Wonderful Engineering

His Grandchildren Got Bored Easily So He Built Them A Disneyland In His Backyard

Bored children are nasty creatures! However, this engineer grandpa from Fullerton hit upon a brilliant idea to keep his grandchildren entertained: build a mini Disneyland in the backyard. Steve Dobbs is an aerospace engineer who worked for 36 years at Boeing for 36 years and retired in 2007 to teach aerospace engineering at Cal Poly Pomona.


Image source: Jeff Gritchen


When his grandchildren complained of being bored, Dobbs bought an electric Thomas the Tank Engine train and installed it in his backyard. His grandchildren have very low patience for even slightly boring stuff so they rode the engine for about ten minutes before walking inside.


Image source: Jeff Gritchen


To add more fun to the ride, Dobbs built a cardboard tunnel over the track. He explained the short-lived thrill experienced by his grandchildren:

“And they were bored with that after five minutes.”


Image source: Jeff Gritchen


Dobbs knew that no kid could resist Disneyland and decided to give it a go:

“My younger grandkids are nuts about Disneyland. I wanted to give them a reason to come over to my house to spend time with me, and Disneyland is tough to compete with.”

Dobbs had some vintage Madame Alexander dolls that his wife had intended to give away. The engineer grandpa put motors on the dolls and designed a new tunnel using the family Christmas puzzles. Inside the tunnel, the dolls were placed just like the Small World figures at Disneyland. Dobbs named his wonderland, the Dobbsland.


Image source: Jeff Gritchen


Next, he erected a clock tower; the face of the clock tower was devised from a 14-inch pizza tin. The finishing effect was given by adding lights and the ride soundtrack. Mandi McArthur is the younger daughter of Dobbs and is a mother of three. She was astounded by the amount of effort her father had put in:

“We thought that was amazing. We could not believe the amount of work it took him.”


Image source: Jeff Gritchen


Dobbs used to live near the groves that later became Disneyland. As a kid, he and friends often pedalled over to the site of construction and watched the theme park being built. After the gates of the Disneyland were opened for public in 1955, one of Dobb’s neighbours got a job at turnstiles, often letting Dobb sneak in for free.

 “Ever since I was young, I was interested in engineering. I loved airplanes flying overhead, how things moved. … Every time I’d go on a ride, I’d look at the mechanisms, the wheels, the track, how it all worked. I liked tying the engineering of Disneyland into the art and the fantasy of it.”


Image source: Jeff Gritchen


Once the Small World ride was up and running, Dobbs started work on his Finding Nemo ride. A submarine was modelled out of the trash bins and an old PVC pipe. Huge blue canvases were installed to recreate the underwater effect. Motor-driven fish and divers were added to the ride. Next, Dobbs plans on installing an aquarium of fake jellyfish. Even after all that work and effort:

 “Then the kids started growing up and began getting bored with that!”


Image source: Jeff Gritchen


Dobbs also built a castle of the Sleeping Beauty with “Frozen” dolls that whirl on snowy turntables and sparkle under the icicle lights as the “Frozen” soundtrack plays on a portable CD player.


Image source: Jeff Gritchen


Another playhouse was used to design a Winnie the Pooh attraction featuring spinning characters inside. As Dobbsland expanded, his grandchildren continued to grow. So Dobbs planned to add a ride for the teenagers.


Image source: Jeff Gritchen


He mentioned his plans to a colleague and told him that he meant to install a Matterhorn-type roller coaster in his backyard. The professor answered:

“I know some students who would love to make that their senior research project.”

In September, nine Cal Poly Pomona seniors started work on the blueprints for the coaster. The students used engineering principles to plan the track’s route to fit the lawn’s 30-by-13-foot imprint.

“My main requirement was that I wanted it to be safe for little kids to ride, but also fun for teens and adults to ride.”

The rollercoaster ride was built at Cal Poly Pomona in three months. Then, it was dismantled by the students and moved to Dobbs’ home.


Image source: Jeff Gritchen


Dobbsland has seen its fair share of plenty of birthday and family parties. With all the rides in place, the backyard park can accommodate 50 people.  When dismantled, all the rides in the Dobbsland can fit inside the home garage.

In future, Dobbs intends to install spinning teacups and a walkway inspired by Disneyland’s Main Street while McArthur wants her father to add a Tower of Terror. You can tour the Dobbsland in this video: