“OK, Joe, are you ready?” I say.
“I’m ready to roll!” My brother, Joe, is always game.
“I might need you to help steer or hit the brakes,” I say — sarcasm intended.
“Just tell me what to do,” laughs Joe.
I pull my left arm down on the hand control, the engine revs and off we go across the lawn. I move the wheel left and right to test the steering. The buggy zigzags, and we head toward the open gate that leads to the field. I hear the roar of the engine, feel the breeze in my hair, smell the familiar smells of spring — what a blast! We slow down going through the gate, dodge a fence post and steer to the right, accelerating as we head out across the open field. Joe holds on tight as I head for the whoop-de-doos! Our stomachs rise up to our throats as we go down over the hill, then at the bottom the extra G-force sucks us down into the seat. What an incredible feeling!
It all started a couple of months ago. While cruising through spinal cord injury websites, my wife, Terry, noticed an ad for an adapted dune buggy for sale. Knowing I’d be interested, she immediately sent it to my computer. I looked it up, not taking it too seriously. Usually anything that is already adapted is way out of my price range and is not designed for my specific injury. I’m a C5-6 quad with no hand function and very weak arms, and it takes a lot of MacGyvering to make anything drivable for me. I took note of the phone number and decided to give it a try anyhow.
About 25 years ago, the thought of adapting a Honda Odyssey was floating around in my coconut, but I never got it done. Now here was a similar unit that is a two-seater and already adapted. Dirt-biking with friends was so much fun, but was it possible again?
Some days later, I made the call. As it turns out, the buggy was adapted by and for a quadriplegic. In further coincidence, he happens to live 30 miles away. It actually hadn’t been for sale for a couple of years, but the website was never updated. After chatting, Landon and I discovered that we have pretty much the identical injury, with very similar hobbies and attitude on life. Then I recalled an email from a news team that had interviewed him, and by coincidence, me, in the past. They were letting me know that I should look him up because we are so similar. I remember not being able to find him at the time. I then got sidetracked and forgot about it.
The more we chatted, the more we found we had in common. As it turns out, Landon and his friends were building another all-terrain vehicle for him that is much more powerful and expensive, and he did not have room for both of them in his garage. He received lots of offers from nondisabled people to buy the buggy, but with all the work he put into tweaking it to make it drivable by a quadriplegic, he did not want it to go to somebody who was going to just take all those adaptations off. He offered it at a bargain price that I couldn’t refuse.
Landon informed me that the steering was low effort, taken out of a Saturn car. The hand controls were custom-made to fit the buggy, and the driver’s seat can slide forward and back, and recline. He and his friends even made a second control, sort of an “oh-crap-handle” that allows the passenger to hit the brakes or the throttle in an emergency, and they can easily reach the steering wheel from the right side. I think this is an important safety feature, especially for the first few rides.
A couple of weeks later, my brother and I borrowed a utility trailer and headed over to Landon’s house. The buggy was in great shape, almost new. He was a little sad to let it go, but was very happy their creation was going to somebody who could use it. I am so grateful he let it go!
So here we are, Joe and I, tearing around a plowed field on the maiden voyage. I steer to the right and we zip around the corner of a slough that is in the field, then back to the left and speed up for the long run toward the steep hill. I cannot believe the freedom of zooming around the field in an all-terrain vehicle. We race up the hill, and it climbs well for two-wheel-drive! After a quick turn-around, we fly through the field back to home. Joe jumps out and leaves the engine running.
“Any other volunteers to go for a ride with him?” Joe asks.
“I’ll try it!” says our friend, Sheila.
She straps into the passenger seat, and the crew pushes us back down the driveway. I pull the throttle down, the engine roars once again and off we go, flying out into the field!
Driving an off-road vehicle is as fun as it gets!
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of engine is in it?
The engine is 250 cubic centimeters, liquid-cooled. It has high and low range and reverse. There is no shifting to do while driving.
How fast will it go?
In low range, it will do about 25 mph, but has lots of power for hills. Landon told me that it would do over 50 mph in high range.
Do you need much strength to drive it?
I’m quite weak and so far, tight turns are a bit hard. Like anything new, it will get better with time.
Is it street legal?
It does have all of the signal lights and brake lights, etc. I believe in some states it is legal to drive it on the road, but living on acreage, I have plenty of room to roam. It’s always best to check with your state’s motor vehicle division on what modifications are necessary to make an off-road vehicle street legal.