PHOTO: John Adcock’s Rhino is right at home in the hills, rocks and mud of West Texas. Photo by Steve Nessl/Courtesy Yamaha Motor Co.
To understand where outdoorsman John Adcock, 59, is going, you have to know something about where he’s been.
He contracted polio as a young child; by the time he was 16, he’d undergone 16 surgeries. Those surgeries and his own stubborn nature propelled him to walk again. “When I went into high school,” Adcock says in his Texas drawl, “the crutches got in the way of chasing girls, so I threw them away. Which was probably not the smart thing to do, but I didn’t give a damn back then.”
Adcock went on to college, graduated and entered the working world. “My personality all my life was to do more than I should to prove to myself and everyone else that I could,” he says today. But in the late ’80s, Adcock injured his back in a fall that “accelerated a new little term back then called post-polio syndrome.”
As research now shows (see Mobility Management’s March 2006 cover story), post-polio symptoms can be exacerbated by unrelated illness or injury — and that’s what happened to Adcock. Thus far, he had always made forward progress when it came to his mobility. After the accident, “My ability to get around started going the other way,” he says. “I went from a cane back to crutches. By 2000, I was in a power chair.”
An avid hunter, Adcock admits his loss of mobility “really bothered me because it restricted me (from enjoying) the outdoors and being with my son and my family. So we started looking for things to help me get around outside.” Adcock had ridden three- and four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), in the past, but when post-polio symptoms became more severe, he tried a Polaris Ranger utility vehicle… imagine a two-passenger golf cart with off-road capabilities.
Then, Adcock heard that Yamaha had a new two-passenger, side-by-side off-road vehicle called the Rhino 660 4×4. “My son went out and looked at it,” Adcock remembers, “and he said, ‘Dad, they ride really well.’ It far exceeded the rideability of the Ranger.”
Adcock called Steve Nessl, Yamaha Motor Company’s ATV/Side x Side public relations manager, to ask about finding a much-in-demand Rhino to convert. While Nessl says the Rhino was not specifically designed with disabled access in mind, he adds, “There was an idea that it could be (made accessible) given its automotive-style operation, and the fact that cars had been outfitted to accommodate disabled users… there was a hope that somebody would be able to take those kinds of controls and retrofit them to a Rhino. As it turns out, they’re the exact same controls that are used in automobiles.”
Also making the Rhino easier to access, in addition to its automotive-style dashboard, are a host of safety/convenience accessories and bucket seats (vs. bench seating on other vehicles).
“The bucket seats help keep (Adcock) planted, and the seating position also is very good for him,” Nessl says. “You sit into the seats, you don’t sit on top of them.”
The Rhino came standard with driver and passenger “sidebars,” small looping handlebars attached outside each seat to keep riders in place. “It’s only about four inches high, but that made it very difficult for me to transfer in and out,” Adcock says. He asked Darrell Frank, general manager of Lift-Aids in Euless, Texas, to remove the bars. Frank then retrieved an armrest from a discarded power chair in the shop, “made a couple of modifications, welded it on, and it worked great for him.” The armrest “allows me to have the same protection that Yamaha wanted me to have, and it provided me a place to put my arm,” Adcock says. “When you’re driving, if you don’t have a place to put your elbow, fatigue sets in pretty quick.”
He flips up the armrest to transfer, then “I flip the armrest back down, put the seatbelt on and boogie.”
Installing hand controls for both gas and brake was a standard procedure requiring no dashboard modifications, Frank says. Adcock also added a windshield, a winch and a roof.
“I wanted some protection on my head,” Adcock explains, pointing out that people with disabilities could have a hard time walking for help or keeping out of the sun if their off-road vehicles get stuck. While Adcock says he and his Rhino have never needed to use the winch, Nessl says, “It’s probably a good idea to have as many safety-oriented accessories as possible to help them get out of a sticky situation.”
The Rhino wasn’t designed specifically for John Adcock, but Nessl says the vehicle was built with seniors in mind: “Like with a grandfather and a grandson — if the granddad can’t go out on an ATV, but he’s able to get into a Rhino and drive it like a car… that was one of the goals initially, that (the Rhino) would be one of the ideal choices if aggressive off-road riding were something they’d done in the past and something they were still looking to do. I can’t say enough about the fact that John’s still able to get into the vehicle and have the experiences he wants. It’s pretty special.”
Darrell Frank reports additional modification requests as a result of publicity for the accessible Rhino, whose story appeared in an ATV magazine last year. “One guy brought his Rhino up from San Antonio,” Frank says, adding that Lift-Aids also has modified a John Deere, golf carts, bulldozers and other special vehicles. Notes Frank: “If it’s got a steering wheel, gas and brake…”
Certainly, Adcock is among Lift-Aids’ — and Yamaha’s — satisfied customers. “I would buy another (Rhino) right now, if I needed one,” he says. But he also says, “I just tried to make something so I could get around better. I’ve done that all my life, so it just comes natural to me.”
And he hopes his off-the-beaten-path story will inspire other consumers to dream of solutions to their own mobility challenges. “Even if you can’t think of it yourself, there are people out there that can help you think of it,” Adcock says. “It’s ridiculous for folks to not try.”