Arts and Culture

Colorado Dad Builds Backyard Roller Coasters for His Sons

Scott Brazelton
Scott Brazelton's son leans into the thrill of his new backyard roller coaster.
Scott Brazelton was going to build a treehouse for his three-year-old, Wyatt. But then he stumbled upon a YouTube video by Paul Gregg, an engineer who built his grandkids a backyard roller coaster, and he knew his thrill-seeking son would love that much more.

He built the roller coaster and documented Wyatt’s first ride in 2017. After he posted it on YouTube to share with family and friends, it went viral, garnering over 50 million views. Brazelton and his family were in the media spotlight for a whirlwind 72 hours that ended up creating a lasting online community of fellow backyard roller coaster enthusiasts.

Now Brazelton’s back at it. He just built his younger son, West, his own roller coaster in the backyard of their Brighton home. “I just want my kid to get some joy out of it," he says.

Brazelton doesn’t have a background in construction; he was a fighter pilot in the military for a number of years, and he now works as a commercial pilot for Southwest Airlines. There’s a chance that his proclivity for thrill rides and a desire “to go fast and do fun things” were passed on to his sons.

He remembers how much Wyatt loved amusement park rides as a two-year-old. He loved Disneyland's Gadget’s Go Coaster and was one of the youngest children to go down a particular water slide at the Great Wolf Lodge in Centralia, Washington.

On West’s recent backyard roller-coaster ride, his dad asked him if he wanted to go low and slow until he felt comfortable. “No,” he replied. “I want to go fast.”
Brazelton has specifically designed the coasters’ hills to coincide with his boys’ "appetite for excitement,” he says. The hill is what gives the cart enough energy to make it around the track, and since his children like going fast, Brazelton's hills are bigger than what supports the average backyard roller coaster. The new coaster is more than nine feet tall and takes up a footprint that’s 60 by 38 feet.

It’s all physics, and Brazelton studied aerospace engineering for two years in college before switching to a business major and then joining the military. Physics is very important for building a safe and fun backyard coaster, he explains, but it’s not extremely complicated. He says people just need to factor in their constraints, such as how big the yard is and how thrilling the ride should be, as well as the size of their child. Each roller coaster he’s built has been specifically designed to account for the weight of his child. He can’t just invite over the other neighborhood kids...or adults who happen to be begging for a ride.

Backyard roller coasters are primarily made from lumber, PVC pipe and deck screws, while the metal chase seat is the most complicated part. That requires welding, a skill Brazelton learned in order to do this project. In total, the cost of materials is around $1,000 to $1,300. But specialized tools such as a drill press and chop saw, which can make the project go faster, can add another $1,000 to $1,500.

It took two months for Brazelton to make the first roller coaster, which he would work on after work and on the weekends. He says one of the most challenging parts was committing to do that extra labor, especially after working his day job. He gives credit to his wife, Brittany, for helping watch their sons while he was spending all those extra hours in the backyard.

“She’s the best wife on planet Earth, watching our kids and putting up with my crazy hobbies,” he says. “At first she was apprehensive [of the roller coaster], but I just said, ‘I have to do this,’ and I convinced her.”

In the first video Brazelton posted, viewers can see Wyatt’s excitement that his dad has completed the track. He gets into a bright-red and silver cart, designed to look like an airplane, before giving his mom a thumbs up and his dad a fist bump. He smiles, screams and laughs, and after a couple of rides, asks for at least five more times around the track.

His genuine love of riding resonated with millions of people. The number of views on the YouTube video quickly skyrocketed, much to the Brazeltons’ surprise. Brittany woke her husband the morning after the video was published with an inbox full of emails from media licensing companies. Even though some offered to buy the video, Brazelton didn’t sell.

He recalls going into work and seeing his co-workers sitting around a computer reading a Huffington Post article. The family was invited to be interviewed on Fox and Friends, Good Morning America, Fox Business and by a Seattle Times reporter (they were living in Washington state at the time).

“It was like this 72 hours of craziness,” Brazelton explains. “It was a lot of fun, but it was intense too.”

In late 2018, after about a year of playing on the roller coaster, Wyatt outgrew it, and the family then moved to Colorado. They were not able to keep the roller coaster, nor could they donate it, because of the liability. Brazelton even consulted some legal experts, who said that there was no waiver on earth that could protect him if the new owners didn’t maintain the coaster and something happened. “It was a bummer,” he says.
However, the first ride continues to connect viewers on the internet. Brazelton has kept in contact with a number of people who’ve commented on the YouTube sensation and are interested in building their own. “It’s cool, because when I started this, I wondered, ‘Am I capable?’” he says. “It’s neat watching other people feel empowered to do the same thing.”

When he posted the first video, there weren’t many other people he found building backyard roller coasters. Now, he says, it’s a community that’s grown into hundreds of people across the country. As Brazelton was building West’s roller coaster, he documented the process to create a paid online course for those interested in learning from him.

“I hope that it inspires people to think and live outside the box, to take on challenging and fun projects with their kids,” Brazelton says.

It also helps to have a three-year-old to inspire you. Brazelton says West helped him with the new coaster — handing him tools and screws and even helping him paint.

But the ultimate design was still a surprise. And in the latest video Brazelton posted, West gets a kick out of the fact that the cart is designed to look like the Southwest airplane his dad flies. After hopping in and doing a safety check, West is all smiles and giggles. He yells “hi” to one of his horses, and immediately requests to go around again.

The next time, he tries the ride with his hands in the air. And after his first couple of rides, he insists that he should get at least four more turns.

During the first week, West went around the track at least 100 times, Brazelton says. And even if the phase only lasts for another year, he believes West will always keep the memories of that time his dad built him his very own roller coaster.

“After the first video went viral,” Brazelton recalls, “my dad said, ‘This has nothing to do with you. Your construction skills aren’t what went viral. People want to see kids laugh and scream.’

“That’s what this is about," he concludes. "Helping kids have fun and have a good time."

Watch Brazelton's videos on YouTube or check out his course to build one yourself.