Tractor Modifications for Changing Lives
Individuals with arthritis, lower body weakness, amputations, balance difficulties, or decreased grip strength may have trouble:
- Safely climbing on and off a tractor
- Operating controls or
- Turning to see behind them
There are no universal solutions for these issues. But there are a lot of options, and none of them have to involve the expense of a new tractor.
Solutions to common problems:
- Improved seating for increased comfort by reducing jostling and vibration. Modern seating systems incorporate air, springs, shock absorber suspensions or cushions. Some also slide back and forth on the base, reducing fatigue when operating in rough conditions or at uneven travel speeds. A swiveling base reduces the need to twist in the seat to monitor equipment.
- Additional or improved steps and handholds that improve safety when entering and exiting the tractor. A common tractor modification replaces factory steps with a new set, which has a lower bottom step and at least one additional step.
Some tractors have the bottom step as high as 24 inches or more from the ground, which is far too high for most people. A step height of 16 inches is much easier to reach.
When attaching steps and hand holds, steps should be welded or bolted to the tractor frame or existing steps. Steps should be made of steel with non-skid, non-slip tread materials.
- Lifts that enable individuals with limited leg mobility to access the tractor seat. Lifts can consist of a simple hydraulic platform (on which the driver stands and is raised) or a chair lift mounted either directly to the tractor or onto a truck/trailer.
The distance of transfer from the lift seat to the tractor seat should be minimal to lower the risk of falling. Transfers should occur on level ground.
Hand controls should be properly padded to minimize potential bumps and bruises during transfer.
- Quick hitches that are self-attaching to eliminate the need for getting up and off the tractor when attaching implements. Two popular types are the drawbar 'quick' hitch and the three-point 'quick' hitch, which use adapters on the tractor and the attachment that allow the driver to remain in the seat when hitching.
While many models exist, the Quick Hitch® and the Jiffy Hitch® are some of the most widely available.
- Extensions for controls that reduce the effort necessary for operating a tractor. Whether choosing commercial hand controls or designing new hand controls, use ergonomic guidelines that can be recommended by an AgrAbility professional or an occupational therapist.
Reduce vibration, which aggravates joint conditions like arthritis, by wrapping controls in visco-elastic material (from Viscolas or various other grip tape manufacturers) or by wearing vibration-reducing gloves.
- Additional mirrors can be mounted inside or outside the cab to increase visibility to the rear and decrease the need to turn the head or twist in the seat to check on what is going on behind the tractor. Another possibility is to use closed-circuit cameras that can be mounted to discs, plows and other implements.
- Spinner knobs for better steering control for individuals with arthritis or prosthetic devices. Modern tractors with power steering require little steering effort, but a variety of conditions can make gripping a normal steering wheel difficult. Control handles should be 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter.
Also consider adding a plastic extension to the tractor or truck ignition key to help provide more gripping surface and reduce wrist strain.