Robert “Budge” Brown didn’t simply leave his mark on Manteca.
He helped give Manteca an international identity.
Brown was the farmer who created California’s first water park part out of necessity and part out of ingenuity.
He didn’t set out to create a brand for Manteca. But by the time the Manteca Waterslides ran its 31-year course before closing in 2004, Manteca and waterslides were inseparable in the minds of hundreds of thousands of people from Europe to Australia.
Back in the 1970s when Interstate 5 was being built the state wanted to raise the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 through Lathrop to serve as an emergency flood levee that could be created by plugging in underpasses in the event the San Joaquin River levees broke.
Brown sold the state the dirt they needed. It left him with a couple of big holes that quickly filled with water due to the high water table throughout much of the Manteca area.
He was trying to figure out what to do with the holes. About that time his family vacationed in Hawaii where he noticed a small water slide. He returned home to fashion one out of concrete.
With that Manteca Waterslides and Oakwood Lake Resort was born.
The success of Manteca Waterslides was virtually instantaneous.
There was a built in clientele from Bay Area folks and international visitors making the journey through Manteca via the Highway 120 Bypass to reach Yosemite and the rest of the Sierra.
Water parks where a novelty at that time in this country. It also helped that in order to get to Yosemite you had to cross the Northern San Joaquin Valley where 90 degree days are the norm in the summer with the mercury often soaring past the century mark.
That may not be too much of a stretch for valley folks to handle and even a bit of heaven for many but if you’re from the Bay Area or Europe the summer weather in the valley seems inspired by Dante’s Inferno. The dry heat, tired travelers, and acres of water fun were the perfect combination.
Over the years, the waterslides became a major entertainment venue for concerts and other endeavors.
Almost everyone who has lived in Manteca for any amount of time has come across someone in their travels who asks them where they are from. When they say Manteca, it often evokes, “I know where that is, they have the water slides” as a response.
It has happened to Manteca residents when traveling in Chicago, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Rome, Paris, London and Sydney to name a few places.
To this day, the Manteca Visitors Center gets three or four inquires a month asking for directions to the Manteca Waterslides that have been gone for five years and are being slowly replaced by a gated community dubbed Oakwood Shores.
Manteca Waterslides also nearly equaled the TV and radio presence of another iconic Manteca business – Manteca Trailer – that made a lasting impression on viewers and listeners with its trademark sign off “Maaan-teee-ca!”
One particular commercial – “Walk Like a Manteca” – was a takeoff on The Bangles’ 1986 hit “Walk Like an Egyptian”. The Manteca Waterslides radio spot used song to implore listeners to learn to walk like a Manteca by hitting the water slides at Oakwood Lake.
Brown in an interview last year said that one of his biggest joys was being able to help kids learn how to work and to give them jobs. During the 31 seasons Manteca Waterslides was open, Brown hired between 175 and 600 Manteca youth each year with summer jobs.
Brown died in an airplane crash in the Sierra this past week while en route from his retirement home in Nevada to Tracy.
Brown via the Manteca Waterslides has spread a lot of joy over the years. It is why when he arrived at the Pearly Gates on his way to join his beloved wife Arlene and was asked where he lived most of his life and Brown answered, you can bet St. Peter told him, “I know Manteca, that’s where the waterslides area at.”