It’s a little boy’s dream: spending the days in an entertainment center based on construction equipment.
Yet that’s 6-month-old Bo’s and 2-year-old Tucker’s reality — starting now, as their parents, Caleb and Emma Knighten, get Just Dig It: Heavy Equipment Experience ready to open.
Just Dig It is at 6771 A.L. Philpott Highway, Chatmoss (the old Angler’s Choice building), and the grand opening is set for June 6. That’s provisional, however — it will happen as long as the county grants a special-use permit for that site, set to be determined on May 29, according to Caleb Knighten.
Just Dig It will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day both for the general public and to host parties and other group events
The building and grounds are no frills: concrete floors, asphalt pavement, construction equipment set here and there, and a driving course with walls of tires stacked two high. Customers will get to use — for fun — track loaders, skid steers, excavators, a side-by-side (like an off-road vehicle) and a jack hammer.
It has the look of a job site, but it’s all safety-first and kid-friendly — as evidenced by the baby changing table near a tool cabinet and a crib in the party room.
Her baby in one arm, Emma Knighten gestured around the area with her other. This is where her children will spend much of their days, she said, so she sees it all first from a perspective of safety.
“Everything we do is going to be safe and built around the family,” Caleb Knighten said. “We are creating a place where families can come, hang out and experience something unlike anything else” they would have done.
General admission costs $12, and free for children younger than 8, which covers many of the activities. The cost to operate heavy machinery is extra.
A free-play area includes cornhole boards and games of giant checkers, tic-tac-toe, tipping blocks and tetherball. Young children will be able to play in a large sand pit with toy equipment.
There’s even a car-smash: People put on protective gear, then hit either or both of two cars with a sledgehammer. Next to that is a jackhammer people may use to break apart rocks and concrete.
A driving track is set up for people ages 12 and older to drive a zero-turn mower and children ages 3-8 to ride a miniature freight truck.
A prop booth for pictures has hard hats, all sorts of tools and equipment such as a chainsaw — with the cutting chain removed.
A concession stand will have cold drinks and snacks.
Friday, baby Bo lay in the crib or stayed strapped to a carrier on his mother’s chest as she decorated a party room with yellow and black banners, orange and black balloons and orange traffic cones. Tucker played with the balloons.
A counter area runs between the party room and a kitchen, where food would be served to party-goers.
At Just Dig It, “we’ve created a plan and a structure where everything is done in a controlled way,” Caleb Knighten said. Customers will wear protective devices, and trained staff will be with them on a one-by-one basis when they use the heavy equipment.
People who use the heavy equipment must be at least 8 years old. The price per piece gives unlimited training, then 10 minutes of use.
In the excavator ring, a large circle surrounded by cable fencing with a dirt and gravel sub-base, drivers can flip tires, maneuver around traffic cones and even try taking a shot with a basketball.
In the skid steer/track loader ring, drivers may use skid steers, track loaders and bulldozers, digging in the dirt and flipping some large tires.
In the mini-skid arena, people can dig as many holes with a 12-inch auger bit as desired, using the stand-on track loader that weighs 1,600 pounds.
On the dirt course, a staff member drives customers in the side-by-side along three laps through trails in the woods ($16).
In the stationary dig pit, which Just Dig It’s website says is good for children under 12, beginners or people intimidated by machines, the tracks are locked and the throttle is turned back to simplify the controls.
The price to use each piece of equipment is: Ditch Witch SK350 Stand-on Track Loader with Auger Bit, $12; 300.9 Mini Excavator, $20; 236D Skid Steer, $22; 239D Track Loader, $26; 303.5 Medium Excavator, $35; and other equipment to be added.
Knighten, a 2009 graduate of Martinsville High School, is the son of Terry and Donna Knighten of Ridgeway. He met Emma, who’s from Chesterfield, while he was a student at James Madison University, and she married him and moved back to Martinsville with him in 2014.
Caleb Knighten has spent the past four years installing commercial playground equipment with his company Park and Playground Builders, but that requires quite a lot of traveling, he said. Just Dig It is his way of settling down in the area, yet forming a business built around some of the very equipment he uses.
He has had the idea in mind for a few years, he said. Once the couple gave the idea some serious thought, he looked into the concept and “found less than 10 of these types of businesses in the whole country,” he said. “The closest one is in Maryland.”
It will be a unique and exciting place that people would be willing to drive from an hour and a half away, he said.
Seeing the signs, many people have stopped by or called to ask about renting equipment.
“We don’t rent anything,” Knighten said. “We sell fun.”