HASTINGS, Minn. — Randy Stenger makes his living getting adults to play in the dirt like kids – but with bigger toys.

On 10 acres near this Minneapolis-area city, Stenger created Extreme Sandbox, where customers pay hundreds of dollars to push dirt around with construction equipment, including bulldozers, excavators and wheel loaders.

“It’s a bucket-list experience,” he said.

Stenger’s business is part of a growing industry that aims to provide thrills by letting people try out machinery that would normally be available only to trained specialists. In Minnesota, for example, you can operate a battle tank, fly in a fighter jet simulator or drive a firetruck.

Similar businesses are appearing around the country. “We know there’s demand,” said Ed Mumm, who founded the Dig This construction experience in Las Vegas and wants to franchise the concept in Texas, Los Angeles and Orlando, Fla.

Stenger appeared earlier this year on ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank” and won handshake investments from two investors. Since then, he says, business has quadrupled.

Pete Mascarenas of Hermantown, Minn., visited earlier this month after his wife treated him to an early Father’s Day present. He spent 90 minutes in the excavator, loading and unloading tons of dirt, maneuvering through an obstacle course, and whacking a basketball from the top of the pile. The climax: lowering the boom on a 1997 Saturn in a destruction zone car crush.

“This is every boy’s dream when he becomes a big boy,” Mascarenas said.

Andy Rumpho of Rochester, who recently redeemed a Sandbox gift card from his daughter for his birthday, was relieved not to get a gift that would collect dust. “I have enough stuff,” he said.

After spending 30 minutes in safety and training before his experience, he admitted to some butterflies. “It’s the fear of the unknown,” he said. “I’m concerned that I’ll run this thing into the hole.”

After the video, Rumpho and a buddy who came along to watch were given safety vests and headsets so that both could hear the instructions by the instructor, and Rumpho’s friend could heckle him when he stabbed the controls. He hopped into the climate-controlled excavator cab, which fits only one. The instructor pointed out the two joysticks that control the bucket, stick, boom and swing, as well as levers to move forward and back, and walked a safe distance away.

“Release the safety lock,” said instructor Adam Johnson before he began the commands. “Now put your right hand on the right joystick and pull back slowly to raise the boom. Good. Put your left hand on the left joystick and move it left or right to spin around as fast as you want.”

“Uh-oh, I see you elected not to get vomit insurance. Cleanup is on you,” Johnson joked. He ran Rumpho through the paces of digging a hole, building a mound of it, taking the big load airborne and dumping it. After 15 minutes, Rumpho was left alone to excavate as he pleased. “I have the remote kill switch in my hand in case you go rogue,” Johnson reminded him.

Rumpho loved the experience but said it has a learning curve. “I won’t be applying for any construction jobs soon,” he said.

Stenger said the idea for the business originated when one of his boys passed a construction site and said, “Dad, wouldn’t it be fun to play on that stuff?”

But he isn’t the first to build a heavy equipment playground for adults. Similar businesses exist in West Berlin, N.J., Las Vegas and Williams, Ariz. One in Bradenton, Fla., closed in 2013.

Each of Zenger’s locations serves about 20 to 50 individual customers a week and 10 to 15 corporate groups a month. Customers pay $300 on average, although packages range from $200 to $1,000.

“Definitely, it is a luxury,” said Stenger. “It’s like paying $300 to sky-dive or drive a race car. We want to be a premium service.”