Fair shows off new wheelchair accessories

Posted Sept. 28, 2008, at 10:17 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:18 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Wally Mahan Jr. of Mars Hill has two rides. One is his long-haul truck.

The other is his wheelchair.

The truck was on display Saturday at Alpha One’s annual Adaptive Fair, which showcases equipment and vehicles for people with disabilities. Mahan’s one-of-a-kind truck, adapted for him and his wheelchair, made quite a stir.

“Now, that is slick,” said John Rackley of Elliot, as he watched Mahan wheel up to his truck, strap his chair to a lift and be floated up to the rig’s sleeping compartment.

“Using this lift, I can pretty much be totally independent,” Mahan said. “It’s a big relief that you don’t have to depend on anybody else to get through your daily activities.”

The trucker said that he hauls building materials and produce around New England, often driving 10,000 miles a month.

That’s a lot of driving for anyone, especially a guy who has used a wheelchair since a 1979 motorcycle accident. Mahan enjoys his job. He said that he loves seeing the country — and another, unexpected perk.

“When you’re going down the road in this, nobody sees that you’re disabled,” he said. “You blend in, just like anybody else.”

The chance to blend in with the crowd is one reason people come to the fair from miles away, said Kelley McTague of Alpha One.

“Peer support is part of it,” she said. “When people come to this, it’s a big deal.”

People on four wheels handily outnumbered those on two feet. Some swapped notes on whether door signs that request other drivers to park away from adapted vehicles actually worked. Others checked out Old Town driver Tina Parady’s adapted Dodge Caliber.

And lots of people drooled over Rackley’s Renegade wheelchairs, designed for hunters and outdoors people. The nine-speed chairs come equipped with a gun rack, a fishing pole holder and fat tires for mud, sand and snow.

“If I had this, I’d go out on my back lawn with my dog,” said Ron Cronkite of Hudson while trying out one of the heavy-duty chairs. “I wouldn’t think twice about it. This makes it easier.”

Rackley’s hunting-model chair is priced at nearly $4,000, which makes it on next year’s wish list, Cronkite said. He had just bought an adapted ’08 Chevy Silverado, which means he no longer is limited to a van.

“Now I can drive a truck,” said Cronkite, who has spent nine years using a wheelchair — and has gone hunting in all but one of them.

Greg Parady, Tina’s dad, said his daughter has been enjoying her new freedom, thanks to the adapted Caliber.

“She’s starting to get out more,” he said. “She likes it.”

There also were displays on handicapped skiing, the accessible Orono Bog Boardwalk, and even fancy stand-up wheelchairs that allow people to put their weight on their feet and off their bottoms.

“This is awesome,” Cronkite said of the fair. “Every year you get to see everything that’s new.”

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