, that’s where they started,” he said. “But we put the pieces together and weld them.”
It all starts with a pattern, which has to be altered to make it bigger. Then the metal is laser cut, cleaned up and welded. Sometimes the metal parts are dipped in hot zinc to galvanize them.
Benton said the stainless steel creatures will last forever.
He has started painting some of the smaller creatures.
“When I get out there and paint them, I enjoy that about as much as anything,” he said. “It takes my mind off my problems.”
Benton will take requests for certain metal creatures from customers. He said some people put them in their front yard by their mailbox and put butterflies in their flower beds.
“I’ve seen pictures of them screwed on the side of walls in the patio, like a fly on the wall,” he said.
Benton said he can’t help but smile when he makes one of his metal creatures.
“I guess I’m still a kid at heart,” he said. “If I’m having a rough day, I’ll walk outside and walk around the dinosaurs and it makes me feel better.”
One day, he’d like to create a metal dragon because he has a fascination with them. Until then, it’s dinosaurs, insects and other creatures.