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Toy builders and others build PET carts for people
who have lost their legs to land mines, disease

In a small barn behind his home on Little Spokane River Dr. north of Spokane, Dick Carpenter has tires, wood pieces and other parts to make Personal Energy Transportation (PET) vehicles to give mobility to people who have lost legs to land mines, polio, leprosy, birth defects or animal bites in impoverished countries.

PET Cart
PET Cart
In February, he read an article on PET vehicles and called Dave Noble, who promotes them locally at CROP Walks.

Then Dick, a commissioned lay pastor in the Presbyterian Church and a member of Whitworth Community Presbyterian, visited Penney Farms, Fla., a community for retired pastors and missionaries that makes up to five PETs a month.

The idea started when Larry and Laura Hiels, missionaries for 42 years in Zambia and Zimbabwe, requested a hand-pedal vehicle for people without legs, who would otherwise have to drag themselves in the dirt to go somewhere.

They contacted Mel West, a retired pastor, and Earl Miner, a retired design engineer, who built four pilot carts in 1995 and sent them to Africa. 

Larry put the carts through their paces and shipped them back.  Based on wear and tear, Mel and Earl modified them.  Realizing the need, they developed the PET Project, which has headquarters in Columbia, Mo.  Now retired, the Hiels live at Penney Farms.

Dick, who became aware of the damage land mines do while in the military in Vietnam and whose family includes foster children from Kosovo, Germany,

Cliff Goss
Cliff Goss builds toy trucks and cradles.
Kazakstan and Russia, found this project a natural way to expand the work some men at his church do.  They make 50 wooden trucks and 50 doll cradles for Catholic Charities to give to needy children at Christmas each year.

So Spokane is now one of 10 PET building sites in the United States—in Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, New York and Florida.

“With 200 million land mines in the ground and more still being planted it’s hard to keep up,” Dick said. “The 2004 tsunami in South Asia uncovered and randomly scattered land mines, endangering people in their gardens or walking to school,” Dick said.

In Sierra Leone, a counter insurgency group kidnaps people, cuts off their limbs and pokes their eyes out.

Such stories motivate commitment to this project.

Carpenter and Crecelius
Dick Carpenter and Lyle Crecelius
Dick involves more than 60 people—painters, welders, metal fabricators, assemblers and donors—in making 10 PET carts.  He hopes to make 100 a year.

The project spills over from his barn into a shed and a carport for storage, plus into a shop for cutting the pieces for the wooden toys.  It was built about 10 years ago by a neighbor, Lyle Crecelius, three miles up the road. Men and women come evenings and Saturday mornings to assemble toys.

There is space in Lyle’s building to store parts, assemble carts, disassemble them and pack them for shipment with socks, clothes, stuffed animals, balls, purses and items that might be needed or fun for the recipient and family.

With every PET, they send a tire pump and four tools to assemble and repair the vehicles.

Dick, a retired lawyer, describes himself as “chief PET logistician,” recruiting people, money and material gifts.

He listed some of the many people and companies that make the project possible:

Several volunteers and businesses pick up raw materials to make parts.  For example, Carlson Sheet Metal turns metal into chain guards.  R.W. Fabricators have made 50 yokes and Intermountain Fabricators made 50 PET pedal assemblies, which connect to the painted wooden bodies. 

Members of Jefferson United Methodist Church in Medford, Okla., make acrolite handles.

Chains come from a company in New York, and donors provide funds for shipping.

A friend recovering from several illnesses makes seats and seat belts.

Harvey Lochhead and Dick Carpenter discuss a part.

Eight people cut wood pieces in their home shops or at the barn.

Other men, women, youth and children paint the wood pieces or metal pedal posts at home or with church groups.  A Portland firm donates the metal paint.

Harvey Lockhead and Dick Carpenter
Harvey Lockhead and Dick Carpenter discuss a part.
Various stores and companies donate fasteners—nuts, bolts and screws—reflective tape and items packed with the carts.

Spokane Packaging donates shipping boxes.

Dick has invited friends to join both the toy and PET ventures:

A  designer near Coeur d’Alene made shop drawings.

A retired high school shop teacher helps at home with computer design and welding frames.

A high school friend in Maine sends prayer shawls and makes quilts for the cradles, as do women at Whitworth Community Presbyterian Church.

A high school friend  in Tennessee knits children’s hats.

A teacher at Libby School involved her children in painting and let them put polka dots and racing stripes on boards. 

World Vision, Hope Haven, Mercy Ships and Northwest Medical Teams ship the PET carts to areas where they are needed.

A volunteer in Florida designed site.

Other congregations involved include Fourth Memorial, Spokane Valley United Methodist men and East Valley Presbyterian Church, plus Kiwanis and Lions clubs.

Dick had been a  missionary to Brazil, South Africa, Kazakstan, Russia, China and Nicaragua for 10 years, teaching law, business and government management, constitutional law and the Bible.

He and his wife, Lois, have lived on Little Spokane River Dr., for 31 years, settling here after Dick’s early years in Maine,  and Colorado, and their years after marriage in Europe, California and Pennsylvania.

Dick also volunteers with the Truth Ministries shelter and helped start the New Start Furniture Warehouse to support the Interfaith Hospitality Network.

Pulling together the parts and people to make the project possible, Dick noted:  “If God wants this to go, it will go.  No one could do it alone.  It’s amazing how many little pieces a PET includes and the logistics for putting those pieces together.”

The work here means somewhere in the world a woman without legs no longer has to drag herself with her children on her back to go out.

“It gives people life, dignity and mobility—the possibility to take care of their families,” said Dick, whose motivation is Matt. 25 and the theology of being blessed to be a blessing to others.

For information, call 466-3425.

By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © December 2005