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Dale Ladwig services wheelchairs at Fair Oaks.

The man who makes wheelchairs go

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Ask anyone depending upon wheels to stay mobile what is important and he will likely reply, my wheels, my way to get around, be more independent. John Dawson recognized this way back in England, in 1783, when he came up with what he called an invalid's chair. It had two large wheels and one small one in front.

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To Fair Oaks Lodge folks and others with like needs this means regular visits by Dale and Diane Ladwig of Wheel Chairs Unlimited of Detroit Lakes. They have been in business longer than 10 years. Their main servicing area is roughly a 100 square mile from Fargo to Verndale and running east and west and from Park Rapids to Alexandria south to north.

When I saw Dale down on the floor with parts of someone's wheelchair spread around him, I said, "Hi, what are you doing down there messin' with one of our wheelchairs?"

"I'm fixin' it," he said. "The brakes are shot."

I said "Oh."

Intrigued by now, our conversation went up from there when I took out pen and note pad and settled down for a visit. Dale was an interesting talker as he worked.

Dale gets recertified annually by the state to work on chairs for the handicapped and his wife, Diane, is ACS resident certified. Their work is inspected by the state periodically. They attend workshops to keep abreast what is new and they follow doctors' prescriptions as well as insurance requirements.

To make it still more interesting, each county has its own special requirements that must be adhered to. Diane's place in the business is everything except the mechanical work. She works one-on-one with a client. Insurance companies sometimes pay as much as 50 percent.

A few of the category of things Dale works on includes power lift chairs, power scooters, canes, all kinds of walkers with chairs and more. How proud engineer Harry Jennings would have been to see the many improvements made on his first motorized, tubular folding wheelchair in 1900. Dale claimed improvement in chairs to be coming along at a steady rate each year.

The most common problems are worn out brakes, shot wheel bearings and cushions. An interesting improvement is now being able to make existing chairs a few sizes larger. While most of their work involves hospitals, elder care facilities and the like, they don't turn down individual problems.

The wheelchair spread out on the floor is back together with no parts left over. Dale is now on eye-level and looking at his watch.

They can be reached at (218) 847-2433.

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