Jonathan Jean, 5, explores the interior of a New Hampshire Army National Guard promotional Hummer. (John Carden photo)
By Amy Kane
RAYMOND, N.H. — There were no "moos" or "bahs," and the only horns were on steering wheels at the "vehicle petting zoo."
The Raymond Coalition for Youth and the Raymond Recreation Department hosted a free community event, Touch a Truck, on Saturday at Raymond High School.
Kids and families could look, touch, climb inside and learn all about a variety of wheeled wonders. There was an impressive cement mixer, a monster truck, a race car, a huge tractor-trailer, bright and shiny fire engines, a command-center school bus painted black, and a Humvee decorated in camouflage and American flag colors.
Sisters Brynna and Ella Hone, ages 4 and 3 respectively, took turns exploring the inside of a police cruiser, sitting first in the front seat, then in the back.
"They were very excited to come here today," said their mom, Tara. "Especially when they heard there would be ice cream."
According to Raymond Recreation director Michelle Weaver, 600 ice creams were distributed. Hot dogs and drinks were also free.
"It's been crazy, it's been a great success," said Weaver.
This was the third year for Touch a Truck, according to Celeste Clark, coordinator of the Raymond Coalition for Youth, who helped organize the event.
"The idea is to give kids a close-up of vehicles, especially police and ambulance in case of emergencies, so they won't be afraid," said Clark. "It's a fun day for the community."
The Raymond Coalition for Youth promotes positive choices for the youth in town, partnering with the schools, recreation department and other agencies.
Vehicles owned by the town of Raymond were on display as well. Highway department employee Rich Nunziato gave kids a helping hand so they could climb up into the cab of the town's brand new excavator.
Taylor Hammond, 9, was sitting up high, looking out the window at the long articulated arm ending in the scooping bucket. Nunziato said, "She's a natural."
Taylor's grandfather, Kevin Hammond, smiled. He works on maintenance for the highway department and takes on an occasional plow route in winter along 102 miles of town roads.
Wearing their official crowns, Miss Raymond, Michaela Loman, and Junior Miss Raymond, Sara Westmoreland, were on hand to meet and greet and pose for photos.
"The trucks are really cool, but the helicopter was my favorite," said Sara, the Junior Miss.
The owner of the RC helicopter, Chris Meyer, had flown in that morning, landed at the bottom of a hill and rolled his aircraft up to the parking lot. The Nashua-based helo is used for flight instruction and aerial sightseeing. Kids waited in line to climb into the pilot's seat and get their hands on the stick.
"I wish I had time, I'd take them all flying," said Meyer.
Field driver trainer Tom Dimambro answered questions about the Waste Management recycling truck, assisted by his son Agostino, 12. Inside the cab, kids discovered there were two steering wheels so the truck could be driven from either side, as well as cameras to eliminate blind spots.
There were giveaways for the kids, including coloring books, and information for parents like brochures offered next to the ambulance by Jennifer Peters of Exeter Hospital pediatric rehabilitation.
"It's important to let people know we're out there offering speech, OT and PT for ages 0 through 21," said Peters. "We want to help families connect with community resources."
Waste Management was giving away hand-sized stress squeeze trucks. "They're popular with the adults," said Dimambro.
Touch a Truck was a big playground for Rashaun Plourde and Josh Parsons, both 11. The friends were busy climbing the outside of the Bearcat armored car used by the regional police SWAT team when they paused to answer a few questions.
"We've seen everything and this is our favorite," said Rashaun. "It's the coolest."
"It doesn't look that big on the outside, but it's big on the inside," said Josh.
According to Cpl. Kerry Pomeroy, the SWAT car operator and a Raymond police officer, the vehicle can hold 36 SWAT team members and bring them safely to the scene. The car is used in downed officer rescues, for barricaded subjects and in drug raids.
"It's totally bulletproof," he said.