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At Eddie's Wheels, It's All About the Fit

By Karen Myhaver, NGM Program Support Administrator, MassMEP

Cathy Stone had spent over 25 years working in commercial printing when the industry took a hit and she found herself unemployed. She was concerned that her years of specialized training and skills might make it difficult to find another job and quickly began researching opportunities through her local Career Center in Greenfield, MA. That is where she heard about the MassMEP's Accelerated CNC Skills Training program. The idea of marrying hands on elements with her computer skills appealed to Stone, whose background is in pre-press. She applied for the training and earned one of twelve seats.

Cathy is one of the few women to participate in the CNC program and has great praise for both the training and the opportunities it has provided. Right away, she displayed her work ethic by getting up before 4 am every morning for 8 weeks to travel nearly two hours from Ashfield, MA, to classes in Worcester, MA. She took the training seriously (and enjoyed the classes) and was soon able to get a job as a CNC machinist with a company close to home. Cathy says she learned a lot on that first job and honed her new skills but admits that working the second shift had a negative effect on her home life and she just wasn't happy.

She decided to start looking for another opportunity. The first ad she saw was for a CNC machine operator at Eddie's Wheels,close by in Shelburne Falls. Eddie's Wheels designs and manufactures custom dog wheelchairs and wheelchairs for a variety of handicapped pets. 

Cathy Stone at her CNC machine.

Cathy e-mailed her resume and within fifteen minutes received a call from co-owner Leslie Grinnell. As Leslie tells it, "We showed her around the building, told her about the business and had her meet our wonderful staff, then pointed her in the direction of the CNC machine saying ‘this would be yours,' and she has been with us ever since."

Cathy taught herself to do the programming as well as maintenance and repairs and has never looked back. "She is exemplary," says Leslie, "We never run out of parts, she is always on top of things!" For the past four years, Stone has been Eddie's CNC guru, fabricating all the custom parts, including "variable axles" on the company's most expensive machine. As Cathy says, "I walked in, met the people, saw their passion about what they were doing and felt a connection!" That "right fit" concept was as crucial to Cathy's satisfaction with her position at Eddie's Wheels as it is to the company itself.

It is estimated that in 2017, dogs are part of nearly 90 million American households. What if an accident, illness, or even a birth defect robbed that furry family member of his ability to run and play and…be a dog, or even just move around?

Eddie's Wheels operates unobtrusively from a welcoming building, which sits next to Eddie's home in Shelburne Falls, MA. Ed and his wife Leslie learned from personal experience what it is like when your dog is suddenly unable to move. Over the past 28 years they have helped literally thousands of dogs (cats and other pets, as well) enjoy mobility and a higher quality of life through their business, Eddie's Wheels.

In the late 80's, the Grinnells owned mother and daughter Dobermans who loved to play rough. One day after one of those roughhousing sessions, Buddha, the mother, simply could not move. The prognosis at the vet was not a good one: discs out of alignment and costly surgery with no guarantee. The suggestion was that Buddha should be euthanized. Leslie would have none of that. When Ed, a mechanical engineer and inventor, arrived home and heard the news he began researching and ultimately designed a wheeled cart to help their beloved Buddha. The rest, as they say…is history.

Haley is all smiles during her fitting.

Cart Fit is Crucial
Each cart from Eddie's Wheels is made from scratch because, even though there are breed standards, every dog is a little bit different and has different needs to accommodate. "Not only is it a matter of size and fit, but of creating an axle that is balanced to match each pet's strength (or weakness)," shares Leslie. "What would work well for a 5-year old dog would probably not work for a 15-year old. By balancing each cart for each dog we can off-load the amount of weight carried on the limbs." 



Leslie (right), Jill (center) and Patti (left). measure a new customer for his wheels!

They do this with variable axles, made by Cathy Stone, on their CNC machine. "These axles allow the owners to change the balance of the carts as their pets get older or their needs change over time," Leslie adds. "It can make the difference between the animal being successful at using the cart or not."

The fact that the carts hold the dogs in a normal upright position is also a benefit to healing and overall health as it allows their bodies' systems to operate more naturally. Years of experience and research has allowed Eddie's Wheels to develop these enhancements, which differentiate them from their competitors and have earned accolades from leading veterinary rehabilitation specialists.

Another appealing fact is that they make everything on these wheeled carts, except the wheels, right there in Shelburne Falls. Owners are always encouraged to bring their pets in for personal attention, measurements, and fittings if they live within driving distance, though their reputation has earned Eddie's Wheels customers from all over the globe.

"We have used carts that we recycle," says Leslie.  "Often the only part that we re-use is the ‘frame' because we need to make a different yoke or different axles based on the new dog's measurements and needs."

Other used carts are sold at a discount or donated to shelters and rescues. While there is a lot of work and detail that goes into each of their products, they try to keep the carts affordable. The Grinnells don't want cost to prevent an animal in need from being helped.

"Over the years, Eddie's has created more than 2,000 saddle drawings (custom designs), some of which have been used hundreds of times, and some that have been used just once," says Leslie. All front wheel carts are custom built and individually designed - each one has its own drawing.

"We build about 35-40 carts every week, and can be working on 70 carts at any given time. It takes two weeks from the finalized order to shipment of a fully assembled cart," she adds.

One huge element that sets Eddie's apart from their competition is the design of their custom fitted, welded, padded saddles that cradle the animal's pelvis and allow range of movement without skin irritation or discomfort. Every saddle is as different as the dog it is supporting. It's all about the fit!

Ed (left) and some of the production team working in the shop.

Creating Team Fit
Just as the fit of a dog's cart is crucial, having a team that is a good fit is crucial to Eddie's business. The individuals at Eddie's Wheels are a creative group of animal lovers who have a great passion for the products they produce, combined with the freedom and quality of life they allow dogs to enjoy.

After nearly 30 years, the Grinnell's are preparing to hand the reins "and wheels" over to their daughter, Chris, who has literally grown up with the business and has had the best OJT anyone could ask for. She is obviously a great fit with a deep love for both the animals and the company.

Chris will keep Eddie's Wheels operating and employing people in Shelburne Falls. "She has already taken over most of the design work and engineering," reports Leslie. This has allowed Ed much needed time to devote to renovating a travel trailer…their own "set of wheels," if you will, to help him and Leslie experience a wonderful new sense of mobility and quality of life!

Please visit Eddie's Wheels at www.eddieswheels.com for more information and videos.

To learn about MassMEP's Accelerated CNC Skills Training, contact Lisa Oden at lisao@masssmep.org.

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