Pete Odland and The Liberator
L to R: Pete Odland, Michael Chambers, and Drew Born.
With all of the political rhetoric, creepy behavior, mudslinging, and outright lies we are bombarded with on the national stage every day it is very possible to miss the glint of gemstone in our own back yard.
Pete Odland, the president of White’s Bridge Tooling on Bowes Road in Lowell, is such a gem. He and his good friend Bob Schafer have used their combined skill set to create something that enables physically challenged men and women to do things they could only dream of.
To say that Pete enjoys hunting is to put it very, very mildly. He has shared that love with many people on the 337 acres he owns in Belding. Some of the hunters he has invited there have had various physical challenges and Pete has tried to accommodate them by modifying a golf cart so they could hunt from it. In the last couple of years his efforts to enable handicapped hunters has catapulted from simple wooden blocks to state of the art sophistication.
One of his hunting buddies is Ted Nugent. It was Nugent who provided the catalyst for Pete to develop The Liberator – a high tech piece of equipment that enables the disabled to participate in hunting in a manner that is humane and safe. Ted Nugent heard about four brothers in Idaho with muscular dystrophy. As the disease took its toll on their bodies, they lost their ability to hunt and missed it tremendously.
In May of 2008, Nugent invited the Clark brothers to his property to hunt in October of that year. He then called Pete and asked if he could enable the Clarks to hunt in that amount of time. It came right down to the wire, but Pete and Bob were able to supply them with a Liberator.
The Liberator is a frame that accommodates a hunter that remains in his or her wheelchair. The front of the framework contains a movable mount that can be fitted with a single shot rifle, shotgun, or a cross bow. Odland and Schafer modeled the joystick control which moves the gun or bow up and down or side to side after the joystick found on modern wheelchairs. There is a tiny camera mounted behind the scope of the gun which projects the image of crosshairs and the target onto a video monitor the hunters can easily view from their wheel chairs. A button on the top of the joystick fires the gun or bow. If the hunter cannot use a joystick, then The Liberator can be outfitted with “sip and puff” controls giving the same amount of control via a vacuum tube placed in their mouth.
Testing the "sip n puff" controls on the Liberator.
Safety is assured because there is a switch in the hands of the guide on the hunt. The trigger on the joystick will not fire unless the safety switch is pressed at the same time. Not only does this prevent an accidental discharge, but it also assures that there will be no bad shots from the hunter. The guide can check the monitor to make sure the weapon is aimed precisely for a kill shot before clearing the weapon to fire.
Lowell resident Mike Chambers can testify to how well the system works. Chambers is 24 and is in a wheelchair from muscular dystrophy. He has grown up in a hunting family but does not have the arm strength to hold a gun or bow. Mike is constantly on the lookout for new and different ways for handicapped people to engage in sports and activities. He has been active with the Grand Rapids Eagles Disabled Sports Team for over a decade and is the current vice president of the group.
Angela Kline using the Liberator fitted with a cross bow.
Mike saw an article in the Grand Rapids Press about The Liberator last year and then met 25 year old Angela Kline of Sparta this summer. Kline, who has cerebral palsy, not only knew about the device, but had used it to hunt. This spurred Chambers to get in contact with Pete and ask if he could try it. Odland responded by arranging a hunt for Mike at Born’s Bucks in Caledonia. Naber’s Taxidermy Studio of Grand Rapids agreed to mount the deer at no charge if Mike should happen to get one.
Well he sure did get one. After spending one hour in a blind Mike zeroed in on the 19 point buck you see in the picture. The buck was 60 yards away which was a walk in the park for The Liberator. Pete confidently asserted me that the Thompson Center Encore rifle mounted in The Liberator is so accurate “you could drive tacks with it at 200 yards”. He went on to explain that the Thompson was chosen for several reasons including the fact that it fires a single shot, another safety feature, and that it can be fitted with 12 different barrels for different hunting situations.
Mike Chambers could barely contain his excitement about his first ever hunt.
“My thing is that I am always looking for outlets for the disabled community,” Chambers explained. “To find a guy like Pete and a device like The Liberator is just amazing.”
When asked if he had spent any time on target practice before bagging the buck, Mike bragged about the intuitive nature of the device and how the transition from his wheelchair joystick to the joystick of The Liberator was effortless. Pete confirmed that Mike caught on very quickly and was able to focus the sight on various objects from the blind almost immediately.
Able bodied, non-hunters might wonder, “What is all the fuss about?” The answer to that is found in the name: Liberator. This device provides the freedom for physically challenged people to “do it themselves”. The very design puts control back into the hands of those who feel they have lost any vestige of control over their lives.
Pete and Bob have only built three Liberators, but the stories coming in from those who have used them are incredibly inspiring. Recently a representative of The Hope Network told Pete the “rest of the story” about a young man he helped hunt. Prior to hunting, the young man was very withdrawn and kept to himself. It turns out that he was actually contemplating suicide until he had a chance to hunt. That day turned his life around – not only has he become a vibrant, contributing member to the group of handicapped people he meets with, but he is working on a law degree.
Pete Odland is a humble man. When he relates a story about an 18 year old who successfully realized his dream to hunt with his brothers thanks to his invention, he is not attempting to pat his own back. He is amazed at the fortitude and strength of the hunters he helps and is pleased that his talents can help them realize their dreams.
Pete informed me that the work he and Bob have done to create and improve The Liberator is not something they do seeking payment. That is simply not true. If you spend any time talking with him about the positive effect their work has had on people, you will understand my meaning. When you watch his face light up, his eyes sparkle (and sometimes fill with tears), then you know he is getting paid big time.
Darn right he is.