Most of us played in the sandbox as kids, pushing tin cans, twigs, and bugs around with miniature Cat equipment. Well, my friends, it’s time we grew up. Now we can play… with real equipment. It may require a quick trip to Colorado to visit Dig This, but now there’s a way us desk jockeys can do more than daydream.
A few years ago, Ed Mumm bought a piece of property in this stunning ski town and rented an
excavator to clear the land. Scooping dirt by the ton, tossing boulders like
pebbles, Mr. Mumm had an epiphany: This was fun. And then another:
People might pay to do this.
Three years and $500,000 later, Mr. Mumm, 42 years
old, spends his days draping orange vests around wealthy thrill-seekers
at Dig This, which he bills as the first, and only, heavy-equipment
playground in the U.S. On a 10-acre plot of dirt, framed by distant mountains, Mr. Mumm guides
his guests to a fleet of Tonka toys come to life — a skid-steer
loader, a 115-horsepower excavator and Caterpillar’s D5G bulldozer, 10
tons of glinting muscle.
A half day on any of their large dozers for around $350 or a full day for $650.
Even at those prices, Mr. Mumm doesn’t expect to turn
a profit for at least another year — he’s had about 90 paying
customers so far. But he feels confident that he’s tapped into an
underserved corner of the American psyche.
That equipment apparently isn’t cheap. But I’d do that! Not too often, but I’d still do it!
His customers have ranged from corporate chief
executives to an 84-year-old woman. Many find it tough to say why it’s
such a thrill to play with rocks. "I’m giggly when you ask about it,"
says Hank Edwards, a recent customer.
Yes, I might admit the experience would even make me "giggly." Ok I better not admit that. What kinds of things do you get to do?
Excavator operators dig a ditch, then pick up rocks the size of
prize-winning pumpkins. Bulldozer drivers push a 1-ton boulder — as
big as a small buffalo — around an obstacle course of traffic cones.
They also build an 8-foot ramp, drive up it and teeter on the top for a
breathless moment before crashing down the other side. "If you like it,
you can do it again," Mr. Mumm says.
Obviously safety is a concern.
Dig This instructors open with a safety briefing and then guide
customers through a series of exercises designed to stretch different
skills. Mr. Mumm says that he stuck to machines that run on tracks — not
wheels — because their top speed is lumbering. "We can outrun them,"
he says. Even so, instructors stand way off to the side, offering
advice via a two-way radio tucked into each customer’s fluorescent
safety vest. The six instructors come from a variety of backgrounds;
some worked in construction and others taught snowboarding.
And it could be a good alternative to the usual "ropes course" team-building exercise.
Mr. Mumm also sets up competitive team-building
exercises for corporate clients. The Marquette Group, an ad agency in
Peoria, Ill., recently sent 32 managers through the course in hard hats
to help foster team spirit. "Everyone got into this thing full-choke,"
says Chris Cummings, the CEO. Mr. Mumm advertises the Dig This experience as "empowering," with a side order of adrenaline.
Road trip anyone?