Combining education with the excitement of a county fair, Dozer Day 2007 drew an estimated 20,000 people to savor the rare treats of climbing on, riding in and even operating heavy equipment the public rarely gets to see up close.
This year's Dozer Day, Sept. 8, was the ninth edition of the fund-raising festival that benefits the Hamilton Educational Foundation (HEF), which enhances educational opportunities for communities in the Hamilton school district around Sussex, Wis.
Dozer Day was born in 1997, when J. Michael Mooney, chairman of MLG Commercial, teamed up with Tom and Bill Halquist, presidents of Halquist Stone Co., whose quarry hosts the 300-acre event.
Said Mooney, "Seeing how much people enjoyed a small open house at a quarry near Madison, I talked with Tom and Bill Halquist about creating a larger event to raise funds for the HEF. Everyone in this area pitched in to make Dozer Day a hit right from the start. The first year, we drew 7,500 attendees. Now we're expecting about 20,000."
From 1997 through 2003, Dozer Day was held every year. By then it had grown so large that it was changed to a biennial event.
The show's largest sponsors are Halquist Stone Co., MLG Commercial, FABCO, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, QuadGraphics, and the Wisconsin Army National Guard. Their support is augmented by a hundred other sponsors that donate equipment, services and volunteers. Some 700 volunteers work at the event, including all of the operating engineers who run the backhoes, lifts, loaders, dozer, and trucks.
Dozer Day offers dozens of activities for children and adults. Many mix some degree of education with plenty of fun. For example, the firefighters' exhibit teaches fire safety, but also lets kids shoot water from a fire hose at a target house. The children's activities area mixes painting pet rocks with information about geology.
Although there are many activities, construction and quarrying-type activities are the stars. If you're looking to get young children excited about quarrying, construction and related careers, you'd be hard pressed to do it better than Dozer Day.
Some of the hands-on activities are as simple as digging in a sand pile to find colored "gemstones," which the children get to keep; or digging in the gravel pile with shovels and buckets; or pretending to operate one the mini excavators set up on the site.
Children's construction-related activities include mixing their own batches of concrete, then combining them to help make a group sidewalk; writing their name on a paving stone, then mortaring it into a community wall with hundreds of others; educational activities related to rocks and quarrying; and the joy of climbing on large equipment.
The construction equipment on display ranges from mini excavators and aerial lifts, to hydraulic backhoes, front-end loaders, a bulldozer, and nearly a dozen quarry-sized dump trucks with tires up to 8-feet tall.
Younger children line up eagerly for the chance to operate (with help from a trained professional) a hydraulic backhoe or front-end loader. Sitting in the cab, a child grabs the control sticks and the operator puts his hands over the child's. Together they dig, move and dump two bucketloads of sand before the next excited child get his or her turn. Having a dozen backhoes, eight front-loaders and a well-orchestrated system keeps the lines moving at a happy clip.
People of all ages line up to tour the quarry in the bed of an offroad mining truck, to ride a scissor lift 40 feet into the sky and to ride on a big bulldozer.
This is the kind of exciting, happy experience that gets kids thinking positively about construction work, quarrying and big machinery. Perhaps for some it is the first small step that will eventually lead to jobs in construction when they grow up.