My son Japhy, 5, still spontaneously falls off his chair occasionally, and is shaky on his pedal bike, but at Diggerland USA, a construction-themed amusement park in southern Recent Jersey, we’ve got given him control of a 7,092-pound JCB excavator. He’s sitting high within the cab on his father’s lap, moving the large boom arm of the digger to scoop earth and dump it out.
This was the founding ideal of Diggerland: For families to experience the joys of operating real construction machinery.
The park was opened in 2014 by Ilya and Yan Girlya, Moldovan American brothers who worked for his or her father’s construction firm and opened Sahara Sam’s Oasis Indoor & Outdoor Water Park within the 2000s in quite a bit adjoining what became Diggerland. At Diggerland, the owners have worked with construction equipment manufacturers like JCB and Ventrac to switch dozens of models for secure use by children starting at 36 inches tall (some rides require children to be 48 inches tall, but all children may be lap passengers).
The engines have an auto shut-off, the cabs have rollover protection, the machines’ tracks are fixed in place, and the turn adjustment on the diggers is restricted, so the pint-size operators can’t drive off or go rogue. It’s a playground of yellow and black where dumper trucks, tractors, backhoes, rollers and, in fact, diggers crawl around set courses or paw through their designated spot in the bottom. By design, the park looks half-finished, a 21-acre arena of concrete bollards, storm fencing and site offices selling neon pink, yellow or orange safety vests, matching construction helmets and hot dogs.
There are also rides grafted together from various hydraulics, just like the Dig-a-Round, a carousel of dangling yellow claws; the Sky Shuttle, through which guests are lifted 50 feet toward the sun in seats welded onto the news of a telehandler (an enormous version of a forklift); and a ropes course fashioned to appear like high-rise scaffolding. On the rear of the park, the Water Foremost offers a wave pool and various slides and splash pads in homage to plumbing infrastructure. For the Girlya brothers, the park embodies the chance their parents saw leaving the united statesS.R. in 1979 to “create a life for the family with the liberty to be anything you wish and luxuriate in all of the opportunities America can offer with none fear of persecution,” said Ilya Girlya in an email.
The appeal for kids is clear. Like Tony Stark inside his Iron Man suit, they gain superpowers once they grip their hands on the levers, their minds assuming control of a huge exoskeleton. “All of the tools and engines on earth are only extensions of man’s limbs and senses,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, perhaps in anticipation of kids’s fondness for driving cars.
Entering the park on a recent Sunday, I saw a staff member working vigorously to correct the wild steering of a baby navigating a Roxor off-road vehicle, which unlike the diggers, operates on an open course. Elsewhere, guests strapped into chairs in the news of a JCB JS200 digger spin around in a blur of centrifugal force often called the Spin Dizzy. Throughout the day, a call echoes over the P.A. system: “Caaaaan youuuu dig it?”
My daughter Scout, who’s 7, takes a ride on the Elevation Station, a scissor lift, after which Japhy hops right into a small barrel automotive being towed by a Ventrac tractor — “the one with sunglasses and a smiley face,” recalls Japhy. Later, they each take a turn steering a 1,310-pound diesel Terex Dumper Truck around a course with my foot on the accelerator pedal. Scout adds to the joys of commanding this beast by taking her hands off the wheel and letting it “drive itself” toward the barriers, a reminder of why we haven’t let children drive the open roads because the early 1900s.
We make our option to the marginally finicky Mini Diggers, each of which weighs as much as a newborn humpback whale, and which have been modified in order that the operator uses the arm to knock down bowling pins or to hook foam geese from a small pond. By the point we got here near flattening a pin, the machine would shut off. Luckily no major infrastructure project was reliant on our skills. In the road, a father gives me a conspiratorial look. “Wonder in the event that they ever open the park only for adults,” he asks. (No, but right round the corner, Diggerland XL provides an adults-only experience driving full-size equipment through a course, advised by a staff member via two-way radio.)
There are also coin-operated Micro Diggers, while the JCB 8030 “Big Diggers” are the most important of the excavators.
Moving the dirt around with the JCB 8030 is a bit sublime. “I feel like Tony Soprano,” said my husband, aloft in a flow state, just him, our son and the work to be done, as he operated one.
Humans young and old seem dazzled by mechanical legs and arms. The “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site” children’s book series has sold greater than 5 million copies so far, and experiences like Diggerland XL have proliferated in recent times for kids and adults looking for fun.
Dig This Las Vegas allows children and adults to pay to drive full-size construction equipment like bulldozers, as does Extreme Sandbox in St. Paul, Minn. For a further fee at Extreme Sandbox, you may add Automotive Crush: “Destroy a wonderfully good automotive.” Less focused on the development experience is Tank Town USA in Morgantown, Ga.: “Why just drive a tank when you may crush a automotive with one? — now with machine guns.”
Dennis Nierzwicki, the creative director of Diggerland USA, said ongoing innovation on the park often begins with an idea sketched on paper by Ilya or Yan. Within the case of the Greased Beast, a steel demolition truck with seatbelts that jacks up at one end, “they wanted to seek out out, you realize, how can we get this rattling thing to make people feel like they’re being dumped out of the truck?”
They’re set to open a fleet of small tower cranes this yr that riders will sit in and operate with a joystick to maneuver blocks around.
We liked the Big Diggers best. You sit stacked together within the cab, two minds bent on the identical goal: moving dirt. You use two levers that shunt the claw side to side, up and down, out and in, whoomph, diving the claw into soft earth that seems bottomless. the pile of dirt when you find yourself done, it looks like you will have achieved something.
At the top of the day, employees re-level the dirt for the subsequent day’s operators.