Touch-a-Truck wows kids with 90 vehicles


Two-year-old Damian Brown pretends to steer the Waste Pro Display truck during the 4th Annual Sweet Dreams Touch A Truck event at Citizens Field on Saturday, May 18, 2013. Children climbed into large vehicles and learned about car and pedestrian safety from various companies and public officials.

Aundre Larrow / Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 7:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 7:18 p.m.

Corbin Twardoski climbed the metal stairs to the platform and entered the seat of the 90-ton crane, which would dwarf any man, much less a 5-year-old.

Once Corbin was inside, a crane operator took hold of a lever and made the crane's cab turn sideways. Then he explained to Corbin how to raise and lower the hoist line, which had a large circular piece of wood attached to its hook.

On the ground was a circular patch of grass marked off with spray paint, and it was up to Corbin to align and lower the piece of wood into the marked-off area.

Twice he tried, and the second time he came close. It was fun but difficult, Corbin said.

"It just kept, like, moving when I was putting it down," he said.

The Fourth Annual Sweet Dreams Touch-a-Truck, which allows children to climb into and all around large commercial, construction and emergency vehicles, was held on Saturday at Citizens Field off Waldo Road. Money raised at the event will benefit Camp Amigo, a children's burn camp in Apalachicola.

For the first hour of Touch-a-Truck, it was "quiet time." Noise from the vehicles, such as sirens and honking, was not allowed.

"Some kids are scared of loud, sudden sounds, and some of these trucks make some really loud sounds," said Michael Manfredi, owner of Sweet Dreams Homemade Ice Cream of Gainesville. "So we try to designate, you know, if you have a kid [who] is sensitive to that, bring him first thing in the morning."

After 10 a.m., honking or an occasional short siren burst could be heard from all corners of the field but the noise level was not as excessive as in previous years, said Manfredi.

"It seems like a calmer crowd. It's a lot more spread out, [and] the noise isn't near as cacophonous as it was last year," Manfredi said.

A slew of new and returning vehicles - 90 in all - covered the gamut of commercial, military, construction and emergency vehicles. While most were professional vehicles, there were also a few sports cars, a swamp buggy raised on monster truck tires, and even lawn mowers and two helicopters.

New additions included the SIMS workable crane, a Ridin' High Customs monster truck and a city medical examiner truck, among others.

Returning favorites included the Sky Frog Tree Trimming Service vehicles, which are modified from surplus Marine Corps vehicles. The company, a major sponsor for the event, has been involved in each previous Touch-a-Truck and continues to expand its presence with tree-chipping demos and fresh displays.

"What I try to do is improve on it every year - just give something a different look," said Joe Vasquez, owner of the company.

While Touch-a-Truck lets children interact with vehicles they might not otherwise get to see up close, the event also focuses on education and safety.

Operators were on hand with their vehicles to discuss their attributes, how they are operated and the danger associated with operating them.

"These guys who are out here today, they make their livings on these trucks," said Manfredi. "They drive these things every day [and] operate this equipment every day. This is an opportunity for them to tell these kids something about these trucks ... And it just gets kids' wheels turning about possibly career opportunities, but also just becoming more aware of what's around them."

The Alachua County Sheriff's Office and Florida Highway Patrol, meantime, offered more intense safety education.

In particular, a rollover demonstration had a white truck cab without a bed that was hooked up to an electric spinning rod - much like a rotisserie spit - set atop a trailer. When activated, the device made the partial vehicle roll over continuously while an adult and child dummy were tossed about the inside of the vehicle until they spilled outside the driver's side window.

"The majority of the time when we see major injuries from minor accidents, they're from what are called partial-ejection rollovers," explained Kevin Flavin, an auxiliary trooper with FHP. "People come partway out of the car and the car rolls over on them. It happens all of the time."

Money raised by Saturday's event will go to Camp Amigo, a camp for child burn victims -- a place where such kids, some of whom have major scars, can relax as well as attend support groups and receive services, according to Rusty Roberts, president of the camp.

"The outside scars are not the ones that we really worry about. It's the inside scars," he said. "[The camp] gives them a place where they can relax, and they're with people [who] know what they've gone through. They can be kids [there], and they can take their shirt off at the pool without somebody staring at them."

Saturday's Touch-a-Truck attracted some 4,500 people -- about a 1,000-person increase from last year, organizers said. Manfredi hoped to make at least $5,000 for Camp Amigo from the event but Saturday evening said wasn't sure of the total raised. He said he was confident the event raised more than in previous years.

Lindsey Twardoski of Alachua said she has attended with Corbin and his 4-year-old brother Ezra since the event's first year.

"It's free fun," she said. "It's hands-on amusement for the kids all day and ... they've got new stuff every year that they bring to make it more exciting."

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