VAN BUREN, Maine — There are people in the world who see obstacles as just that, something that blocks their way.
Then there are people like Percy Madore who has never met an obstacle he couldn’t overcome, one way or another.
Nearly four decades ago the 70-year-old former trucker was unloading logs at an Ashland mill when a 780-pound log fell on top of him, causing permanent spinal cord damage. The Van Buren man has been in a wheelchair ever since.
In the ensuing years Madore has grown familiar with the challenges that come with being a paraplegic, including those with getting from one place to another.
Thanks to his modified, wheelchair accessible van, Madore can drive himself around town, on errands and to and from appointments.
The trouble starts, he says, when he gets to his destination.
“Since my van has a ramp for me to get in and out of it, I actually need two open parking spaces,” he said during a recent interview from home. “A lot of times, when I park in a handicap space, someone parks right next to me.”
When that happens, Madore said, he is unable to get back into his van until the other car’s driver returns.
It’s ironic, he said, that the universal icon for handicap spaces and tags is a line drawing of a wheelchair, despite the fact that many handicapped individuals do not use wheelchairs.
“We like the idea of a special emblem or tag,” Arlene Madore, Percy’s wife said. “It would be of a wheelchair and when people see it, it would mean only wheelchair vans could park there.”
Such spaces do exist — albeit in limited numbers, Madore said. The problem is fellow handicapped drivers who do not respect the wheelchair van space.
“People have all kinds of excuses why they park next to my van and block me out,” Percy Madore said. “They say they are ‘just going to be a minute,’ but more often than not that ‘minute’ is a lot longer because they stop and talk to someone or get stuck in a long line.”
Meanwhile, Madore is left waiting for that driver to return and move their car so he can get back into his own van.
Finally, after being stranded outside his van one day just before Christmas in a Walmart parking lot, Madore had had enough and decided he would need to take matters into his own capable hands.
“I’d tried putting [traffic] cones next to the van so people would not part there,” he said. “But drivers just moved them and parked there anyway.”
Clearly, he needed to take it up a notch.
So Madore came up with a deceptively simple but highly effective solution.
He created a two-piece rod that hooks to the door handle of his van. When fully extended, the seven-foot rod blocks the adjacent parking space, leaving him ample room to re-enter the vehicle.
If there is any doubt on the part of would-be parkers, the bright red pole is emblazoned with the words, “No Parking.”
One of Madore’s biggest fans is Rep. Bernard Ayotte, R-Caswell, who several years ago sponsored legislation to have wheelchair access-only parking marked with special paint and colors.
That bill, Ayotte said, was killed by the appropriations committee, but he added that he hopes to reintroduce it this year.
“Percy is one of my heroes,” Ayotte said. “You ask anyone in Van Buren and they all have tremendous respect for this man [and] they tell you Percy Madore is one of the nicest people you will ever meet.”
So far, Madore said, his extendable rod is working like a charm and he would like to get duplicates into the hands of people facing the same parking challenges.
“These would be simple to duplicate,” he said.
The parking rod is not Madore’s first attempt at modifying existing technology to suit his specific needs.
His off-road Suzuki 4-by-4 truck works with a manual transmission and clutch.
Madore used rods and pipes fastened to the foot pedals to operate the truck by hand.
Likewise, he developed a portable handrail to use when entering and exiting his beloved 1996 Lincoln sedan.
“He’s got a lot of brains,” Germain Madore, Percy’s younger sister said. “He’s always positive and was always really bright.”
Madore’s simple invention, Ayotte said, is something that needs to get out to people who most need it.
“It would really make a great difference and help so many people,” Ayotte said. “See why he is my hero?”
An earlier version of this story contained an error. Rep. Bernard Ayotte, R-Caswell, is a Republican, not a Democrat.