If there were an award for world’s coolest dad, Scott Brazelton would be tough to top.
As if flying jets weren’t enough for consideration, Brazelton accomplished another extraordinary feat this winter when he built a roller coaster in his Oak Harbor backyard for his 3-year-old son.
“I think everyone knew I was nuts before,” said Brazelton, a Navy pilot from Shelton. “Now, it’s certified that I’m actually crazy.”
Not really, of course. Brazelton just wanted to work on something special with his son Wyatt — a fun father-son project.
“Being in the military, you end up away from home a lot,” said Brazelton, who’s part of Electronic Attack Squadron 129 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. “It kind of started with me thinking, ‘Man, I really want to do some kind of project with my son that would maximize quality time, something constructive.’ I was going to build him a treehouse.”
Brazelton scanned do-it-yourself projects online and came across a video that showed how a retired engineer from Seattle had built a roller coaster for his grandchildren’s enjoyment.
The video stirred a memory. Brazelton remembered how much fun Wyatt had riding the smaller, children’s roller coasters during a trip to Disneyland a few month ago.
A plan was hatched after Brazelton contacted Paul Gregg, the roller coaster builder, and read two of his e-books about how he built it.
He said Gregg played an important advisory role for the attraction built on his rural North Whidbey property.
“I studied engineering in college a little bit,” said Brazelton, who earned a bachelor’s degree in aviation management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. “I wouldn’t say it’s any special ability on my part. It’s very convenient nowadays to go online and pretty much learn how to do anything. You can tile a house or you can do something as crazy as this.”
There was no kit. Brazelton took Gregg’s idea and expanded on it.
“No one would ever build a kit for something like this for liability reasons,” Brazelton said. “Everything is literally from Home Depot. The rails were made out of PVC conduit. I had to learn how to weld. The cart’s frame is made out of steel. I bought a welder from Harbor Freight (Tools) for 90 bucks. I taught myself how to weld good enough in 90 days.”
The airplane-themed roller coaster, featuring a steel cart decorated to resemble a propellor plane, now allows Wyatt to soar just like his dad. It was a hands-on project that involved a father and son and the support from wife Brittany Brazelton.
“I said to him, ‘That sounds like a lot of work,’ ” Brittany said. “He said, ‘He’s worth it.’ ”
Wyatt was up for the task.
“He’s got toy tools just like my tools,” Scott Brazelton said.
Brazelton drew up an “engineering sketch” then worked together with Gregg to delve deeper into the physics, safety and other details.
Using two-by-fours, plastic piping and deck screws, a track roughly 140 feet long was constructed. The cart is a converted 15-gallon water barrel complete with an automotive-grade seat belt. Roller skate wheels substitute for cart wheels.
The roller coaster is powered by gravity — nothing mechanical. It just takes a little push from the highest peak to get started. The highest point is about 7.5 feet.
“There’s definitely a lot of engineering when it comes to designing it,” Brazelton said. “It’s for a 3-year-old. You don’t want too many g-forces, side g’s or any sort of whiplash. You don’t want it to be too fast. Also you want to make sure the cart has enough energy to get around the track.”
The project design began less than three months ago but actual construction took only about eight or nine straight days, Brazelton said. It was completed Sunday night when Wyatt got his first test ride.
Which led to another.
“Again! Again! Please,” Wyatt is heard saying on a video the Brazeltons posted on YouTube Sunday night.
The video has taken on a life of its own.
Taken with a GoPro camera mounted on to the front of the cart, it captured not only the joy on Wyatt’s face but all sorts of national attention, including a story in the Huffington Post website this week and a segment on the television morning news show, Fox &Friends, with more on the way.
The Brazeltons arrived at a studio in Seattle at 3:45 a.m. Thursday in order to appear live on the Fox show. Reporters from two Seattle TV news stations were planning to come to Oak Harbor later Thursday to see the roller coaster attraction for themselves.
Already, “Back Yard Roller Coaster – Wyatt’s First Ride” has nearly 90,000 views on YouTube. The video includes a brief pre-launch discussion with Wyatt asking his dad about a specific component involving the ride’s structural integrity, specifically the glue.
“Can you eat it?” Wyatt asked.
Soon, Wyatt was off on a wild ride with mom, dad, Allie the dog and the family’s horse, the only ones in view of the spectacle.
“We had nine offers (Monday) morning to buy the rights to the video,” Brittany said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The family settled on one offer which at best will help pay for some of the materials used to build the roller coaster. Brazelton said it cost under $1,000 to build it.
The Brazeltons said they never expected the attraction would draw so much attention.
“Maybe it lets people be kids again,” Scott said.