Necessity may be the mother of invention, but love and the desire to help someone can bring the same result.
Tim and Donna Swenson owned a motor sports business when their son, Jeff, was left paralyzed by a car crash. Jeff loved to hunt and fish, but wheelchairs are not designed for “off-sidewalk” travel — limiting outdoor activity. When the Swensons retired in 2008 and sold the business to their other son, Jim, Tim wanted to see Jeff resume a more normal life. He developed a chair that runs on tracks.
“Shortly after he had operational models for his son to try, other people started seeing them and Tim realized this was not going to be a one-unit venture,” said Alan Macht, director of sales and marketing for Action Manufacturing Inc. in Marshall, Minn.
Since the first commercial model with a blue seat, the Action Trackchair has been continually upgraded and is now distributed throughout the United States plus Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia.
Macht said he has many times heard the story of veterans returning from conflict missing limbs and not seeing a future. They were starting to give up until they saw a Trackchair and realized if they fought through the pain and therapy, they could get back outdoors.
It wasn’t long before a Trackstander model was added. With the push of a button the occupant, with supports and stabilizers, is brought to a standing position and able to look others in the eye, or able to perform tasks above chair height.
All this led to the Action Trackporter, born out of necessity and a desire to help in a different way.
“A local pork producer was looking at the Trackchairs and he commented to Tim, ‘I could use something like that to take dead hogs out of my sow barns’,” Macht said. With suggestions from the producer, Tim removed the seat, added a cart and winch and other refinements, and produced a machine with good traction which can maneuver in tight places and makes it possible for one person to extract a dead hog without risking injury. Replacing the cart with a bucket, the machine is also used by turkey growers to remove dead stock.
The Trackporter is used by pork producers all over the United States. Both it and the Trackchair are Minnesota made, manufactured only at the twice-expanded facility in Marshall.
Whatever happened to Jeff? He not only got back to hunting and fishing, he is one of the company’s dealers in Montana.
Tim Swenson wanted his son to be able to “get off the normal path” and designed an all-terrain chair with tracks. Then an option to stand up with the crowd was added. Alterations to make it useful for farmers needing to remove dead livestock brought more adaptations. When Swenson achieved his goal of increasing his son’s mobility, he had not dreamed that his invention would blossom into an enterprise which is leaving its track-print all over the globe. But it is.
To learn more, visit www.actionmanufacturing.com.