Last weekend I visited a friend on the East Coast. She has two young children. One of the adventures for the weekend was to visit an amusement park called Diggerland.
I’d never heard of it. I did a little research and it appears to be the only one in the US. There are a number (ie 4) in the UK.
It’s an amusement park where children can play with construction equipment. Obviously, in most cases, the equipment is stationary and/or greatly simplified.
There are excavators that are bolted to the ground. You can then use the excavator arm to try to dig out bars from a dirt pile. There is another excavator that you can ride to try to hook duck decoys floating in water. There is yet another excavator where you use the arm to try to knock down bowling pins.
There are a couple of vehicles that you can ride around an obstacle course. You can ride a Skidsteer loader. There’s another course where you can ride a small steamroller. All of these vehicles are real construction equipment. I’m sure that they are greatly simplified, all sorts of governors are placed on them, and most of them require an adult to ride with the child. However, the children do get a sense of operating a fairly large piece of construction machinery, which, if the two children that I was with provided any indication, was a pretty cool thing for them.
They also have a multi-story climbing wall and a multi-story rope course. I sacrificed myself and became the adult for the child that wanted to do the rope course. It wasn’t a huge problem. I’m not in love with heights but I don’t have a phobia of them either. They do harness you in, so there’s essentially no danger at all. Having said that, being several stories high and walking on a shaky balance beam was actually a pretty exhilarating experience. It didn’t help that it was windy as well. There was one part of it where you crossed a pretty loose tight rope. My brain knew that it was safe, but I just couldn’t convince my body.
They also had converted a very large high torque excavator and converted it to a ride. You climbed into what was essentially the bucket and the excavator spun around at high speeds, switching directions. Motion sickness is my Kryptonite, so I passed.
The children had a lot of fun. Me being me, I picked up on a deeper message behind the park.
If you think about theme amusement parks, usually the theme is one of fantasy. You ride a rocket ship to the moon. You pretend to be Indiana Jones. You go through a haunted mansion. You ride with dinosaurs.
All that is great and is wonderful for children’s imaginations. Here though, the theme is work. Look at these big yellow machines that do things. Aren’t they fun to use? Do you know that you could grow up and run one of these?
It’s a different message than conventional theme parks. I find it interesting that the only place in the US that it’s located is in New Jersey. First of all, when I think New Jersey, I picture blue collar hard hat Americans (thanks for that Bruce Springsteen). I’m from the West Coast and don’t know much about the state, but at least as a cultural touchstone, that’s what I think. It’s located in pretty rural New Jersey (and again, West Coast kid here, I had no idea that New Jersey even had a rural area, I just think of industry, refineries, and gambling when I think of New Jersey).
Would this park be as popular if it was located in Anaheim? Or even Seattle? Well, with Seattle, in its multi-year building boom where the skyline is dotted with cranes, maybe.
Considering the emphasis, basically starting from preschool, that parents place on their children to attend college, it might be a nice message to let them that maybe not everyone has to go to college. There are careers out there for people who are more comfortable outside of a classroom than inside one. Giving children that exposure at an amusement park seems to be a pretty great way to communicate that.
Well, at least until Google perfects driverless vehicles (a very high probability that that will happen during these children’s adult lives), at which point probably all of those jobs go away.