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Pirate play house fulfills ‘Make-a-Wish’ request

It’s rare to see a skull and crossbones pirate flag above a construction site.

For that matter, it’s also unusual to see a pirate ship being built in rural La Salle County.

But both are part of a “wish” in progress at a home on Blueberry Hill Road in Fall River Township.

The ship, which will include a ramp, slide, swings and room inside for at least two bunks, is a pirate play ship being built for Cody Ousburn, 11, a student at Grand Ridge School.

Cody is afflicted with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His muscle weakness was diagnosed at age 5, and has steadily gotten worse, said his mother, Melissa. Typically, those with Duchenne lose their ability to walk by age 12, and, as predicted, Cody has progressively slowed down. Cody also has cardiomyopathy, a heart disease, she said.

The pirate ship was Cody’s choice for his Make-a-Wish wish. Make-A-Wish is a national nonprofit organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.

“He’s just always been interested in pirates,” said Melissa, noting her son also is a fan of “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

At first, before Make-a-Wish became involved, Cody’s parents were thinking about doing the project on their own.

“We wondered, ‘How do you build a pirate ship?’ “ she said.

Then they learned of Derrick Hinckley in Mount Juliet, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville, who builds pirate play ships.

“Once we came across Derrick’s videos on YouTube and saw his awesome work we knew this was the guy,” said Melissa.

Hinckley, 39, built his first pirate ship for his own sons in 2008, and then developed it as a vocation.

Since then he has built some 120 pirate ships in 43 states as well as in Canada and Mexico.

He has a website for his business at

Hinckley arrives at play ship locations with his tools. He orders the lumber locally and has other supplies drop shipped to the work site.

His ship-building proficiency has vastly improved over the years.

“That first one I built in 2008 took me about four months,” he said. “Now I can build the same one in about three days.”

It’s been a satisfying — if unexpected — career, Hinckley said.

“Nobody grows up and says, ‘I’m going to build pirate ships for a living.’ “ he said. “But it sure has worked out. I like to see different places and meet different people.”

Cody’s pirate play ship will be the latest of several Hinckley has done for Make-a-Wish.

“For me there’s just something special about these,” he said. “When you come to a place where it’s really, really appreciated — and it’s something they otherwise may not ever have been able to have — it means a lot more to me: I feel I’m a part of it.”

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