My Dad Built a Disney-Inspired Backyard Theme Park for his Grandkids

Most people would say being a parent is like riding a roller coaster – there’s the ups and downs and all arounds. Well, for my Dad, his roller coaster isn’t a metaphor; it’s a literal one. A physical adult-sized one. Bolts and all. And he built it in his backyard.

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Most people would say being a parent is like riding a roller coaster – there’s the ups and downs and all arounds. Well, for my Dad, his roller coaster isn’t a metaphor; it’s a literal one. A physical adult-sized one. Bolts and all. 

And he built it in his backyard.

But this roller coaster isn’t the only thing Steve Dobbs created in that backyard. In fact, it’s just the latest addition to a complete Disney-inspired theme park he built for his grandchildren – all five of them, the oldest two of whom are my sons, Zack and Jacob, ages 12 and 15. 

Of course, their Grandfather (and his Disney-themed backyard) evolved over time. For example, its seeds were planted about eight years ago when Steve created for them his home-grown version of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction ride. 

The seeds of Dobbsland started with two cardboard pirate ships — and my two sons

He substituted cardboard for wood, marker-sketched drawings for fancy graphics, two spring-loaded ping pong shooters for cannons, imagination for water, and role-playing boys for pirates. After all, a little creativity tossed with some nostalgia and a whole lot of grandfatherly love can go a long way – maybe even beyond the Caribbean. 

And now, three additional grandchildren later – all of whom adore Disneyland almost as much as my Dad – can enjoy a more, well, expanded theme park, affectionately called “Dobbsland.” 

For example, there’s the “Winfred-the-Poof” ride, complete with animated Disney plush characters and voice-over narration (courtesy his son-in-law, Marcus) reading a poem Steve wrote based on a blustery day. 

While riding the “Madderhorn Roller Coaster,” watch out for the animated Yeti inside a painted tarp-covered mountain.

Ask Steve, a retired Boeing aerospace engineer and now an engineering college professor, to give you some facts about that roller coaster. He’d proudly explain how it was designed and built with the help of his student team at Cal Poly Pomona and that they made it out of wood. The roller coaster can reach a speed up to 12 miles an hour on a 100-foot long track of PVC plastic pipe. 

My older son, Jacob rides the coaster!

There’s also the “Sleeping Princess Castle” that delights his two princess granddaughters. It includes animated dolls from Disney’s Frozen in a thematic story scene called “Freezing.”

And of course, “Tiny World” provides hours of fun with animated dolls inside donated from my Mom’s old doll collection she was about to throw out in a garage sale.

Only a 15-minute drive from Disneyland, and nestled in the city of Fullerton, Dobbsland might be miniature in size, but it’s huge in the hearts of Steve’s grandchildren, family and friends. The park fits about 50 people and has hosted birthday parties and play dates. And admission is free.

People have asked Steve why somebody would spend thousands of hours building such a fanciful place when the real amusement park was only miles away. 

It’s then when Dad says, “I wanted to show my family, my grandchildren, that anything is possible – even building an adult-sized roller coaster – with curiosity, imagination, vision and, of course, a lot of hard work. And so I created a wonderland specially for them so they can be inspired to always challenge themselves to dream big and then act even bigger.” 

Steve with his 5 grandchildren: Zack, Ruby, Micah, Maisy, & Jacob

Life can be an adventure like that.

Me riding the roller coaster as Dad watches

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