Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

December 12, 2013


Host: Ted Simons

Wheelchair Designer


  • An Arizona man combines his love for his brother with his engineering skills to make custom wheelchairs. Inside his garage, Lance Greathouse and his crew repair, restore and create motorized wheelchairs. Greathouse was inspired by his brother’s battle with Parkinson’s disease to design and build chairs that are practical and fun. Some are designed for rough terrain, others are equipped with lights and horns, and one features a flame thrower.
Guests:
  • Lance Greathouse - Greathouse Labs
Category: Technology   |   Keywords: wheelchairs, Parkinson's, arizona,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A Glendale man's quest to help his brother has turned into a lasting legacy. Producer Christina Estes, and photographer Steven Snow show us how.

Lance Greathouse: This is my garage, called Greathouse labs. That's where we come up with inventions, designs, wheelchair stuff.

Christina Estes: Take a look at Lance Greathouse's idea of wheelchair stuff.

Lance Greathouse: This is the Dr. Evil Clare. Remember Austin powers, the Dr. Evil? This is named Dr. Evil but the only difference, is, is it has a barbecue in the back, so, you go out, and you can do your tailgating with your buddies and cook your food on the back of the thing, and you have your stereo and lights.

Christina Estes: Lance admits his love for special effects is behind the Dr. Evil chair, but there is another man behind every piece of metal Lance touches. His younger brother, Brent.

Lance Greathouse: He started limping with his leg, and then in five years he was gone.

Christina Estes: Lance says Parkinson's disease robbed his best friend of his motor skills while people sometimes chipped away at his dignity.

Lance Greathouse: They treated him different. People would look down to him, and like there was something else wrong with him. They would talk to me instead of him when I was in the area, so what we decided to do was made him a cool looking wheelchair, and then it changed from people looking at him like what's wrong with you, to like wow, what's that chair? And they would started talking to him, and they would treat him differently.

Christina Estes: This is the chair that started it all. Lance says it came from an aircraft.

Lance Greathouse: I didn't have the heard to get rid of it, so I put these tracks and lights on it, and I use it for my office chair in the office here and, and, it always brings back memories of my brother.

Christina Estes: These tank-like tracks have become popular.

Lance Greathouse: The biggest request that we get is for people wanting to get out in the desert camping, something, climb anything.

Christina Estes: The one that turns the most heads is the one that they call Lord Humongous.

Christopher Collins: It’s Mad Max Road Warrior inspired. What is it like? It's empowering.

Christina Estes: During the week Christopher Collins designed software and on the weekends, wheelchairs.

Christopher Collins: So the chair, we picked up in Tucson, from the bone yard and, and it came out of a rescue helicopter, and the part that we're pivoting the vehicle on, used to pivot out of the helicopter, and they dropped on the rescue line, and they would pull them up. And so, we used that as a, as a, as our inspiration for this point, which was the point that we are connected to the helicopter before.

Christina Estes: The horn comes in handy to warn people about the propane flame effect.

Lance Greathouse: A lot of people see what I'm doing and they say I'm nuts, and all the disabled people say dude, you are on track. Keep going, we love it. And everything doesn't have to be so serious, all the time.

Christina Estes: While they have a lot of fun, they are also improving lives. Recently, Lance and his volunteers built a Clare for a man in Oregon.

Lance Greathouse: And we also found out that the guy was an avid fishermen, and one of the things his friends missed is after he had the stroke he can never go fishing on the boat with him again. So we came up with an idea here, and we all built him a custom fishing chair, that, that would hold his Rod and everything, and we were able to ship all that up to him and donate it to him.

Christina Estes: Lance says every chair that they build comes from donated parts. Chairs that are broken or no longer being used fill his property.

Lance Greathouse: This is why I need a storage container. I have got over 35 chairs in here, that are getting ruined, from the rain and I need a place to put them. It looks like junk but this is hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff.

Christina Estes: They want to turn that stuff into standard motorized chairs, for people who can't afford them. But even with all the free parts, Lance says it is pricey.

Lance Greathouse: Batteries kill us. Every time we donate a chair it cost us $150 to buy the batteries.

Christina Estes: They are tackling the paperwork to form a nonprofit in hopes of attracting some financial donors.

Lance Greathouse: We're almost there and, and nothing comes easy.
Christina Estes: But the payoff is pretty nice.

Lance Greathouse: Every time we donate a chair and look, the look on the person's face, we know we are doing the right thing.

Ted Simons: In honor of his brother, Lance wants to set a world speed record in an electric wheelchair. The goal 80 miles per hour.

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