by Alan Hodge

Most custom vehicle shows have a “look but keep your fingers off the merchandise” philosophy. But the Touch-a-Truck event held Saturday, June 11, at the McGuire Nuclear Station EnergyExplorium in Huntersville had a more hands-on approach to showing off the machines on display.

Duke Energy organized the event as a public service and way of introducing people to the types of equipment that community helpers use in doing their jobs.

“Safety is a huge priority for Duke Energy,” spokeswoman Hailey Wilson said. “Touch-a-Truck gives families the chance to meet the hometown heroes who protect and serve us.”

The event had several safety and public service vehicles on display for kids and parents alike to clamber over and see. Hundreds of people took advantage of a beautiful day and filled the Energy Explorium parking lot where the hardware was parked.

Vehicles on display included machinery from Duke Energy, the Huntersville and Cornelius police and fire departments, an Ace Towing truck, a Got Junk truck, a 1952 Dodge military truck and a North Carolina Air National Guard replica C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft.

The scale model C-130 was one of the biggest hits of the Touch-a-Truck show, and excited kids swarmed all over it. Even a few adults, crawled inside the aircraft. Constructed by members of the N.C. Air National Guard’s 145th Maintenance Squadron based at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, the plane is an exact replica of except for its wingspan of 35-foot wingspan. The full-size aircraft boasts a wingspan of 132-feet. The scale plane is based on a stretched John Deere tractor frame with the fuselage formed of steel tubes covered with aluminum.

“It took us five years to build,” Master Sgt. Brad Snider said. “We use it in events like Touch-a-Truck and parades.”

Eight-year-old Keaton Cage attendedthe event with his dad, Duke Energy employee Jeff Cage, and summed up rather succinctly the impression most everyone had of the C-130 replica.

“Awesome,” Keaton said.

Another popular piece of equipment was the Denver Fire Department’s rescue boat. Known as Lake Assault Landing Craft 28, this imposing vessel sported an articulated front ramp, water cannon, two 300-horsepower engines, side scan radar and a lot more high tech search and rescue goodies.

“The front folds down for access to land or for four-wheelers to drive on deck,” Denver Fire Public Information Officer Dion Burleson said.

Cornelius Police Department Sgt. George Brinzey brought a cool piece of green technology to the Touch-a-Truck show in the form of a two-seater electric car that looked very much like a boiled egg on wheels. Officially known as a GEM E2, the vehicle is made by Chrysler-Daimler. The department uses it to patrol large events like parades.

Old timers and youngsters alike also found Brian Lukowski’s restored 1952 Dodge M37 military truck interesting, especially the horn that kids blew repeatedly.

Lukowski has dedicated the vehicle to the memory of his friend U.S. Air Force Capt.Mark McDowell who died in Afghanistan on July 18, 2009, when his F-18 fighter crashed.