Phoenix Metal Artist Creates Wheelchairs with Attitude — and Machine Guns
One wheelchair includes machine guns that look and sound like the real thing. Another includes a seat from a marine sea rescue helicopter and air brakes. It has a top speed of 24 miles per hour. A third wheelchair features ultra-bright LED head- and taillights.
These are creations of Lance Greathouse, who transforms used wheelchairs into one-of-a-kind, colorful and “tricked out” pieces of art. He works out of a shop in the garage of his home near Phoenix, Ariz. Greathouse has channeled 30 years of experience in machine design and technical support for medical equipment into building custom wheelchairs ranging from edgy experimental designs to fully functional models with unique features.
Greathouse is always working on new concepts. He gets requests from all types of people, from children wanting all-terrain tires to veterans interested in military-style transportation.
“I have built things my whole life,” Greathouse said. When he was a child, his father turned their garage into a kind of test lab, and Greathouse grew up learning basic fabrication and electrical skills. He and his brother, Brent, worked with their father to build sand buggies and hot rods.
“My brother was the best fabricator in the family,” Greathouse said. “He was a metal sculptor who could take an idea and make it into a reality.”
Brent passed away from Parkinson’s disease in 2004, after the brothers had worked side-by-side for 20 years. While his brother was ill, Greathouse built him a “totally awesome” wheelchair. He noticed immediately that it changed the way people viewed his brother. “It would go from pity to awe.”
Now, Greathouse customizes wheelchairs in memory of Brent. “I think about him every day, and anything I do is to honor his memory,” he said.
Greathouse’s hobby also includes fixing up “regular” wheelchairs using spare parts and giving them away to people in need. Greathouse uses a plasma cutter, hand tools and welders. “I hope someday to do it full time,” he said.
The projects don’t take much money; mostly time. He often buys used chairs and parts off Internet classifieds. He digs around a military scrap yard in Tucson to find spare parts. “I get inspiration from stuff lying around,” said Greathouse, who is married with two sons, ages 15 and 18.
Greathouse’s “Dr. Strangelove” chair includes machine guns with simulated sounds. The seat is positioned on a turret, and it spins. The “Dr. Evil” chair, inspired by Austin Powers, has lights, a stereo system, three different horns and video.
Another chair, the “Lord Humungous,” started out as a seat from a marine sea rescue helicopter and was built using a 36-volt electric golf cart with all-terrain razor tires. It has a built-in compressor that runs air brakes, and can be steered either by the driver’s feet or hand controls. It has a zero turning radius and goes 24 mph.
“Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you can’t have fun,” said Greathouse, whose day job is repairing dental lasers and training practitioners to use them. “Your chair should reflect your personality. Why can’t a wheelchair be totally cool and functional at the same time? Nobody will mess with anyone in a wheelchair with a machine gun on it.”
HomeCare, January 2012