Company surprises employee with high-tech wheelchair

Published: October 21, 2015  |  Source: wgme.com  | Spinal Cord Injury: ,
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WATERBORO (WGME) — A company known for its top-secret tanks is keeping its biggest and best secret for one of their own.

For the past four months employees at Howe and Howe Technologies in Waterboro have been secretly building a “Ripchair 3.0” for Tony Tulo, a salesperson at the company who is paralyzed from the chest down.

The Ripchair is a motorized off-road vehicle for people in wheelchairs.

“Hunting, fishing, farming, pretty much anything you can do with an ATV this machine can do, and quite often more,” said Jesse Morrill, one of the employees working on the project.

Tulo was paralyzed in a logging accident on December 30, 2006 in Kentucky.

“Basically somebody dropped a tree on my head,” said Tulo.

“I’ve always grown up on four-wheelers and snowmobiles and everything like that, and then in an instant that all gets taken away from you.”

Tulo found hope through “Outdoors Again.” It’s a nonprofit that puts on outdoor events for people with disabilities run by Howe and Howe Technologies Founders, Co-Owners, and twin brothers Geoff and Mike Howe.

Tulo met the Howe brothers and asked them for a job. They gave him one selling the Ripchair. He test drives all of the custom-made machines and is an advocate for the people in wheelchairs who will ride in them.

“The first time I got in one, I cried. I couldn’t help it,” said Tulo. “When I’m in a Ripchair I don’t think about my injury at all.”

Tulo had been saving to buy his own Ripchair, but at $40,000, that’s no easy task.

“It’s almost worth them getting one and seeing a smile on their face than me actually having one, to be honest,” said Tulo. “I really do love seeing these people get these chairs.”

That attitude is what inspired Geoff and Mike Howe and their employees to build Tulo his own Ripchair and give it to him for free. They started the project in May and put in hundreds of hours on nights, weekends, and holidays to finish Tony’s new ride.

They surprised Tulo on Wednesday, October 7.

“Where the hell has it been?” Tulo shouted after a few moments of disbelief.

“His struggles defined him and changed him, but he changed us,” said Eric Franzen, a welder who worked closely on building Tulo’s Ripchair.

“I’m sure I’m going to end up in the woods with him,” said Ripchair Program Coordinator Daniel Rowe.

Tulo is now only one of about 20 people who own a Ripchair.

“I can die a happy man,” said Tulo.

But first he’s got plenty of living to do in his new Ripchair.

For more information about the Ripchair visit www.trackchairextreme.com