When Cooper Smith was just an inch shy of being able to ride a new roller coaster, his grandfather decided to build him an alternative.
Several weeks ago, the project was complete, and the 7-year-old took his first trip on what they are calling Rocket Boy.
“It was more thrilling than I imagined it to be,” Cooper said.
Rocket Boy is a zipline located at the home of his grandparents, Craig and Cathy Smith, in the town of Lind.
Craig, who built it with the help of his friend Dennis Mackin, explained how he came to build a zipline in his backyard.
“We had him (Cooper) for the weekend and took him to Bay Beach. He was fascinated with the Zippin Pippin,” he said.
That was last summer when the Zippin Pippin has just opened at the Green Bay amusement park. Cooper wanted to ride it but fell one inch short of the ride’s 48-inch height requirement.
When Cooper returned to his Madison home, he said to his father, Brendon, “I want to build a roller coaster in the front yard.”
His mother, Melanie, said Cooper sobbed when they told him the city of Madison would not issue a permit for one.
He had already drawn a sketch of what it would look like.
What could he do now?
He called his grandpa.
Initially, Craig planned to build a roller coaster on his property in Lind.
Last fall, he and his grandson communicated what it would look over a series of emails.
“It would just be 16 feet, not very long,” Craig said. “But, mechanically, I didn’t have the expertise.”
In April, Craig and Cathy vacationed in Mexico with Dennis and Ruth Mackin.
Craig and Dennis went on a zipline.
“After that, I decided to build this instead,” Craig said while standing on the platform of the zipline he and Dennis built.
Craig continued, “It was one of those things where you think it will cost a couple hundred dollars and you will do it in a couple weekends. It kept involving more engineering.”
They needed to figure out how much weight the half-inch cable would hold and how much it would stretch.
The cable is more than 400 feet long, and soon, they realized they needed to also build a platform.
“It just kept getting bigger and bigger,” Craig said.
The zipline is 17 feet from the ground, and he said they will be adding another six feet so that it can hold up to 250 pounds.
“It works for Cooper fine,” Craig said. “He will zip all the way.”
Those weighing more than 100 pounds will hit the ground before getting to the end.
A bungee brake near the end of the zipline means those who ride it stop about 10 feet before the post that holds the cord.
Rocket Boy was done in time for the July 4 weekend.
“When he (Cooper) saw it, he came out here jumping up and down,” Craig said.
Dennis took a test run on the zipline before it was Cooper’s turn.
Cooper held a video camera during his first ride and giggled the whole time.
After he went on it, Cooper thought to himself, “I’m actually on my very own zipline.”
The time and money his grandfather spent on the project is “crazy,” he said.
Craig said, “It probably took a total of 600 to 800 hours between Dennis and I. The total cost was about $2,500.”
Cooper says it would have cost much more than that to build a roller coaster and that building a zipline was a better idea.
“A roller coaster would have been a higher budget,” he said.
Thus far, Cooper’s parents have only seen video of the zipline.
Melanie said, “I was actually happy that I wasn’t there that first time.”
She knew her mother-in-law would not put him in any danger and said they will see the zipline in a few weeks.
“Cooper is very lucky to have Craig as a grandpa,” Melanie said.
Cooper is Craig and Cathy’s only grandchild.
“We’re hoping to have more grandkids. Even if we don’t, it’s fun for us,” Craig said.
He is already making plans to bump up the height of the zipline. “It’ll be more fun when it’s higher and faster,” he said.
The back side of the platform is a climbing wall and next on his list is to build a ropes course on their property.
The financial planner is mechanically minded and also built a waterfall and shadow garden/exercise hill on their land.
When Cooper visited this summer, they also returned to Bay Beach.
This time, he was tall enough to ride the Zippin Pippin.
When asked how the roller coaster compared to the zipline his grandfather built, Cooper said, “I think they would be the same.”
Sounds like the right answer.
Craig said his grandson loves visiting them.
Of the zipline that is now in his backyard, he said, “It was fun. We had a great time. It gave me an excuse to do something fun.”