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It's dirt digging time at unique new business in Hastings

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Since last fall, Randy and Don Stenger have been working to get their big patch of dirt ready for new customers to dig up. This past weekend, the brothers opened their new business, Extreme Sandbox.

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Extreme Sandbox really is a giant sandbox. It's surrounded on three sides by a grassy berm. It's filled with deep sandy soil. There are toys - big ones.

Kristina Mauersberger and her husband Tim Anderson of St. Paul were the first to play in the dirt. Mauersberger happened across a coupon early this year and bought Anderson and herself a session as a Valentine's Day gift. For the 14 years she's known him, Anderson has always wanted to drive construction equipment, she said.

Their day started early, waking up well ahead of time because they were too excited to keep sleeping. When they got to Hastings, they sat down with Randy and Don Stenger in the temporary office around a miniature sandbox. Using scaled-down models of the equipment they'd be using, Randy Stenger demonstrated the physics of how the machines work and talked them through safety procedures.

Next they donned reflective construction vests and got an in-person introduction to the equipment. Mauersberger was up first for a turn with the skid steer. Randy Stenger showed her all the controls and had her practice moving the bucket. Then it was time for the obstacle course.

While Mauersberger navigated the cones, buckets and tires, moved a wooden beam from one stand to another, moved dirt, traversed poles on the ground and even dunked a basketball with the skid steer, her husband watched. And with each task successfully completed, Anderson was becoming more and more nervous. The two are very competitive, he explained, and he would never hear the end of it if his obstacle course didn't go as well.

His one consolation was that his turn wouldn't be on the same machine his wife had driven. Anderson was gearing up to drive a 19-ton excavator. The mechanics were different. The controls were different. The obstacle course was different. He would get to dig a giant hole in the ground. There were still basketballs, though.

Randy Stenger guided both Anderson and Mauersberger through the courses step by step, walking through the course on foot and talking through a headset to the drivers. Having the headset was comforting to Mauersberger.

"That is a neat and smart setup," she said.

Both Mauersberger and Anderson were full of smiles during and after their sessions.

"My face hurts from smiling so much," Mauersberger said, laughing, when she stepped out of the skid steer.

Anderson's first comment?

"I want one!"

A great response

Randy and Don Stenger are encouraged by the response they've gotten since the news broke of Extreme Sandbox's coming.

"People are just fascinated," Don Stenger said.

There's been a ton of interest in the business, not just in the Twin Cities region but in neighboring states, as well. People from Missouri and Chicago have already set up times to try out the machines.

"Our business is bringing people who have never been here," Randy Stenger said, and he added that he's excited to be a regional draw for Hastings.

Hastings especially has been a valuable partner for Extreme Sandbox.

"It's been overwhelmingly welcoming," Randy Stenger said.

Making progress

Not knowing how successful the business would be, Randy Stenger asked the City of Hastings to allow him to operate without the permanent site improvements normally required for a new business in Hastings. Considering the location along the city's outskirts and the type of business, the city granted his request, issuing a new temporary use permit that will expire in a year and a half. If Extreme Sandbox is still doing well at the end of the permit, it will have to make permanent site improvements - installing a paved parking lot and replace the trailer they're using for an office now with a permanent structure - in order to stay here.

Randy and Don Stenger are both hoping they can make the site a permanent one. By the end of this summer, they expect to have a good feel for whether or not Extreme Sandbox will be successful enough to continue, Randy Stenger said.

Although they just opened, they've already added a new session: the destruction zone. An expansion of another package, the destruction zone is an area where customers can use heavy equipment to destroy a vehicle.

Extreme Sandbox is located at the intersection of Ravenna Trail and Glendale Road. More information can be found online at extremesandbox.com or by calling 855-DIG-4FUN (855-344-4386).

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Katrina Styx
Katrina Styx has been a reporter for the Hastings Star Gazette since 2010. She has a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in journalism from the University of Wisconsin - River Falls. Prior to coming to Hastings, Katrina reported for weekly newspapers in Jordan, Minn., and River Falls, Wis.
(651) 319-4501
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