BRADENTON -- Manatee County Public Library Manager Kevin Beach and children's book coordinator Chris O'Hara were brainstorming recently on a fun program for families for the Saturday after Christmas.
They came up with Touch A Truck.
But the pair and other library staff had no idea if two or 200 adults and kids would show up for the noon-to-3 p.m first-time event Saturday featuring nine big trucks and their caretakers standing nearby to answer questions in the Central Library parking lot, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd.
"We were a little worried, but, shortly after noon, two hundred people were here," Beach said.
It turns out, Manatee County loves trucks with big tires, loud horns and lots of equipment.
One of those fans who showed up for the first Touch A Truck was Luke Ewert, a 21-month-old truck enthusiast whose mother and father, Brad and Heidi Ewert, were visiting family in the Bradenton and Sarasota area when a sister-in-
law, Mary Ewert of Bradenton, mentioned Touch A Truck.
"He loves trucks," Brad Ewert said of his son, whose face held the awe of a Black Friday shopper not knowing which direction in which to run first.
"He saw the fire truck and yelled out, 'Truck!'"
The Touch a Truck list included a blue Jeep monster truck named "Wombat Hunter" with 66-inch tires, owned by Darrell Geist of Bradenton.
It seemed as if Wombat Hunter took the honor for most popular truck at the event.
Essentially, the truck is so tall that to climb in the cab requires climbing up on the tires, which are nearly as tall as an adult.
"You should try it when they are muddy," Geist said.
Nearly ever child wanted to master the Wombat Hunter, as if it was a metal Mount Everest.
"It feels very high up," said a proud Jaheim Hodo, 11, who was as fearless as Batman he scaled the tires to sit in the cab.
Geist said he built Wombat Hunter with his son, Dominic.
"It's a play toy," Geist said. "I take it to mud parks. It's 9,000 pounds, so it is very hard to tip over."
The truck's tires cost $2,500 each and the vehicle can travel through mud at 25 miles per hour, Geist said.
Why would someone want to travel through mud, not to mention having it splattered all over drivers' and passengers' clothes and bodies?
"It's fun," Geist said.
Also available for touching, sitting and exploring were a city of Bradenton fire engine, a Bradenton Police Department SWAT van and a Manatee County ambulance. Manatee County supplied a dump truck, a Vac-Con, which cleans drains, a street cleaner and a large transport. The ninth vehicle was a Department of Natural Resources fire truck.
The attraction to trucks can start early and have a lifelong impact, said Bradenton Police Department officer Jonathan Then, who attended Touch A Truck.
When Then was 5, his aunt, Cary Medina, took him to a fire station in Queens, New York, to an event featuring police cars and fire trucks.
Then said he believes he is a police officer because of that visit.
"It definitely had an impact on me," Then said. "I knew right then I wanted to be a fireman or a police officer. I think I chose police officer because of the utility belt, which kind of reminded me of Batman."
Then posed for pictures near the SWAT truck Saturday.
"Someday," Then said with a grin, indicating that the thought of being part of a SWAT team makes him feel as excited as a kid in a police car.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.