Backyard Dinosaur Safaris



Childhood Memories

Growing up, my brother and I were fortunate enough to each have our own Power Wheels jeep; his was a bulky green Power Rangers model and mine was a sand colored Army jeep. I’m not sure exactly how long we had them, but I do remember that they were a huge deal when we could drive them. Enough so that one summer we both carted them to northern Michigan on a camping trip. I’m still not sure how my mother managed that and the rest of our gear for that trip, but she was a saint for doing so.

Like all toys, however, they eventually got replaced either because of wear and tear or mechanical failure. Mine outlived my brothers by a considerable amount of time, one of my last memories was pretending to use it as a forklift in our garage. I would pretend that the HI-LOW buttons were the controllers for the fork and spent hours moving pretend boxes on that battery before it too gave out. When they were gone, that was just the start of the bike era, and I’ve never really missed them until recently.

Two summers ago while driving to dinner with my in-laws, we spotted a pair of jeeps parked at the curb for trash pickup. Our son wasn’t even 2 yet, but I knew that if there was a drop of life left in either of those machines that I would squeeze it out so that he could get a taste of what freedom on four wheels was like. We loaded them into the back of the pickup and took them home, where they sat until last spring waiting for resurrection.

What we picked from the trash that day was a John Deere Gator and a faded purple Barbie jeep. Both had been well loved and left to rot in the elements, but surprisingly both were functional. Early on I had designated the latter was a parts machine as the Deere was more suited for our sons interest in helping with yardwork, and his obsession with our riding mower. Eventually I decided that the purple machine could get a coat of paint and move to his great grandparents to drive when he visited. Ultimately, it became a project that earned it a spot at the house until the day it quits.


I elected to make a replica of the gas jeeps from Jurassic Park, a favorite movie of mine and it plays well into the boys love for dinosaurs. I based much of the design off of the existing Jurassic Park Power Wheels models as well as images from the movie and real life adaptations.

I’ve made no mechanical changes at this time, both the boards and motors are in working order.

The power source is new, I am using a 12v tractor battery that I have moved underneath the seat due to its size. The battery can be accessed for charging by removing the screws for the seat, but I plan to install an adequately sized, marine-rated charging plug to the gas cap.

Surface prep was a quick bath with warm water and dishsoap then allowed to dry overnight before spray painting with Rustoleum made for plastics. In hindsight, the whole unit would have benefited from a light sanding and a primer. If you are here for tips, I highly recommend doing that step because over time the paint did crack or flake away in some spots.

The decals were custom made and cut.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Lessons Learned

This was my first time doing any large surface painting so there was a lot of trial and plenty of error.

  1. Surface prep. Sand and prime your surfaces. I didn’t, and within a week had of the paint crack and peel on some stress points on the chassis. That allowed some of the original purple to become exposed.
  2. Overspray. If you look closely at the wheels you might see some overspray, this is because I did not remove the hubcap from the wheels and instead opted to use painters tape. I was left with some red spray on the wheels, and even some under spray between the spokes of the hub caps.
  3. Sunlight + Weather = Brittle. If you are working with older vehicles that have been weathered over the years be VERY careful with your parts. I lost both of my headlight covers and managed to put a finger through a headlight during the initial teardown.

2020 Update

This project was completed early summer 2019 but got lost in our move shortly afterward. Now that we are settled and the Jeep has had some use I have to say that it’s an impressive little vehicle! The battery is a great upgrade, especially in high gear in the grass. The paint has held up will, but it will need some touch-up where the original pinks and purples have become exposed. As I mentioned above, I should have sanded and primed this before painting, something I will be sure to do on future works. The Rustoleum is also great, this unit was parked in the rain a couple of times and held up great!

Plans for this year involve 3D printing some of the light covers, hood latches, and wiring up some LED lights.

If you are doing one of these and model yours after mine you should make a few modifications.

  1. The added weight of the battery under the seat places a lot of weight on the rear of the vehicle. If you can, you should attempt to find a 12v battery able to be stored under the hood or reinforce the rear axle somehow.
  2. The space under the seat is perfect for a controller board if you opt for a more high-tech approach.

September 2020 Update

I have run the wiring for the LED lights and I am pretty thrilled with the results! This upgrade took place a couple of months ago, so I can share some hindsight details as well. 


Still a work in progress is the 3d printed enclosure for the circuit board, which to-date I am still working on. Something I am contending with is the vibration of the jeep and the effects it is having on the components. The LEDs and their wiring are all soldered, however, I used screw terminals on the board for faster troubleshooting. These screw terminals are not holding up well to vibration so I will need to work on a solutions of that.

Voltage is simple, too. Ran a 12 volt wire from the battery to the underpart of the dashboard, ran it and a ground through a step-down converter that outputs 5volts, then run that 5 volt wire to the LED board. Power is controlled by a switch I mounted on the dash that also controls a fan over the battery. Next time I will probably try out a set of 12volt LED lights that I have acquired, but more on that in a future post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s