Making It Work
With determination, old iron and a little help, two men find a way to keep cerebral palsy from blocking their dreams.
They’ve never met, but Harlan Temple of Davis, South Dakota, and Josh Harmon of Mingo, Iowa, have more in common than cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects movement, muscle tone and posture. Both men’s lives have been shaped and greatly influenced by a debilitating disease, but a greater influence in both their lives is a love for tractors.
Cerebral palsy is caused by damage occurring to the brain as it develops, generally before birth. The disease causes impaired movement often associated with abnormal reflexes, floppiness or rigidity of the limbs and trunk, abnormal posture, involuntary movements and unsteady walking.
“My parents didn’t realize I had a problem until I was about 1 year old,” Harlan says. “My Dad, Arleigh, farmed in the Lennox/Davis (South Dakota) area, so I grew up on the farm. From my earliest remembrances, I loved tractors, all the farming equipment, and all I ever wanted to do was farm.”
Because of his disease, Harlan has never been able to walk on his own. Before starting school, he underwent multiple surgeries intended to help straighten his back and scissor-shaped legs. Despite the challenges, Harlan and his family remained focused on his dream of operating his own farm.
Initially, he was a carpet farmer. “I always had an array of farm toys,” Harlan says. “Barns, cattle, fences and tractors. Some were set up in the living room and my mother and sister told me they were almost afraid to clean around them for fear they would mess up my arrangement.”
Because of his physical limitations, Harlan couldn’t help with every chore on the farm. But one of his earliest duties was using the family tractor to drag the yard and smooth out ruts caused by the milk truck. To help him operate the tractor, Arleigh made an extension for the clutch handle to enable Harlan to reach the handle and give him more leverage when he used the clutch.
“After smoothing out those ruts,” Harlan says, “it was easier for my family to drive through the yard and easier for me to get around in a coaster wagon I used so I could be mobile outdoors.”
Father knows best
By the time he was 12, Harlan was helping his father line up the tractor with a stationary hammermill feed grinder so the belt running from the tractor pulley to the grinder pulley wouldn’t slip off while it was in operation. “Most of the time, once we finished grinding feed, I parked the tractor and wagon,” Harlan says. “One day, I had just parked the wagon when the tractor suddenly started moving.”
The John Deere A’s clutch facings had overlapped and caused the tractor to quickly throttle up. Fortunately, the tractor seat had a backrest and armrest. Harlan fell back onto the seat as the tractor roared off. Because he wasn’t able to stand up and grab the steering wheel, Harlan watched in horror as the tractor raced toward a corn-filled granary straight ahead of him.
“Dad was in the hog house checking on some sows that were about to farrow,” Harlan says. “He heard me screaming and yelling and quickly caught up to the tractor. Just as the tractor went inside the granary alleyway, Dad pulled the throttle back and stopped it.”
The tractor had hit the side of the granary so hard it moved that section of the granary crib about 4 inches off the building’s foundation. “I told Dad I wasn’t going to drive a tractor anymore,” Harlan says. But his father wasn’t deterred by the close call.
“He told me what happened wasn’t my fault, it could have happened to anyone,” Harlan says. “Then he told me I needed to get back on that tractor.” After thinking it over, Harlan followed his father’s advice and went on to help plow, cultivate, pick corn and use the tractor for many farm chores.
Image: by Josh Harmon
Modifications boost mobility
As he grew to adulthood, Harlan farmed with his father for a number of years, eventually renting his father’s farmland and subsequently purchasing another 130 acres. In addition to operating an insurance agency in Davis, Harlan continued farming until advancing age diminished his strength.
“Even with the hydraulic lift, I don’t have the strength in my legs to get into the tractor anymore,” Harlan says.
Over the years, several people have designed innovative devices to help Harlan operate his tractors. Neighbor Charlie Eide (the man Harlan refers to as his second father) built Harlan’s first man lift, making it possible for him to get on his John Deere 3010. When Harlan purchased a John Deere 4430, Charlie adapted the man lift to fit the new tractor.
Harlan no longer drives his tractors, but he enjoys having them around. Among those he’s kept are the 1949 John Deere Model A Arleigh farmed with for years and the 1951 John Deere Model B his dad bought for him when he was 16.
“If I remember correctly, Dad bought the A from a dealer when the original owner couldn’t make the payments,” Harlan says. “It was in good condition and Dad used it for a lot of years.”
Preserving farm heirlooms
Arleigh purchased the John Deere B so he and his son could work in the field at the same time. “By the time I was 16, I thought it would be great if Dad and I could plow and cultivate and put up hay together,” Harlan says. “When he bought the B, Dad bought me a 2/16-bottom plow, which had a hydraulic lift so I wouldn’t have to pull a rope to lower and lift it. He also bought a two-row cultivator. We did a lot of field work together.”
When the A and B were replaced by newer John Deere tractors in the field, neither of the vintage tractors were sold. Harlan eventually took ownership of both tractors.
“It was for either Dad’s 70th or 75th birthday that I had the Model A restored,” Harlan says. “I wanted it to be a surprise, so the guy who restored it brought the John Deere A to our farm the same day we celebrated Dad’s birthday. He was so surprised and pleased.”
Before he passed away, Arleigh used the Model A in the occasional parade. Harlan also had his John Deere B restored and often uses it at his farm during family gatherings.
“Family members like to see the tractors and a few of them like to drive these old models,” Harlan says. “We use lawn chairs on a flat bed when we take a ride with the tractor because the chairs are much easier to handle than bales. It’s possible that the John Deere A will go to my nephew in the near future. It would be great to keep it in the family and pass it on down through the generations.”
Tractors launched independence – and the start of a collection
Like Harlan, Josh experienced many surgeries in his early years as doctors did what they could to give him the best possible mobility. “We lived on an acreage and Dad put up hay for our horses every summer,” Josh says. “As long as I can remember, I loved riding on and using our tractor, a 1953 Farmall Super M.”
During recovery from frequent surgeries, Josh often spent weekdays in the hospital and weekends with his family. When it came time to return to the hospital on Sunday evening, he was never ready to go.
“Each time Dad did his best to help me get through that,” Josh says. “He told me, ‘While Mom gets your things ready, let’s you and I head down the road with the tractor. Whenever she catches up with us, you can go on with her.’ We always got just a couple miles down the road with the tractor before Mom came, but I was satisfied with that. I got to ride the tractor.”
As Josh grew older, he helped his father. Terry Hammer, with hay crops as much as he could. The purchase of a Massey Ferguson garden tractor, featuring a hydrostatic transmission instead of a clutch, gave Josh opportunity to be outside and move around the acreage as he pleased.
“With that Massey Ferguson I could get around the farm much easier and Dad could go about his work at the same time,” Josh says. “Riding that garden tractor was far easier than trying to push a wheelchair. And now I have a collection of five Massey Ferguson garden tractors.”
Nearly without fail, Josh’s father ended each day by getting Josh on the Super M so Josh could drive it while his dad operated the clutch. “That became a tradition for us, even when Dad was moving snow,” Josh says. “He let me drive the tractor for a while once he was finished.”
Modifications make wheelchair ready to tackle show challenges
Image: courtesy Harlan Temple
Shortly before Josh headed to diesel mechanic school, his father’s Super M spun a rod bearing. Because the aging tractor held strong sentimental value for Josh, Terry gave it to him.
“Before I left for school, I tore into the tractor, intending to repair and restore it,” Josh says. “I had it stored inside a shed, which was fine until that shed was damaged. I was occupied with school and then my job and the dismantled tractor was exposed to the weather for the next eight or nine years.”
Vern Waterman, a longtime friend of Josh and the Hammer family, has been gifted with engineering expertise that led him to establish Vern’s Implement & Repair in Melbourne, Iowa, some 50 years ago. He is well known for innovative engineering designs that he’s used to build booms on trucks and his own semi-trailer.
“I built a wheelchair for Josh that has mud tires on it and enough power to go through mud and snow,” Vern says. “Josh enjoys steam shows and if you’re wheeling yourself around one of those shows, you tire out pretty quickly.”
Access to power makes everything possible
Vern decided to lend a hand with restoration of the Super M, integrating modifications that now make it possible for Josh to operate the tractor by himself.
“In the restoration process, we put a Cummins engine in it, which required modifying several parts of the tractor,” Vern says. “There are hand levers for the clutch and the brakes and I raised the steering wheel so Josh’s legs clear when he swivels the seat around.”
With another modification Vern designed, Josh can now place his wheelchair near the man lift, use a toggle switch to be lifted onto the tractor, lift a latch to swivel the seat 90 degrees so he can sit down in it, then lift the latch again to turn the seat back to its normal position.
“If I position my wheelchair correctly, the man lift will catch the chair and bring it up so it’s carried along as I drive the tractor,” Josh says. “The hand brakes and hand clutch modifications were huge for me. And the neatest thing about it is that it still looks like a standard Super M. I really wanted to preserve as much of that as I could.”
Vern says the tractor is somewhat shorter than a standard Super M and he added some features such as dual air cleaners while maintaining the standard look of the model.
“There’s no reason Josh can’t do whatever he wants when you accommodate his physical limitations,” Waterman says. “He’s very capable of doing anything he needs to with that tractor. He just needs to have access to its power. A lot of people like Josh just need a little help.”
‘You may be surprised to learn what’s possible’
Image: courtesy Harlan Temple
Initially, Josh resisted the idea of installing power steering on the Farmall Super M. However, he’s found that the hard-steering tractor requires more strength than he possesses if he wants to drive it in parades and exhibitions.
“It’s in Vern’s shop now and it will have power steering,” Josh says. “I learned that this tractor model was always known for being difficult to steer.”
Harlan has also benefited from the ingenuity of other farmers who created innovative modifications for his implements over the years. In one instance, a friend designed a means for him to hitch and unhitch his flatbed trailer without getting off the tractor. Using a bale fork on his tractor loader, Harlan could go to the field to load bales, take them to a hoop building and unload them into the building.
“Over the years there have been people who were skeptical about my abilities,” Harlan says. “But I’ve learned that you (should) never take away anyone’s dream. Do everything you can to walk alongside them and help them achieve that dream. You may both be surprised to learn what’s possible.” FC
Contact Harlan Temple at: email@example.com.
Contact Josh Harmon at (641) 417-9054 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at email@example.com.
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