person in wheel chair

After seeing his paralyzed wife cry, veteran invents incredible ‘Tankchair’

A Secret Life of Mom Highlight Story: Sometimes, there are stories that are just too good, too beautiful, or too unbelievable to keep locked away. That’s why we scour the archives and bring some of them back to enjoy again. They may make you smile or shed a tear, but they’re always meant to add a little positivity to your day. This story is from June 2014. Enjoy! 

Living with paralysis comes with many physical adjustments. But it also comes with many emotional adjustments. For instance, many people who become wheelchair-bound need time to mourn the future they thought they’d have. But even more importantly, they need time to adapt to their new normal, reclaim their confidence, and find ways to continue doing the things they love. For Liz Soden, she missed family excursions and camping trips. So her husband created a tank wheelchair so she could go on rough terrain and steep hills.

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Building an All-Terrain Tank Wheelchair

Liz was severely paralyzed in a vehicle accident in 1999, three months before her wedding to army veteran Brad Soden. Family hikes and camping trips became a point of distress for her, since she would often miss out on quality time with their five children. But one particular trip to the country left Liz in tears and her husband became determined to find a solution.

When you’re in a wheelchair, it’s not just your problem,” said Brad Soden. ‘It’s a family problem because the family has to deal with it. My poor wife. She tried to keep going and the wheelchair kept getting stuck. Our kids trying to push her, and get her going, and she started crying, said go on without me, and I just found that unacceptable.” [1]

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But he was a plumber by trade without any college degree or engineer training. Still, he managed to construct a wheelchair with the track tires of a tank to handle steep inclines, rocky terrain, and even snow and shallow water. The tank idea came from his father-in-law, who commented on how nice it would be to have tank tracks on a wheelchair. “It took me two years and a bunch of beer in my garage to figure out the first model, but since then, with my applied science, we’ve been making leaps and bounds. A bunch of engineers told me it couldn’t be done, still, we went ahead and did it.”

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“It’s all about the smiles on people’s faces”

Soden’s initial idea was based on an off-road cart, but he soon abandoned this plan because most campgrounds would prohibit it due to noise and gas restrictions. And so, after much hard work and a couple accidental fires, he created the “Tankchair” prototype. “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,” said Brad.

His invention opened up a world of opportunity for Liz. “It made it where I could go out and go hiking and camping,” she said. “When we went to the snow, I would sit in the car. Now I can get out, and I can chase my kids around, and I can go with them. Just the hiking and getting out — I’m not a prisoner anymore in the car and in the house.” [2]

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After that, Soden expanded Tankchair and improved its design with the help of the Arizona company NPC Robotics. For several years, they sold Tankchairs, which cost around $15,000, to other people with disabilities so they could feel the same freedom as Liz. Many people interested in the product were veterans like Soden who were injured during service. “Money does not drive me,” Brad said. “It’s all about the smiles on people’s faces and all the families I’ve helped.[3]

Inspiration and More All-Terrain Wheelchairs

Although the Tankchairs company is no longer in operation, it still left a huge imprint on pop culture. One of the wheelchair demo videos caught the attention of a producer at Pixar working on the film Wall-E about a garbage-collecting robot that whirls around on two wheels that resemble a tank. “They put a s-‍-‍- ton of cameras and sound equipment out there and filmed me a bunch of times running over trash,” said Soden. They even had him wear a cardboard box on his head, making him the real-life inspiration for the character. [4]

Fortunately, other companies have since produced their own version of all-terrain wheelchairs. In fact, Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources and the Aimee Copeland Foundation bought a fleet of all-terrain power wheelchairs to rent at 11 state parks and similar outdoorsy venues. “We want to create an unforgettable outdoor experience for everyone, not just for people who can walk,” said Jamie McBride, a state parks and recreation area program consultant with the Parks and Trails division of the Minnesota DNR. “People have told us this is life-changing.” [5]

Keep Reading: They Fell in Love in the 1980s but Married Other People. 23 Years Later They Reconnected

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Sources

  1. “Inventor who created $15,000 ‘Tankchair’ for disabled wife in his own garage teams up with NFL to gift them to injured veterans.Daily Mail. James Nye. October 9, 2014
  2. “After seeing his paralyzed wife cry, veteran invents incredible ‘Tankchair’.” Today. Scott Stump. June 19, 2014
  3. “Devoted Husband Designs ‘Tank Wheelchair’ For Wife So She Won’t Miss Out On Family Activities.Good News Network. April 2, 2018
  4. “A Guy With No Engineering Experience Invented A Wheelchair That Can Go Anywhere, Even Through Water.” Business Insider. Dylan Love. June 6, 2014
  5. “All-terrain wheelchairs arrive at U.S. parks: ‘This is life-changing’.The Washington Post. Andrea Sachs and Natalie B. Compton. November 8, 2022
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