Ron Dell’Osso is getting ready for some fun on his family farm.
Dell’Osso — Lathrop’s biggest kid at age 62 — was testing out a giant swing that can seat at least 12 people on Wednesday as he oversaw preparations for the opening of the 22nd annual Dell’Osso Family Farm Pumpkin Maze on Saturday.
It is one of a long list of new attractions from Rat Roller Races, a bakery making fresh items such as apple spice doughnuts, an interactive kids’ pirate show, and Apple Cider Hill that await those attending the 33-day Pumpkin Maze run that ends on Halloween. The Pumpkin Man will make his first appearance this year. They have also added fire pits that people can reserve for three hours for $20 where they can enjoy making s’mores, cooking hot dogs, or keeping warm in the chilly fall evenings while people in their party take breaks from hitting the countless attractions.
“We figure the swing will be a big hit with people just like the big rocking chair we added last year,” Dell’Osso said.
Besides literally being a big photo opportunity, the swing actually swings.
The swing isn’t far from where trees once stood that Dell’Osso and his buddies growing up were inspired after watching Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies on TV on Saturday mornings to hang ropes and swing from tree to tree. They also used to have tire swings on oak trees on the edge of the nearby San Joaquin River they used to jump into the water.
Next door to the giant swing are the Rat Roller Races. They consist of corrugated plastic pipe sections that roll along rails that are powered by running in them as if you were a rat. Dell’Osso said the Rat Rollers at his Lathrop farm are the first in California.
If you haven’t figured it out everything from the pedal car races, making your way through the largest corn maze in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, zip lines, and hay rides to a gigantic tire pyramid is all about having hands-on fun.
Dell’Osso’s favorite activity is still the pumpkin blasters that have inspired others across the country to develop carbon copies of the bazooka-style devices.
The pumpkin blasters are not included in the general admission. For $6 you get a bucket of ammo — white and orange gourds that are often referred to as mini-pumpkins — to load in an air-powered tube to aim at a variety of targets.
The blasters were also inspired by Dell’Osso’s childhood. In this case it was something that his mother wouldn’t let him do which is getting a BB gun for Christmas out of a Sears’ catalogue.
One Christmas almost 20 years ago Dell’Osso and friends were trying to fashion a launcher out of PVC pipe in his barn. Eventually after a number of tries that resulted in the devices they created falling apart when they were fired, they came upon the current design.
Given it was Christmas and the goal was to be able to shoot mini-gourds, there were none available so they bought a couple of boxes of oranges at Costco. Having no clue how far the fruit would go, they loaded a blaster and shot it in a southeasterly direction from near the base of the familiar brick silos that have graced Dell’Osso Family Farms for nearly a century. Much to their surprise, the orange they launched ended up hitting a southbound truck on Interstate 5 more than 300 yards away.
The mini-pumpkins don’t travel nearly as far as they are not round like oranges. That said, they have been clocked using radar reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.
Dell’Osso expects to go through five acres of home-grown ammo before switching to apples later in October. Because the apples are somewhat rounder than the mini-pumpkins, when they are fired through the blasters the aim is more precise.
“Near the end of the month we’ll probably mix the apples and mini-pumpkins,” Dell’Osso said.
Since its inception 22 years ago, the low-tech, high-octane family fun venue has lured more than 3 million visitors with many returning year after year.
Kids can also climb tire mountains, get their share of scary fun in the haunted caste, ride a train, walk the plank, frolic in kids’ play zone, enjoy duck races, watch pig races, race pedal cars, spin on pumpkins, take a hay ride, bounce on pillows and do a wide array of activities included in the general admission.
There are several attractions not included in the general admission. They are zip lines ($8 to $12), gem mining ($6), pony rides ($7), pumpkin painting ($5), and pumpkin blasters ($6).
There is also a food court as well as seasonal gift items for sale.
The Dell’Osso Family Farm is hosting the annual special needs access day on Friday for upwards of 2,000 youth and young adults throughout the region.
The Pumpkin Maze opens Saturday, Sept. 29, and runs through Wednesday, Oct. 31. First entry is at 10 a.m. with the last entry at 8 p.m.
General admission Monday through Thursday is $14.95 while Friday through Sunday it’s $18.95. Children 2 and under are free. The early bird special Monday through Friday for those entering before 2 p.m. is $11.95. They are offering a season pass this year (good from Sept. 29 — Oct. 31) for $49.95. Lathrop residents with ID can secure a season pass for $44.95.
Opening weekend is always the best bet for locals. It’s before the big crowds from the Bay Area pour in. Weekdays aren’t too shabby either when it comes to crowds but if a weekend is the only time you can work a visit in you definitely will want to drop by The Farm either Saturday, Sept. 29, or Sunday, Sept. 30.
It should be noted that week nights have grown in popularity as date nights for the young and young at heart.
Parking is free.
To reach the Farm take the Manthey Road exit on Interstate 5 between the 120 Bypass and Interstate 205.
For more information go to pumpkinmaze.com
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com