At Dig This, I get to spend the day playing with heavy equipment in the world’s first grown-up sandbox.
As a mound of dirt begins to build up in front of my 10-ton bulldozer’s silver blade, my forward progress slows and I take my foot off the decelerator pedal to give the massive machine full throttle. With the big diesel engine bellowing in my ears and the metal tracks flinging dirt, I find myself laughing as I recall the final words of advice from my new bestest buddy Ed Mumm: “Remember, you can’t break these machines, so just go out there and tear some stuff up!”
And I’m having a blast doing just that here at Mumm’s 10-acre Dig This complex on the outskirts of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. If you’ve ever driven by a construction site and wondered how cool it’d be to get behind the controls of one of those monster earth-movers, well, here’s your chance to find out.
For a few hundred bucks, Dig This allows ordinary folks to spend a half-day operating their choice of a Caterpillar D5G bulldozer or 315CL tracked excavator. If you just can’t decide between the two, there’s a full-day option that lets you try your hand at both.
Either way you go, this extraordinary experience starts out with a bit of déjà vu for anyone who’s ever been a five-year-old as instructors use toy versions of the ‘dozer and excavator in a tabletop sandbox to provide a brief overview of the machines’ operation. After getting suited up in a fluorescent orange vest and fitted with a two-way radio and headset that allows the instructors to dole out advice and encouragement from a safe distance, it was time to hit the dirt.
Once I’d gotten myself settled into the D5’s driver’s seat, Ed spent a few minutes reviewing the ‘dozer’s controls before having me fire up the engine and slowly move out to get a feel for the beast. From there, Dig This instructor Terry Allsworth took over and guided me through a carefully structured series of exercises that included loosening the soil with the rear-mounted ripper’s humongous teeth and using the blade to carve out a 10-by-30-foot depression that would have made a killer koi pond. After switching to the excavator and digging my first trench (Mom would be so proud), we moved on to more challenging tasks like using the bucket’s opposable “thumb” to pick up washing machine-sized boulders and stack them into neat pyramids.
Having had seat time in both machines, I can tell you each has its own distinct attraction. There’s no beating the ‘dozer for the chest-thumping thrill of pushing huge mounds of dirt around. The excavator was equally satisfying, though in a different way, because of the greater finesse it requires on the two multi-function joysticks.
Either way you go, I can guarantee you one thing: This is one extraordinary experience you’ll really, ahem, dig—in more ways than one.
Dig This founder Ed Mumm got the idea for the business when he rented some heavy equipment to do the site prep for his family’s new home. He had so much fun in the process he figured other folks might enjoy it too.
If you think the appeal of this earthmover experience is limited to men, better think again. Mumm says roughly half his customers are women.
Name: Dig This
Location: Steamboat Springs, CO
- The Dig This experience is open to anyone 14 years-old and above. Half-day packages include two-plus hours at the controls of either the bulldozer or excavator, while the full-day option includes an equal amount of seat time in both machines.
- No matter which machine you choose, understand that it will require a great deal of concentration at first as you struggle to remember which lever or pedal does what. After the first 30 minutes or so, though, it’s all good clean fun in the dirt.
- Thanks to the machines’ climate-controlled cabs, Dig This operates year-round. That said, this is a rugged outdoor activity so you’ll want to make sure you dress accordingly including wearing sturdy footwear.
- While you’re welcome to bring guests, make sure they understand the importance of following the instructors’ directions on where they can walk and stand safely. Having your significant other flattened under one of these machine’s steel tracks would be a major buzz-kill.
- For an enjoyable study in contrasts, check out the “Excavate & Exfoliate” package that combines a half-day in the dirt with pampering treatments at a local spa.