Hamilton inventor uses mechanical skills to challenge disability


Hamilton inventor uses mechanical skills to challenge disability

HAMILTON, Mont. - NBC Montana has a story on ingenuity through adversity. A small engine shop owner in Hamilton, has devised a number of inventions to accommodate his own disability. It may give ideas to others looking for practical ideas on ways to make living with a disability easier.

Jack Harr was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was 12. But the Missoula native has always seen limitation as a challenge.

"I rode motorcycles," said Harr, "went swimming, hiking, everything."

As a kid, he retrofitted his motorcycle's handlebars to meet his special needs.

He was always mechanically minded, and used his skills to excel in a long, successful career working for Volkswagen. Now, he owns Jack's Small Engine Service in Hamilton.

For a long time, Harr repaired engines that came to his shop, himself. But about 10 years ago, he became confined to a wheelchair. So he now leaves the physical repair work to his staff. He manages his small business from his wheelchair. Every day you'll find him at the front counter, keeping the books, and greeting customers.

"As my disease progressed," said Harr, "I was usually able to figure out a way around the problem, and actually manufacture devices that helped me."

Several years ago, Harr priced wheelchair lifts at $6,000. He's 73 now, but at the time he didn't have medical insurance, so Harr, with other handy friends, built a lift so he could get in and out of his house.

"I'd say I have $350 in it," said Jack of his lift, as he showed how it works.

He also built a hand device on the chair to close the door to his house.

In his vehicle, Harr installed a big gas pedal shaped like a foot, so his own foot doesn't slip. His brake pedal is a huge piece of retrofitted metal.

"So as my legs diminished in power," he said, "I could accommodate different cars."

When he expanded his shop, he got an idea to use a small door like the ones you find in storage units.

"And it's controlled remotely," he demonstrated, "and I can get in and out of it (the shop expansion) easily."

He has fixed his power wheelchairs for better support for his legs, and uses a clear, vinyl cover, lubricated with ArmorAll, so he can slide in and out of his chairs more easily.

His shop is especially busy in the summer, so it's essential everything be as convenient as possible.

The shop is a magical place for children of all ages. In display cases, and on the walls, are vintage toys, some of them dating back 100 years.

These are the toy trucks, cars, tractors, and heavy equipment, that Jack loved as a kid, but couldn't afford.

If people are waiting in the shop, he said, it's nice to have something fun to look at.

The toys are symbols of Harr's love of all things mechanical. He said he loves to share his knowledge with people.

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