THE TANK CHAIR STORY
as told by Brad Soden, Inventor of the Tank Chair
The idea of Tankchair first started on a family camping trip to the Hualapai c ampgrounds in 2001. My wife had just started to be able to move freely after the accident. Like all people that try and cope with the devastating injury of a loved one, I tried to keep life as “normal” as possible. We have always been an outdoors sort of family. Going camping, fishing, stargazing in the desert, or just having a big campfire at night with a bunch of friends. I woke up one morning and watched in amazement as a herd of wild Elk came through our campground. A huge buck with a full rack just watched me as his cows walked by. I got so excited and wanted to share this experience with the entire family. I got my 5 kids up, waking them quickly but quietly. I got my wife in her wheelchair and we started to follow the herd. As you can imagine, the wheelchair that was assigned to her by the HMO wasn’t built to go through a mountainside with other people. The family was watching the herd slowly walk away. My wife, one of the sweetest and most unselfish person who I have ever met in my life, told the family to go on without her. She said this with tears in her eyes.
I got so mad at the situation. It was not right in my mind that someone could not enjoy things because of a disability that was not her fault. The problem wasn’t the desire; the problem was that we had the wrong tools. When I arrived back to Parker I began experimenting on other ideas such as an off road golf cart or making an ATV accessible and safe. Both of them I did but they were not practical because a lot of the campgrounds we wanted to go to had noise or fossil fuel restrictions. So I had to make something quiet and electric. I tried everything I could think of. I stripped down a Quickie 424 wheelchair, using the motors to power bigger tires. As I don’t have an engineering degree, I was just a plumbing contractor and fireman, I had lots of failures and no success. I burned up lots of motors and modules trying to power the chassis over rough terrain. This process involved lots of beers and curse words in my garage.
It was my father in-law who was looking at my latest creation, and said “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could put tracks on that like a tank?” As soon as he said that the bells and whistles when off in my head and I started searching for light weight track system. I have experience with tracked vehicles due to my time in the US Army during Desert Storm and being a front line infantryman in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. I found a system for Trucks and ATV retrofit called Mattracks and decided to get a pair and see if I could make them work. Because of the massive parasitic drag caused by the tracks when it is use, I went through a lot more motors. Because of the cost of the modules, and me burning them up all the time, I developed my first fuse system so that it would protect them. This did not help my motors because I kept burning up the brushes and replacing them after short runs.
I was at a point where I had a prototype that could turn the tracks and was easy to operate, but could not go very far. That was when I enlisted the help from the guys at NPC Robotics. These guys had the experience from the heavy robotic platforms they made during the Battle Bot era. After talking with Rich and Norm from NPC and them trying to talk me through it on the phone, I decided that there was only so much you can do through a phone line. I loaded up my chassis and drove 2000 miles to Minnesota where they are headquartered. They had it working in one day. I had my first working chassis that I could put a seat on and drive around!
I still had a few things to iron out. The center of gravity was way too high and wasn’t very comfortable for the driver. But I had the chassis and it could go a long distance without breaking. My first issue was to get a seat on where my wife could sit comfortably in and let her drive it around. For the first time since the accident, my wife would be able to go out and about by herself and the family could watch her enjoy the outdoors. Never again would I have to see her cry and tell us to go have fun without her.
Our first trip with Tankchair was to the Kaibab National forest at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We drove out to an area where there was lots of trees and you go to the edge of the cliffs and look down at one of the 7 greatest wonders of the world. To me, the 8th greatest wonder was when my wife got in her Tankchair and got to go for a “hike” with our 2 daughters in the woods while myself and the 3 boys gathered wood for the campfire. The 10 million jumbo watt smile she had on her face when she came back from her hike was worth every minute I spent in the garage putting it together. Any of us that have had a loved one that was able to conquer a situation from their disability, and the look of sheer joy and pride on their face will know exactly what I’m talking about.
This joy that I have felt in allowing my wife to conquer her disability is what drives TC Mobility to continue to push the envelope in providing cutting edge solutions to the mobility market. We want ever family to feel the happiness in getting beyond the sidewalk.
LIZ SODEN’S STORY
as told by Liz Soden
I grew up in Downey, CA. I later moved to Parker, AZ where I met Brad who loved being outdoors and shared that love with me. We spent almost every weekend exploring new places. We would camp, hike, and go 4X4ing. We had so much fun that we decided to share the love with our five children (my two girls and Brad’s three boys). Our kids enjoy the outdoors as much as we do.
When Mondays rolled around it was back to school for the kids and back to work for Brad and I. I was a school bus driver and Brad was a plumber. We also volunteered our free time, Brad volunteered at the fire department and I volunteered as a Deputy. I was able to work with the DARE program and attend all the school events so I was able to spend a lot of time with my kids.
All these fun things came to a halt on August 15, 1999 the day our whole lives changed forever. I was driving our truck, Brad in the passenger seat and our three boys in the back seat. The front left tire blew, I lost control and we crashed into an embankment. The crash left the boys all bruised up, Brad had a broken leg, but I got the worst of it. I ended up breaking my back at L-1. My injury left me paralyzed from the waist down.
I was sent to a hospital in Las Vegas for the surgery and later transferred to St. Joe’s Hospital in Phoenix, AZ for recovery and therapy to learn how to deal with everyday things with my disability. I was crushed when I realized that I could not longer enjoy the things I once love, such as the outdoors. At the time Brad was still just my boyfriend, so I encouraged him to go find someone ‘normal’ who he could have fun with like we used to. He completely shocked me when he got down on one knee and proposed to me in the hospital in front of all the nurses. I was so happy and knew from then on that I would be in good hands.
Since we both loved the outdoors we did the only logical thing, we got married in the desert at one of our favorite places. Since my manual wheelchair could not make it in the dirt, Brad made me a hand controlled golf cart so that there would not be a wheelchair in any of the wedding pictures. We got married on March 11, 2000 and our kids were in the wedding.
Along with the wedding we also had to make some changes around the house so it would be handicap accessible. We put in ramps at all the doors, bars were placed in the bathroom and closet, we also had to replace the plush carpet with carpet that was easier on my shoulders since I was in a manual chair at the time.
That was all a hard adjustment that I had to get used to, losing my job and not being able to volunteer at the sheriff department as much as I used to. However, the hardest adjustment was yet to come, due to my health my family and I were forced to move to Phoenix, AZ for better medical care.
Our family could not go camping as much now, but we would go as much as we could. With every camping trip I would become more and more depressed because there was so much that I could not longer do. One weekend we decided to rent a handicap cabin in hopes that I could do more. Elk walked right by our cabin, my husband and our kids took off running after them. I tried to follow but my chair got stuck and I started crying, I have never felt to helpless and left out in my whole life. My husband and kids returned and helped me so I was no longer stuck but at the moment my wonderful husband promised me he would make me something so that I would never have to worry about getting stuck again.
He got straight to work as soon as we got home designing a wheelchair that can go practically anywhere. After a lot of time, effort and money, Tankchair was born. I was able to go hiking again and do all the outdoors things that I love. I no longer had to watch my sons play football and baseball from my van, I could actually make it go to the field and watch from the front row. I can now run with my kids in the snow and go to the beach again. With the Tankchair I was able to go into the shallow water and get on a jet ski by myself and once I took off the feeling of independence was absolutely amazing, I felt normal again, like there was nothing wrong with me.
Of course the Tankchair has come a long way since it was first designed. The new design is a lot more practical and the new racing seats make for a comfortable ride. Tankchair is for outdoor use only because it is so powerful it can ruin carpet and walls, so Brad invented another chair called Speedster. The Speedster has motorcycle tires instead of wheelchair tires and can reach speeds up to 30 mph, that is how it got its name, however, due to safety reasons the speed has been turned down. Speedster can hold a single charge for about ten days making this chair even more amazing. The best part about the Tankchairs and Speedsters is that I am no longer invisible. Before people would not look at me because they thought it was rude to stare at someone in a wheelchair, now I feel like a prom queen. Words can not begin to describe the feeling I get when I am in one of these chairs, the freedom and independence is truly remarkable. I don’t know where I would be right now if I did not have my wonderful husband by my side. I truly feel blessed and I want to share that feeling with all the handicapped people in the world.