For the most part, Arends functions as any 28-year-old ranch manager would — taking care of daily chores, handling finances and operating equipment — with one exception. Ten years ago, as a senior in high school, Steve Arends’ life was f
On a daily basis Steve Arends and his father Randy manage their 2,500-acre family farm in Melvin, Ill. The Arends family has owned the farm for more than a century, farming several hundred acres of cropland and raising hogs and feeder cattle throughout the decades. For the most part Steve functions as any 28-year-old ranch manager would — taking care of daily chores, handling finances and operating equipment — with one exception. Ten years ago, as a senior in high school, Steve Arends’ life was forever altered by a tragic car accident that left him with severe brain trauma.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Steve’s future was a looming question mark for the Arends family. He was in a coma for six months and confined to a wheelchair afterward.
“At that point we didn’t know if Steve would ever be able to walk again, let alone run the farm,” said Randy. “We had a lot of faith that he would get better but knew it was just a matter of time before we would know his capabilities.”
Within the next six months, Steve had defied the odds. He began walking again in lieu of using a wheelchair. For the next 18 months he endured intensive rehabilitation to relearn basic motor skills like brushing his teeth and combing his hair. Everyday activities that were once mindless and simple became new benchmarks of his progress.
“After rehab Steve returned to the farm and could do limited activities. He eased back in by enrolling in some college classes for the next year and a half while taking on more responsibility on the farm as he gained ability,” said Randy. “It wasn’t until about three years after the accident that he got a lot more involved with buying equipment and starting the cattle operation.”
In 2003 as a senior in high school, Steve’s dream was to take over the Arends’ Melvin, Ill., farm. At the time the family still raised hogs, but Steve’s goal was to phase out of the hog business and build up the cattle operation. The tragic accident put his plan on the back burner, but as he regained mobility, he took the steps to fulfill his original plans.
“Right after the accident we figured we would have to alter the equipment we owned to make it wheelchair accessible,” said Randy. “But Steve proved us wrong when he began to walk again.”
After reaching that significant milestone, Steve relearned how to run the large equipment. The first thing he had to do was learn to use the farm’s right-handed machinery with his left hand. This prevented the Arends family from having to make any major and expensive adjustments to the equipment they already owned. To this day, Steve still has trouble using his right hand, but it doesn’t hinder him from getting work done.
“Cognitively and physically, Steve has the ability to manage the farm and handle about 75 percent of the work anyone else does. His fine motor skills are still limited, so maintaining equipment isn’t very easy, but as far as operating the equipment and managing the business side of things, he handles everything without a problem,” Randy said. “He’s very capable of knowing what he needs and what he can afford.”
Although Steve’s speech is still very slow and calculated, his positive attitude easily shines through. “Walking was the most challenging activity after the accident,” he explains. “I really pushed myself hard to learn and say what I wanted to say.”
For the several years following the accident, Steve continued progressing. He successfully revived the cattle operation and now handles the grain marking, purchases his own equipment and machinery and works with dealers and others on business tasks. Not only does Steve operate equipment to do field work, prepare soil for planting and harvest and run the plows, but he also takes cattle every week to the processing plant and brings beef to the stores. “He can easily drive all of the vehicles — cars, pick-ups and trailers. The right-hand dominant equipment is what poses the biggest challenge,” Randy added.
Until recently, the skid steer the Arends family owned was one of those right-hand dominant machines. In early 2012 though, after attending the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Ky., Randy and Steve were introduced to JCB equipment. Afterward, their old skid steer’s days were numbered.
“We’d owned skid steers made by two other manufacturers in the past, because they had nearby dealerships. The closest JCB dealer is 90 miles away in Chicago, so we just hadn’t had any exposure to the brand. At the show Steve was able to get in the JCB skid steer and see how it operated, which really sold us on it.” Randy said.
Steve immediately liked the JCB 260 skid steer. After the show he conducted his own Google search and researched JCB equipment. Then he got in touch with JCB of Chicago and ended up purchasing a JCB 260. “It has totally been a tremendous help,” Steve said. “I’m impressed with the entire system.”
The Arends family’s skid steer is essential to running the farm, so ease-of-use is a top priority for Steve. He uses it every day to load feed, clean the cattle lots and move seed pallets, bales and herbicide containers, among other activities.
Unlike other skid steer loaders, JCB’s feature a single-arm boom and a side entry instead of the typical two-arm boom and front entry. The machine’s exceptional visibility and ease of entry were keys to Randy and Steve’s eventual purchase. The skid steer also has a larger cab and an easy-to-operate multifunction joystick — a particularly important factor considering Steve’s limited fine motor skills.
“Operating the other skid steers was especially tedious for Steve during chores, because you have to get in and out a lot while tending livestock,” said Randy. “It’s not the greatest for anybody, but when it’s hard to climb, like it is for Steve, the process takes a long time. The side entry is much more accessible.”
The transition from the previous skid steer to the JCB took about a week, because Steve had to learn the hand controls as opposed to using foot controls, Randy said. The hand controls worked better, but differently, so it took some getting used to, he added.
Steve also appreciates the visibility, quality and fuel-efficiency of the cab. “It’s a lot easier to see, because we work inside buildings and barns, so the all-around view is helpful. Steve is a lot less likely to run into something while operating the JCB. We’re very pleased with the machine’s efficiency, as well. It’s been great so far,” said Randy.
John Downing of JCB of Chicago worked with the Arends family to find the right skid steer for their needs. “The JCB 260 is a unique skid steer, and I think it’s the best out there as far as safety and visibility,” he said. “It was great working with the Arends family and helping find a solution for Steve’s requirements.”
Steve echoed John’s sentiment. “I think we’re their [JCB of Chicago’s] best customer now. The ease of getting in and out for me sets it apart from any other skid steer. The side entrance makes a big difference. It also has awesome power for everything I use it for.”
Beyond the technical aspects of the JCB 260, the simplicity the skid steer provides Steve when managing farm tasks is priceless. “My lifelong dream has always been to raise cattle and run the family farm,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do that even in high school. Now, my physical limitations can’t hold me back. My JCB skid steer is helping me achieve a life goal.”