"Day in the Dirt"
Moves earth and hearts in Tucson

by Cameron MacMullin

Do you remember pushing dirt around your back yard with your old toy tractor and dreaming of doing the same on a real machine? Remember how that dream faded, but the desire to get in a tractor and move some dirt never did? For 42 Caterpillar enthusiasts the dream and desire were realized on September 30th as they came from far & wide to gather under the Arizona sun and make their fantasies a reality at the first ever "Day in the Dirt".

David Hull of Oregon puts a D6R through its paces.

The event was orchestrated by Classic Construction Models (CCM) of Beaverton, Oregon, a small company that has built an international reputation for producing museum quality scale models of construction equipment. Their unique products have created a diverse global customer base comprised of heavy construction equipment fanatics who are devoted most notably to the industry's leading innovator, Caterpillar Inc. CCM teamed up with the worldwide enterprise to give a small number of "wannabe" operators an unprecedented first hand opportunity to experience the machines that move the earth at the Caterpillar Tinaja Hills Demonstration & Application Center in Green Valley, AZ. It was a notable first time experience for the enthusiasts and their hosts from Caterpillar as never before had a group of individuals without direct affiliation to Caterpillar been allowed such an intimate look at this exceptional facility.

The adventure began Thursday, September 29th as the crew from Classic Construction Models welcomed the group to Tucson with an evening of food, drink and an opportunity to get to know each other. Also present were the equipment trainer/operators from the Tinaja Hills center that would spend the next day training the group for what was arguably the most alluring aspect of the trip: hands-on "stick time" running Cat equipment. Perhaps it was the anticipation of what was to come or perhaps it was a common thread of admiration for the models and the equipment, but whatever the reason, there was a pervading sense of comradery that night which carried seamlessly over to the next day.

Linda Jaquemet of Switzerland
gets the hang of a 320 excavator.

Bright and early Friday morning, the group assembled again for a full buffet breakfast. Included were an orthopedic surgeon from Texas, a retired professor from Pennsylvania, a former John Deere associate from California, a dentist from Canada, two construction collectors from Japan, a husband and wife from Switzerland and an electrical engineer from Ireland! Not to be forgotten were a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. No question this eclectic crew was as impressive as the machinery that brought them together!

At 7:30 am the bus departed the hotel, turned south on Interstate 19, and Tucson was quickly left behind. The scenic 45 minute trip delivered the group to the Tinaja Hills Training Center - a true oasis in the 6134 acre desert spread utilized by Caterpillar but shared with an unexpectedly large variety of plants and wildlife.

Meeting and orientation at the
training center meeting room.

The Cat Demonstration & Application Center does the prestigious company it represents justice. The modern facility blended comfortably with the natural beauty of the surrounding area and strategically placed machinery cloaked in that familiar yellow stood guard, giving the campus a fortress-like air. The friendly and accommodating Cat staff, however, quickly made it clear that although this was a tightly run operation, the attitude was anything but military.
After an opportunity to explore the central facility (and familiarize themselves with the generous pastry and refreshment table), the party was treated to an informative presentation by Ric McDaniel, Caterpillar Trademark Merchandise Licensing Program Manager. Ric detailed the history and current state of the Fortune 50 Company. After Ric advised the group they were the first individuals not affiliated with Caterpillar to be given this opportunity, Oregonian David Hull exclaimed, "I feel like a prototype!"

Following a short safety video and the umpteenth reminder to keep drinking water, a short bus ride took everyone from the cool air of the state-of-the-art meeting room to the open desert terrain at the equipment demonstration site.

An up close and personal review of a 163H Grader.

Soon seated in the grandstands overlooking an impressive dirt playground were 42 of the happiest Cat enthusiasts that ever lived. With a Mexican mountain range looming in the background, Mike Berry - Supervisor of Tinaja Hills Demonstration & Application Center - described the capabilities of more than 40 machines that rolled and rumbled by as the Tinaja operators executed eye-popping choreographed machine demonstrations. From 908 wheel loaders to 420 backhoes, the team of six flawlessly operated every piece of equipment. Just moments after a 777 Klein water truck with 20,000 gallons of very welcome dust suppressing water rolled by, a 785 mining truck with a 120 ton payload stopped from full speed within the length of the truck itself. More than one participant said this demonstration was impressive enough to be deemed the highlight of the action-packed day.

As soon as the machines were parked and the operators thanked for their show with a long round of applause, the crowd headed down to "stage level" for a photo-op with the cast. Fortunately all the machines were gracious enough to pose for the camera, but no autographs were given.

The "Top Gun" operators from the training center.

Climbing up, down, and round this jungle of giants in the intensifying sun stimulated an appetite that the Tinaja Hills staff cured with a large lunch including all the trimmings. Knowing what came next, the group made quick work of the meal.

Kenichiro Tsuchida of
Japan operating a 320 excavator.

The group then flocked back to the demo grounds like children to the tree on Christmas morning. Awaiting them sat six of the biggest toys Santa ever squeezed down the chimney. Arranged in working groups were two excavators (a 320C and a 321C), two tractors (a D6R and a D6N) and two wheel loaders (a 924G & 930G). The carefully constructed schedule, another first for the Tinaja facility, ensured all participants ten minutes of stick time on each type of machine. Somehow, order prevailed over chaos despite the eagerness of everyone involved to have their turn. People took their places and four hours of pushing, digging and piling dirt ran its course without a hitch.

A 924 Loader and 320 Excavator hard at work.

Talk about fun! Engines roared, dirt flew, and emotions soared. Smiles were abundant as long held dreams came true. Although most everyone there was an inexperienced operator, their lack of skill was overshadowed by adrenaline and nervous energy. Excitement and dust filled the air as the group enjoyed over four hours putting the machines they admired to the test. Occasionally an individual was understandably reluctant to give up the controls, but fortunately the instructors never once had to pull anyone forcefully from a machine. Everyone got the time they came for and the time they deserved.

David Lebovitz of Illinois enjoys the
view from atop a 994D Wheel Loader.

As the day came to end, these new Cat operators headed back to the central facility for the grand finale: A feast fit for a king! The Tinaja team presented a delicious meal replete with a mariachi band! There was a consensus among the exhausted group that the day had exceeded even the highest expectations. David Becker noted that "The hospitality and presentation were phenomenal." Peter Duggan - who came all the way from Ireland for the day - called it "The fulfillment of a childhood dream." Stephen Smith gave the food and overall experience an "A+", although he admitted he really wanted to operate a D11R or 797. Lofty goals, but as everyone there would agree, well worth pursuing. Every participant surveyed expressed an unequivocal interest in returning if given the opportunity.

Timely refueling kept the
show running smoothly.

After a day more successful than either CCM or Cat hoped for, it became clear that this first time event had laid the foundation to become much more. In the eyes of this writer, it could be the beginning of a tradition for both companies; a rite of passage, so to speak, for equipment & model enthusiasts everywhere. The only problem might be getting those who've been there to surrender a spot for those who are still dreaming.

Amy and David Becker of Illinois enjoying
the veranda at the training center
- great food, music and company.

Graduating class of 2005 Day in the Dirt.

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