Harrold ran a shop as an auto mechanic before going to Mexico. And while South-o’-the-Border he was dedicated to mechanical tasks not only for the orphanage, but also for the vehicles of many missionaries who brought their cars and pickups to him. (The kids loved him for fixing the pedal cars that had been donated, as seen in this picture above.)
When the Andresens left Mexico Harrold set up shop in the Rio Grande Valley, where he continued to work on cars, but also continued to service missionaries’ vehicles. Eventually the family moved to Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas, where he established his business, Mechanical Excellence. In addition to taking care of cars, Harrold was continuously inventing. He invented tools, he invented what he called the Cozy Heater, a product they sold to customers in nearly every state. He conceived a vehicle which combined the best engine with the best body, and built a number of them for customers. He also ran a rental car business and pursued other miscellaneous endeavors. But underneath it all was a desire to help handicapped people, especially the wheel-chair bound.
About five years ago, Andresen began taking steps toward building what has come to be known as Innovation Institute. “The mission of the school is to get products into the hands of the disabled that they couldn’t get anywhere else or they couldn’t afford. Also, to give them some skills so they can earn some money for the first time in their lives.” Andresen has also learned a lot about wheelchair sports, but we'll save that for another blog note.
Mechanical Excellence, Andresen’s auto shop, at one time had 20 bays for working on cars. Three-fourths is now set apart for the school. The school combines Harrold’s incredibly creative mechanical aptitude with his passion to help the handicapped, especially men more drawn to activities like welding and maintenance than arts and crafts.
In March we had a chance to tour the facility, and "impressive" is an understatement. There's a welding section, locksmithing, a library, classrooms and all kinds of work areas for other designated purposes. One section is devoted to modifying ride around lawn mowers for the wheelchair bound. To describe Harrold's vision in all this would take several blog entries and this is but an introduction. Let's just say that if you look up the phrase "Thinking Outside The Box" it will probably lead you to images of Innovation Institute.
Here's an example of the kind of thinking that went into modifying the auto shop to be a school.
"So here's one logistic: how do you get grinders that are approved by OSHA people, usable from a wheelchair, yet somewhat portable because when we have a big project we gotta move things?" Andresen laid out the issues. "And this is their fifth attempt! The advantage we had in remodeling the facility is we had two guys in power chairs, and two guys in manual chairs minimum, but often there were way more than that. They would come in on Saturday and Sunday and most evenings for the four years that we remodeled this place."
Andresen is standing over a low bench. "We had this on cement blocks. We had grinders on I-beams, we had grinders on telescopic stands, and we came up with this. The same kind of heavy pallet thing that made the welding areas, this has 500 pounds of weight. So it's not bolted to the floor, which it has to be if it's movable, but this isn't moveable. And the height's right... And here's the other problem: cutting. You cut metal, you blow hot sparks. You blow hot sparks on your legs with no nerves, you burn your skin and don't know it until the guys smell the burning skin and say, 'Hey, Joe you're burning your legs.' So we had to figure out a way to catch the sparks. One day I was watching [my daughter] Amy feed her horses and I thought, hey a feeding trough is tapered in a way that you could get under this with your wheelchair."
And so it is, attention to deal... solving one issue at a time.
There's a lot more about this story worth sharing, but this is how we'll start it. Till next time...