When third generation Lathrop farmer Ron Dell’Osso shared with his mother-in law in 1995 about his plan to create a massive corn maze with pumpkin-themed attractions as a sideline business the next fall, she was clearly convinced it wouldn’t get much traction.
“People are going to pay you to walk through corn?” was Corry Kruip’s somewhat incredulous response at the time.
Dell’Osso’s fellow farmers thought he was out his gourd as well.
Fast forward to 2021: Ron and Susan Dell’Osso are rolling out the silver edition of the Dell’Osso Family Farms Pumpkin Maze open daily Oct. 2 through Oct. 31. It takes place on their farm along Interstate 5 in Lathrop between the 120 Bypass and Interstate 205.
It is now the largest agri-tourism attraction in the 209 — and possibly California. Dell’Osso Family Farm is closing in on its 4 millionth visitor as they celebrate their 25th season. Last year 180,000 people made their way through the 30-acre corn maze and nearly two dozen other attractions.
A number of families make a trip to the farm an annual excursion. It has also become a popular date night in October for adult couples.
Susan Dell’Osso said the appeal is the fact it isn’t a high tech affair.
“People enjoying doing simple things,” she said.
And while train rides, wandering through a massive corn maze, haunted castle, duck races, farm animal zoo, an interactive children’s pirates show, scrambling over a gigantic pyramid composed of earth mover tires, pig races, riding on “swinging pumpkins” and a slew of other low-key attractions are crowd pleasers, the one that is the signature Dell’Osso attraction are their pumpkin blasters.
The bazooka-like devises are loaded with either mini-pumpkins or apples and aimed at hanging metal targets and fired at speeds up to 90 mph. Unloading a bucket of farm grown ammo costs $8.
The blasters have been duplicated by several others with similar October mazes across the country.
How the blasters came about — as well as why the month-long attraction keeps adding new things each year — has everything to do with the fact Ron Dell’Osso is a 65-year-old kid with a Tom Sawyer streak who happens to farm.
After the fourth season of running the corn maze as Christmas approached, Dell’Osso decided to head out to his shop to try and fashion a “machine gun” that could shoot pumpkins.
The first prototype was fashioned out of PVC pipe. After four days he finally got one that used air pressure to fire a pumpkin.
“It was a dud,” Ron Dell’Osso recalled.
The pumpkins would only go 4 to 10 feet.
He gave up — but just for a week.
Dell’Osso went back to the shop and continued tinkering.
They hit pay-dirt on the seventh prototype.
Since they no longer had mini-pumpkins left to use as ammo, they went to Costco and bought a few cases of oranges.
Little did Dell’Osso know oranges due to being circular orbs would be the perfect ammo. From his shop near the century-old twin brick silos that appear in the Dell’Osso Family Farms logo, they loaded an orange, pulled back the lever to add air pressure and “pulled the trigger” to watch as an orange was propelled 400 feet with no problem at all.
Fine tuning it led to an even more robust launch that sent an orange flying over nearby Interstate 5.
Every year there is always something new added. This year it is an old-fashioned carousel as well as a mini-golf course.
This year’s corn maze when seen from the air spells out “Dell’Osso Farm, Here We Come.”
They even have a theme song dubbed “Dell’Osso Family Farm, Here We Come”— think “California, Here We Come” — that plays when you click on the audio on the home page of their website.
Besides various activities there is also a massive pumpkin patch — arguably the largest in the area — where kids of all ages search for the perfect pumpkin.
In addition to the food court, there is a country store with fresh baked goods such as pies and apple spice doughnuts, as well as fudge, cookies, and other treats.
And to top off the perfect date night there’s Cider Hill. It features craft beers, hard cider and homemade pizza.
Most of the attractions are included with admission. The maze opens at noon Mondays through Fridays and at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The last admission is 7 p.m. nightly while attractions start closing at 8 p.m.
Admission is $16.95 Monday through Thursday and $24.95 Friday through Sunday. Children 2 and under are free. Season passes are $59.95. Parking is free.
“We have people who come back every year who say they are making great family fun memories every time they visit,” Dell’Osso said.
For more information go to pumpkinmaze.com.