John Daniels is a magician with a chainsaw. And his twin brother Ron is a wizard with numbers. Together, they and their crew of 40 artists, carpenters, designers and engineers create spectacular play structures, animated characters, shooting galleries and animal carvings for entertainment centers, theme parks, casinos and families around the country. Welcome to the world of Redwood Kings.
John took his artistic talents and started carving redwood animals over 23 years ago. “We kept finding logs, oak trees and redwood trees, different species that were hollow in the middle or fallen down,” he said. “There’s a lot of logs that fall down every year during storms, and the firewood cutters were cutting them up for firewood. I thought that I had to cut something cool with the logs because they were really big and It was just a shame that they were being cut up for firewood. So that’s kind of where it all started.” Soon, he began incorporating fallen redwood, oak and eucalyptus logs, and his structures got bigger and more fantastic. And when Ron saw his brother’s creations, he says, “It made me weak in the knees because it was so spectacular. His concept — a treehouse that comes with its own tree — was so enchanting and blew my mind.”
At their California-based woodshop, Daniels Wood Land, the brothers create designs that are whimsical, charming and eco-friendly. Ron explains, “When it comes to old- growth trees, we have a zero-logging policy.” The massive logs that support their clubhouse structures have either fallen down in storms or are stumps from decades ago. Reclaiming large pieces of material allows the reuse of a beautiful and rare commodity, but also helps protect the old-growth redwoods still standing in the forest. “Fallen wood,” says John, “is not only going to waste lying in the forest, but when you have a bunch of timber on the ground, it’s just waiting to ignite and then you’d have a huge forest fire.”
John loves seeing his customers react to his work, saying, “It’s priceless to watch the kids jumping for joy and grinning from ear to ear.” Ron is grateful to preserve trees that otherwise would end up in the hands of firewood cutters or landfills. He says, “To be touching a piece of wood that was growing over 2,000 years ago is remarkable.”
I was absolutely blown away by the objects that Ron and John create. You will never again look at a tree stump and dismiss its possibilities. There is a massive willow trunk in my neighborhood and whenever I walk past it, I wonder what Ron and John could create with it. To say that they only build tree houses (the most amazing and imaginative tree houses you’ve ever seen) would be limiting the incredible things that they build. In an episode this season, Ron and John create and constructed a recently opened interactive attraction, “The San Francisco Dungeon,” A massive and spooky look at the history of The City by the Bay. They also build an amazing table out of a slice of an ancient tree, a shooting gallery and much more.
Ron and John, they were nice enough to take a break from shooting one of their episodes to chat with me via phone. It was a tree house, and I’m so jealous of whichever lucky family was getting it, and as we were about to hang up (actually, the show’s producers were begging Ron and John to get back to filming the show), Ron got even more animated and excited. “Kellie!” he exclaimed, “I want to tell you about this crowd of kids. There’s these 3 or 4 little kids standing out here jumping for joy. They’re just … I’ve never seen such an excited group of little kids! I wish you could channel the energy and see. This is what our stuff does to kids. They’re going nuts! They’re like so excited. It’s like Christmas here, even though it’s June.” I told them to make sure they got it on camera and I bet you’re excited to watch that episode as I am.
Redwood Kings > Animal Planet > Fridays beginning Aug. 1