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A Real Hands-On Approach to Vehicles

Touch a Truck was a busy (and fun place) last weekend.

Take a field full of trucks – small ones, big ones, bigger ones and loud ones. Throw in a flying vehicle or two and watercraft.  Add commercial vehicles, public safety vehicles, you name it. Then let kids climb all over and in them (curious adults too) and call it “Touch a Truck.”

The second annual event, sponsored by Roanoke County Parks, Recreation & Tourism, took place at sprawling Green Hill Park just outside of Salem.  Touch a Truck evolved out of the Summer Blast program and was a major hit with youngsters last Saturday. Climbing inside and honking horns seemed to be the major goal of many.

There were Roanoke County, Roanoke City and state vehicles – including a 17,500 lb. state police tactical truck with heavy armor – along with an assortment of private vehicles, heavy equipment, a Martinsville Speedway pace car, Virginia Tech’s student race car, etc.

Elsewhere children tried swings that dangled from heavy equipment cranes or waded through soap bubbles created by Roanoke County firefighters. Roanoke’s Star City Trolley made an appearance, as did Carilion’s Lifeguard 10 helicopter.

Franklin County’s Cable 12 showed off their mobile news gathering equipment.  Former NewsChannel 10 weatherman Jamey Singleton is back in the forecasting business with community-based Cable 12. The station doesn’t cover many hard news events, although the recent death of firefighters Posey Dillon and Danny Altice was a notable exception.

“They are asking us, who in the world are we?” said Singleton of the Touch a Truck appearance.  Some wanted to be in front of the video camera Cable 12 had set up at Green Hill Park, while others wanted to be behind the lens. “They want to push some of the buttons in the back of the van where our director is,” noted Singleton.

Others wanted to learn about the green screen chroma key that weathermen like Singleton stand in front of when delivering a forecast. “All kinds of different skills that they’re learning in school right now,” said Singleton. That seemed to be the point of Touch a Truck – a chance to have some fun, encounter vehicles most will never get near, and perhaps provide fuel for thought regarding career paths.  “I’m so excited,” said one young boy as he lined up for the chance to sit in a fighter plane cockpit.

Brian Clingenpeel, the public education specialist with Roanoke County fire and rescue, was there as well, demonstrating their show and tell safety trailer. It was filled with harmless steam to simulate smoke, as Clingenpeel stood at one end, urging children to “get low and go,” showing them the correct way to leave a house that’s on fire.

“They do a great job of getting a variety of [vehicles] out here,” said Clingenpeel. “We’ve been swamped. We had over 350 people in the first hour. It’s a very good place for us to be.” During the school year, Clingenpeel, a former minister, brings the safety trailer around to county schools.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Singleton; “how many times do you see community events where the kids are welcome and invited to be a part of what’s going on?”  He is going to suggest such an event to Franklin County parks and recreation officials. At Touch a Truck the kids were not only welcome – they were the stars of the show.

By Gene Marrano
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