Antique tractor equipped for quadriplegic accessibility by longtime friend

GREENFIELD – After a snowmobile injury that left him quadriplegic more than 20 years ago, self-proclaimed “reducer” Josh Newey fulfilled his dream of driving his own old tractor again, with the help of a longtime friend.

Newey, who turns 44 on Thursday, said he suffered a spinal cord injury and broke his neck in a snowmobile accident in January 1997 when he “grabbed the branch of an crabapple tree. “. Newey describes himself as a high-level quadriplegic. He uses a wheelchair and is paralyzed from the chest down, has limited arm function and no dexterity in his hands.

Growing up in Worthington, Newey moved east after the accident to be closer to medical and rehabilitation resources, but often returned to Pioneer Valley to see friends like Daniel Routhier, a resident of Goshen and owner of DLC Repair, who worked for most of the last year building custom aspects of the tractor for Newey.

They took out the antique, custom tractor for one of their first public rides on Saturday at the Retired Iron Tractor Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. With Newey’s limited dexterity, he said Routhier had to get creative in custom designing those aspects of the tractor that allowed him to run it on his own.

“A lot of the brainstorming we had to do was to move the controls around and insert buttons and levers that I’m able to work with with limited dexterity,” he said.

The chance to fulfill Newey’s dream of driving a tractor on his own took his first step towards reality in 2017. He was selling a vintage truck from the 1990s and was offered a trade-in for the antique tractor. This is a 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard tractor – one of 1267, according to Newey.

“There are a lot of things that are unique about the tractor, but one of the main unique things about it is that it has a factory hand clutch. It was almost like fate, ”Newey said. “Once I realized he had a pouch in his hand, I was like, ‘What do we have to do to get me on this?’ ‘

Because orchard tractors were designed to be driven under trees, some are designed with the operator’s seat lowered. Due to the displacement of the seat, the foot clutches were sometimes replaced by hand clutches.

The next step was to find a way to make the tractor wheelchair accessible, and in March 2020, Newey was offered a wheelchair lift for free. On a phone call with Routhier, Newey mentioned the elevator and asked him to go out east for a long weekend and think of ways to connect it to the tractor.

“He got the elevator in less than 24 hours,” Newey said. “It was hard, it was rude, but it was there. … This weekend he got me up on the thing, and he cranked it up and cranked it up and I drove it in idle. I crawled, but I was driving – tears were falling from my eyes, honestly.

Routhier brought the tractor and bucket back to his home and worked on the project in his spare time throughout the year, except in winter when there was snow in the yard. Newey would sometimes go out to take measures adapted to his wheelchair. Routhier’s wife Colleen also lent a hand.

The lift not only allows Newey to get on the tractor, but it folds up to create a sort of cage rack to hold it in place. The flywheel, throttle, clutch lever, brakes, fuel bar and other parts are lengthened to reach Newey, as it is further back than the original seat. Newey can operate the lift to raise or lower and start the tractor on its own.

“Getting the clutch and brake to operate with just one handle was the hardest part,” said Routhier.

He explained that they used the factory clutch and created a system that pushes down and locks the brake pedals when Newey pulls the clutch. When the clutch is released, the brake disengages and the clutch engages at the same time.

“It can stop on a hill and take off without rolling,” said Routhier.

On top of all that, Routhier said they avoid drilling into factory-made parts because you can’t find spare parts anymore.

“Everything can be taken out and put back into storage without you even knowing it,” Routhier said.

Farm and antique tractors have been Newey’s passions since he was a teenager. Newey and Routhier have been friends since attending Smith Vocational and Agricultural School in Northampton, where they graduated in 1995 and 1996, respectively. Routhier studied the automobile and Newey specialized in agricultural mechanics.

“Really, I’ve always liked anything that has an engine, but I love old tractors. I’ve always wanted one of mine, ”Newey said. “After the snowmobile accident, for practical reasons, I put it out of my mind. It was one more thing I thought I had to give up.

“A fan of everything that has an engine,” Newey and his 71-year-old father are members of the New England Antique Tractor and Truck Association and regularly attend tractor shows and events together. While he was able to get into a trailer behind his dad at shows and events, Newey can’t wait to go on one of their next outings where his dad can relax and get towed to a show. He hopes attending tractor shows, perhaps even national shows, will help inspire others.

“Anyone who sees this thing is thumbs up,” Newey said. “I have spent over two decades wanting to drive a tractor – now I do. There might be other people occupying chairs there who don’t have the resources or even know it’s possible. There are people who should see this. ”

In addition to driving the tractor, Routhier joined Newey on his first snowmobile ride since his accident this winter.

Newey said he was looking for exactly the make and model of snowmobile he owned when he crashed, a limited production model from 1996. He finally found what he was looking for and bought one in October 2020. seat for himself in the back, but still needs someone to drive it – so he called Routhier to join him and other friends who were riding their own snowmobiles.

“We were going to do a 15, maybe 20 minute drive. We were gone for six hours, ”said Routhier.

“We just left the garage and carried on,” Newey added.

Zack DeLuca can be contacted at [email protected] or 413-930-4579.

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