WANATAH | Darren Hayes received a hero's welcome Saturday after completing his antique tractor drive from Florida to raise money for children with cancer and their families.
"He's a great uncle and I'm glad he did this," said Korrine Hayes, an 8-year-old from LaPorte.
She was among the hundreds who turned out for a benefit hog roast and silent auction at the Wanatah American Legion.
Hayes said he raised about $15,000 during his ride that began Aug. 26. His goal was to raise another $15,000 during the benefit, which included live music.
"He's a very fun loving guy, plus a great friend," said Scott Parsons, 37, of LaPorte.
Hayes, 29, grew up in LaCrosse and now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he operates a home remodeling business.
He set out on his journey to honor a friend whose daughter died from brain tumors who was then diagnosed with two inoperable brain tumors about a year after that.
Hayes wasn't without problems during his 1,400-mile voyage. His 1952 John Deere tractor and the trailer he was pulling were totalled in north Georgia.
Hayes said he was hit from behind by a passenger vehicle whose driver was texting while driving.
Though his ride was damaged, "I was just fine," Hayes said.
After the accident, Hayes' brother, Dennis Hayes, drove to Georgia from LaPorte and together they went to Kentucky, where Darren acquired a 1951 John Deere tractor along with a trailer.
His brother towed him back to Nashville, Tenn., where he continued his trip, avoiding the mountains in Chattanooga he felt would be too steep for his tractor to climb and too dangerous for him.
He rolled into LaPorte on Wednesday then the next day finished his trip into Michigan outside New Buffalo.
Hayes said he spent his nights in a tent at state parks but, occasionally he'd check into a motel.
Hayes said he held up well despite a long journey at speeds topping at just 14 miles per hour.
Hayes was given money along the way and also collected donations during his journey on his ''Track The Trailer'' website. He received media coverage in every state he traveled though.
Hayes said the weather was great most of the time and despite the crash, he had strong faith he would make it.
"I never doubted it. There was no room for failure here," he said.