Roanoke County Virginia Touch-a-Truck Event
A Hands-On Good Time!
Much like the lyrics in the Woody Guthrie song This Land is Your Land, it can be said without question that from “California to the New York Island; from the redwood forests to the gulfstream waters,” America’s love for trucks has no bounds. As American as apple pie, the role trucks have played over the last 100 years in shaping and building America continues unabated. Like the waft and warp of fabric created on a loom, the passion we share for our trucks are woven into the fabric of our culture, as evidenced by events that continue to crop up across America that share the moniker “Touch-a-Truck.” Fire engines, dump trucks, mobile command centers, bucket trucks, stripers, custom street rods, tractors, military vehicles, mobile paper shredders, school buses, and so much more are found at Touch-A-Truck events regardless of where they are held.
Not linked by any umbrella organization, impromptu Touch-a-Truck events continue to spontaneously crop up across America. It may seem mysterious that these unconnected events share same name Touch-a-Truck, but the reason becomes apparent when you see the joy that’s spreads across a child’s face when they can reach out and touch one of these mechanical marvels he or she sees on the streets of America every day.
Each Touch-a-Truck event is driven by its own unique mission statement, but the linkage that connects one to another is there. One, it’s the genuine fondness kids have for trucks, and two Touch-A-Truck events are organized to give back to the community in which they take place. For example, the mission statement of the Long Beach, California, Touch-a-Truck event is to benefit children, animals, and the environment. The San Diego event provides a way to help fund the discovery and testing of new treatments for kids battling cancer—100 percent of the ticket price goes back into research and treatments.
Touch-A-Truck events allow a child’s imagination to be turned into a real-life experience as he or she climbs up into fire engines, police cars, mobile communication trailers, ambulances, and a host of different types of vehicles used in the public service sector. Their little hands are permitted to activate emergency lights, sirens, and bells.
Recently in Roanoke County, Virginia, the town of Salem held its eighth-annual Touch-A-Truck event, and we were there. The objective of Roanoke County Recreational Department is to host events that will enrich the lives of those in the community, and whenever possible, these events are free to everyone. Their Touch-a-Truck event is exactly that—free to everyone—and the number of visitors it draws is awesome.
At the inaugural event in 2008, an estimated 4,000 visitors came and there were 100 vehicles on display. The 2016 event saw attendance push past 10,000 and the vehicle count eclipsed 200, which included gliders, boats, rafts, farm equipment, and even a Phantom F4 cockpit. When you consider the event is held from the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the 10,000 guests hosted indicates it was nothing less than a complete success. No vendors are allowed except for food, and even having said that, Roanoke County Recreation Department encourages families to bring a picnic basket and add another dimension to quality family time.
Displays at the recent Touch-A-Truck event in Roanoke merit a look-see at what was exhibited. Altec was there with one of their box-on-a-boom rigs that (depending upon the model) can extend a workman in a bucket up as much as a couple hundred feet in the air. Offering rides to anyone who could fit into one of the safety harnesses they provide, they provided a hundred rides in a bucket a hundred feet above the ground, offering riders a bird’s eyes view of the event below. These Altec rigs are the trucks that go out in the middle of horrendous storms to cut down damaged trees and restring power lines to restore electrical power.
The 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, Bravo Company of the U.S. Marine Corps was also on hand. They brought with them three truck type vehicles the Marine Corps routinely uses (a 7-ton troop truck, wrecker that can retrieve a tank, and a gun truck), and several U.S. Marines were on hand to show the kids the equipment and have their pictures taken with them. UPS had three drivers on hand not only to help kids crawl up inside the cab of the 18-wheeler they brought but to also explain how the UPS Roanoke depot has invested millions of dollars converting their refueling infrastructure to accommodate using natural gas in their vehicles.
The Roanoke County Fire Department provided a special experience for all kids young and old. Connecting one of their hook and ladder pumping trucks to a water supply and a bubble-making machine, they created a giant “bubble playground.” After thrashing around in the mountain high mounds of bubbles, everyone could then run over and wash off beneath a fresh water sprayer suspended on a boom 50 feet above the ground. It doesn’t get any better than this when it comes to family fun. As the organizers of the Roanoke event know, as do all other Touch-A-Truck event organizers, when families benefit, communities benefit.