Ripchair coming to the County, a story of inspiration

Episode 202

March 4, 2018

Ripchair and Chasse meet

There are times when destiny sticks its big finger in your chest and knocks you down or leaves you gasping for breath. March 1, 2007 in Colorado while skiing destiny gave Mike Chasse what seemed like a crushing blow that not only left him breathless and face down in the snow, but paralyzed.

At a time when he seemed to have the world by the tail, he was broken and left without control of his life for the first time.

The Class of 2000 Presque Isle High School graduate had what he described as his dream job at age 25, ski lift designer for Austrian-Swiss company Dopplemayr Garaventa Group manufacturers of chair lifts, cable cars, gondolas, surface tows for ski areas and amusement parks. He was based out of the company’s Salt Lake City USA headquarters.

“Designing ski lifts/working for Dopplemayr was my absolute dream job,” said Chasse. “I only worked with them for a year before having my injury, but it was the most incredible job/experience I could’ve imagined.”

He was scheduled to visit company headquarters only a few weeks after his accident, a trip that never occurred.

Chasse describes the last 11 years

“Eleven years ago today… wow it’s been that long”, reflected Chasse. “I was working as a ski lift engineer in Salt Lake City. One day I was living the high life, skiing 100 days a year, helping build some incredible ski lifts in some of the most beautiful areas of the world and then snap I was fighting for my life face down in the snow as my parents climbed up the hill on their second day of vacation.”

“I say that in peace and reflection. 10 years ago on my one year anniversary this day left me incapacitated. I was sad, it was more than I could deal with, and I dropped into a depression. Last year I just pretended that this day didn’t exist, that it was no different from any other day… I was strong, I was happy, but pretending was no different than a lie.”

“When I broke my neck, I thought my life as I knew it was over, and I guess that’s true, but that’s also when my life as I now know it started. It’s when some of my very closest bonds and friendships became and it’s when I realized that life is more than just skiing up or down a hill or the next adventure, but that it’s about the journey and the relationships and the lives you change and touch along the way and how your life is changed and touched along the way.”

Change includes Ripchair

Meanwhile on an almost parallel time-track were identical twin brothers, Geoff and Michael Howe from Waterboro, Maine whose innate curiosity about all things mechanical, musical, and off-road capable formed a small company called Howe & Howe. The Class of 1992 graduates of Kents Hill School, in Readfield, went on to Bowdoin College and graduated in 1996.

One of their first projects in 2001 was called Ripsaw, a vehicle with tank like treads used for off-road adventures. The brothers saw the military as a possible customer of vehicles capable of doing a variety of off-road tasks.

Their Ripsaw MS1 (military version of Ripsaw) was made famous when named Popular Science Magazine’s “Invention of the Year” in 2009.

Discovery Channel came calling shortly after with the idea of basing a television show on the Howe & Howe daily adventures featuring prototype builds, testing, deadlines, and much of what goes on behind the scenes.  “Black Ops Brothers: Howe & Howe Tech” ran from January 5, 2010 to February 2, 2011.

I did not have cable television and would watch as many episodes as I was able at my father and mother-in-law’s home in Caribou. I loved the show and the exploits of the twin brothers at a company based right here in Maine. I recognized that the show had to be edited for television, however, there was enough reality to hold my interest. I was disappointed to see the series end.

As a motorsports blogger, I always wanted to find a way to visit Howe & Howe with their high performance vehicles, yet their website specifically said no visitors.

Unbeknownst to both Howe & Howe and Mike Chasse the two would meet when the Howe brothers became concerned about veterans who lost mobility in service to our country. They developed Ripchair, a high mobility, performance track vehicle which allows wheelchair users to back their chair onto the platform, strap in, and motor through terrain previously inaccessible.

Ripchair 3.0 from Howe & Howe. Photo courtesy Howe & Howe

This short video from Howe & Howe shows the design specs for Ripchair.

The Ripchair that Mike Chasse will be getting a couple of weeks began its build on January 15, 2018.

The all aluminum chassis is being fabricated in this February 2018 photo at Howe & Howe. Photo courtesy Tony Tulo of Howe & Howe

A shot of Mike’s chassis after powder coating and prior to assembly. Photo courtesy Tony Tolu of Howe & Howe

30 horsepower gasoline power plant and hydrostatic drive unit being mated to the chassis. February 2018. Tony Tolu of Howe & Howe photo

Tony Tolu aboard his Ripchair after conquering a mountain climb. Tolu works for Howe & Howe as the link between Mike Chasse and the company. Photo courtesy Tony Tolu of Howe & Howe

How I discovered the Ripchair connection to Mike Chasse

My brother asked me one day a few weeks ago if I had viewed the wild 727 cubic inch 1500 horsepower Ripsaw EV3-F1 produced by Howe and Howe yet? I immediately went to view the video which I have linked to below.

By most Facebook posts there is a section called “Reviews”. As I read the Reviews section I noticed that Mike Chasse had posted that he was going to get his own Ripchair after test driving and test fitting one at the factory in Waterboro.

I contacted Mike shortly after viewing his comments to get more information which has overwhelmed this writer with this story of character and community. It is my desire to be at the unveiling in Waterboro in a couple of weeks when Mike takes possession of his Ripchair.

The video of Ripsaw that I was watching. This is not Mike’s Ripchair!

The plot thickens…

This is where the development of Ripchair and Mike Chasse’s stories meld together. As Howe & Howe worked to  develop and sell customer versions of the Ripchair, Mike continued to dream that maybe someday he would get his own to explore the previously off limit regions of the County where he grew up.

Chasse is a blogger with own blog, “Quadomated” which he posts with some of the trials and travails of being a quadriplegic in a highly mobile society.

His blog dated February 12, 2017 “Medicare Is Broken-Trying to Get a Wheelchair Over 6 Months” caught the attention of a couple of sisters, Brianna Blanchard-Rogerson, a classmate of Chasse’s at PIHS  who is a stay-at-home mom in Delaware and Billi Blanchard-Griffeth, Vice President of Retail Services for Katahdin Bank in Presque Isle.

The sisters talked about the $10,000 dollar shortfall that Mike would need to take out-of-pocket to  purchase his everyday chair, a Permobil F5. Medicare would not cover the cost of the more expensive, yet more versatile F5 model. On Valentines Day 2017, the ladies decided to start a secret Facebook page to see if they could get 100 friends of Mike to donate $100 each thus allowing him to purchase the chair he needed.

“It took off so fast,” said Billi Blanchard Griffeth. “Within 24 hours of the launch of ‘Keep Mike Rolling’ (the name the ladies gave to the project) 100 people had pledged. Funds kept pouring in from folks in Mike’s global community.”

“Mike does so much for the community giving his time, resources when he sees a need, and helps when he has opportunity. It was not difficult to raise funds fast.”

They wanted to raise the money before March 1, 2017,the tenth anniversary date of Mike’s injury.

Brianna handled the Facebook group during the day answering questions and providing updates. Billi would help after she got home from work, often working on the project until the early hours of the morning.

They could see that the overwhelming response needed to be more than the handing of a check to Mike. The loving and caring community wanted and needed to be part of this event.

Post haste the ladies involved their mother, Anne Blanchard, the Principal at Presque Isle Middle School to set up the logistics of having a community event at the high school cafeteria. With many hands working behind-the-scenes, the surprise event was scheduled for Thursday March 2, 2017 at 7:30 pm.

Mike was told that he was going to part of a panel discussion group talking about bullying and overcoming adversity. At first he was skeptical, however, when he heard that fellow wheelchair bound friend Matt Bell was going to be there, he decided he would be at the forum.

The details of the event are in the link to Mike’s blog Quatomated March 8, 2017 “Keep Mike Rolling-A thank you to many”  I provided below.

When I asked Billi Blanchard what her reactions were after seeing over 175 people show up that evening and the unveiling of the total raised. She said, “Many people go through life altering unplanned events the best they can. Mike has chosen a path of hard work paving a path of positivism and inspiration. Our community recognizes all that.”

Showing up for Mike’s surprise party were friends Seth and Kristin Meredith Campbell from Oregon. Photo courtesy Billi Blanchard- Griffeth

The “Keep Mike Rolling” event raised more than $27,650 dollars which the group asked Mike to use anyway he would like which would enhance his life experience, thus the connection to Ripchair. Mike’s dream for owning the “hot rod” was coming true.

His Facebook post, March 1, 2018 he shared, “Looking back at that day, 10 years ago, on March 1, 2007 when I lost so much, I lost my job, I lost my passions… and at the time it felt like I had lost my life… and I did loose my life as I knew it, but I gained so much, and feeling that all flash before my eyes as I watched the video (shown at the ‘Keep Mike Rolling’ event)  and feeling the collective love behind me. I felt and still feel with all certainty, for as much as I lost on that terrible day, I have gained so much, MUCH more.”

“Today, I’m awake at 3:35 AM reflecting, I might be a little sad, there might be a tear going down my cheek … But I’m also happy and content and at peace.”

“I’m listening to my service dog snore loudly and I know I’ll have a day full of wonderful people in my life. From getting to see my parents today, my grandparents, my sister/brother-in-law and their beautiful kids Bria and Brody, to the wonderful caregivers who truly are my angels, to the special friends who will call and stop by, to the community that is more than a community. I’ll wake up and be surrounded by love and really what’s more important than that.”

“So on this day, 11 years after I broke my neck I’m going to be happy and content with where I’m at in life, with all the wonderful people I have in life, and in what the future holds. And because it’s my special day I’m going to do whatever the heck I want and smile about it 🙂 maybe even eat some triple chocolate cake and have a beer!”

Make-A-Wish Fundraiser. the final  DT 100 at Maine Indoor Karting in the books

Ten years ago, Dave Thomas Junior began a small-scale mid-winter fundraiser kart race in New Hampshire in memory of his father Dave Thomas Senior. The event drew several area racers and after a couple of years necessitated a move to a larger venue, Maine Indoor Karting in Scarborough.

Over the course of the 10 years over a quarter million dollars has been raised for Make-A-Wish Foundation to benefit children with a dream which may otherwise never be fulfilled without the help of the Foundation.

The top finishing female racer was Ashley Glaude who placed 15th in the Light Division

Dave Thomas Memorial 100 staff and the 93 racers prior to the start of the tenth and final DT 100 Make-A-Wish Foundation fundraiser at Maine Indoor Karting, Scarborough. Lindsay Ellison Photography

Winner of the Extra Heavy Division, Steven Dickey Junior. Lindsay Ellison Photography

Dick Fowler (left) congratulates three division winners, Evan Beaulieu, Heavy Division, Nick Cusack, Light Division, and Alex Lacognata, Medium Division. All three winners are Beech Ridge Speedway racers. Lindsay Ellison Photography

Final snowmobile race of the season for Vintage Tour in Caribou March 17. I hope to be at this race.


Oxford native Mike Morneau, tire carrier for the #4 Stewart Haas Racing, in the background in Victory Circle with Kevin Harvick and crew at Las Vegas Speedway. The Harvick team is 3 for 3 in their last three races if you include the win at the Atlanta Xfinity race. Kevin Harvick  photo

Let’s Go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria










Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine