At this theme park, everyone will dig it

On my way past the gravel pit the other day, where a front-end loader was energetically scooping sand and dumping it into a large tractor-trailer truck, I had a million-dollar idea: the Heavy Equipment Theme Park.

I'm looking for investors - or perhaps you'd rather sign up to be a customer? In the era of "reality" TV shows, Discovery Channel's "Monster Garage," and the boom in do-it-yourself home remodeling, I feel it's a timely, simple crossover concept. All the "rides" will be powered by enormous diesel engines, weigh tens of tons, and have caterpillar tracks and hydraulic arms or blades. This is the true "pumping iron."

I almost called it The Theme Park for Guys, since friends have indicated how perfect it would be for the male power-machine mojo. But I have daughters and a wife who like driving our John Deere and hauling logs as much as I do. The family tractor may not be heavy equipment, but the family interest suggests that my theme park should not be a gender-exclusive concept.

Perhaps you are a prospect? You would know if you have ever paused, lost in thought and desire, while watching an excavator dig trenches for sewer pipes, uncover a burst water main, or simply dig a foundation hole. That's the "Mike Mulligan syndrome," named after the 1939 children's book ("Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel") in which a whole town becomes fascinated with Mike's speed and dexterity as he (and Mary Anne) dig the cellar pit for a new city hall.

Are you arrested by the power of bulldozers, front-end loaders, and other earthmoving equipment at highway construction sites? Itching to swing that wrecking ball into a brick building, or to go for a ride on a jackhammer?

The plan is elegant in its simplicity. I envision a large, level field full of interesting piles of dirt, sand, gravel, crushed stone, and glacial erratics (car-size boulders): the stuff of which heavy-equipment work is made. And on this field, idling quietly, is a fleet of brawny machines awaiting the enthusiastic attention of men and women whose Class III driver's licenses do not ordinarily permit them to climb into the driver's seat and work the levers. It would be a sandbox writ large. And noisy.

Imagine spending the morning in the seat of an excavator, articulating a six-cubic-yard bucket and moving a dirt pile from Point A to Point B, or filling a dump truck.

That afternoon, you could dig a trench to nowhere, so that another heavy-equipment aficionado can fill the hole, or push those big rocks around with a bulldozer. This is all about "making work," not completing it. Nothing need be achieved except a sense of accomplishment: driving big machines - all without risk to a neighbor's fence or car; without risk to the kids' swing set, the roses by the front door, or one's own garage. No trees or power lines will fall as a result of the enthusiasm of untrained operators. These things have been known to happen.

It's crucial that things break down here, from time to time. I know my clientele, and I think they would arrive hoping that something involving mechanisms will require repair. Repairs require tools - the more exotic, the better. I expect my ticket holders would have a long-unfulfilled hankering to use an arc welder, for instance. But just the chance to use a reciprocating saw satisfies a certain ambition to fix household breakdowns without making them worse, a frequent downside to any home maintenance that goes beyond the line of decorating - and goes awry.

Who doesn't want to dismantle the bathroom fixtures and locate the source of a leak, all on one's own? Anyone with a vague recollection of their high school shop lesson on sweating copper pipes is itching to own a propane torch and actually use it, in a real-life emergency, on one's own plumbing. The problem tends to be that the plumber will end up making a house call anyway, adding insult to waterlogged injury.

We are stalled, with good reason, by a premonition of water dripping from the second floor bathroom through the ceiling of the dining room. Or the hot-water tank flooding the basement, the result of our misplaced zeal at the chance to disconnect the water supply and replace the old tank ourselves. Been there, done that. My amusement park would provide the opportunity to practice those skills without insurance premium-raising consequences or embarrassment.

We are stalled in another way, too. We never stray far from an interior childhood - our yearning to try things out, aspiring to big responsibility. We want to see how it feels to run something real. But we abandon the childlike sense of possibility. Whatever happened to, "I could drive the backhoe someday!" Where can we enact our wishes, give ourselves permission to follow such yearning? Traditional theme parks experiment with a virtual approach to this personal license: You are allowed to fantasize, briefly inhabit a thrill or a perspective. But I'm thinking outside that box. Why not have "imaginary gardens with real toads in them," as Marianne Moore puts it?

Call now. Heavy-equipment operators are standing by. Coming soon: Camp Fireman.

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