Travels with a Squirrel part 1.


by Mary Arnold



The squirrel is a unique four wheel drive four wheel steer electric wheelchair which, unlike other wheelchairs has a body made out of wood. Sadly it is no longer produced but I would like to say something about what it has meant to me.

In 1986 my first electric wheelchair finally bit the dust after about two years of fairly intense use, during which time it had tipped over backwards, twice, lost one of its front wheels, worn out numerous batteries and had a tyre explode!. naturally the manufacturers who will remain nameless blamed me for using the chair out of doors when it was only intended for indoor use (so why the picture on the brochure in the middle of a public square?)

Anyway I was tending a stand at the Naidex exhibition in Birmingham when I first saw the squirrel. My son had seen it first the year before and kept on at me to try it out, but I was nervous of it because it looked so odd, compared with what I was used to, so it was not until after most people had gone that I tried it out.

MalvernsIt was actually comfortable, and that alone was enough to interest me, so I arranged for a demonstration. I actually gave it quite a tough test, I took it up the Malverns. Sadly the batteries on the original model were a bit on the small side, and did not take me all the way to the top.

Originally they were made by a factory in Bath after a design which had been suggested by Lord Snowden and worked on by Jeremy Fry. That original company went broke, but was taken over by another in Birmingham who did a conversion for me with bigger batteries and a new computerised controller.

By that time they had also come up with a newer design altogether but I will tell you about that when I come to write up part 2.

Mountain GreeneryWherever I went with my squirrel it attracted attention and many people asked me if it was a home built job as it did rather look like it had been made in a woodwork shop,. However it took me everywhere where I wanted it to. Up the long Mynd in Shropshire, through muddy tracks and even half way up a mountain in Scotland. I say half way up because the batteries did start to fail on me and it took a lot longer coming down with frequent rests for the batteries to recover, however it did make it back to the car under its own steam.

By this time the second company had gone broke and a third had taken it over. They were part of a large combine providing amongst other things, complete mobile hospitals for the Arabian Gulf.

Sadly the gulf war brought an end to this company and an end to the manufacture of the squirrel wheelchair. I wrote to Michael Heseltine who if you remember when he was President of the board of trade promised to get up before breakfast if necessary to save British Industry. He did not on this one and allowed the companies debtors to liquidate the stock which made it impossible to gain spares.

Highlands



Fortunately my chair continued to outlast the company until one fateful day in 1993 when I tried to guide it between two narrow Iron Bollards which the Council had kindly put in close to my home.

The end of the road.I threatened to sue the Council, whose insurers insisted that they had no liability, but I was able to prove them wrong. You see I had been involved in an earlier access survey commissioned by them using the local polytechnic, and they had produced a map which backed me up So they had to pay out in full. Serves them right.

So was that the end of my Squirrel. Sadly for that model, yes, but what did I go and do. I went all the way to Leeds (petrol paid for by the compensation) and bought another one second hand.

I will tell you what happened next in part II



My links
 Send me email
 Go to part 2
 I am also the Chairperson of Coventry Council of Disabled People
 My son Laurence created these pages for me here is his web site

Who am I?

I am also the Chairperson of Coventry Council of Disabled People our homepage on the Disability Net where you can e-mail me


If you liked the picture of my cat, Pluto on this site before, here he is again.



Copyright Mary Arnold 7 February 1997
Midi file embedded 3 January 1998

Midi background courtesy of Barry Taylor, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada btaylor@islandnet.com



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Copyright Laurence Arnold 2001
Original site created by Mary Arnold in 1997
Updated when this tribute site was created 24th October 1998
Restored to original appearance February 6th 2001