2 farmers, 2 tractors on an epic journey to Alaska, raising money for Type 1 diabetes research
Jeff Newell and Ron Wachholtz are driving from Arlington, Wash., to Prudhoe Bay
On most summer days, driving on the highway is fairly mundane. One might occasionally see a glimpse of wildlife or a constant stream of RVs, campers, and travel trailers heading north to Dawson City and then Alaska.
But Jeff Newell and Ron Wachholtz are getting a bird's eye view of the highway, and they're seeing it all.
Newell is driving a 1956 John Deere farm tractor on the highway, while Wachholtz is driving a similar Ford tractor, from Arlington, Wash., to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, in an almost 10,000-kilometre round trip to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes.
The two farmers and business owners started a GoFundMe page and are trying to raise $500,000 US for the American Diabetes Association and diabetes research. So far, they have raised just over $10,000.
"At 25 kilometres an hour, you see everything — the nature, the beauty of nature. It's hard to imagine how you see it at 15 miles an hour going this far," Newell said just outside of Carmacks, Yukon, over the weekend.
"Because in a car or even a motorcycle, you are going [at] road speed and you're just going; you don't see. You know, I'm almost 10 feet in the air at eye level, so we see a lot."
Newell has had Type 1 diabetes since he was 11 years old.
Once known as juvenile diabetes, Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic illnesses found in children. It's a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy.
About one in 300 children in Canada are living with diabetes, according to a 2017 federal report.
Newell and Wachholtz left Arlington on July 10 and are making an impressive 322 kilometres per day on their farm tractors, pulling construction trailers with a large billboard on the side of the trailer saying "Driving for Diabetes."
The trailers provide food, shelter and spare parts for the journey. Newell says before going on this trip he rebuilt every seal and bearing on the 1956 John Deere 820 tractor, then reassembled it at his home.
"Well, you gotta pay attention. They are not made to go very far on the road, but we did some slight modifications," he said.
"The road is rough, you have no suspension, and they are hot. During the day when the weather is hot, it's like a big heat sink because the tractor is probably a 120 F," he added, likening the experience to sitting on a big pot of hot steel.
He says when it rains, they get wet because there is no canopy on the tractors.
Newell says people driving past them slow down and take a double take.
Strange looks on the highway
Some travellers will stop and talk to them.
"One fella just before Watson Lake, he came up to us and said, 'Are you guys crazy or just stupid?' We said, 'Well, a little of both,' but ah, it's all in good fun," Newell and Wachholtz said, laughing.
Newell says so far the weather has been good because they are determined to reach Prudhoe Bay, rain or shine.
As of Tuesday afternoon, they had made it to Delta Junction, Alaska, on their way to Fairbanks.
After they arrive in Prudoe Bay, they will continue to Skagway, where they'll take a ferry back to Washington -- 40 kilometres from their home.