​Where There’s a Will

Posted by Tim Gilmer in Life After Paralysis on February 27, 2023 # Lifestyle

Tim GilmerMy wife and I got the camping bug in 1974. We lived in an apartment near Oregon’s forests and mountain lakes and owned a full-sized Ford Econoline van with a 4-inch foam pad in the back, perfect for two sleeping bags. After several excursions, I grew tired of sitting in my wheelchair at the campsite while everyone else disappeared into the forest.

Later we met a man who owned some three-wheeled all-terrain cycles (all Hondas). He agreed to sell his smallest Honda for just $300. We made $50/month payments for six months. I outfitted it with a hand-operated shifter rod. The first time we took it camping, I took off into the woods and no one saw me for 15 minutes. When my wife came looking for me, I roared up to her in my mud-splattered ATC, wild-haired, with a Cheshire cat smile on my face.

All-terrain 3-wheelers and 4-wheelers changed my life. Not only with camping. I could also explore lakesides, sand dunes, and secluded properties in the woods. One day we found our dream property — a small farm with acreage for truck farming, wooded hillsides, and a creek. Perfect for managing from a 4-wheeled ATV.

Fast forward: Decades passed. In 2018, after six months of bed confinement and flap surgery to fix a sore caused by riding my ATV, I decided to sell it and buy a larger UTV with a bench seat and extra padding for protection. But even the least expensive 4-wheel-drive UTVs cost upwards of $12,000. Too much, and my much-used ATV was worth less than a thousand.

Ten years earlier I had abandoned an old single-rider golf cart when my shoulders made swinging a club impossible. Its expensive deep-cell batteries died, and it gathered cobwebs. No one wanted to buy it. I literally could not give it away (to a vets group and a rehab recreation program). Could I resurrect my old cob-webbed golf cart and be content with 2-wheel drive? I could stick to the safe, level areas of the farm.

It took three sets of batteries to find the ones that fit my cart and its 36-volt system. But when I turned on the key, nothing happened. A friend who was an electrical engineer tested every possible circuit — three times — with his voltmeter. Finally, he pointed to a good-sized sealed part and said, “I think the problem’s in there.”

The part was a controller, the brain of any golf cart. I couldn’t find one anywhere — new or used. The cart was a rare 2000 model designed for people who played from a sitting position. I finally found a business that repaired golf carts and sent them the controller. After a long wait, they sent back a remanufactured controller. My friend attached it, and I turned the key on. Nothing. Turns out it was a 48-volt controller. My cart ran on 36 volts. Back in the mail, it went.

After another long wait, they sent me a 36-volt remanufactured controller. Once again, I turned the key. Nothing. I had spent $1,275. For what? We checked the batteries and all circuits again. Everything seemed in order, but still no juice. I threw up my hands. “Did you check the tow switch?” I asked.

“At least twice,” he said, tapping on the box that contained the tow switch with a large wrench. Instantly we heard a loud “click” and looked at each other. “Try it now,” he said.

I turned the key. The lights came on, and the battery gauge read fully charged. The hand accelerator worked! Forward and reverse, brakes, everything worked!

On my first ride, I revisited a remote part of the farm I hadn’t seen in about six years and quickly got stuck on a hillside. I never even blinked. My grandson pushed me, traction returned, and I tore off back to the house, my Cheshire cat face beaming.

Tim Gilmer graduated from UCLA in the late-1960’s, added an M.A. from the Southern Oregon University in 1977, taught writing classes in Portland for 12 years, then embarked on a writing career. After becoming an Oregon Literary Fellow, he went on to join New Mobility magazine in 2000 and edited the magazine for 18 years. He has published upwards of 100 articles, 200 columns, occasional movie reviews and essays. He and Sam, his wife and companion of 47 years, also own and operate an organic farm south of Portland, where they live with their daughter and son-in-law, four grandsons, and a resident barn owl. An excerpt from a memoir about his early post-SCI years, as part of a compendium of his writing over the past 30 years, can be read at his website — All You Need

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.