01/17/2013 17:47 EST | Updated 03/19/2013 05:12 EDT

Fellow students rig up snowblower for disabled man

Thanks to a neighbour and and a millwright class at College of the North Atlantic, a disabled man in Corner Brook has a more efficient way of clearing snow from his driveway.

Michael Johnson, an engineering student, has used a wheelchair since he was involved in a collision with a transport truck three years ago.

Since then, he's been determined not to be house-bound during the snowy winter. Until recently, he used a shovel to painstakingly dig his way out of his driveway.

"Chopping the snow down and throwing it out, chopping the snow and throwing it out," said Johnson. "Then I had to go chop the snow around my driveway so I wouldn't pile it up so I couldn't see over it."

A neighbour's help

Johnson's neighbour, Jerry Smith, is a millwright instructor at College of the North Atlantic in the west coast city.

"I used to look out through my window and see Michael doing his driveway, in a wheelchair with a scoop," said Smith. "And I thought that was ... there must be some way that we can make something up for him better than that."

When Johnson bought a second-hand snowblower, Smith thought of adapting it so Johnson could operate the machine from his wheelchair.

Early prototypes didn't work, so Smith brought Johnson's situation to his millwright class, who came up with an idea.

"Basically, we fabricated a hitch to connect the slide to the blower itself, made up a plate to screw on to the bottom of the snowblower to connect the hitch to," explained student Stephan Caines.

Time-saving device

Rather than spend hours with a shovel, Johnson can now plow through the snow.

"This is gonna cut down significantly on the time," said Johnson. "Because now I can wake up at a reasonable time in the morning, get out, and blow my snow before I go to school."

Smith said he and his students are happy, knowing they helped somebody out.

"There is nothing no better. It's beautiful," said Smith. "To be able to see somebody to operate that, and make their life easier? Perfect."

Johnson is full of praise and thanks for Smith and the students.

"Helping out a guy in the community that has a disability to do better for himself, to be independent," said Johnson. "Because I love my independence."

Johnson says all he needs now is some snow to blow.