York City man's dream of driving comes true with specialized truck
With the press of a button on the key fob, the driver's side and rear doors of Chris Sauerbaum's pearly white GMC extended-cab pickup truck popped open and began to move outward.
About a minute later, the door was in position — about four feet from the truck body — and the wheelchair lift was on the ground. Sauerbaum, 33, of York City, maneuvered himself into position for the ride into the driver's compartment.
Another minute or so later, Sauerbaum, who has a physical disability resulting from chronic inflammatory polyneuropathy, was in position behind the steering wheel, joysticks in hand and ready to roll.
The truck, especially when the doors open, is a head-turner.
"You might as well be driving a Lamborghini," Sauerbaum said.
But driving anything is what makes him happy. It's something he's wanted to do for more than a decade.
Driver: The journey to getting Sauerbaum behind the wheel of his own car started 11 years ago. The process has cost thousands of dollars and borne numerous setbacks.
He originally bought a Chrysler PT Cruiser with hopes of converting it to work with his disabilities. But it couldn't be outfitted with the needed joystick controls.
Finally in 2013, Sauerbaum and wife Heather Sloat started an appeal for donations to raise money for a down payment on the pickup truck.
They raised the needed $10,000, including a $2,500 donation from Oletowne Jewelers, 2157 White St. in West Manchester Township, and made the down payment on the GMC Sierra pickup a few months ago.
The truck was then sent off to undergo a $91,000 conversion, which was covered by the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and the family of four finally took delivery of it about three weeks ago.
"Think of it as a big (remote controlled) car. An 8,000 pound R/C car," Sauerbaum said of the added electronics that allow him to operate the truck.
The pickup features two joysticks in the driver's compartment. One allows him to feed the engine gas and to brake, and the other controls steering.
It took Sauerbaum a week and a half of training to get ready for the road.
Easier life: Driving not only gives Sauerbaum the freedom of the road but also frees up Sloat's day.
In the past, she'd have to drive him to work, racking up 80 miles on the odometer each day, she said.
Now that Sauerbaum has his truck, he and Sloat want to help others in similar situations get behind the wheel.
They are working to gain 501(c)(3) status for Drive for Independence, a nonprofit organization they are starting to help people with disabilities navigate the process of getting a converted car that meets their needs.
"It's just one piece of the puzzle to get people to work," Sloat said.
The truck also met with approval during a recent car show in Mountville, Lancaster County. It took home first place in the street truck/SUV class at the Turn Up the Pink Car Show, Sloat said.
Sauerbaum and Sloat's two 6-year-old boys, Tucker and Harley Sauerbaum, were anxiously awaiting their ride in the truck. But first, they needed new car seats.
Harley wasn't always so keen on the truck.
Sloat and Sauerbaum showed the boys a video of Sauerbaum testing out a similar truck. As the doors slid open and Sauerbaum prepared to get in, Harley got a horrified look on his face and started crying.
"Harley said, 'Why is that Transformer eating Daddy?'" Sloat said.
For more information about Drive for Independence, visit www.driveforindependence.wordpress.com.
— Reach Greg Gross at email@example.com.