Reinventing the wheel

By Cody Ellerd' email='

Sales of Bill and Renee Christenson's canopy cover for sport utility vehicle tailgates couldn't seem to get off the ground despite the fact that the Mercer Island couple dropped everything to market their invention, the Bumperchute, nearly three years ago. The tent-like nylon contraption offered weather protection to the fun-loving masses operating recreational hubs from the rears of their SUVs. But the masses just weren't offering much love to the Christensons' pocketbooks.

Then, as they're apt to do, the Island's emergency responders swooped in on the scene to save the day. First Responders, whose vehicles house an array of sensitive computer equipment and mobile command post utilities within their rear tailgates, caught wind of the Bumperchute and the orders started to come in. The First Responders have been able to give the Christensons valuable input on how to improve their design to fit their customers' needs. Look around now and you might see Bumperchutes shading tailgates from the Mercer Island Fire Department's new red Suburban to military recruiting vehicles camped out at NASCAR races. They also are used by the military at Osan Air Base in South Korea.

"It's just amazing to have started a business out of your home, hatched from a ski trip to Alpental, and be providing the Air Force a useful tool for their needs," Renee Christenson said. PotLifter The Christensons aren't Mercer Island's only intrepid inventors. Dan and Kaaren Davis never thought that when they rigged up a device to help a neighbor move a monstrous pumpkin from his garden nearly 20 years ago they'd be laughing their way to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But a hundred prototypes and 18 years later, the Davis' "punkin-picker" made its debut in garden stores this spring as the PotLifter. A compact tool of polyurethane, nylon and other sleek materials, the PotLifter cinches around large pots and other objects up to 200 pounds, while a set of handles enables two people to move their garden monsters with ease.

Dan Davis, a former biologist whose mind was always wandering away from his job, said that on a long drive back from dropping off his only child at college, he was also needing to "reinvent himself." "I'm always looking for better ways of doing things," he said. "If I'm sitting at dinner, I want to invent a better fork." So he thought back over all the contraptions he had cobbled together over the years -- the collapsible fishing net, freestanding telescope ladder, bad-posture alerter -- and decided the PotLifter was the most practical and would have the broadest appeal to buyers. What appeals the most to the Davis's about their invention, though, is how it has revealed their own hidden talents -- Kaaren handles the marketing -- and enhanced their partnership.

"The thing that's so wonderful about the PotLifter," said Kaaren Davis, "is that we're doing this together."

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