Kids dig Dozer Day

Rain fails to dampen spirits at annual fundraiser that puts youngsters at the controls of big machines

By Craig Brown, Columbian metro editor

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Nutter Foundation

Derek Fechtner says he might want to be a firefighter when he grows up. Or maybe the 6-year-old Woodland boy will become a bulldozer driver. Or maybe he'll be an ambulance paramedic.

He and thousands of other local boys and girls got the chance to test drive their dreams over the weekend at the annual Dozer Day event, spread across 30 acres at the Cemex/Fisher Quarry in East Vancouver.

This was the eighth year for the event, which unites big machines and little kids for charitable purposes. It was coordinated for the fifth consecutive year by the Nutter Foundation, a charitable arm of the Vancouver-based Nutter Corp. heavy construction firm.

Aimee Gebarowski, a foundation employee who, along with Renee Nutter, spends nearly six months organizing the three-day event, said there are several reasons behind Dozer Day.

First of all, it raises a lot of money. After last year's event, nearly $100,000 was donated to three dozen groups that directly benefit local children, ranging from larger organizations such as Doernbecher Children's Hospital and the Vancouver School District Foundation to very small causes such as the Klineline Kids Fishing Derby.

It also helps children realize that you can make a good living driving a big machine — take notice, here, Derek — and finally acts as community outreach to show the benefits of the industry to the community, Gebarowski said.

About 20,000 people attended the 2011 Dozer Day; this year's attendance was expected to be about the same or slightly greater. Sunday's drizzle dampened the dust, but not much of the enthusiasm, said Gebarowski.

"When we got here this morning, we looked out and it was a sea of people with umbrellas," she said. By midafternoon, the rain had tapered to a few drops.

Ticket sales are a big part of the event's revenue, with the rest coming from sponsorships. To keep overhead low, some sponsors offered booths, staffed activities and provided prizes. In all, about 900 people volunteer, including enough professional drivers to operate 35 different pieces of heavy equipment, including bulldozers, excavators, rollers and the like. There was a fire truck, and ambulance, and a big recycling truck from Waste Connections. The toughest job probably fell to the poor truck driver who hoisted kids into a cab where they could blow the big rig's horn — all day long.

Meanwhile, Derek and his little sister patiently waited their turn to drive a John Deere 850J bulldozer. Like a good brother, Derek politely let Danika, 4, go first. Then it was his turn. A huge smile covered his face as he sat on the lap of driver Eric Johnson. Both gripped the controls and they were off, digging the same hole and then driving a few feet forward and down into it.

"I got to go down and back up," he said after his ride was over. "It was fun!"

Craig Brown: craig.brown@ columbian.com.