The start

I am often asked just how I managed to get into this business of creating larger than life features. The answer is I just did it. I started small of course but it wasn't long until I was asked if I could do much larger projects. My answer was of course was YES... even though I actually had little idea of how to go about it.

The first big project was an archway to a development. It was BIG - big enough to drive two busses through at the same time. I designed the project real quick... and then came the hard part. Figuring out how to build it. The answer came in an unexpected fashion. While I was figuring it out we took a holiday to Disneyland. It was the mid 1980's and Splash Mountain had recently opened. Like millions of other people I was eager to give it a try. As luck would have it, as we chugged up the last big lift before the plunge down the steep flume the ride stopped - right near the top. We waited for a long time and then an attendant came and asked us to get out of the boat and walk out of the ride. While everyone else was disappointed I was overjoyed for it meant I got to see the INSIDE of Splash Mountain. I got to see behind the magic. I was eager to see all I could possibly see. I was at the back of the group and lagging behind a little. I had my camera with me and took lots of pictures. I learned more in those few minutes than I could have learned anywhere else in years. 

When I returned home from California I knew exactly how to build that giant arch. It would start with a heavy structural frame and then we would weld up a gradually lighter and lighter frame until we had a framework to which we would attach our lathwork. The fiberglass reinforced concrete would be trowelled on to that and carved before the paint. I still had plenty to learn and a lot of experimenting to figure it all out (which would take years) but the basics were learned in those few minutes inside of Splash Mountain. With my good friends help we managed to pull off that big arch project.

Somehow we figured out it would be easier to do the bulk of the work on the top piece while it was still on the ground. We then brought in a giant crane to lift the heavy top piece. That's me way up on the peak... no safety gear in those days. Although I acted brave I remember being terrified up there! I was about forty feet off the ground.

We then worked our way downwards to the ground. It's the same way we now build all of our projects.

The amazing thing was we built that giant archway in only 30 days. That 'impossible' project gave me the confidence to realize I could do just about anything I put my mind to. The big archway turned out great and stands to this day.

-grampa dan 

Dan Sawatzky2 Comments