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Innovations - Take Control With A Roll-In UTV

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News January 2018

A veteran-owned business is aiming to make it easier for individuals with mobility impairments and their families to explore some of the most rugged terrain.

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A veteran-owned business is aiming to make it easier for individuals with mobility impairments and their families to explore some of the most rugged terrain. For James Gebert, what started out as a mission to help his father go on outdoor adventures has grown into a full-time business, with his Missouri-based company, Mobility Quad, fabricating and building all-wheel drive, all-terrain utility task vehicles (UTVs). Gebert, who served in the Army from 1991 to 1995, worked in information technology for 23 years before deciding to quit and pursue his new venture for his father, William Gebert Jr., a C7 quadriplegic and Vietnam War veteran.

Gebert was working as a contractor at the Jefferson Barracks Division of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) St. Louis Health Care System, where his father had been a patient for 40 years. Every day, he drove past Building 52, the spinal-cord injury unit.

“Just one day, I drove by and I’d always see the guys hanging out outside, kind of just looking at the people driving by, looking at the sky, just enjoying the scenery,” Gebert says. “On July 4, [2014], when I was leaving the VA, I looked over at Building 52, and I just felt that was so unfair for someone like myself to be going home, three-day weekend. I just felt overwhelmed that I gotta do something. It’s so unfair for these guys. They’ve given so much, not to have something, an outreach, for them to get back into the outdoors.”

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He began researching options online, such as an Action Trackchair, but that didn’t fit their needs as a family. Gebert and his family had just purchased a new Polaris Ranger UTV, and he saw the potential to make it accessible.

“To me, it seemed like it answered a lot of questions that we had,” Gebert says. “One was, how do I get my dad outdoors? You know, be able to go through the woods without necessarily buying a Jeep, but you know, how to get out there and have fun. So, it answered those questions. But what it didn’t answer was him being in the quad and it hurting his back because the seats don’t recline. It’s just not set up for someone in a wheelchair. The positioning is awkward.”

Gebert spent 2½ weeks cutting his new Polaris apart and stretching it out to accommodate a wheelchair.

“I’ve taken my dad on some spectacular journeys that have just made this a worthwhile cause,” Gebert says. “The first trip [to Santa Fe, N.M.] that we went on sealed the deal for me, and that’s when I knew I was going to leave work and start this business because I knew if I didn’t do it, somebody else would. We went out to the county [land] and just had a blast. We went up some mountains, and the views were spectacular, and it was just a blast. Since then we try to do it every year … but the first trip with the first quad was the one that told me, hey, I’ve been doing IT for 23 years, and it told me, hey, there’s something new I need to involve myself with and that was the quads.”

Cruise Anywhere

Bob Huskey of Chesterfield, Mo., has owned a Mobility Quad for over a year. A member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Gateway Chapter, Huskey served in the Army from 1952 to 1961 and sustained a C5-6 spinal-cord injury in a surfing accident in 1956. Huskey grew up on a farm, so after he was injured, he looked for a way to get outside.

“For all these years, I’ve looked for something I could convert, and I’ve tried a couple things like a Bronco one time. It was four-wheel drive, but it was hard to get in and out of,” Huskey says. 

He saw a picture of Gebert in a local newspaper with the UTV he built and also happened to know William Gebert Jr., through his work at the VA. He called Gebert and asked to do a test drive.

“I said, ‘I want one of these. I can do stuff I haven’t done in 60 years,’” Huskey says.

Huskey’s customized Polaris Ranger is electric and can go up to 30 mph. It’s equipped with a power ramp, power steering, power brakes, seatbelts, hand controls, EZ Locks and an adjustable steering column. He wanted electric instead of gas so he wouldn’t scare the wildlife while cruising around his farm. In addition, he wanted it to be low enough to the ground so he could use his power wheelchair to move up the ramp without issues. Huskey says he has about $23,000 in the UTV. Huskey often picks up his brother to go for a drive through the woods to look for deer, turkeys and other wildlife. Huskey says his favorite place to take his Mobility Quad is around his farm, through creeks and up small hills. 

“I can drive with ease and go where I want to go instead of having someone else drive and me saying, ‘Let’s go here or there,’” Huskey says. “In this case, I can just drive the way I want to drive. I’m a good driver, and I don’t take too many chances. So if something looks doable to me, I’ll try, and I like that. There’s no place on my farm that isn’t accessible to me now.”

Custom Design

The Mobility Quad is a unique UTV in that it doesn’t require the mobility-impaired individual to transfer out of his or her mobility device. It also allows people with high-level injuries to drive independently, without the aid of a caregiver. The process starts with a traditional UTV, typically a Polaris Ranger or Kawasaki Mule, which is cut in half, stretched and widened to accommodate the customer’s wheelchair, family and transport needs. The wiring is also stretched, and the toggle switches are lengthened so they’re within reach of the person in the wheelchair. Each vehicle is custom-designed to the customer’s specifications, and removable seats allow family members without a disability to drive as well. With AirRide equipped, the vehicle can drop completely to the ground, allowing a wheelchair user to load and unload more easily by minimizing the steepness of the ramp.

After the initial purchase of the standard UTV, the cost to fabricate starts at $7,000 and each vehicle takes up to three weeks to build. The price increases depending on whether the customer wants a roof, power ramp, power brakes, power steering or vehicle hand controls. Other options include heaters and air conditioners, a stereo, a citizens band radio, a fire extinguisher, a winch, gun racks, additional lights, tilt-beds, mirrors and a crane that can lift up to 300 pounds. Safety equipment includes a Q’Straint system and EZ Locks to secure a wheelchair. There are also roll bars and four-point shoulder harnesses to keep the wheelchair user and other passengers securely in the vehicle while traversing rugged terrain.

Everyone on Gebert’s team, including three full-time employees, has at least 10 years of experience working with people with disabilities, from modifying showers and vehicles to building ramps. They’ve built more than 40 UTVs to date and average two or three a month.

“They know what the challenges are,” Gebert says. “They know our systems must be redundant, you know, like with cables and batteries and stuff like that, because if one fails, the other has to be dependable. So, like, you have redundant batteries because the last thing we can afford to do is have someone stuck in the woods.” 

In the near future, Gebert hopes to incorporate joystick controllers and touchscreen interfaces. Eventually, he also wants to create a factory-type environment so the UTVs can be built faster, as well as a showroom for customers to see what’s available.

For information, call 314-623-5388 or visit mobilityquad.com.

 

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Innovations - Take Control With A Roll-In UTV

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