Daren Hayes drives an antique John Deere tractor 1,400 miles, from Florida to Michigan, making several stops along the way to help raise money for the Ronald McDonald House and Riley Children’s Foundation.
Daren Hayes drives an antique John Deere tractor 1,400 miles, from Florida to Michigan, making several stops along the way to help raise money for the Ronald McDonald House and Riley Children’s Foundation.

LACROSSE, Ind. — The journey from Florida to Michigan normally takes LaCrosse native Darren Hayes 17 hours, but his last trip took 24 days.

In order to raise money for two charities, Hayes made the drive in a 1952 John Deere tractor. He left Florida on Aug. 26 and arrived in New Buffalo, Mich., on Sept. 19.

The journey was completed in honor of a close friend.

“A friend of mine, Matt, has terminal brain cancer,” Hayes said. “They had a daughter that died a year ago from the same thing: brain cancer. We decided we wanted to do a benefit for him, and that’s how this came about.”

He braved rain, mechanical problems and more to make the journey a success.

The cause took flight online, and Hayes’ ride was made known across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and through his blog. The effort was named “Track the Tractor.”

Through generous donations of people across the U.S., just over $30,000 was raised. This surpassed his goal of raising $25,000.

The ride helped Hayes see the world from a different perspective.

“I grew up on tractors. I’m a farm kid,” he said. “You see the world with a different pair of eyes when you’re driving 10 miles an hour and don’t have a cab.”

Hayes has made the drive from Florida, where he currently lives, and Indiana many times. But this time the experience was vastly different.

“You have a lot more time to take things in,” Hayes noted. “You have so much time that you can take time to appreciate what you don’t when you’re going 80 mph. It took me 24 days to see the same thing that normally it takes me 17 hours to see.”

He advertised the cause by stopping at busy parking lots along the way to sing to crowds of people. Hayes said he wanted to make people smile, if only for a short time.

Although his ride is over, his efforts to raise money for charities are not. Hayes next effort, Follow the Ford, will take him across 48 states on an antique Ford Truck.

His goal is to raise $100,000 for the same two charities during the ride next August. Hayes encouraged people to stay involved on social media to keep tabs on what’s going on.

“The farm community has made this a success,” he said. “I would ask them all to take a year break and do this again next year in true farming fashion.”

Check out www.followtheford.com for upcoming information.