Joy ride takes new meaning for St. Augusta girl
- Article by: DAVE DELAND
- Associated Press
- August 16, 2014 - 12:05 AM
ST. AUGUSTA, Minn. — There are things you can't put a price tag on.
And this: the look on the faces of 6-year-old Isabel Salzbrun and her parents as she rolled up and down Janel Honer's driveway on a Tuesday afternoon — all by herself, in her newly modified car.
"That is the coolest thing on Earth," said Isabel's father, Jeremy, who grinned as his voice cracked a bit. "She's just in seventh heaven."
"Look at that smile," said Isabel's mother, Emily, wiping away tears. "It's very exciting. Oh my goodness."
"This is what it's about right here," added Brian Nelson, the St. Cloud Technical & Community College student who designed the remote-control system that made it possible. "Everything else doesn't matter."
Isabel's Power Wheels car — a pink, battery-operated Barbie Jeep — now features special modifications, done for a special girl by special people, the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/1lY9Dbi ) reported.
Isabel was born Sept. 4, 2007, with cerebral palsy. She can move haltingly around Honer's St. Augusta day care facility with a walker, but her passion is riding in the fleet of Power Wheels kiddie cars (all of them pink) that Honer uses to help entertain her 10 young charges.
"She does more than she was ever supposed to do," Honer said. "She loves trying to keep up with all the other day care kids."
"She's always got a smile on her face," said Matt Hallermann, whose son Landon goes to Honer's day care. "She's probably one of the sweetest little girls I've ever seen."
But Isabel's condition prevents her from being able to steer a Power Wheels car, although that's not for lack of trying.
"She knows what to do," said Jeremy Salzbrun, whose family lives just outside St. Augusta, "but physically she can't do it."
"She always grabs the steering wheel because she wants to drive so bad," Honer said. "I thought it would be so nice if it had something like remote control.
"I was telling Matt about it, and he said, 'I think that's something we can make happen.' "
Hallermann's father, Jeff Hallermann, is a mechanical design instructor at SCTCC.
"My son said Isabel loves to ride in these cars. She knows how to make it go but can't do the steering," said Jeff, who along with Matt was there for Isabel's momentous drive.
"We said, 'How cool would it be to get a remote control on the car?' "
That was the project entrusted to Nelson, and he went to work.
Nelson disabled the car's steering mechanism and installed a remote-control steering device that's operated by a joystick about the size of a power drill.
There were complications, along with a few strange moments — most of them associated with the testing process.
"I neighbor a cemetery," said Nelson, who lives in Randall. "There's a lot of room in the cemetery to play. It's a small town. So I was using it in the cemetery off my property line there, without even thinking about it.
"Traffic was stopping. I suppose it was kind of freaky for some people to see (a Power Wheels car) moving around alone in the cemetery.
"But I paced it off at 100 yards and it didn't stutter at all."
The car arrived at Honer's day care, in the back of Matt Hallermann's pickup, and it came as a complete surprise to Isabel and her parents.
"You want to ride?" Honer said to Isabel as she was lowered into the car. "I know you do. You're going to have a special ride."
Special for everybody. Isabel smiled and giggled as she was strapped into the seat. And then off she went, to the visible delight of the gathered onlookers.
"She loves riding," Emily Salzbrun said, still brushing away tears. "It's huge for her to be able to do it herself, or for us to be able to do it with her."
"It's pretty awesome," Jeremy Salzbrun said. "It's just overwhelming, the support in the community.
"Isabel is loved by all her family members and all her friends at day care. The gentleman who put this together (Matt Hallermann), his son goes to day care here. He talks about Isabel every day. And that's all she wants to be, just playing with the kids."
"I do missions work. I do a lot of volunteer work. So whenever somebody comes to me with something like this, I'm glad to help," added Nelson, who brought along his mother and two of his daughters to watch the spectacle.
And it was exactly that: a spectacle — four little pink cars whizzing around the driveway, one of them occupied by a 6-year-old with disabilities who had never been in one by herself before.
"It's actually going to be really good for her, just sitting up in general," Emily Salzbrun said. "Because now she can go by herself."
And go ... and go ... and go. If there was any downside to Tuesday's maiden voyage, it's that you'll probably need a crowbar to get Isabel out of her sweet new ride.
"This is amazing," Emily said. "She loves riding in that. Now she can ride in it forever."
Forever is a long time, and on that Tuesday the driver showed no signs of wanting to do anything else.
"I know what we're going to be doing all weekend," Jeremy said.
"Eventually," Emily said, "the battery will wear out."
But that really wasn't a concern for anyone standing in Honer's driveway.
Their focus was on that little pink car, and on its elated driver, and on her pigtails as they flew behind her in the warm summer breeze. Priceless.
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the St. Cloud Times
© 2016 Star Tribune