Antique tractor outfitted for quadriplegic accessibility by lifelong friend

  • Josh Newey operates the lift on his custom 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard Tractor on Saturday morning during the Retired Iron Tractor Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Josh Newey drives his custom 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard Tractor on Saturday morning during the Retired Iron Tractor Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. The tractor was modified to be independently operated and wheelchair accessible. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Josh Newey, right, and Daniel Routhier are all smiles before taking a spin on the custom 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard Tractor, that was modified by Routhier to be independently operated and wheelchair accessible, Saturday morning during the Retired Iron Tractor Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Josh Newey drives his custom 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard Tractor on Saturday morning during the Retired Iron Tractor Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. The tractor was modified to be independently operated and wheelchair accessible. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Josh Newey, originally from Worthington, drives his custom 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard Tractor on Saturday morning during the Retired Iron Tractor Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Josh Newey’s 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard Tractor was outfitted with many custom features by Daniel Routhier to make it independently operable and wheelchair accessible. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Josh Newey drives his custom 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard Tractor on Saturday morning during the Retired Iron Tractor Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. The tractor was modified to be independently operated and wheelchair accessible. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Josh Newey drives his custom 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard Tractor on Saturday morning during the Retired Iron Tractor Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. The tractor was modified to be independently operated and wheelchair accessible. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

  • Josh Newey, right, and Daniel Routhier take the first public ride on the custom 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard Tractor, that was modified by Routhier to be independently operated and wheelchair accessible, Saturday morning during the Retired Iron Tractor Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield. FOR THE RECORDER/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/9/2021 7:38:35 PM

GREENFIELD — After a snowmobile injury left him a quadriplegic over 20 years ago, self-described “gearhead” Josh Newey has achieved his dream of once again driving his own antique tractor, thanks to the help of a lifelong friend.

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

Having grown up in Worthington, Newey moved east after the accident to be closer to medical and rehabilitative resources but frequently came back to the Pioneer Valley to see friends like Daniel Routhier, a Goshen resident and owner of DLC Repair, who has been working for most of the last year to custom-build aspects of the tractor for Newey.

They took the antique, customized tractor out for one of their first public rides Saturday during the Retired Iron Tractor Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. With Newey’s limited dexterity, he said Routhier had to get creative to custom design aspects of the tractor that allow Newey to operate it — all on his own.

“A lot of the brainstorming we had to do was for relocating controls, and putting in knobs and levers that I’m able to work with limited dexterity,” he said.

The chance to fulfill Newey’s dream of driving a tractor on his own took its first step toward reality in 2017. He was selling a 1990s vintage truck and was offered a trade for the antique tractor. It is a 1947 McCormick OS4 Orchard Tractor — one of 1,267, according to Newey.

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

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

The next step was finding a way to make the tractor wheelchair-accessible, and in March 2020, Newey was offered a wheelchair lift for free. During a phone call with Routhier, Newey mentioned the lift, and asked him to come out east for a long weekend and brainstorm ways to connect it to the tractor.

“He got the lift on in under 24 hours,” Newey said. “It was rough, it was crude, but it was there. … That weekend he had me on the thing, and he started it and put it in gear and I drove it at an idle. I crawled along, but I was driving — tears pouring out of my eyes, honestly.”

Routhier brought the tractor and lift back to his home and worked on the project during his spare time throughout the year, except for winter, when there was snow in the yard. Newey would come out at times to take measurements to fit his wheelchair. Routhier’s wife, Colleen, lent a hand, too.

The lift not only gets Newey up onto the tractor, but it folds up to create a sort of caged backing to keep him in place. The steering wheel, throttle, clutch lever, brakes, fuel rod and other parts are extended to reach Newey, as he is farther back than the stock seat would be. Newey can operate the lift to get up or down, and start the tractor on his own.

“Making the clutch and brake work with one handle was the hardest part,” Routhier said.

He explained they used the factory clutch and made a system that pushes down on and locks the brake pedals when Newey pulls the clutch back. When the clutch is let out, the brake comes off and the clutch engages at the same time.

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

On top of it all, Routhier said they avoided drilling into any of the factory-made parts because you can’t find replacement parts anymore.

“Everything can be taken off and put back to stock without you even knowing,” Routhier said.

Farming and antique tractors have been passions of Newey’s ever since he was a teenager. Newey and Routhier have been friends since they attended Smith Vocational and Agricultural School in Northampton, graduating in 1995 and ’96, respectively. Routhier studied automotive, and Newey specialized in agriculture mechanics.

“Really, I’ve always loved anything with an engine, but I love antique tractors. I always wanted one of my own,” Newey said. “After the snowmobile accident happened, for reasons of practicality, I put it out of my mind. It was one more thing I kind of thought I had to give up on.”

“A fan of anything with an engine,” Newey and his father, who is 71, are members of the New England Antique Tractor and Truck Association and regularly attend tractor shows and events together. While he has been able to ride in a trailer behind his father at shows and events, Newey is looking forward to one of their next outings where his father can relax and get towed along for a show. He hopes participating in the tractor shows, maybe even national shows, will help inspire others.

“Everybody who sees this thing, it’s thumbs up,” Newey said. “I spent over two decades wanting to drive a tractor — now I’m doing it. There might be other guys in chairs out there that either don’t have the resources or don’t even know that it’s possible. There are people that should see this.”

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

Newey said he had been searching for the exact make and model snowmobile as the one he owned when he had his accident, a limited production model from 1996. He finally found what he was looking for and bought one in October 2020. He set up a seat for himself on the back, but still needs someone to drive it — so he called Routhier to join him and some other friends who were driving their own snowmobiles.

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

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

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.




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