By Ernest Gill
Hamburg - Almost every boy has dreamt of driving a bulldozer or operating a big crane or pressing the pedal to the metal of an earth-mover the size of a house.
Alas, that dream never comes true for most boys, who grow up to work in stuffy offices, wearing stuffy suits and neckties, driving nothing bigger than a family car.
But an enterprising construction contractor in Germany has come up with a money-making scheme for putting his idle machinery to use on weekends - by turning his bulldozer lot into a theme park where boys of all ages can come and make that childhood dream come true.
He calls it the Monster Park, and on any given Saturday the sprawling dirt lot in the Bavarian town of Rattelsdorf near Bamberg is teeming with men and boys happily clambering into truly monstrous equipment.
Under supervision, they turn the ignition key and throttle up to do some really big work. The park offers plenty of mounds of earth that just beg to be picked up by some gigantic shovel and dumped a few metres away.
Or just dumped back where they started. It doesn't matter that no actual work gets done. The whole point of the Monster Park is just to give guys a go at a some of the biggest behemoths on wheels.
"I can't believe I'm actually doing this," one beaming 30-something man told RTL Television as he shifted gears in the cab of a Caterpillar track dozer. "It's like being in one great big sandbox with the toy bulldozer I had as a kid, except this is the real thing."
Another father and his two small sons were under the canopy of an Allis Chalmers road grader, testing out the eight-speed powershift in preparation for some really serious work on an imaginary autobahn.
"This is a wonderful experience for my boys which they'll no doubt remember all their lives," he told the TV interviewer as he worked the gearshift while his two boys looked over his shoulder in unabashed envy.
Other, luckier boys had a piece of equipment all to themselves, like 14-year-old Dennis Weiner.
"It doesn't get cooler than this," Dennis said as he operated a mini track excavator, shifting man-sized mounds of dirt here and there to his heart's content.
In all, there are about 30 machines on offer at the 15 000 square metre lot, a veritable big boys' sandbox. Anything and everything is just waiting to be put into use, on a sliding scale from $50 an hour for a one-man digger to $150 for a mammoth two-drum compactor.
Overseeing it all is Gerhard Seibold, the genial contractor who runs the place. He says he got the idea when the post-unification building boom in Germany began to lag in recent years.
"The building industry is in a slump and everybody's hurting," Seibold said.
"So I looked around my lot and saw all this equipment just standing there idle and thought to myself, gosh, a lot of guys would pay good money for the chance just to sit in one of these things. That's how the idea was born."
So he opened his Monster Park to the public on Saturdays. With just word-of-mouth publicity, the park draws up to 50 men and boys each weekend, and national television exposure has resulted in long lines of guys waiting their turn to get in.
"People ask why I bother," Seibold said as he surveyed the machinery chugging aimlessly around the lot. "Just look at these guys. They're having the time of their lives. It's a boy's dream come true." - Sapa-dpa