My 5-year-old son Japhy sometimes spontaneously falls off his chair and staggers on his pedal bike, but at Diggerland USA, a construction-themed amusement park in southern New Jersey, we put him in control of a 7092-pound JCB excavator. Sitting high in the cab on his father’s lap, he moves the digger’s huge arm to scoop up and dump soil.
This was Diggerland’s original ideal: for families to experience the thrill of operating real construction equipment.
The park was opened in 2014 by Ilya and Yan Girlya, Moldovan-American brothers who worked for their father’s construction company and opened Sahara Sam’s Oasis Indoor & Outdoor Water Park in the 2000s in a stretch adjacent to what later became Diggerland. At Diggerland, the owners have worked with construction equipment manufacturers such as JCB and Ventrac to adapt dozens of models for safe use by children as young as 36 inches (some rides require children to be 48 inches tall, but all children can be lap passengers).
The engines have an automatic shut-off feature, the cabs have roll-over protection, the machine tracks are secured and the swivel adjustment on the excavators is limited so the little operators can’t drive off or go rogue. It’s a playground of yellow and black where dumpers, tractors, backhoe loaders, rollers and of course diggers crawl around marked tracks or claw through their designated spot in the ground. The design makes the park look semi-finished, a 21-acre arena with concrete bollards, storm gates and construction sites with neon pink, yellow or orange safety vests, matching construction helmets and hot dogs.
There are also rides grafted together from different hydraulics, such as the Dig-a-Round, a carousel of dangling yellow claws; the Sky Shuttle, where guests are lifted 50 feet toward the sun in seats welded onto the scoop of a telescopic handler (a giant version of a forklift); and a ropes course that looks like high-rise scaffolding. At the rear of the park, the Water Main offers a wave pool and several slides and splash pads as a tribute to the sanitary infrastructure. For the Girlya brothers, the park embodies the opportunity their parents saw in 1979 to leave the USSR to “build a family life with the freedom to be whatever you want and enjoy all the opportunities America can offer without any fear of prosecution,” he said. Ilya Girlya in an email.
The appeal for children is obvious. Like Tony Stark in his Iron Man suit, they gain superpowers when they grab their hands on the levers, and their minds take control of a giant exoskeleton. “All the tools and engines on Earth are but extensions of man’s limbs and senses,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, perhaps anticipating childhood. affection for driving cars.
When I recently entered the park, I saw a member of staff working hard to control the wild controls of a child who is being Roxor all-terrain vehicle, which, unlike the diggers, works on an open track. Elsewhere, guests strapped to seats in the scoop of a JCB JS200 excavator spin in a haze of centrifugal force known as the Spin Dizzy. All day long a call reverberates through the PA system: “Caaaaan youuuu dig it?”
My daughter Scout, who is 7, takes a ride on the Elevation Station, a scissor lift, and then Japhy jumps into a small tonne truck pulled by a Ventrac tractor – “the one with sunglasses and a smiley face,” Japhy recalls. Later, they each take a turn and steer a 1,310-pound diesel Terex Dumper Truck down a track with my foot on the accelerator. Scout adds to the thrill of driving this beast by taking her hands off the wheel and letting it “drive” itself toward the barriers, a reminder of why we have not has been allowing children to drive on public roads since the early 1900s.
We make our way to the somewhat finicky Mini Diggers, each of which weigh as much as a newborn humpback whale, and are modified so that the operator uses the arm to knock over bowling pins or hook foam ducks out of a small pond. By the time we got close to knocking over a pin, the machine would shut off. Fortunately, no major infrastructure project depended on our skills. In line, a father looks at me conspiratorially. “Wonder if they ever open the park for adults only,” he asks. (No, but right next door, Diggerland XL offers an adults-only experience of driving full-size equipment through a course advised by a staff member via walkie-talkie.)
There are also coin-operated micro excavators, while the JCB 8030 “Big Diggers” are the largest excavators.
Moving the dirt with the JCB 8030 is a bit sublime. “I feel like Tony Soprano,” said my husband, in a flowing state, just him, our son and the… work that needs to be donewhile serving one.
Old and young people seem blinded by mechanical arms and legs. the “Good night, good night, construction siteThe children’s book series has sold over 5 million copies to date, and experiences like Diggerland XL have exploded in recent years for fun-seeking children and adults alike.
Dig this Las Vegas allows children and adults to pay to drive large construction equipment such as bulldozers, just like Extreme sandbox in St. Paul, Minn. For an additional fee at Extreme Sandbox, you can add Car Crush: “Destroy a perfectly good car.” Less focused on the construction experience is Tank Town USA in Morgantown, Georgia: “Why would you just drive a tank when you can crush a car with it? – now with machine guns.”
Dennis Nierzwicki, the creative director of Diggerland USA, said ongoing innovation in the park usually starts with an idea sketched out on paper by Ilya or Yan. In the case of the Greased Beast, a steel wrecking car with seat belts that lift up on one side, “they wanted to find out, you know, how can we get this damn thing to make people feel like they’re being dumped out of their cars? . the truck?”
They plan to open a fleet of small tower cranes this year in which riders will sit and operate a joystick to move blocks.
We liked the Big Diggers the most. You’re stacked in the cabin, two ghosts bent on the same goal: moving dirt. You operate two levers that move the claw back and forth, up and down, in and out, whoomph, diving the claw into the soft earth that seems bottomless. When you look at the mound of dirt when you’re done, it feels like you’ve accomplished something.
At the end of the day, the workers level the dirt again for the next day’s operators.