Even strangers stop and take pictures at Peter Didier’s property on Highway KW in the Town of Port Washington that his family has dubbed Grandpa’s Amusement Park.
One attraction in the private playground is Tow Mater — an old pickup truck that Didier outfitted with a tow rig and daughter-in-law Melissa painted with the distinctive windshield eyes and
buck-toothed radiator to look like the animated tow truck in the Disney-Pixar “Cars” movie.
Many children insist their parents stop so they can visit with Mater, Didier’s wife Pat said.
Some children have long conversations with the tow truck and many pictures are taken, she said.
Children also like to play in a toy airplane that has beady eyes and ferocious teeth. Didier bought the plane from a woman in Port Washington and rebuilt it.
“We just call it Fighter Jet,” said Melissa, whose children Cash, 4, and Ruby, 2, enjoy flying it. “Sometimes, we use it as a bargaining chip — ‘If you finish your dinner, you can visit Fighter
An old concrete silo has a 50-foot long slide made from 30-inch diameter black plastic culvert pipes, and a zip line runs from the silo to a willow tree.
Didier developed the amusement park for his eight grandchildren, who range in age from 14 to 4-month-old twins.
It all started five years ago when the Didiers were building a new house across the road from their former home, where their son David, his wife Melissa and their four children, Cash,
Ruby and twins Clementine and Fiona, now live.
The Didiers’ other sons, Tom and Mike and their families, and Peter’s mother Betty live on adjacent parcels in the township. The families use golf carts to visit each other.
The playground is on a former farm, where a deteriorated farmhouse and barn were torn down.
“When we were building our house, I was going to tear the silo down, but the boys said, ‘Let’s keep it,’” Didier said.
“So then my mind started working, ‘What are we going to do with it?’”
He decided to put stairs in the silo, but going straight up or even in a circular pattern would be too steep and dangerous for young grandchildren.
A friend suggested he build steps that lead to platforms where people can rest.
“I drew what I wanted and called on my engineer friends to design it,” Didier said.
Didier and his sons then built the stairs and three platforms. The first platform leads to the zip line, the second one to the slide, which is 22 feet high, and the third to the top, where an
open-air deck (the roof disappeared long ago) is a favorite place for adults to gather.
“We like to have cocktails up here. On a nice night, you can see forever,” Pat Didier said.
Didier wasn’t content with the platforms. The silo needed more features.
“We were in DisneyWorld and they had a zip line, and I thought, ‘That would be good for the silo,’” he said.
Didier researched zip lines on the Internet and ordered a kit that is strong enough to hold 350 pounds. Adults and older children sit on a circular platform as they zip toward the ground.
Young children are strapped into a harness and pulled with a pole a short distance up the line for their adventure.
It is a rite of passage when a child or adult becomes fearless enough to jump from the silo landing that is 12 feet above the ground.
Didier cut a large triangular opening for the zip line into the thick concrete walls. He drilled holes to mark the three corners then used a concrete saw to cut out the rest of the opening. It
was messy, back-breaking work, Didier said.
The silo still needed more features.
The couple often go with their children and grandchildren to water parks, which gave Didier the idea to add a slide.
After getting a grandson to slide down a 20-foot-long culvert suspended with scaffolding, Didier determined the slide should be at a 45-degree angle for a safe speed.
“What I forgot is that when you make it 50 feet, you increase the speed,” he said. “You get going pretty fast. Some adults are afraid to go down the slide. That’s why we put a pile of sand
at the bottom.”
Young children go down the slide with an adult. Didier noted the speed can be slowed with ones feet.
All the adults, except his mother, have used the zip line and slide at least once, Didier said.
Mostly, it’s just a way to have the family and cousins play together, he said. In addition to David and Melissa’s four children, Mike and Alison have Luke, 12, and Brynn, 9, and Tom and
Lora have Owen, 14, and Georgia, 12.
“I think it’s so neat that the cousins can play in the same places where their fathers played,” Alison said.
Didier also bought a small bus, painted it yellow and black and uses it to transport the clan to various events.
The Didiers said they have always been a close family, but the family became even closer after their youngest son Joe died in a snowmobile accident Feb. 13, 2004, at age 25.
“There is always a blessing that comes out of a tragedy,” Pat Didier said.