This post describes: How I restored a Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair whose tyres and arm rests had deteriorated with time in a hot loft atmosphere. The rest of it was in excellent condition and it now functions like it did when it was new.
In the mid 1990’s my mum bought a Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair. This was so I could push her around in town and country in the latter years of her life. She was unable to make these journeys under her own steam due to her having arthritis in her ankles.
After her passing I saved her wheelchair for future use by friends and other members of the family. During the time my mum had the wheelchair it probably didn’t cover ten miles. It wasn’t allowed to get dirty or rusty so it remained in excellent condition.
It had one or two outings in intervening years but still probably never exceeded ten miles in all that time. When not in use I stored it in my loft where it would get very hot in summer. That sort of heat soon ages rubber products so that they perish.
In the summer of 2016 I had to move it to another location in my loft. That’s when it happened. When I grasped it by the wheels the rubber tyres broke into several pieces. All four tyres perished due to age (and maybe heat in the loft during summer months). It would’ve been a great shame to scrap this Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair so I restored it instead.
In 2016 I Restored My Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair
In previous years when I had moved my Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair no parts had shown signs of deterioration, but I had treated it delicately because I didn’t want to damage the paintwork. It was still in pristine condition.
When the damage occurred the tyres on the front wheels came off their rims in crumbling pieces with very little effort. I took it out of the loft to examine it further and banged it around a bit getting it to the floor below. Then I noticed a chunk of tyre missing from one of the back wheels. Oh no! They too had deteriorated. When I prodded both rear tyres I found they had both perished. You can see the state it was in from the picture below:
Pic. 1. The Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair With Rotten Tyres
The Search For New Wheels for A Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair
I know there are many wheelchairs about so I did expect to find parts for wheelchairs online. However I wasn’t sure I would find parts for one that was 22 years old, but I did and found that wheels and arm-pads had remained standard over a long period. This made it easy to get parts for wheelchairs of this design.
The Rear Wheels
An internet search turned up rear wheels of the exact size I required (Greentyre Fusion315 315mm dia.). By checking what is available online and close examination of the rear wheels it became clear that their tyres are moulded onto the plastic wheels. So I changed both wheels complete with tyres. Included with the wheel are the wheel bearings and stub axle as shown below:
Pic. 2. A Greentyre Fusion315 Wheel
The picture below shows the new wheel in situ with the stub axle fitted through a hole in the frame. It’s held in place by the shake-proof lock washer and nut supplied to hold it:
Pic. 3. Fixing The Stub Axle To The Frame
NOTE: The stub axle has hexagonal flats formed on it. Use these to hold it with a spanner while tightening the nut.
The Front Wheels
It was obvious from the damaged front tyres that they were a solid tyre that fitted onto a plastic wheel with a flanged rim. So when I searched for tyres/wheels for the front castors I looked particularly for tyres as they were much cheaper than complete wheels. I found what I was looking for (Greentyre 190mm x 29mm front castor tyres).
Pic. 4. A Greentyre 190mm x 29mm for A Wheelchair Castor
Pic. 5. A 190mm dia. Wheelchair Castor Wheel Complete With Tyre
Pic. 6. Old & New Castor Tyres Compared
The Deterioration of Other Components on My Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair
Having checked the tyres I thought it wise to check other synthetic parts for deterioration.
There are four red plastic catches which if they broke in use might be a danger to the occupant of the the Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair, or to the attendant carrying it in a folded state. They are flexible parts and haven’t shown signs of breaking when flexed.
There is the seat and back which are made of some type of cloth which looks like it might be a synthetic fibre. That appears to have stood the test of time and heat without splitting or cracking at points where it is anchored or it folds.
There are push on plastic hand grips similar to bicycle handlebar grips and some similar foot grips where the attendant’s feet are used to press down at the back to lift the front of the wheelchair off the ground at curbs, etc.. They too appear to be in good order.
However there are two arm-pads (for comfort) made of soft spongy plastic/rubber material. Closer examination showed that they didn’t require much force to be applied to break them up. So I had to search for new arm-pads too.
Replacing The Arm Pads
Grey Arm Pads 8L/9L are an easy component to replace except you may have difficulty getting grey ones (black are more commonly available). They can be spongy inside and have a plastic base. They are each held onto the wheelchair frame by two screws and threaded bushes embedded in the plastic. There are alternative styles, some with leather covering.
Pic. 7. Arm-pads 8L/9L
With this wheelchair the arms rest on a tubular rail through which the screws pass. That’s why they need a groove on the underside.
Replacing The Front Castor Tyres
First the wheels have to be removed from the castor frame. They are fixed to the plastic frame by an axle in the form of a bolt. The bolt has a hexagon head and nut each covered by a plastic cap which must be prised off with (in my case) a penknife blade. see below:
Pic. 8. Removing The Castor Bolt Head & Nut Caps
Remove the caps to expose the nut and remove it from the bolt using two similar sized sockets or box spanners. Pull out the bolt and the wheel is free.
In my case the tyre had dropped off the wheel because it had broken into pieces. If an old worn down tyre needed removing from the wheel I would have attempted to cut through it with a sharp knife blade. Since the rims are plastic I suspect levering a tyre off would result in a broken rim since these tyres are really difficult to stretch.
For the same reason I would not want to lever a tyre onto a plastic rim.New tyres show no signs of stretching easily over a wheel rim. When I came to fit my tyres I was very concerned that I wouldn’t find a way to do it. However I came across a few videos which showed me how some people do it:
So I took note from others and devised a method and tool that I could easily implement.
How I Put A Solid Tyre On A Castor Wheel
My actions are listed below:
- Make a Tyre Stretching Jig for holding the wheel and stretching the tyre.
- Grip the Tyre Stretching Jig’s timber base in a strong bench vice or a Workmate.
- Get part of the tyre to engage with the wheel rim and hold it in place with a zip tie (cable tie).
- Put the wheel bearing over the hardened spindle of the stretching jig,
- Fit the stretching spindle between the wheel rim and the inside edge of the tyre near to the zip tie.
- Rotate the wheel on the spindle and feed the stretched tyre into place on the rim.
- Keep rotating the wheel and stretching the tyre as it rotates.
- As the tied on section of tyre rotates towards the stretching spindle the tyre will become fully engaged with the rim, except for the small section where the stretching spindle remains trapped between rim and tyre.
- Pull the wheel with tyre completely off the stretching jig.
- Remove the zip tie.
You can see it all in this video showing the Tyre Stretching Jig clamped in the vice in my shed below:
Video 1. Putting A Solid Tyre Onto A Wheelchair Castor Wheel
Making A Tyre Stretching Jig
Pic. 9. The Tyre Stretching Jig
Component Parts Required:
- A robust piece of timber with a cross section 50mm x 50mm,
- A hardened spindle (in my case from a bicycle wheel) that will fit through the hub of the wheel,
- Another spindle (in my case a 6 inch nail). A nail is soft and bends under the strain so another hardened spindle ground to a point would be better.
- Mount the main wheel bearing spindle. 50mm or more from one end of the timber drill a hole into which the hardened spindle will tightly fit. In my case, because it was the spindle from a bicycle wheel, It had a screw thread on the end. So I was able to screw the spindle into the hole I drilled in the timber. I had to use pliers or mole grips to turn it.
- Mark the position of the stretching spindle.
- Make a hole for the stretching spindle. Drill a hole adjacent to the pencil mark and a spindle radius away from it on the outside of the rim. I used a 6 inch nail so it was drilled about 3mm away from the pencil mark. The hole was of a diameter such that the nail was a tight fit when nailed into the timber but large enough to prevent the timber splitting.
NOTE: A nail isn’t ideal because it’s soft and bends easily while stretching the tyre. See it happen in the video. Another hardened spindle would be better. Another bicycle wheel spindle might do the job as well. Ideally it needs to have the strength but be as thin as possible to prevent excessive stretching of the tyre. I don’t think extra stretching would damage the tyre but it increases the effort needed to put the tyre onto the wheel.
The Front Wheel Castors of This Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair
Below you can see both front wheel castors after being repaired and reassembled:
Pic. 10. Front Castors With New Tyres
If necessary this type of wheelchair can have the castors completely replaced. Their pivot just screws into the frame. See how the pivot has hexagonal flats formed on it so it can be tightened and loosened with a spanner.
Reusing This Remploy Stowaway Wheelchair
I restored this wheelchair in 2016. I’m very glad I did the work and kept it. It isn’t lightweight like a modern aluminium framed wheelchair but it is very strong and in good condition. Below is Remploy’s Identity Label:
Pic. 11. Remploy’s Identity Label
In 2018 I had to commence using the wheelchair on a fairly regular basis to transport an aged relative and it’s proving very successful.
I Realised There Was A Safety Issue
When a wheelchair is lowered down a curb it’s usual to tip it back and lower it on the rear wheels. However an attendant could inadvertently lower the front wheels first and accidently tip the user out. Especially since the user is often infirm and cannot easily hold themselves in.
To prevent this happening I have acquired a Padded Wheelchair Seat Belt which has been successful to date. The padding is in front of the user and the strap passes around the back of the seat framework and fixes at the front with hook & eye technology. The good thing is the user can escape from it by ripping the fastener open and stretching the belt up and over their head if needs be. Below you can see it in action: